Touch Screen Toddlers

When ‘screen time’ gets such a bashing from many parents, I may be seen as some sort of alien when I proudly say that my 1year old daughter can confidently and independently use an iPad, or smartphone to find her favourite games, programmes on Netflix, or songs on YouTube.  But not only am I quite a fan of quality children’s TV (I do ban a lot of shows but will happily have Cbeebies on for hours), I am incredibly proud of how ‘technology literate’ my children are.  I am also proud that they have been using touchscreen technology from the age of 7months.

Most households own at least one smartphone or tablet.  This is not a post designed to make parents feel they have to purchase an iPad for their children to use, this is just why I love my children using our iPad (that we purchased pre-children) and what educational value we have found in it.

Our children are the digital, touch screen generation and in the same way computers came into schools and homes when I was younger, electronic whiteboards and iPads are in the majority of Primary School classrooms today.  I can remember when there was a sudden switch in my schoolwork and I was expected to do most things on a computer.  This either meant booking some time in the I.T. lab, or doing it at home (computers in your home weren’t that common then)!  Shortly after that pretty much everyone had a computer at home (along with the fun of painfully slow, dial up internet that didn’t work if you were on the phone!).  I am digressing somewhat, but you get the idea.

Tablets are fantastic tools that are often overlooked, as parents just simply aren’t aware of all the great educational games and apps that are available and worry their children will just sit watching people open egg surprises on YouTube all day.  So here is a brief look at some of my daughters’ (1yr and 4yrs) favourites:

Top apps for 6months plus

  • Penguin Books – Happy Babies: Ladybird Baby Touch

This is a really lovely, simple and colourful app that is suitable from 6months.  It can be run on an auto-play function, or on a more interactive function that requires you or your child to touch the screen to reveal the next picture.  It is basically a digital lift the flap book (which makes sense as it is created by Penguin books), like the Ladybird books it features animals and then asks “Where’s your baby?”  before revealing them.  The music and voice over used it really good, gentle and calming.  The images and colours are attractive, visually stimulating for young children and friendly.  My favourite aspect is that when you touch the screen you get visual feedback (every time you touch the screen circles appear where you have touched) so children quickly learn the effect of their action.

     

  • Penguin Books – Peekaboo: Ladybird Baby Touch

This app is very similar to the one detailed above as it is made by the same company, but rather than just featuring baby animals, it is a Peekaboo game of Farm, Sea, Animals and Vehicles.  Again very much a kin to a lift the flap book.  With the same gentle music, nice voiceover, great colours, friendly appealing images and great visual feedback.  Peekaboo has a number of developmental benefits for babies and this fun interactive is great.  This game teaches the concept of object permanence (that things exist even when they can’t see them), problem solving skills and co-ordination.

     

  • Fisher-Price – Storybook Rhymes Volumes 1, 2 and 3

Most families will have at least one Fisher-Price toy lurking in their toy box and their apps are equally engaging.  I particularly liked these for my girls from age 6months as they feature popular nursery rhymes such as Incy Wincy Spider in a fun interactive way, helping the child’s language and literacy development.  Each app (I have used volumes 1, 2 and 3) has two books/rhymes, each of which have an option to ‘Read and Sing’ or ‘Read and Play’.  The voiceover used is really good and the words of the songs are highlighted (Karaoke style) at the bottom of the screen.  They have the familiar Fisher-Price design in terms of the images, so they are very attractive, child friendly and colourful.    

                                  

  • Blue Zoo Productions (Cbeebies) – Meet the Alphablocks

Any fan of CBeebies will know of the Alphablocks and I LOVE them, for anyone who hasn’t heard of the Alphablocks; it is a CBeebies programme where letters of the alphabet tell stories and make words using phonics and I love it because it teaches children the correct phonic sound of each letter.  This app is very basic in the sense there is no game involved and not a great deal of interaction, but it features all of the Alphablocks (every letter of the alphabet) and each one does a little song demonstrating its sound.

