Archive for the ‘software’ Category

Fisher Price iXL

Now, I’m not normally a big fan of electronics for little kids, but since I let them play on my iPhone, I agreed to let them try out the new Fisher Price iXL.  This sturdy little touch-screen device comes pre-loaded with a number game, a read-aloud story, and a doodling program.  The cute animations are of little monkeys that make us all laugh, and the story is appropriately paced for preschoolers.  I’ve enjoyed their interest in this iphone-sized personal electronic device (it’s significantly thicker than the iPhone, but approximately the same length and width.

What I didn’t expect was how much more fun we’d have with it when we put the CD in and customized it, which I finally did this weekend.  Now each of the boys have their own login, customized with their name, picture, favorite colors — and the included story picks up on the favorites that I entered, so the story is slightly different for each kid! 

I also spent a little time uploading some favorite pictures of family and friends, as well as MP3 files of our favorite kids’ CDs — and now the iXL is their very own digital picture frame (with full-featured doodle program for them to customize their own pictures!) AND MP3 player.  Which means we now have music whereever we go – and with a good speaker so that they (and only they) can hear their music in the backseat of the car, at Grandma’s house, or in the playroom, even if I forget to turn the music on!

Which I do sometimes.  Motherhood?  Is demanding.  This little device empowers my kids to flip through photos and play their own music — I’m sure we’ll be using it a lot this holiday season! 

Now, where did I put that Christmas music?

Disclosure: Fisher Price sent me an iXL to review after BlogHer. 

The new Tag Reader

Leapfrog has done it again!  Just in time for the 2009 holiday season, they’ve introduced two must-haves for the kid into reading, audio books, or just plain do-it-yourselfing.

  • The new Leapfrog Tag Reader has 32 MB of storage — twice as much as the old reader —  which allows it to hold up to ten full-length books, or even more of the delicious new phonics readers.  It still has all of the great features that it had before, including the ability to read a page at a time, a word at a time, and and to uncover new sound effects and dialogue hidden in the illustrations.

And now it comes in purple.  I mention that because that was a key selling point for my little ones, shopping for their cousin who is absolutely crazy about the color purple.  I didn’t find a pink one, but there is a special edition Disney Princess (Ariel) reader out there for those of you with little princesses.  [My boys are fine with just plain green.]

Tag books have always come in classic [Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Green Eggs and Ham, Olivia] and Disney [Spiderman, Dora, Diego, Kai-lan] type books, but now there are more than ever before.  30 full-length books, to be exact, all with special features in the illustrations that range from sound effects to dialogue that complement the understanding of the text.  Leapfrog has also introduced the new

  • Phonics readers, each of which introduce a new sound or two, with multiple-letter sounds highlighted so they are read as a unit.  The phonics books also allow the child to click on a special symbol and then touch a word to hear it spelled.  I didn’t think this would be a big deal for my just-five year old, but within minutes of unpacking the box, he was in his room, reading the book, and spelling out loud, “P-I-G, pig.” 

So yeah, they work.  I’m not saying they’re teaching him to read — that’s my job — but these books do serve an important purpose in the path toward learning to read.  The Tag Reader helps my child explore books in a way that goes beyond puzzling out the pictures at this almost-reading age, and helps him slow down and think about the parts of the pictures, the parts of words, and how the pictures complement the story told in the text.

They’re also fantastic for car rides.

The one caution that I would share with you about these activity books is that they are just that — activity books — and that they do not replace reading with your child, reading to your child, or teaching him a single thing.  But they’re a wonderful tv-replacement, or dvd-replacement on those long car rides across the country.  We’ve had ours for a year and a half, and the kids are still jazzed about them.

Edited to add:  Leapfrog’s Cyber Monday specials are now good until Thursday: Free shipping and up to 75% off books, readers, and gift packs.

Disclosure:  Leapfrog sent me a new Tag reader and two sets of phonics books for review.  I was not paid for this post or even asked to blog about it.  [I was so impressed with the new reader that I bought two for my little nieces, and books to go with them, on sale at Target.  Shhh.  Don’t tell my nieces before Christmas.]

iPhone Apps

@Stimey just wrote a fantastic series of posts over at Things and Stuff on iPhone apps that they adore, and she asked us what our favorites are.  Here’s my list — what’s yours?

