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Electronics and Your Baby

In this electronic age, how much is too much during those first few years?

Electronics and Your Baby

When my son Ariel was born in 1999, technology hadn’t yet taken over our adult lives. We had a largely tech free household, and read books all the time. As time went on, technology crept in. Ariel played more online games and read less. And yet, despite my fears, there was no million word gap or irreparable lag in vocabulary here. Why? Because we filled the hours of his early childhood with incredibly rich language together.

A recent JAMA Pediatrics study compared the amount of language used between parents and children when playing with electronic toys (baby laptop, talking farm and cell phone), traditional toys (puzzle, shape sorter and blocks with picture) and board books (farm animal, shape, and color themes). The results were clear: The number of parent/child interactions were greatest when reading books, somewhat less when playing with traditional toys, and fewest when using electronic toys. The study concludes, “Both play with traditional toys and book reading can be promoted as language-facilitating activities while play with electronic toys should be discouraged.”

Although the study was quite small, the findings still send a strong message to parents of young children. We know that Infants and toddlers spend the first three years of life growing vocabulary, and that a language deficit in kindergarten haunts children forever; they never catch up. If we miss the linguistic window of opportunity, the opportunity for learning shrinks drastically. Early language acquisition is a high stakes issue for parents who may not even understand the risks.

Research conducted by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, led by Patricia Kuhl, points to an especially relevant finding. Six-month-olds are equally able to learn all languages of the world if they are taught face to face. Learning from a recording or a DVD does not have nearly the same impact.

Face to face language learning in infancy even has an impact into adulthood. English speaking infants exposed to Japanese will have an easier time learning the language as adults. The sound system, when introduced to an infant face to face, remains etched somewhere in the brain, recalled 20 years later.

And while many of us are familiar with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 1999 policy statement which discouraged media exposure for children under two, this year the AAP updated that policy, saying there was no evidence of educational or developmental benefits to media use, but rather potential for “adverse health and developmental effects.” They also added warnings about the impact of television as background noise, and of children watching adult programs. How much exposure, when and what kind, all play a role in the impact on children under two.

With all of this evidence now in front of us about the negative impact of media use on very young children, and yet a world full of electronic candy dangling before us, what is a realistic family response? The AAP asserts that “If parents choose to engage their young children with electronic media, they should have concrete strategies to manage it.”

As a mom and an educator who has struggled with these issues for years, here’s a few suggestions in achieving some balance:

  1. Use age as a guide. The younger the child the lesser the media. Your control over a child’s learning environment decreases with age. Take advantage of the first two years as a sacred time. Try to keep up your good work until they enter kindergarten.
  2. Emphasize the face-to-face. Spend as much face to face time talking to your young child as possible. Work schedules, chores, caring for siblings—all of this pulls us away from direct interaction with infants and toddlers. Fight for it. Every word counts in the early years, but especially until they are three.
  3. Squeeze reading in to the crevices of your life. Visit your library once a week. Keep a special basket of newly borrowed books. Buy the ones you love. Read in the bath, before bed, on the subway, on the potty, and sing as well.
  4. Use media selectively and with your child. Listening to music on YouTube, for example, introduces new experiences that are valuable.
  5. Lead by example. Wherever possible check email and use the internet when your child is asleep.
  6. Lean on your partner. Between you and your partner make sure that one of you spends face time with baby while the other uses technology.
  7. Be realistic. Don’t beat yourself up when you need to use technology to help you get things done. Take the shower, do the dishes, and move life forward. You have to stay sane, especially with more than one child.

The AAP has asked pediatricians to talk with parents about making a media plan to lay out a framework for technology in the home. Consider outlining a plan so at least you can clarify where you stand as a family. You might not abide by it, but you’ll do much better if you are accountable to your own sense of what’s best rather than annoying advice from an outsider like me.

You are your child’s best teacher. On the floor, in the stroller, out and about and in the home, your words are what matter most. Your reign as the uncontested beloved ends sooner than you imagine, and once it does a flood of influences take your place. Use your time and your words wisely.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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