                               

  • Fox and Sheep – Nighty Night Circus Bedtime Story

This is a really lovely app with friendly and attractive images and calming narration.  The concept is that the circus animals (all housed in individual homes within the circus) are going to bed and you need to go and turn off their lights.  I think it is really good for teaching children a sequence of events and bedtime routine as after you turn off the light the animal settles down and goes to sleep.  As children can often find lights being switched off scary, this is a gentle way to reinforce this process as a safe part of going to sleep.  It is also just a fun game.

   

Top apps for 1/2years plus

  • Sago sago: Sago Mini Pet cafe

Sago Mini make lots of really good apps for children, this one features three activities that teach children about colours, shapes and numbers in a really fun way.  As the name suggests it is a cafe based game with a Cat, Dog and Bird.  Children can feed the animals by matching food to its silhouette (by swipingg or tilting), Count out and then feed food to the correct animal based on colour or Create a colourful fruit smoothy and experiment with mixing colours.  My 1 year old loves this game and is now a dab hand at all three activities, it has especially helped with her shape recognition.

     

  • Sago Sago Toys Inc.: Mini Space explorer

This is a brilliant game for younger children who are learning how to move things on the touchscreen by holding their finger down on them.  The play is an open ended activity as the child guides the dog through space passing by and playing with over 30 animations.  My daugher’s favourites are the farting planet and playing on the see-saw with the aliens. This game also gives children the opportunity to make up stories to go with the animations.

  • Sago Sago Toys Inc.: Ocean Swimmer

This game is pretty much the same as the above but set underwater and featuring a fish instead of a Dog in Space.  Again there are over 30 animations/ things for the fish to interact with and the child is in charge of where the fish goes and which things it interacts with.  My daughter’s favourite is the singing sea monster!  It is nice to have some games like this that teach a number of skills (how to drag and move things on a touchscreen, story telling and imaginative play) but also put the child completely in charge and not set to a particular outcome or goal.

  • BBC Worldwide (Cbeebies apps): Hey Duggee, Storytime, Playtime Island, Sarah & Duck, Charlie & Lola, Get Well Soon and Justin Fletcher apps

Cbeebies doesn’t really need much introduction or explanation so I have grouped them all together.  I would advise you search in the App store for ‘Cbeebies’ and choose your favourites as they are all good.  My daughters love Charlie & Lola, Sarah & Duck and Hey Duggee.  They are all good and have a number of different learning opportunities as well as featuring their favourite TV characters and well known Cbeebies images.

  • TinyHands apps: Towers, Sorting, What’s my pair, Tiny Hands, Racoons

Tiny Hands apps are developed with child psychologists (as advertised on the App store) and feature attractive and child friendly images and scenes.  They teach concepts such as shapes, colours, seasons, sorting, hand eye co-ordination, quantitative perception, concentration and vocabulary.  My 1 year old loves the sorting games and can now correctly and quickly sort objects on the game by colour and shape.  The different apps come in different difficulty levels and I purchased a bundle of apps and have been very happy with all of them.  They do offer free trial versions too.

     

Top apps for 3/4years plus

  • Motion Math: Hungry fish

This is a fantastic game for number recognition and basic maths skills, as you feed the fish with number bubbles and the fish can only eat a specific number at a time.  The difficulty level can be easily adjusted and children can do instant addition by putting number bubbles together.  This gives children an intuitive way to visualise addition and number recognition.  Further levels are available via in-app purchase that feature subtraction and negative numbers.

                                          

  • Toca Boca AB: Toca Robot lab

This game allows children to build their own robot with pieces of scrap, they pick the head, body arms and legs and after putting it together they fly it around the robot track, collecting stars, navigating their way past obstacles, through a maze like structure to get to the end.  They never make the same robot twice as different parts are always available each session and it is stress free play as the child is in charge of what parts they use and which way they go, yet it teaches some key skills such as problem solving, visual memory, hand eye-coordination and obviously use of the touchscreen.

                           

  • Fisher-Price: Think & Learn Code-a-pillar

This attractive and fun game teaches basic coding to children as they have to give the caterpillar the correct instructions to make it to the end of the maze and make it up to the next level.  This game teaches children the basics of coding – how following a multi step plan gets to the end goal, it also teaches problem solving, number recognition and sequencing.  Coding is becoming more common in areas of the curriculum now and this simple game (with varying and increasing levels of difficulty) teaches the basics in a really child-friendly way.