Utilities:

  • Yelp, Maps, Kindle, AccuWeather, Camera Zoom … all pretty standard

Social networking:

  • Tweetdeck, Twitpic, Facebook, WordPress … also standard platform-specific apps
  • Bump — like trading business cards, if both of you have it installed

Card games:

  • Free Solitare 3D (and its full version) — mmm, excellent card games on this one, and
  • Solitare City — nice graphics for the standard games

Word games:

  • Tapwords — like Boggle for one, this is an addictive little game for word lovers — but be warned, the dictionary it uses is not your mother’s dictionary.  It counts many, um, blue words, in addition to old fashioned ones, and some I’ve even never heard of.  An interesting add to the mix (but I cut myself slack on the scoring because of this).
  • Word Tower — this cross between scrabble, boggle, and tetris is not to be missed for fans of the English language!

Preschool games:

  • Lights Out — fun tapping game about energy conservation, from PBSkids;
  • FW Sampler — preschool letter game; and
  • Echo — Simon Says

More challenging games:

  • TanZen — just like Tangrams, and just as challenging;
  • Toobz — awesome quick puzzle game that my preschooler, husband, mother, and I all love;
  • Nintali Lite — frustrating but addictive puzzle game;
  • Waterslide — my preschooler loves this, great graphics; and
  • Tiki Tower, which is the best and most awesome iphone app I’ve found in the entertainment department.  In it, you build a bridge stick-by-stick for monkeys to swing across, and then you tap a button to “let the monkeys out!”  My kids and I love it, and they learn a little engineering while they’re at it.

The only thing I’m really unsatisfied with is a good news app.  Any suggestions?

Edited to add: I forgot to add my favorite make-a-word games, above, and here are my new favorites from Stimey’s blog:  Time Mobile, Chicks on the Loose, Pole Position, Spazzle, and WebMD.  Awesome additions — thanks, Stimey!

It’s like a wee little wii

Vtech’s new Vmotion system is a lot of fun for preschoolers who are ready for video games.  The joystick is sized just right for little hands.  The controller is pretty straightforward; my 4 year old, new to video games of all kinds, picked it up pretty easily.  There are no wires to get in the way, and the system is responsive to a child’s movements.

The learning system is integrated into the video games, with the simple driving game (Widget’s favorite) also a hunt for missing letters.  The action stops while the child chooses the appropriate letter (from a set of two), and then they’re on the move again!

The only drawback is the graphics.  For some reason, the graphics are terribly pixelated.  Perhaps the game looks great on a handheld machine, but displayed on a TV, as on the Vmotion, the graphics give a very ’80s feel to the games.  I hope that Vmotion invests a bit in upgrading the graphics, even at the cost of new titles, because that is key to capturing a child’s interest.

Although my child was very happy with the Vmotion for a couple days, once he saw Daddy’s Nintendo wii, the jig was up and the Vmotion was put away.

For although the games were age-appropriate, learning-enabled, wireless, and fun, they’re just not as captivating as a realistic rendering of a tennis match.

Bob The Builder

Bob the Builder is in the house.

MY house, to be exact.

My computer, to be even more exact.

The good folks at Parent Bloggers Network sent out an email announcing the new Bob the Builder: Can Do Zoo computer game, and I could see my computer time drifting away even as I read the email.  I knew that if I said yes, I was saying goodbye to my own screen time because my kid was going to be so excited to play.

I was right.

We’ve had the game a week, and I think my kid has played it every day.  He’s almost four, you see, and very interested in computer games, but often frustrated by the ones aimed at bigger kids.  There are great games online, but it’s too easy for him to click away to other sites and pages, so I’m not a big fan of that option.

