Boy apps vs Girl apps

20141219_145956True confessions:  While I was recuperating last week, I allowed my grandson excess screen time.  I allowed him to use the me-pad for more than two hours at a stretch.  My justification was that the me-pad was more interactive than television and I really needed to rest (read my Stephen King novel).  Admittedly, swiping a screen is not as interactive as building unique penguin houses with Duplo or drawing fish with crayons but it was a quiet activity and I was in pain.  So after naptime, I handed over the me-pad.  This worked well the first two afternoons.  Delighted he played “Endless Numbers,” “Endless Alphabet,” and “Little Builders.”  The third afternoon he grew bored and wanted something new so he went app shopping.  One of my favorite children’s interactive game makers has a link to their products on the opening page of each product.  Normally this is not a problem.  When my grandson goes into the app store, I take the me-pad and open a program I already bought.  This time he fixated on a new game:  “Pony Style Shop.”

My grandson loves horses.  He likes it when I drive by the horse guard and the horses are in the pasture.  He has two little horses that he plays with.  Horses rank next to penguins in his collection of animals.  One of his favorite apps is “Busy Bear On the Farm,” where he likes to make Busy Bear ride the farmer’s horse back and forth for long periods of time.  He finds this hilarious.  So he saw the horses and wanted to open the app.20141219_142542

I did not want to buy the app.  It wasn’t the cost.  I quickly downloaded another app: “Brazil,” which featured 3 Brazilian landscapes complete with native animals and soccer balls.   That lasted a few minutes before he was back to the ponies.

I did not want to download the pony app.  It was clearly a program designed for girls and the suggested age range was 4-8.  In this game, one washed and groomed a pony in her stall and then took her photo, changing the background and adding color overlays.  The market was obviously the same as My Little Pony (of which I still have a full box).

I was rather irritated, slightly frustrated, lying on the sofa, listening to my grandson say ‘that, that  that.  Neigh.  Neigh.” when the bolt of lightning struck.  If this was a granddaughter and she wanted “Little Builders,” I would download it in a flash.

20141218_105425Oddly enough for a stay at home mom, I was a true eighties feminist.  I dressed my oldest two daughters in boy’s Oshkosh overalls.  I bought trucks, Duplo and Brio train sets.  Both of my older daughters had train birthday parties.  I bought games and puzzles to encourage math skills.  Access to the same type of play was supposed to help girls be more assertive and help boys be more empathetic.  By the time my daughters and her friends were three, the differences between the friends who were boys and those who were girls was obvious.  For the girls, the baby dolls and strollers, plastic tea sets and play food were favorites.   Then one day Barbie’s little sister Skipper showed up at a birthday party.  The house was soon overrun by woodland creatures wearing clothes, my Little Ponies, My Little Pet Shop , American Girl dolls and Breyer horses.  We got out the Lego once in a while.  My husband put his childhood electrical train up around the holidays, but my daughters’ interest in the train was fleeting.

My grandson has no interest in dolls.  He prefers plastic animals to stuffed animals (although he has quite a collection of stuffed animals in his bed).  He cannot watch football without grabbing a ball, running around the room and throwing himself down—CRASH!  Just like the football players.  He has his own version of basketball—a combination of soccer and basketball.  He’ll watch any sport on television—even golf.  He can identify various types of balls: football, baseball, golf and basketball.  And trucks and construction vehicles are the best.  (And every thing crashes.) When the weather was nicer, we had to walk over to a nearby construction site just to watch the workers.  Today he was yelling excitedly:  “Deer, deer, deer!”  When I asked him where the deer was, he pointed to a yellow John Deere digger.

20141219_145820I downloaded the pony app. For a while, my grandson washed the ponies, one after another.  He took a few photos.  Then he closed the app and opened “Little Builders.”  After a few minutes of making one construction guy spill his coffee and opening the door to the porta potty a couple of times, he abandoned the me-pad to go build a Duplo dump truck and fill it with penguins.  Then he needed to cook for the animals in a Duplo oven he had built.  Of course, the dump truck crashed while dinner was cooking . . .