                         

  • Fairlady Media Inc.: Grandma’s Garden and Grandma loves bugs

The Grandma’s Garden App features an American crazy little Grandma and her garden of veggies.  Children match up the vegetables, identify letters, count objects, colour in and watch real gardening videos.  It is fun and engaging while teaching numbers, shapes, letters, colours, vocabulary and object differentiation.  The Grandma loves bug app by the same maker, features the same Grandma but this time children are spotting the differences between bugs, matching bugs, counting, spelling, colouring in, letter matching and recognising number groups.  Both of these apps have a lot of educational potential and although the American pronunciation and names for some of the vegetables is different to the UK it really has a lot to offer.  The Grandma offers lots of positive feedback and encouragement and even does funny little dances when you get things correct.

     

  • Innovative Mobile Apps Ltd: Monster hunt – Fun logic game to improve memory

This funny and engaging game features cute monsters hidden behind squares, the monsters are revealed at the beginning then you have to memorise where they are and select the correct squares.  You can adjust the reveal time and the size of the grid, so it can be adjusted to the child’s ability level.  If you don’t get it right a spooky sound effect goes off making it a fun game for children of all ages.  These types of memory games have been linked to increased mental sharpness and improved memory. 

                                    

Good entertainment apps

As well as playing the above games, tablets and smartphones are also useful for general entertainment and as I have already said, I believe there are educational benefits of children’s TV programmes and films, so these are my favourite apps for that:

  • YouTube Kids

This app is a simplified version of YouTube showing only videos classed as suitable for children.  It offers more control for parents.  My girls love watching songs on YouTube and their favourites come from Mother Goose Club, Super Simple Learning and Little Baby Bum.

  • iPlayer Kids

This is pretty self explanatory but I love that they have created a separate children’s version of the popular iPlayer app.  It has all your children’s Cbeebies favourites.

  • Disney Life

Use of this app requires a monthly subscription but if your child is a Disney fan it may be worth it, especially as there is no contract so you can unsubscribe at any time.  It features all the Disney feature films (although some very new releases will not be on there yet), you can also watch Live Disney TV, read stories and watch Disney TV programmes.  My girls love Sofia the First and Frozen so they go crazy for this app.

  • Netflix

Again this app requires a monthly subscription to use but you may not have been aware that you can set up a separate user within Netflix for your children and set it up as a child’s profile.  This means only children’s programmes and films are shown and they really do have a good range of shows and films on there.  My girls favourite is Max and Ruby.

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* Please note I haven’t included prices of the Apps as it is possible for them to fluctuate over time, but in general these apps range from Free to £2.99 per app and some are available in bundles which can be more cost effective.

* I have not received any incentive, payment or request to write this post, these are simply the apps I use with my children and have decided to share, images are photographs I have taken of the apps on my iPad.

Does your child use a tablet/smartphone?  What are your favourite apps?

Twin Mummy and Daddy
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Fine Motor Skills – Pre-Writing Skills

One of the things parents are often keen to tick off in the developmental checklist for their babies, is when they develop the ‘pincer grip’ and can pick up individual little things like cheerios, peas etc with ease and can then start to manipulate objects with their fingers.

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We love cheerios!

This is the first step in the development of your child’s FINE MOTOR SKILLS.

Why are parents so concerned about pincer grip?  Well in addition to picking up individual cheerios, the pincer grip helps the child develop the tripod grip (combined use of the index, thumb and middle finger, leaving the fourth and the little finger tucked into the palm stabilising the other fingers but not used in grip) required to hold a pencil and manipulate it with maximum efficiency.

So what are fine motor skills?

Motor skills are movements and actions of the muscles, these are categorised into two groups: gross motor skills (movement and co-ordination of arms, legs and other large body parts) and fine motor skills (smaller movements such as hands, fingers and toes).  One important point to note is that before children can gain full control over their fine motor skills in their hands they need to work on the muscles in their shoulders and back (upper body strength), so movements like making big circles with pom poms, scarves and ribbons and twirling are really good for this.

