We Are Both Right

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.

tracey

iPads, Kindles and Nooks … Oh, my!

My pre-schooler has a Nook Color. At first glance, this might seem indulgent, but the motivation to purchase a digital device was purely an act of self-preservation.

My kids are forever intrigued by my iPad. They beg to play games. They whine to watch movies. They just can’t keep their hands off it. Upon picking up my iPad after kiddie use, I discover the thing that grosses me out about kids — even my own — slime. A six-week pinkeye bout later and I was determined to invest in a digital reader for each child.

For me, it came down to the choice between three options: iPad, Kindle or Nook Color. I wanted my kids to read. They wanted to play games. Could I find a device that could meet both of these requirements?

The iPad was the first to be eliminated. I deemed it too expensive and too heavy for little hands prone to dropping things. Yes, there are many cool book apps. However, my goal was to was to get them to read first and then shoot birds across the screen later. Book apps aside, there’s just too many other media offerings on the iPad to distract my children from reading.

Hands down, if it were all about reading books, Kindle would be my first choice. It has the lowest price point and ease of purchase using the Amazon store. At the time I was purchasing, the e-ink black and white device was the only option available. Not such a good option for someone who planned to purchase children’s picture books. And, let’s face it, my kids weren’t attracted to my iPad for the text. They were anticipating vibrancy and interactivity. The Kindle just wasn’t going to cut it.

This left me and my family with one alternative choice, the Nook Color. This device has a good selection of children’s book and offers select, popular apps. My kids can read, play games and watch movies. The Nook has one thing that makes it stand out from the competition, it is the only device that has an association with a physical bookstore. B&N gives full access to select titles and other promotional incentives to bring Nook buyers back into the store. Imagine my son’s joy when B&N gave a free Mighty Eagle to all those who played Angry Birds while in the store.

It has been several months since this major purchase and my children enjoy their Nooks daily. Turns out that there are many children’s books available and even some that will read to my daughter. Oh, and that in-store service came in handy. My husband and I thought the touch screen wasn’t being responsive, so we brought it to the local B&N. Imagine our embarrassment when the associate pulled out the screen cleaner!

Note: I made the decision to buy a Nook Color just as the Kindle Fire launched. The Fire gets less than stellar reviews for user interface, but it has a color screen and is a tablet. If I had to make the purchase again today, I would still purchase the Nook for my children. Why? The integration between the physical and digital, both store and content is important to me and I want my children to make the connection and respect both options.

tracey

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey

Moms, Time to Have “The Talk” With Your Daughters — About Math

How do your kids feel about math? While both my kids do very well  in math at school, my son will tell you he loves it, while my daughter says that only does she not like it, she’s not good at it to boot. As it turns out, her lack of enthusiasm for the subject could totally be my fault.

A new study from researchers at the University of Delaware’s School of Education and reported in Miller-McCune finds that moms are less likely to talk to their daughters about numbers at a young age, potentially setting them up to have less confidence about them when they reach elementary school.

The research is fascinating, if not troubling. Scientists recorded mothers talking to their children who were between 20 and 27 months old. The moms mentioned numbers twice as much to their sons as their daughters. The number rose to three times as much when the number was attached to a noun — for example, “Here are five raisins.”

Alicia Chang, the lead researcher told Miller-McCune, “By grade school, boys are very confident at math, and girls are saying boys are better at math. The issue isn’t actual performance but perception of competence. We hypothesized that by the time you’re in grade school, you might like math because your mother was more likely to talk to you about it when you were very, very young.”

The researchers don’t think that the omission is conscious, simply parents talking to their children differently. Still, it’s something to be aware of.

What do you think? Does your daughter like math?

Best Part About a Kindle? No Paper Cuts

Kindle Fire © Amazon.com

My two older children each got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. So far they have been reading on them. Sort of. © Amazon.com

The myself from five  years ago would be horrified with the myself from today. While I was never one to shy away from the latest gadgets and gizmos, there was one aspect of my life that I considered tech-free and let me tell you, it was sacred.