Crashed cars

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Does this bruise make me look fat?

DSC_0238Tuesday morning was bleak.  The sun was supposed to be up when I opened the door from the kitchen to the deck to let the dogs out but I couldn’t see it.  The world was gray and cold—19 degrees.  It had been raining the night before so I should have been more cautious but my mind was elsewhere:  congratulating itself once again for mailing all the Christmas packages; ruminating over a possible blog piece; making a checklist of things that needed to be done that day and trying to watch where the dogs went—because someone has to clean up the mess and that someone is always me.  I should have been paying more attention to the surface of the deck because then I would have realized that the top step (which is slate) was coated in a sheet of ice.  But I didn’t.

I just stepped off the wooden deck onto the ice, flew into the air and tumbled down.  I curled my head in and put my arms up around it.  I told myself to scream so someone would come because this was the way old people broke their hips.  And by the time I landed my roll down the steps, I thought for sure that I had broken my hip.  After a few minutes of lying on the ground, I realized that no one was coming to help and I had better try standing up because I would freeze if I lay on the frozen mud much longer.   I got up.  I was in pain, yet I could move, so I started walking around the yard after the dogs. (Later my husband would tell me that he looked out the window and saw me walking and consequently figured that I was all right).  I hiked up to the end of the driveway to get the paper, which wasn’t there, and came back inside for coffee and to assess the damage.DSC_0261

I had been wearing a really old puffy blue ski parka which protected my upper body.  I had a few sore arm muscles, but my tailbone and my right gluteus muscles were trashed.  My natural padding had saved my skeleton but my skin in this area was a solid purple and one buttock was twice the size of the other.  I have taken quite a few falls snowboarding but nothing as spectacular as this.

Luckily I had dental surgery scheduled for that morning.  (I know, could the day get any better?) Like my tumble off the deck, this surgery was the result of my own negligence.  Sometime last winter I was eating something (when and what I don’t remember) when I crunched down and felt something gritty—part of a filling.  Just filling.  No tooth attached to it.  There was no pain.  I couldn’t see where I lost it.  I was busy.  My cousin’s daughter was getting married.  Then I was going to Hawaii.  I thought I’ll wait and mention it when I went in for my checkup.  I didn’t go for a checkup until July.  The bad news: I had broken a tooth; gum had grown over the broken part; I needed a crown.  But I didn’t return for the crown until December.  I hate going to the dentist.

Had I taken care of this last January, I might not have had to have some of my gum and part of my jawbone diminished so that a crown would fit.  On the other hand, I would not have multiple prescriptions for pain medications.  I don’t know which was worse:  the jaw or the leg.

DSC_0224So I have been slowly recuperating.  I spent the rest of the week in workout clothes and comfortable shoes or slippers.  I don’t move fast.  This is difficult when you are taking care of a two and a half year old whose idea of fun is either running or playing crash.  Grandma doesn’t feel like playing either. (And this limits those painkillers because almost three year olds are wily and grandma needs her wits.) On Thursday my grandson kept unlocking the kitchen door and dashing outside and up the driveway.  Normally I would have him back in the house before he could leave the deck, but I had no speed.  My muscles ached with every step.  I couldn’t wait for naptime.

But going slowly also has its advantages.  Grandson and I sat by a window and watched the birds—sparrows, finches, chickadees–and three very plump squirrels on the front lawn for forty-five minutes one morning.  Would I have noticed them if I had been bustling around, cleaning the house?  I saw the fox on the edge of the woods in the morning and again in the afternoon one day this week.  If I hadn’t stopped to catch my breath, would I have known he was out there, hunting squirrels and chipmunks?  Would I have enjoyed the antics of the gray squirrels preparing for winter if I was my usual busy self?