  • In order to write comfortably and hold a pencil well, children need to develop muscle control in their hands.
  • Developing hand arches – There are 3 arches in the hand, one is rigid but the others are flexible.  These need developing and strengthening so children have the stability and mobility required for writing, gripping and lifting.

What you quickly realise when your children start to write is that fine motor skills are REALLY important and I recently realised that I had become a bit complacent over my eldest daughter’s fine motor skills; she is only 4 and her independent writing and use of scissors are both really good and she has great control, so I thought everything was fine.  But then I realised just how poor her pencil grip was and although she has great control when writing, she is obviously only writing small amounts at the moment and when she is older and writing for long periods of time, if I don’t help her to improve her pen grip and build up those muscles, then her hands are going to be really sore and she will struggle with writing.

At the same time, I am not going to be there constantly rearranging her fingers and standing over her when she is writing, that will just make her uncomfortable and turn what she currently sees as a fun activity into a task!  So if I’m not going to do this, how can I help her? – through Fine motor skills activities and play.

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Pick a clothes peg up and you can easily get the correct grip on the peg, squeeze and open it, hand the peg to your child however and they may struggle.  When starting to do fine motor skill activities with your children you quickly realise just how often you use these movements/muscles everyday yourself and how important they are.  Just think how often you use one of these spray bottles! –

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Here are our top 20 favourite Fine Motor Activities:

Top 5 for hand arch strength:

  • Using tweezers to pick things up and sort objects (see image)
  • Using clothes pegs to attach things together
  • Using small hole punches to make patterns in coloured paper (see image)
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Spraying things with trigger action bottles, such as diluted paint (see image above)

Top 5 for control and hand-eye coordination:

  • Threading beads onto pipe cleaners
  • Putting cheerios onto spaghetti/ pipe cleaners/ kebab sticks (see image)
  • Putting paperclips onto toilet rolls or other objects
  • Poking straws/pipe cleaners into a colander (see image)
  • Weaving material or laces

Other favourites:

  • Painting with cotton buds (see image)
  • Playing with Play doh
  • Playing with stickers (see image)
  • Making pasta necklaces
  • Using squirters/pipettes/droppers
  • Practising doing up zips and buttons
  • Playing with spinning tops (see image)
  • Playing with clippy purses and bags
  • Popping bubble wrap (see image)
  • Sensory play writing with fingers in shaving foam

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Twin Mummy and Daddy

Weaning top tips

IMG_0502Weaning (British meaning – starting to give your baby food as well as milk) is a really fun and exciting time for parents and babies.  But even for second-time-round parents, a quick refresher of all the recommendations, dos and don’ts and ‘rules’ of this milestone is helpful.

Just a reassuring word from someone who has done it all before and is doing it again can be good.  So here it is.

Quick disclaimer, I am not a health professional, I am just a mummy who is about to start weaning her second baby.  I also don’t tend to follow the million and one rules and regulations certain baby websites, parents, food companies and so on decide to create when it comes to weaning.

Who would have thought that the simple subject of giving our little people their first tastes of ‘real’ food could be so controversial and filled with rules!

So here are my TOP TIPS:

  1. When to start weaning – personally I have waited until 6months with both my girls, because I like to know they will cope well with any food from the start, but it really does depend on you and your baby, many people start a bit earlier.  Look for cues that your baby is ready; wait until your baby can sit up in a highchair, until they can guide things to their mouth and when they start grabbing food out of your hand it is a good signal they are ready.

  2. Don’t worry about mess – starting to give first tastes is all about experimenting and learning, so in reality not a lot of food actually goes down the hatch!  The majority will be all over your baby’s face & body, the highchair, the floor and the walls (if they are a really good aim).  A good highchair (keep an eye out for my highchairs post, coming soon) and a wipe clean mat on the floor are all good ideas as well as lots of good bibs.

  3. Big brothers/sisters are a big help – babies seem to learn the quickest through watching their older siblings, so sitting them down together at meal times so they have a good (sort of) example and so the older ones can help to feed and encourage the baby are great ideas.