Books.

I swore (undoubtedly on one of my many piles of tomes) that would never (EVER) read a book on one of those newfangled devices. Books weren’t just about reading, I would passionately cry. Reading is a tactile experience — books were all about hearing the page turn, smelling the ink, tripping over the stacks that I had accumulated next to my bed and behind the couch and in the sunroom.

But then I started talking to people who had e-readers and they made a convincing argument. With an e-reader, you read more, they said, because a book was always at your fingertips. No more heading out to the bookstore or the library — if you needed something to read, just fire up the device and away you go. As someone who had lapsed on my reading a bit (rotten kids) for lack of free time and lack of opportunities to actually go and get books, an e-reader sounded like a promising solution.

So I soon found myself relenting, and three Christmases ago, my husband bought me a Sony Reader. Despite it’s limitations, I was sold — totally. So much so, that for my past birthday I got a Nook Color. And it’s true, I am reading more (I’m spending more too, but that’s a story for another day).

When it came time to have the big pow-wow with Santa about what to give the kids for Christmas this past year, we were all in agreement. Nook Colors, just like their mom. I was partial to the Nook simply because it allowed you to borrow library books and share books with friends electronically. And with three people suddenly in possession of e-readers, I figured my credit card could use a break. But then Amazon announced their new Kindle Fire. It did everything the Nook Color did (including library privileges and the ability to exchange books with others) and more for $50 less. Santa’s on a budget and not brand-loyal so Kindles it was.

The kids were thrilled with their gifts, and so am I. And they are reading more. Sort of. We’ve had to come to a compromise. See, when I first got my Nook Color, the first thing I wanted to do was see what a book looked like on it. When my children opened their Kindles, they wanted to see what Angry Birds looked like. Understandable, but I keep telling them that when they were originally conceived, Kindles were strictly for reading, not for shooting birds across a landscape at some rascally pigs (hence the name e-reader and not e-save-the-pride-of-some-annoyed-animated-birds).

I got a lot of blank stares in return, so to that end, we’ve come up with plan. They are allowed to play games and stream (approved) videos on their Kindles. But for every minute they do that, they have to spend a minute reading. It’s been working well so far. My daughter has read about five books so far and my son is about halfway through The Hunger Games (a copy he borrowed through the Kindle lending library). They certainly have played their fair share of apps, but they are also using their Kindles for good — my husband and I told them they could get a small pet like a hamster or guinea pig and they’ve been using the devices to research the best options.

Hmmm. I wonder if there is such a thing as an e-pet. Much less messy.

Suzanne’s house is e-reader free (although she did purchase her first apps for her phone recently!) so I think I’m going to take all of these piles of books and bring them to her house.

Are Kindles Really for Reading?

reading with child

E-readers might be the new thing, but books are still king in my home. What is your child reading from these days? ©Horton Group/stock.xchng

Times change. And so do a mom’s opinions.

While I may have been Mrs. Anti-technology, my-kid-isn’t-touching-a-PS2*-and-especially-not-at-the-dinner-table just a few months ago, my stance has kind of softened since then.

It’s true that my four-year-old daughter is the reason I finally downloaded Angry Birds to my smartphone (to keep her busy during her brother’s basketball games). But she alternates between that and a math app that guides her through addition and subtraction.  And yes, my nine-year-old did get a netbook for Christmas — from his grandparents. But at least now he can check his fantasy football scores without monopolizing my desktop all day Sunday. And Monday. And Thursday. (Wish I had a netbook.)

So I’ll admit, handing them a screen of their own has its perks. There’s also no denying that their generation will have to be e-literate. I consider this an orientation to all of the gizmos that we can’t yet imagine which will be running their lives, making them toast in the morning, and walking their dogs Jetsons-style.

But that’s as far as I’ll go. Some things just have to stay old-school — for now at least. Like books.

What’s up with the Kindle Fire/Nook Color gadget that all the (other) kids had on their holiday wish lists?