My house isn’t totally decorated yet.  I have the three small trees decorated but not the big one in the living room.  I haven’t put out my collection of crèches.  Instead I drank cup after cup of warm spiced tea, sat by a warm fire and watched the world outside my windows.  It was heaven.


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Remembering Pearl Harbor

Summer 2010 252

Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a day,” Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, “that will live in infamy.”  Time diminishes such events.  Very few people can remember the national outrage.  Only a few survivors remain.  Even as we venerate “the Greatest Generation,” read their stories, go to see the movies about their lives, the event that served as such a catalyst fades in our collective conscious. I admit that I seldom think about Pearl Harbor on December 7.  In the flurry of holiday traditions, who takes the time to remember that in 1941, young men and women sat down to Christmas dinner, already planning to join the armed forces as our nation prepared for war?  This year, however, I have been working on digitalizing photos of the servicemen (and women) from Avon, Connecticut who served in World War II.

During World War II, the town published a newsletter for those who served in the armed forces.  The newsletter featured the photos of those who had recently enlisted.  It had homey news about the town.  Some servicemen sent in photos of themselves in front of hospitals, ambulances, in France, in Germany, in Greenland.  Gerard Steben, who was in the Navy, sent photos of the USS Sea Snipe, a troop transport, in San Francisco and in Guadalcanal.  The photos for the newsletter ended up in the town history room and are currently being digitalized in preparation for an exhibit on World War II.  (They are not available to the public.) I edit the scanned photos, make sure the hats and chevrons show, verify the spelling of the names, and check for duplicates.  They all look so young.  They were so young.


After Pearl Harbor, some young men and women rushed to action. Others would be drafted later in the war.  As I work on the town photos, I do not know the history of each person.  Some like the Alsop brothers—Joseph, Stewart and John—were the sons of town selectmen, went to private schools and Ivy League colleges.  The library’s community room is named after their father.  A local park is named after the family.  Joseph and Stewart Alsop would become famous journalists.  Their brother John would run for governor of Connecticut (but lose).   Some were the sons of workers at Ensign Bickford, a local factory.  Some last names repeat two, three, four times. Brothers?  Cousins? The number of families that sent both sons and daughters astonishes me.  Most returned home.  A few didn’t.  The local VFW post is named after a native son who did not return: Guido T. Consolini who died in the Pacific theater in 1943.

If World War I marks the beginning of modern warfare; World War II is the beginning of our modern foreign policy. This event changed the course of our history, spurring us out of our isolationist policies into a war that already consumed much of the world.  Those who remained at home were united in their support for those who went to war.  Everyone sacrificed.  Everyone was affected. As a result, the United States became a symbol of freedom for the rest of the world.

On Sunday, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made on your behalf—for your freedom.  Do not let the collective memory of this day disappear from our hearts and minds.

On the World War Two monument, Washington DC

On the World War Two monument, Washington DC

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A Seasonal Ennui

DSC_0240When I picked up my cell phone yesterday morning, the Flipboard magazine article on the screen was titled:  “Top 11 Holiday Decorating Don’ts.”  (It’s on if you really need to see it.) My reaction was simple:  I am so not ready to begin decorating for the holidays.  I’m not ready for shopping or wrapping or baking, and yet it’s already December: time to put away the pumpkins and pull out the tinsel.  I don’t know why I’m not in the mood to decorate.

This malaise is unusual.  I’m usually eager to start setting up the house for Christmas and one would think that this year I would have started already.  One needed a sleigh to get to my house this Thanksgiving.  One minute I’m raking leaves; the next minute I’m shoveling snow.  Most of the snow has melted, but it’s still a winter wonderland outside.  Yesterday there was a Winter Weather advisory and we had a few flurries.  Nothing says Christmas like snow.  And yet I feel a little like the Grinch.  Bahh!!