Bob is great because the game is self-contained on one CD.  It installs quickly and easily, and then the CD is not needed — which is important if you end up at Grandma’s house without the other game CDs.  (Not that that’s ever happened to me.  Oh, all right.  Not that that’s happened to me today.)  The game has several levels, appropriate for young threes up to fives or so, and the game gets more interesting and challenging at higher levels.  At almost-four, Widget easily mastered the easy and medium levels.

There are many different sub-games available, teaching skills like matching, counting, colors, and sequences.

We’ve enjoyed playing the game this week … and I suspect we will for a long time to come.

But maybe next time we’ll install it on Daddy’s computer.

BlogHer Swag

The 2008 BlogHer Conference was awesome and amazing and most of all REAL. But there was a commercial element that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention. You see, this conference was sponsored by a large number of corporations, all of whom wanted to market to us and get their product into our hands. Why? Because we WRITE. And because we have an audience. And because we have power to influence this audience by the use of our words to discuss products that we like, as well as causes that we support, and memories that we share.

In gratitude for their sponsorship of this conference (and, by extension, their funding of the twenty women who were awarded BlogHerships to attend the conference for free when they could not otherwise), I would like to take a few minutes to mention them all here. Forgive me for not putting links where I should, but I have more thank-yous than time today, and I want to get this posted quick.

Thank you all for coming, for talking to us, for taking my card (cause, yes, I did give everyone I met a Mothers With Cancer business card — we all know somebody), and for adding a little excitement to an already amazing conference.

My absolute favorite approach was the one made by Sesame Street. Sesame Street bought a suite upstairs and outfitted it with snacks, water, soda, fruit and nuts (thank you for that; sustaining food was more difficult to come by than sweets), DVDs with full episodes, and a stage set of the apartments’ front door on Sesame Street. AND GROVER. Yes, THE Grover. To this PBS fan, this was probably the most amazing celebrity you could have brought to the conference (and we had some amazing ones). PBS had put a lot of thought into this suite — they even came equipped with their own recording equipment, and we each got to MAKE A VIDEO with GROVER. And not a predetermined video either, but interacting and talking and laughing with Grover. I even got a hug.

PBS also promoted the new Super Sisters site — a site for parents — that will be hosted by our friends Kristen, Jen Lemen, and gave away shiny flowery mood rings as swag. Swag from Sid the Science Kid was all over the table too, including science notebooks for kids (hooray!), guides for parents, and coloring books of many of the PBS characters. PBS gets major points for promoting their kids’ shows to us, in a reasonable yet really smart way. Their big swag was a thumb drive/bracelet with games for 6-8 year olds preloaded. Very, very smart.

Raggs gave out videos and had a mascot present that made me smile. Sprout was another BIG winner in my book, with little toys, coloring books, and take home stuff that the kids just loved. Winning the Sprout giveaway was so much fun for me, a huge fan of this no-kids-commercials-but-all-preschool kids channel. When I told my roommate I won, she asked excitedly, “Did you win the flip phone?” Nope, I won the stuffed animal mascots (Chica, Boogie, and Star) and I was so very happy. (My little boy FLIPPED OUT over this when I got home. And he doesn’t do stuffed animals.)

Leapfrog TAG and DIGI were there, showing off their products and giving out coupons. Thanks for the coupons. They are EASY TO PACK and really will be used for future purchases. Vsmile showed off their new products, which include a new art studio, create your own book, and their new motion activated controls. Way cool. Even cooler than the Nintendo wii, in my book, since the wiis were always in use and never available for me to try. 😉

Intuit Quickbooks, HP, and Norton had a presence in the pavillion, offering freebies (Quickbooks, Quickbooks tutorial, tuneups, and Norton 360), and advice. I really enjoyed this part of it, as I had just been trying to use an old version of Quickbooks on the plane. One piece of advice, though. If you come promoting software, and you give that software away, it would be REALLY NICE if at least one of you knew how to operate that software.

Tmobile and Snapfish smartly gave away giftcards for things we could really use (and pack easily): Tmobile a week of internet access and Snapfish 50 digital prints. Awesome.