A reading tablet, a book disguised as a screen? Sounds pretty crafty to me. Trick the kids into reading. I dig the concept. Except that’s not exactly how it pans out.

From what I gather, the latest generation of e-readers are more like a textbook with a comic book tucked into the center. You know, the ones that kids our age used to hold up in class while trying to look studious. At least that’s the picture that came to mind after I asked one mom on Christmas Day if the new gadget her daughter was toting around was a sneaky way to get her to read more. (Wink-wink. Mom-conspiracy in play.)

“No, not really,” she said, coming clean. “There’s so much other stuff on there — e-mail, apps, whatever — that she’s not purely in it for the books.”

Ahhh. So I see.

A Kindle’s not really for reading, after all.

They fooled us again.

How about you — are you quick to respond to requests for any and all technology with your kids? Or are you kind of holding back like me, staving off the screens with a invisible force field?

*Feel free to edit out my ignorance on the PS product line. I don’t even know if PS2s are handheld. Maybe I should ask Amanda. She’s way more into tech than me.

That’s my iPad! Mine, mine, mine.

Forget planned obsolescence. It looks like technology manufacturers have thought of one better.

Just put your saved-all-my-latte-money-and-rewards-points-to-buy-this iPad into the hands of a toddler and it’s all but guaranteed that you will have to buy another sooner rather than later. Whoever thought of that plan is genius.

At least that’s what I’m thinking after reading about all the new apps and attachments that are coming out just in time for the holidays. Can you say crayon stylus?

Even the Brookstone catalog that arrived in the mail today has an iSomething accessory for kids on almost every page. Everything from a toy helicopter, sing-along microphone to spy robot offers the bonus of being operable via Mommy’s iPod, iPhone and/or iPad.

In other words, they are forcing us to share. Whether we like it or not.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I like to keep my pricey technology to myself. My children have plenty to keep them occupied that they don’t need to be half-owners of the phone, iPod or laptop that my husband and I just about managed to get ourselves into. It’s bad enough that our three-year-old iPod got corrupted over the weekend. I don’t think a preschooler who likes to rip it off the charger had anything to do with it, but it pains me nonetheless.

How do you feel about sharing your technology? Are you happy to hand it over once and a while? Or is it just easier to get them their own (and hope it doesn’t break too soon)?

One last question, and I guess this is my underlying hesitation about the whole thing: Do kids really need all this technology at such a young age? Sure, it’s how they will grow up, but does every toy have to be an app?

Our Two Cents: The Not-So-Scary Movie That Scared a Friend Away

When it comes to scary movies, ask (mom) first, then press play. ©Jason Smith/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Two weeks ago my 10-year-old son Jack and his friend Frank were playing at our house. While I don’t know Frank’s parents super-well, he’s been at our house at least six or seven times and my son at theirs as well.

They asked to watch the movie “Transformers” which is rated PG-13. My son has seen the movie quite a few times (we own it on DVD) and Frank said he had seen it before. The two were acting out scenes and quoting dialogue from the movie, so I went ahead and let them watch it. Normally I’d ask the other parent about letting a child see a PG-13 movie, but since Frank seemed so well-versed in it, I didn’t really give it a second thought.

I wasn’t home when Frank’s dad picked him up (my husband was), and nothing was said about what the boys watched. A few days later I got a call from Frank’s mom who was very upset that the boys had watched a PG-13 movie. I apologized right away, but pointed out that Frank said he had already seen it and it didn’t appear to have scared him. The mom angrily responded that it wasn’t the point, that she would have appreciated a phone call. I said I was sorry once more and we hung up. Ever since then, Frank has not been able to come over to our house, nor have their been any invitations for Jack to come to his. At school, Frank told Jack that his mom was mad at me and that he wasn’t allowed to play with my son anymore.

I’m so upset about this, but part of me wonders if the mom is overreacting. Should I call back and apologize once again? I don’t think I need to, but Jack misses his friend.