  4. Some babies like to do it themselves – a lot of babies like to hold the spoon and my eldest was one of these, so I let her!  It sounds simple, but the amount of people I see trying to stop their baby from getting the spoon, or giving the baby an empty spoon to hold while they ‘sneak’ food into the baby’s mouth, baffles me some what.  I know it can be messy but you are teaching them to eat, so if they want to do it themselves from the start then fantastic! See BLW below too.

  5. Variety and flavour – would you eat the things you are feeding your baby?  Now I am not saying give them some spicy chilli and a glass of wine!  But don’t be surprised if the mashed up, luke warm carrot doesn’t go down so well.  Mix things up and give some different, tasty, healthy options.

  6. BLW – I LOVE Baby Led Weaning (BLW) which is basically the idea that babies can have ‘normal food’ from the start so you just hand them the same food you are eating in suitable sized pieces and they feed themselves.  Although I do a mix of both BLW and some purees/pots/pouches I think there is a lot to learn from the BLW ethos, so check it out.

  7. Everything doesn’t have to be home made – so weaning is one of those areas where parents like to compete in the ‘I am earth mother extraordinaire’ games and you here many a parent brag about the reams of homemade (ice cube trays full of) stuff they have made for their little darling.  But the truth is, there are a lot of really good pots, pouches and trays of baby food available now, so don’t beat yourself into a mush (get it! 😉 ) over making everything yourself.

  8. Don’t eat it all up! / how much to feed them – while I am a very non-interfering and non-judgemental person when it comes to others’ parenting methods, I always sigh when I see parents trying to force those last few bits of the jar/pouch down their baby, or insist they eat everything on their plate.  Base how much you feed them, on their appetite, not the size of the packet.                                                                                                          As a rough guide babies tend to eat the following amounts: 4-6months = few mouthfuls a day / 7-9months = 3 different meals a day but amount guided by baby’s appetite / 12months+ = 3 meals a day with 2-3 healthy snacks.

  9. First foods – Vegetables are the best first foods (eg. cooked carrot, potato, sweet potato, broccoli, butternut squash) then fruit is good next (eg. avocado, banana, pear).  But after those first few tastes move onto everything (only couple of rules, see below).  Include all food groups: cereals (eg. bread, pasta, rice twice daily), fruit+veg (in all meals), protein (eg. meat, fish, beans, eggs twice daily) and dairy (eg. yoghurt, cheese once daily).

  10. When to feed – choose times when they are alert, not too hungry but not full either and when they are happy.  Don’t try to substitute milk feeds with solids, instead offer a little milk first, if they are so hungry they are upset or frustrated, or give milk feed after they have tasted some new yummy food.

  11. Drinks– once you have started giving solid food, babies can have cooled boiled water as a drink with their food, give it in a ‘sippy cup’ – a cup with a lid and a free-flow opening, so they don’t have to suck to drink and therefore begin to learn to drink from a proper cup.  Avoid giving juice as it offers no benefits and can create bad habits.  Cows milk isn’t suitable as main drink until 1yr but you can use it in cooking before then.

  12. Food safety – bit of a no-brainer; wash your hands and equipment and sterilise before feeding.  Throw away any unfinished served food as bacteria can be transferred from babies mouth to the food.  Heat food well, watch out for hotspots, ensure food is thoroughly defrosted if frozen and always check the temperature of food before serving.

  13. Cutting down the milk feeds? – Breastmilk/formula is still an important source of nutrition for baby until they are 1year old.  They still need milk and food is about fun at first.  Don’t force dropping of milk feeds, still feed on demand.  Naturally baby will start taking less and drop feeds by themselves.

  14. Food is FUN! – these first few months are all about fun, learning and good habits.  Don’t worry if things don’t get off to a good start or if they just play with the food, remember that children learn through play!  Even if you feel a bit anxious when giving them new food to try, do it with a smile, your baby will read your body language so give lots of encouragement.

  15. The rules I DO follow – so, while I don’t follow a lot of the excessive rules floating around today there are a few key things I would recommend:           No Salt in baby’s food, No Honey until baby is 1year old, Halve grapes and other round food before giving to baby, Serve eggs well cooked, Give full fat dairy and ensure water given for drinks is cooled boiled water.