We heard from some well known internet services (Hello, Alltop! Thanks for the wine and paella!), and some that I was happy to learn about (Yedda questions and answers, jumpup.com business site, picnik.com photo site, smilebox photo site), and some that I probably would never have heard of otherwise, like easyprintdesign.com, babyjidesign.com, mccain foods mom squad, herroom.com (again, kudos for the coupon), kidsprotectionplan.com, brainpopjr, milkscreen, and boogiewipes).

Merci sponsored a National Thank You Day giveaway; I’ll be blogging about this more as we get closer to Sept. 22. I thought it was a way cool idea, and a great way to spread positivity. Kinda like Kristen’s Hope Notes that I learned about in Saturday morning’s session.

Other great giveaways came from the Military Support Blogging Project (USB drive), the Experience Project (although I didn’t get any), and several other vendors.

Mom Central brought books. Awesome. Could not BE any better swag.

The Silicon Valley Moms Group and the Kirtsy chicks procured some amazing swag, in ADDITION to all of this. Bags from Land’s End and Scholastic, t-shirts, stuffed animals (Russ has a new Bright Beginnings doll that has snaps, buttons, zippers, velcro on it, just like the old Dapper Dans), diapers, bottles, onesies, an internet password planner (this sent my roommate into happy overload), a day planner, DVDs, clown noses from Barnum and Bailey (these went over BIG with my kids), moisturizer, teeth whitener, soap (hey, what are they trying to say?), dentaburst teeth cleaners (there that is again), pens, baby shoes from See Kai Run, and many, many other things that totally didn’t even fit into my bag on the way home.

Like the yoga mat from Boca. And the full-size jars of Jif. And the carpet cleaner boxes that you can see on Alexis Neely’s video.

There were several products, though, that I’m not going to mention. Because I just don’t agree with their existence or their approach. (I didn’t take the swag.)

Well, there it is. The not-so-dirty little not-so-secret. Advertisers are turning to bloggers these days, if not with cash then with gifties. As long as it’s something that I can support and am happy to hear about, I’m okay with that. Bloggers are a force, in many ways, and it’s nice to see corporate America taking notice.

LeapFrog does it again!

LeapFrog, the company that has consistently introduced innovative products for the preschool and toddler set, has done it again. They’ve come up with a product that I didn’t even know I wanted, and made it so easy to use that a three-year-old can do setup and start playing with it right out of the box.

The product?  LeapFrog’s new TAG Reading System.  The system can be a comprehensive reading and learning system, but it can also be as simple as this: a pen-shaped tool that is sized just right for preschool hands and a set of books that pre-readers can now “read” during quiet time, dinner prep, or any time when they need a quiet moment but mom or dad might have their hands full.

The pen-shaped tool glides easily over the words on the printed page of each book, “reading” each word aloud as it is highlighted.  This way, little ones get the sense that printed words correspond to spoken words and they begin to correlate letters with sounds.  Just as they do when mom or dad reads to them.  In fact, that’s what I really like about this system.  It isn’t a “shortcut” to learning to read.  It just reinforces what we already do when we read together and I point out each word in the story as I speak it aloud.  The pen does the same thing.

(My only complaint about the system is this: when a child touches the word with the pen to hear it spoken aloud, the word is obscured by the pen itself.  I would have argued for a design that allowed the child to see the word through a little window, for better visual-aural association.)

Another option is for the young child to touch an icon at the top of each page that triggers the pen’s recital of the entire page of text.  This isn’t my favorite, as it doesn’t reinforce the word-sound association as well, but it is nice for kids as young as 3 to be able to do this part by themselves.

The neatest part about this system, though, is the potential for exploration of context clues.  Each book that I’ve reviewed (Ozzie and Mack, and Go Diego Go: Underwater Mystery) is fully illustrated with engaging details … and each detail also makes sounds when highlighted with the pen.  So, in the Diego book, the bubbles make glub-glub bubble sounds; the fish swish through the water, and Diego and Alecia speak their lines when highlighted.

Bonus pages at the back of each book teach rhyming and other pre-reading skills.

But mostly they’re just fun.

The reviewer received a pre-release Tag reading system and the Go Diego Go book gratis from LeapFrog.