–Unrated

Amanda: I’ve come to find that in parenting, everyone’s got an “issue” (or seven). At least one thing that gets under their skin and irritates and annoys and drives them crazy whenever they are simply a witness or experience it directly. (For me, it’s parents who don’t watch their kids closely on playgrounds. It just makes me irrationally angry. Also? Moonsand.)

I think you’ve stumbled on to Frank’s mom’s issue. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a point — as you admit yourself, probably should have called her before the boys hit “play” on your DVD player. But you didn’t and she was bothered by it, you had a conversation and you apologized. And apparently, your apology wasn’t accepted.

Normally I’d say to let it go, but keeping in mind that there are two children involved who did nothing wrong and are paying the consequences, I’d give it one more shot. Give her a call, write a note, shoot off an e-mail, once again admitting your mistake and saying how sorry you are. Don’t mention what Frank told Jack, don’t try to justify your actions by pointing out that Frank’s already seen the movie. For all you know, the movie causes Frank to have nightmares or maybe he behaves poorly after viewing it. Maybe she’s not a fan of him acting out the script. Whatever her reason, the decision is hers to make, not yours and she has every right to make and stand by it.

Suzanne: For the sake of your son’s friendship, you might have to fall on your sword this time. (Or better make that a foam light sabre, since we’re aiming to take violence out of the equation in this case.) Give it another go and make a call.

It’s unlikely that she’s so mad that she won’t pick up, so when you get her on the phone start right off by saying: “I’m so sorry that I upset you and Frank and I’d like to be able to do something to assure you that we won’t have any mix-ups like that again. Most of the time I don’t put much stock in ratings only because I’ve had friends who didn’t approve of some G-rated movies because of anti-religious undertones so I always ask a parent before they watch any TV or movies. In this case, Frank seemed to know so much about the movie that I assumed he had been allowed to see it previously. Of course, I should not have assumed. I just hope that we can find a way to make this work for their sake.”

And now the ball is in her court once again. She’ll either have had time to rethink the situation and understand that you didn’t intend to overstep her and allow the boys to resume their friendship.

Or she won’t. In which case you made your best effort.

Like Amanda said, a child’s parent always has the last word — even if it does come across as overreacting to anyone else involved. After all, she’s the one who probably had to sleep on the last inch of bed if Frank awoke at 2 a.m. after being at your house. And that explains a lot.

In either case, you will know you made your best effort and never intended to be hurtful in the first place. Be sure to update your son and maybe come up with a few other “safe” viewing choices for the next time a friend comes over.

*********************************************

What’s your view on kids watching movies out of their age range? Was Unrated wrong?

If you’ve got a question that needs two opinions (or just want to know what movies we’re watching these days), send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Giving My Toddler My SmartPhone Makes Me Phone Not Smart. And Yet I Do It Anyway.

©Aardvark

Maybe a piano app will settle my toddler down? Sigh. ©Aardvark

I am a hypocrite.

Quite a bit of the professional writing that I do is for various parenting websites. One site in particular is aimed at the parents of preschoolers. I write articles and blog posts and do my best to offer well-thought out advice based on my experience as a parent as well as research from experts in the field.

On more than one occasion I have (very high and mightily, I might add) questioned the wisdom of parents who had over their (very expensive and very fragile) smartphone to their young children in the hopes that it will either:

  • teach them something important

or, (and the more likely scenario)

  • get them to stop crying or screeching or generally making a scene where the parent would prefer they didn’t

There I would sit from my know-it-all parenting perch behind my laptop, throwing around nuggets of wisdom like, “Is a smartphone for children really such a good idea?” and “Instead of handing your smartphone over to your child if they are acting unruly, try other ways to keep them entertained like playing counting games.”

And then I got an iPhone last year for Mother’s Day (thanks T.!) and my toddler S. started causing a commotion in a store and Elmo singing was the only thing that would make him stop.

OK, maybe an smartphone for children is not such a bad thing.

