Back in September we got Steven a LeapPad2 for his birthday. We got one for his cousin, too. They were born on the same day, which has made her Steven’s best friend as well as his favorite person to argue with, so having two LeapPads seemed like a good idea, especially with both of them getting into the “mine” phase. It was also, in theory, going to help us adults reclaim our iPhones, iPods and computers… it was a good theory.
We had researched the tablets available to preschoolers for a while. It ended up being a choice between the LeapPad and the InnoTab (by VTecH) because of the availability to Canadians. We ended up picking the LeapPad because it seemed like there were more games available for it in Canada and it has cameras, which we knew both kids would enjoy. What we overlooked is the fact that very few games were made for 3 year olds. Some of the ones for 4 year olds are easy enough for 3 year olds to figure out, but not many. There are more ebooks and videos for 3 year olds, but we don’t really need another video-playing device, and we have more books than we have storage space for.
If we had known that the InnoTab 2 was coming out soon (with a camera), we might have just waited a couple months before buying. But then again, maybe we wouldn’t have.
There are some great features with the LeapPad that the InnoTab doesn’t have. The most important is the ability to automatically adjust the difficulty level of the games by telling the LeapPad how old your child is when you first set it up. When you look at the computer software, which you use to update and add apps to the device, there’s also an option to track your child’s learning progress. It shows how they’ve scored in various areas so far and recommends more games/apps to help them in those areas.
In September, after the initial “new toy” phase ended, Steven didn’t seem too interested in the LeapPad. Sometimes he’d pick it up to use the coloring app or watch the episodes of Chuggington that we bought for it, but generally he wasn’t very interested in it. Lately he’s been getting a lot more interested in it, though. He’s finally able to use most of the apps by himself, he’s getting better at aiming the camera, and it’s suddenly the end of the world if he can’t find it or if the batteries die (especially when we have to wait a few days to buy new batteries). I think our next purchase is going to be the charger for it, which is now available in Canada.
Steven says that his favorite game on his LeapPad is the pet game. Of course his favorite would be a game that came free with the device instead of one of the ones we bought for $20-$30. Kind of like when we unpack a large toy and he just wants the box and the bubble wrap. Still, the pet game is a great game – lots of games in one, really. You get to design the pet, picking which body, ears, paws and face you want and what colors you want it to be. Then you can feed it, bathe it and train it. I’m really glad that Steven’s been playing the training game lately because it teaches him about letters, something he still struggles with a bit. In this game, you pick a letter and then trace it. When you trace it successfully your pet does an action that starts with that letter. Steven thinks the actions are hilarious, so it’s very rewarding for him when he traces a letter properly.
The art studio (also free) still gets used a lot too, especially now that he’s discovered the stickers and stamps that are part of the app. The tools in the art studio make fun noises too, and Steven likes to copy the noises as he creates his masterpieces – both on the LeapPad and in his coloring books.
His favorite paid game at the moment only cost $5. It’s a puzzle game that makes puzzles out of photos you take with the LeapPad. Puzzles in general are a fairly new interest for Steven, but one that is almost equal to his interest in trains at the moment. The first thing he asks me in the morning is if he can play the puzzle app we put on our Windows 8 computer, and if he catches sight of one of his puzzles he immediately asks if he can play that. Want him to clean up his train table? Tell him he can put a puzzle on it when it’s clean. So it’s no surprise that he loves making puzzles of himself, his trains, his cars, his parents, his friends…
I’m glad that Steven is finally loving the LeapPad. It’s a great learning tool and a great portable distraction (it’s almost always in his bag when we go out). There are times when I wish, as I said before, that we had known about the new InnoTab coming out when we bought it, but really I don’t think it would have made a difference. Yes, I tend to get frustrated looking over the LeapPad game cartridges at the store and not finding any new ones for 3 year olds, but in the end Steven is happy with what he has, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. He’s happy with the games he has and pleasantly surprised when a new one appears overnight. I’m happy because it keeps the games at his level so he doesn’t get too frustrated and I can track his learning. So far he doesn’t care about collecting all of the games, that’s just my own gamer urge talking… and it’s his toy, not mine.
This last week has been a bit of an eye opener. I don’t think we ever quite realize just how internet dependent we all are until the internet stops working. Thankfully it’s working now, and apparently better than before (I haven’t noticed a difference, but it seems we were only getting 1/3 of the potential speed), but I obviously need to plan better in case this happens again.