Please don’t ask why for I don’t know the reason.  It could be the toothache that wakes me at night.  It could be the back muscles have become a bit tight.  I think that the most likely reason of all may be that my energy is sapped from chasing someone quite small. DSC_0261

But whatever the reason, I can’t stop Christmas from coming.  Yesterday morning, my grandson spied the snowman placemats that I bought for the kitchen table.  “Snow!  Snow! Snow!” he demanded, pushing away the Thanksgiving placemat at his place.  So I put out the Christmas placemats.  The ceramic pumpkin that held a flower arrangement now looked out of place, so I dug out a Christmas container and made a new arrangement.  Then a shelf in the kitchen where I had a tray with a Thanksgiving scene, some dried fall flowers and a small turkey bothered me so I found some gnomes and reindeer.  The reindeer made me think of the family room mantle.  I had a new reindeer for there.  So I put out the three reindeer and hung the wooden Santa a student gave me years ago.  But now I need to buy white pillar candles.

DSC_0259Why do all this? Why stress over decorating the house?  The reason is that I am not decorating a house—I am decorating my home.  What we do to get ready for the seasons makes our dwellings more than shelter.  These personal touches define us.  When we first moved here, I was quite taken by a home around the corner.  It was a larger, newer colonial than mine.  The entrance to the house was warm and inviting.  The owners had wooden Adirondack chairs on the porch.  Large planters framed the steps to the house, holding flowers or plants that reflected the season.  Then one day the occupants moved, the chairs were gone, and the house is an empty husk.  One can’t easily see my house from the street but I want it to glow with warmth and hospitality.  I want it to say “welcome” to those who come by.  I want it to radiate with the magic of the season.

So I have hung evergreen wreaths on the lamppost at the end of the 20141203_140140driveway, on the deck, on the front door.  I hung red and white bows on the lampposts along the driveway.  I have put away the turkeys and hauled out the Nativity sets and nutcrackers.  This evening I will put battery powered candles in the windows.  The more I do, the more my ennui dissipates.

This afternoon I began to plan where to put my trees.  (I’ll buy them this weekend).  I’m thinking three this year—one in the living room, a small one in the family room and a small one in the dining room.  I can put my small artificial tree in the basement. Speaking of the basement, I’ve got to go now while my grandson is taking a nap.  Somewhere down there is my Grinch doll.  It wouldn’t be the Christmas season without him.


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20141127_163021The day after Thanksgiving I am back in the kitchen, chopping celery, onion and carrots to make a stock. This is a new tradition for me. For years, I stripped the turkey carcass immediately after dinner and tossed it into the garbage.  No turkey bones stayed in my house.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year, The New York Times published Julia Moskin’s interview of LA chef, Suzanne Goin, who gave directions for making roasted turkey stock.  Surprisingly I did not save this recipe.  I still have the Better Homes and Garden recipes from 1978, the year I first roasted a turkey, and an article outlining the steps for the perfect Thanksgiving from a 1988 San Francisco Chronicle, the year we first had a huge family gathering.  I have old clippings from magazines and handwritten recipes from friends dating back to when I got my first apartment, but I didn’t keep this article.  However, I was inspired by the article enough last year that I broke the turkey carcass into pieces, roasted the bones, roasted the vegetables and then deviated from the original recipe.  Instead of gently simmering the carcass on the stovetop, I used my crockpot—so much simpler.  (I also skipped a step involving wine.)  This morning I broke the carcass in two and then realized I was going to need two roasting pans.  I set them in the oven to begin roasting the bones and started chopping the veggies.  That’s when my daughter pointed out that I needed something bigger than the crockpot.

