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21
May

Hooray for the Spring 2015 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards!

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For kids who relish pretend play to those who revel in science and math, the Spring 2015 Parents’ Choice Toy and Game Award winners have a lot to offer.

Whether chemicals mix or colors clash,

foundation-chemistry-kit  colorclash_side

 

 

 

 

marine rescue wallstructures are built and stories are told,

 

 

 

from food cart fun to mind-challenging puzzles,

tacorushhshift-5060-wld-loresspill

 

 

 

 

 

dragonturretfrom fanciful puppets to

 

 

 

 

illustory jrbook publishing kits

 

 

 

 

and many things in between, Parents’ Choice Award winners put a smile on a face and a thoughtful furrow in a brow.

 

We hope you’re as tickled with this list as we are.

 

 

19
May

What is YouTube Kids thinking?

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YouTube-Kids-App-IconWhen Google introduced its YouTube Kids app in February, there were cheers heard from parents across the land.

In our screen-filled world, it’s not unusual to see the youngest of children these days with a mobile device in their hands, so it was nice to know that Google was touting an app with bright designs, parental controls and educational, “appropriate” content. It’ was – and is -billed as being for “curious little minds.”

The app has four section: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. There is also a search function. Among the content choices are many popular favorites, such as Thomas and Friends, Reading Rainbow Channel, Caillou, Yo Gabba Gabba and Backyardigans, along with classics including Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh and Sesame Street. The music videos range from a lullaby channel to The Piano Guys, a group I’d be happy to have on all day long.

And there are some slightly weird videos clearly targeted at curious older minds, such as on the eHowEducation channel where you’ll find Job Interview Fashion Advice and a video on Facebook Message dating. But you’ll also find clearly marked videos on a range of topics, from “What shape is it?’ to art, science and math projects.

I’ve been playing with the app for a while now and it didn’t take long for me to come across an ad. In the first instance, it was for another series on the app – Mother Goose Club. The ad operated just as many YouTube videos do in that you could push the “Skip ad” button after a few seconds. There was also a UNICEF video showing that it’s good to put coins in a bank to send them on a plane to “HELP NEPAL.” And there are the McDonald’s commercials and Happy Meal videos.

Those have outraged several groups, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The groups sent a letter last month to the Federal Trade Commission accusing Google of “unfair and deceptive practices” in marketing to children and calling for an investigation.

Part of the problem is that the videos show a narrator playing with Happy Meal toys and it’s not clearly marked as an ad. The Play Doh channel shows how to make an Angry Bird out of, you guessed it, Play Doh. And the Lego channel is, of course, all about different Legos creations.

Consumer activists say it’s not right that it’s difficult to tell the difference between entertainment and commercials. YouTube responded to the letter with a statement saying that it would be impossible to have the app without ad support, adding that “great content shouldn’t be reserved for only those families who can afford it.”

As parents we try to shield our kids from the daily onslaught of consumerism and commercialism. We try to teach them that the important things in life are not the things you buy, but how you act, how you treat other people and the respect you have for the planet and all life on it. We encourage them to learn at every opportunity and to have fun doing it.

But.

But we live in a digital world. We need to be media savvy whether the content is on TV, online or in an app on a mobile device. Kids will learn sooner or later how to push that “Skip Ad” button. Isn’t sooner better?

And as for McDonald’s ads? They’ve been around a long time. As a parent, you have likely already made the decision as to whether you want to feed your kids fast food of any kind. If seeing an ad for McDonald’s makes them want it, don’t they already know what your answer is going to be when they ask for it? Maybe suggest clicking over to the Wheels on the Bus video instead.

Go ahead. Use the Youtube Kids app, but as with any app or any TV show or any website, check it out yourself first. You’ll know what your child is watching and you can make a decision about the content. It’s something you should be deciding. And you can. That’s what is most important.

 

07
May

Don’t Buy These Apps

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unless you want your kids to learn about reading, counting, building, or problem solving. Here are two hands-full of apps that deliver a whole lot of fun and learning for under three bucks.

 

math cityFor those who love numbers, and those who don’t know yet know how much they do: Montessori Math City (ages 5-7), Dragon Shapes: Geometry Challenge (ages 6+), Number Hero: Addition (ages 6-10) and DragonBox Elements (ages 8+)

 

 

fiete farm

 

Fiete – A day on a farm will delight lap-readers and their parents. Pre-readers and letter-learners can get started with Reader Bee and the Story Tree and The Joy of Reading

 

 

think rollsAnd for those who seem to create more problems than they solve, try Thinkrolls (ages: 3 – 8), The Foos (ages 5+) and Oink, Oink – My Crazy Farm (ages 7+).

 

 

 

If you like these, let us know. We’ll bring you more of these lists on a semi-regular basis.

 

05
May

The Diversity Around Us

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From our friends at Growing Child

You’ve seen all the statistics. Numbers of traditionally structured families decrease every year. Racial/ethnic minorities account for over 30 percent of students across America.