There were a few things that were easy to overcome. With no Netflix or YouTube, Steven was missing his TV time (we don’t have cable or satellite), so we took him to the store and let him pick out a few new movies. There were lots in the $5-10 range, including a few that we all enjoyed watching together. My husband and I dug into our PC game collection to find things that would run without the internet to replace our World of Warcraft addiction. And when it became obvious that we were going to be without internet for a few days, I paid my cell company $5 more so I could check my e-mails on my phone for the week.
But other things were harder. The number of times in a day that I think “I don’t know, I’ll just Google it” is insane. I actually tried to Google my internet provider’s number so I could call them and find out what was wrong with the internet. Then I walked through a snow storm to use the free internet at Tim Hortons instead. Now that number is saved in my phone – hopefully I don’t have a day when both my phone and my internet break.
Then there was the day we decided to get food delivered. The weather was horrible and we walk everywhere, so we didn’t want to go get groceries, but we never save takeout menus. In fact, we don’t normally call for food either. We order through the restaurant’s website if it’s an option. So we found ourselves sorting through the recycle bin hoping to find a menu or at least the phone number of a place that delivers in one of the local newspapers.
And don’t even get me started on the day I couldn’t do my homework because I forgot to download the files at the college…
Anyways, it’s up and running now, and I’ve got a few posts planned that I’ll be working on in the next couple days. So stay tuned!
My husband and I are board game obsessed. We wanted to get Steven into the idea of family game nights early so we could continue playing board games with him as he got older, but we had trouble finding a board game we all liked. Then we found his “Thomas game”. I have to store this game where he can’t see it, or he’ll spend all day asking “play my Thomas game now?”.
This game is perfect for preschoolers. You spin the arrow to find out what color and shape you’re looking for, then you decide where you think you’re going to find that shape or color, and you get whichever ones are in that pile. For example, if the arrow lands on the green triangle and you choose the docks, then you get all the triangles and all the green shapes you find on the card representing the docks. If the arrow lands on the clock, you flip over a clock card to reveal Sir Tophamhat. The game ends when you run out of shape cards or all the clock cards are flipped over, whichever comes first.
There are also little vests for the players to dress up as the different engines. As you can see in the pictures, they fit kids perfectly and don’t really fit adults at all. This was pretty upsetting to Steven at first. It took a while to convince him that we were too big to wear them properly.
There are lots of learning opportunities provided by this game. Taking turns is a big one for Steven. In his mind, it should go Steven, Daddy, Steven, Mommy, Steven, Daddy, Steven, Mommy… but we’re working on it. It also took him a while to understand that he could pick up the green cards and the triangle cards if he landed on the green triangle. He kept trying to just pick up the triangles or the green ones when we first started playing. It’s improving his memory, too. Last night he kept telling me which piles I should pick to get what I needed (we’ll worry about teaching him not to help his opponents later). The next lesson will be accepting when he’s lost. If we count up the cards and someone has more cards than him, he’ll mix up all the piles and say he won. It’s cute when he’s playing with us, but it won’t be much fun when he has friends over.
The original rules say to put the location cards all over the house and have the kids run to get the shapes. Our apartment is pretty small, though, and running games tend to make people get hurt, so we just set it up on Steven’s train table. Maybe in the summer we’ll play an outdoor version and do the running around part.
We recently got a shiny new desktop computer which of course came with Windows 8. I have quite a few complaints about Windows 8, but I have to say it’s perfect for Steven. At 3 years old, he has mastered touch interfaces and the touch pad on laptops but he still has trouble with a regular mouse. The larger icons on the new Windows 8 start screen are easier for him to click on, and the navigation is simple and familiar. The apps also go full screen when you click on them, which makes it harder for him to accidentally exit the game.
It’s also really easy to lock down child accounts on Windows 8 so that kids can’t get into anything they’re not supposed to. Right now Steven can only go to websites I’ve allowed and apps that I’ve approved. As he gets older I can easily give him more freedom, and I can control the family safety settings from the website too. So if I’m away and he wants to access a new game site or something, I can easily add it from wherever I am as long as I have internet access. I do wish that there was a way to batch-approve all the apps I add instead of having to approve everything individually, but Windows 8 is still new, so maybe that will be implemented in the future.