I must confess, on more than one occasion now, when I am truly desperate, I have handed mine over to S. or to C. or A. so they can entertain S. with it. The good news is, it works like a charm. Every single time.

I think what both makes me proud and scares me (aside from him breaking it) is that while I won’t go as far to say that S. knows my iPhone better than I do (although C. and A. certainly do), he has a pretty good idea of how it works. He knows how to push the bottom button to make the picture of himself, A. and C. show up on the wallpaper. He know how to get the music to play even if the phone is locked (which I don’t know how to do). He knows to put it to his ear and say “hi.”

My point is, he is comfortable with it. Confident. Asking for his own for Christmas.

I actually don’t have many apps specifically for him, although I know there are a ton out there for toddlers. I guess I feel like if I buy them I will be admitting defeat officially. (Even though I lost a long time ago.)

I have “Baby Flash Cards” which is just a series of pictures and words as well as an electronic book featuring Elmo. S. also really enjoys an app called “Talking Carl” which is basically this red blob with eyes, arms and a big mouth who repeats everything you say in a funny voice. I also have two Elmo songs loaded on there — I think those are his favorites. As soon as Elmo’s picture shows up he starts to dance and his face breaks out into this big grin.

Which is good that someone is grinning. Because I’m more grimacing.

What are your thoughts on an iPhone for children? Have you/would you ever hand one over to a toddler?

Suzanne never has to worry about her phone breaking as hers is off-limits to her little ones.

New App: Stay Away From Mommy’s Phone

children and smartphones

Are you in a tug-of-war with your kids over your smartphone? © yasin öztürk/stock.xchng

“Mommy, I want to type on your phone now… Ma, just let me check the scores on your phone… We want to play Etch-a-Sketch, can we have your phone? Pleeeease.”

I’m thinking about making my own app that drains the battery every time a pair of little hands touch it. Just to avoid the inevitable.

Text me if you want a free download.

Because as much as I love that my children are tech-savvy, including the three-year-old, I don’t want them being savvy on my tech. I only got my first smartphone less than a year ago, and those things are expensive. I have already been *thisclose* to having it dunked in apple juice and dropped out the car window. Why increase the odds?

Not to mention that I generally like to see my childrens’ faces when I’m with them. The tops of their heads are cute too, but it makes me crazy to see so many kids walking around or sitting at a family dinner with their chins down and eyes glued to a screen.

So when I tell them that Mommy’s phone is running awfully low on battery and needs to be recharged, we resort to making a game out of the sugar packets on the table. They can still get a good 15 minutes out of scrap paper and a pen. And when all else fails, we always have twenty questions.

BOR-ING. I know, but at least there’s still hope that if a child of mine is dropped out in the wild someday — and the smartphone has lost its signal — he/she can make it out with a piece of sugarcane turned into a compass.

Besides, there are other (good) reasons why my children are not often permitted to play with my phone — or my husband’s for that matter.

For one, there’s the business we conduct on our phones. You know — the daily activities that we get paid to do that actually let us cover the cell phone bill at the end of the month. Yeah, that thing called work. And the people we work with, who probably aren’t amused past the second random text from a goofy child.

Like the ”my dad is stinky” text that wasn’t quite meant for the ops director. Or the heavy breathing from a three-year-old who accidentally dialed the CEO. My husband has preemptively deleted all important numbers from his phone to avoid the chance of this happening, except now he doesn’t know who’s calling him.

I guess that’s better than discovering a misdirected photo message, like a staff member did when her nine-year-old son sent me a picture of her laying on the couch which was meant for his sister whose name precedes mine in his mom’s phone directory.

Oh well, kids will be kids. Except mine shall remain phoneless and app-less. At least for as long as I can help it.

When Amanda showed my kids the app for Talking Carl on her iPhone, it was a good thing we couldn’t “find” it in the Droid Market. But I wouldn’t be surprised if her talented toddler comes up with a workaround for that the next time the kids are together.