Immigrant populations are rising, and comprise about one-fourth of children younger than age six.

America today, no matter where you are raising your children, is a complex tapestry full of variations, colors, and backgrounds. Part of preparing your children for life as this twenty-first century progresses is ensuring their comfort with and respect for such diversity.

Exposing young children to cultural differences and similarities, and modeling appreciation and acceptance of diversity enable children to grow up without developing the kind of prejudices and biases that are largely the result of fear and lack of experience.

In addition, recognizing the wonderful variations among individuals only helps children appreciate and celebrate this great world.

Multicultural picture book experiences help children develop positive feelings towards all people everywhere. I want to suggest some good children’s books for you and your children to enjoy.

Hairs_PelitosHairs/Pelitos, by Sandra Cisneros, where a young girl describes the different types of hair each family member has.

Family, by Isabell Monk, where a family celebrates their special dishes and family customs.

 

 

luka_coverLuka’s Quilt, by Georgia Guback, where the family tradition of quilt making opens a discussion about living with extended family.

Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Smith, where a Native American girl learns traditions passed from one generation to another.

 

 

Mama Panya PancakesMama Panya’s Pancakes, by Kelly Cunnane, where a Kenyan child and mother go to market to buy items for making pancakes, emphasizing community and types of food.

 

 

 

name jarThe Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi, where a Korean child who moves to America is laughed at for her unusual name, with a happy outcome and nice perspective on unique names.

Grandfather Counts, by Andrea Cheng, where a grandfather comes to live with his daughter’s family, and his granddaughter and he teach each other to count in English and Chinese .

The Ugly Vegetables, by Grace Lin, where a family grows Chinese vegetables and makes a wonderful soup to share with the neighbors.

In the Snow, by Huy Voun Lee, where a little boy and his mother go for a walk, and she teaches him Chinese characters by drawing them in the snow.

taxi taxiTaxi, Taxi, by Cari Best, where a little girl who lives with her mother is picked up by her Papi on Sundays, showing different family structures.

 

 

Cleversticks, by Bernard Ashley, where a child starting kindergarten discovers there are things that he cannot do, but he can show his classmates how to use chopsticks.

Love my hairI Love My Hair, by Natasha Tarpley, where a young African American girl describes the ritual she and her mother go through to care for her hair.

 

 

 

These, and others that your children’s librarian can recommend, will help you and your children to explore together the wonderful world of differences and sameness that binds us all.

 

© Growing Child 2014. Please feel free to forward this article to a friend, or make copies and distribute. 

13
Apr

Do Second Screens Add or Distract?

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Remember when it was easy to know exactly what our kids were watching on TV? He’s watching “Blue’s Clues.” She’s watching “The Wonder Years.”

But now our world isn’t just one TV screen, easily checked and monitored. From the computer to the tablet to the smartphone, “second screens” are making it increasingly difficult to know exactly what content (and how much) our kids are consuming at any given moment.

Maybe it’s a YouTube video, a Facebook post, a Tweet or an Instagram photo. Or some app you don’t even know exists. Quite possible, it’s all of the above. And it’s often happening while your child is right there with you, in the family room with the TV on.

This “second screen” use is becoming more prevalent. kids-multitasking-multiple-devices-630x357

I’ve become increasingly guilty of it. I’m looking at my phone or tablet while supposedly “watching” TV.  What do I find? Often I miss a key plot point because I was too distracted by what I was looking at on my phone. But I have to admit that sometimes it’s fun to see what people on Twitter are saying about the show I’m watching. It can be a big, collective, hilarious conversation. Networks and cable channels urge fans to take part in chatting about the show when it’s on to help boost ratings.

According to a 2014 study by TNS Global, globally, 41% of internet users watching TV are doing something else at the same time.

A 2013 Statistica.com report found that 72 % of teen web users aged 16 to 19 said they “chat” with friends when watching TV.

It’s wise to realize all those screens are here to stay. And that in itself is not a bad thing. Screens connect us in ways that are wonderful. For example: You know how to reach your child in an instant.  (whether they answer instantly is another story.)

teen and second screenBut one of the big worries of those second screens: distraction.  Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, studied students in 2013 for just a quarter of an hour while they were doing schoolwork to see how often they veered off into something else. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” he told KQED’s Mindshift site, adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

And in a different Mindshift story on the topic, Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says, “Because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before (and) we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”

He went on to say he was concerned about young minds. “Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said.

Problems that can arise include: The original task (homework, for example), takes longer to complete. Mental fatigue sets in sooner. Memory can be impaired, making it more difficult to retain the information needed. And, ultimately, poor school performance can be result.

The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? The ability to focus on one thing at one time is an important and vital skill, one that needs to be cultivated early.

So while it’s fun to chat with friends over the finale of Pretty Little Liars, or follow what fans are saying about that controversial NCAA championship game call, we all need to make sure we don’t multi-task ourselves out of the ability to turn it all off and learn to focus – on just one thing.