Since getting this computer, we’ve tried quite a few apps, most of which have been free. A lot of them didn’t live up to expectations and ended up getting deleted. Others have exceeded our expectations, and those are the ones we wanted to share with you today.
First Puzzles Animal Kingdom (lite)
This is Steven’s favorite app at the moment. It’s really helping him learn to use the mouse, too. You have to click and drag pieces into place and double click to rotate them, two actions that are new to him. He also loves the animal illustrations, which are surprisingly detailed for a kids’ app.
The free version comes with three puzzles and three levels in each puzzle. The first time you do a puzzle the image appears faded on the board so you can see where the pieces go. The second time the faded image disappears and the third time the pieces need to be rotated to fit.
We have already upgraded this app to the paid ($2.49) version because Steven loves it so much. The paid version has 90 puzzles. As you work your way through them the difficulty is also increased with the addition of more puzzle pieces at higher levels.
This app actually comes with the computer, and it is awesome! Steven and I both love playing with it. There’s a blank canvas, a paint pallet, paint brushes, crayons and pencils. Everything a 3 year old needs to get creative and learn about mixing colors – without covering your house in paint.
Steven seems to have trouble right clicking (probably because I spent so much time telling him to left click in his other computer games), which is how you bring up the brushes and pallet when you’re in the full-screen canvas, so sometimes he needs help with that part. But other than that, he can do it all himself. He loves mixing the colors in the pallet and on the canvas to see what they turn into and then proudly showing us his creations.
They’ve really done a good job designing this one. I’ve never seen a program mix colors and paint as realistically as this one does. It even has a “dry” button so you can continue painting without smudging the colors underneath.
This memory game is a step above others that I’ve seen. It gives you the option to match shapes, colors or sounds. The shapes game is a classic matching game, the colors one puts the same object on all the cards in different colors and the sounds one shows the same image (an audio icon) on each card, but plays sounds for you to remember and match.
Steven has mastered the shapes version. He still has trouble with the other two, but he’s extremely proud of himself when he completes any of the games.
The free version only comes with the beach themed decks. There are other decks and higher difficulties available at $1.49 each or $2.99 for all three, but I think we’ll stick with the free version until Steven gets better at the low level games.
This game is five games in one:
The first one is bubble popping, and what kid doesn’t like popping bubbles? This game has been helping Steven improve his mouse control skills. He has a tendency to move the mouse when he clicks on something, and in this game if you move the mouse you just drag the bubbles around rather than popping them. He’s slowly getting better at holding the mouse steady when he clicks.
The second game is an ABC game. it’s still bubble popping, but each bubble has a letter in it. You have to pop the bubbles in order. Steven still has trouble with letters (“Letters too hard, need help Mum-mum”), so we’ve been using this as a teaching aid. He recognizes some letters and knows that a few of them belong beside each other, but we still have some practicing to do.
The third game is counting. There are nine bubbles containing numbers that need to be popped in order. It’s been good for practicing counting with Steven. He can count to ten out loud and he can recognize numbers on paper, but putting the written numbers in order still seems to be difficult.
The fourth game is a shapes and colors game. You need to have the speakers on for this one. It will say something like “tap the green square” and you just follow the instructions.
The last game is a classic matching game. When you find a match, the bubbles pop!
The only problem we’ve found with this game is that sometimes the bubbles are hard to see against the lighter parts of the background. The games are great, though, and the graphics are beautiful. They remind me of some of our favorite story books.
Have you tried any of these apps? What did you think of them? Do you have a favorite that isn’t on our list? Let us know! Windows 8 is still new to us, so I’m sure there are some other great apps we haven’t tried yet.
This has become my son’s phrase of choice for anything and everything he likes. He’s currently 3 years old, obsessed with trains (especially the “Thomas and Friends” series), cars, Diego, Blues Clues, Zaboomafoo and sandwiches. But no matter what, the toy he’s currently holding, the episode he’s currently watching, the thing he’s currently eating, or whatever he happens to be thinking about at the moment is his “favrit”.
This phase of his inspired this blog. I’m going to take all of his favorite things and write about them from both my point of view and his. I’ll let you know how long it held his attention, if he wanted more, if it provided a learning opportunity, if it was something us adults enjoyed doing with him, and if it drove me completely insane! If you ever need more info, don’t be afraid to ask.