This year’s turkey was much larger than last year’s.  This is because I finally replaced the tiny built-in microwave-oven combo that the previous owners had installed.  The concept was good but the microwave was outdated and the oven was tiny.  The first Thanksgiving we lived here, I bought a tinfoil roasting pan, bent it to fit in the oven, placed it on a small cookie sheet so it could hold the weight of a turkey and then cooked a fourteen pound turkey.  The next year I went in search of a roasting pan that would fit in the oven.  I found one (and cooked another small turkey).  However, in haste, I ended up buying two that would not work—the handles made the pan too large.   I meant to take them back.  Husband had a better idea—get a new oven.20140425_151246

I really wanted a new oven.  I knew exactly what I wanted—stainless steel double ovens by Kitchen Aid.  The interior was a pretty blue enamel.  The ovens could be programmed to work as a regular or convection oven.  If I gave up a drawer, this oven would fit.  There was a snag—we would have to have a 40 amp box where we had 30.  To do this, our electrical box would have to be upgraded.  On the other hand, this was not a bad idea.  I really wanted to be able to hook up a generator if we had a power outage.  I’ve lived without power before.  After the January 1994 earthquake, we camped in our backyard while waiting for the aftershocks to stop and the building inspectors to examine the damage to our house.  I‘m not worried about an earthquake.  But losing power in a blizzard and being without heat or water (because we have a well)—that scared me.  I wanted the generator more than the oven.

Upgrade the electrical.  Upgrade the oven.  Then when the sunroom roof leaked because of an ice dam and the door to the deck needed to be replaced, it made sense to upgrade the kitchen door as well.  You can see where this is going.  Now I want to repaint the kitchen, cover the popcorn ceiling, get new window treatments.  Maybe I should replace the cabinets too.  You would think that I would be thankful for what I have.

I am thankful.  I love my new oven.  When the lights flickered on Thanksgiving, I shrugged.  I have my backup generator.  We are fortunate that we can afford to make changes to our house, to buy food, to pay the heating oil bill.  I am fortunate to have a husband who loves me, three successful daughters and the most adorable grandson in the world.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want, we forget to be grateful for what we do have.  Instead of concentrating on desires, try focusing on the little joys of life.  A smile on someone else’s face can bring one to yours.


In case you were wondering what I did with my larger carcass, my husband used to brew beer.  I have a huge stockpot that is currently simmering on the stove.  For those of you who would like Suzanne Goin’s stock recipe, it can be found on the NYT website.  My variation will work really nicely with a chicken carcass as well.  My recipe:

Preheat oven to 400.  Strip the carcass of meat.  (I leave some meat and any leftover skin.) Break carcass into pieces.  If you did not cook the giblets, toss them onto the bones.  Roast the bones for twenty minutes.

In the meantime, chop three or four stalks of celery, two large onions, and four or five carrots.  (use half the veggies for a chicken carcass.) Add to roasting bones.  Roast another twenty minutes.

While the vegetables and bones are roasting, I make a spice packet from cheesecloth.  I cut a square of cheese cloth and then add spices.  I usually add two cinnamon sticks, a tablespoon of whole allspice, a half tablespoon of whole cardamom, a teaspoon of cloves, a teaspoon of juniper berries.  Today I made a second packet: six twigs of fresh thyme, two rosemary and two sage.  I put these in the crockpot, and add the roasted bones and vegetables.  I add water to the roasting pan to scrap the browned bits that cling to the bottom.  This water is poured into the crockpot.  I add more water until the crockpot is full.

I set the crockpot on high for eight hours.  I can open one half of my crockpot lid; so I do this the last hour of cooking.

Today I brought the water to a boil and then simmered it for five hours with the pot lid slightly ajar.

Let the broth cool, discard bones, spice packets, and veggies, and then refrigerate or freeze.

Sometimes I freeze one chicken carcass and wait until I roast another chicken to make stock .


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“This land . . .”

DSC_0128On Thursday nights, I teach a conversational English class at the local library.  The class is for adult second language speakers who want to practice their English skills with native speakers.  We discuss holidays, traditions, idioms, anything of interest.  The class is informal.  Students just drop in.  Last week was my last class before the holidays.  Only one student showed up, an older Russian gentleman, a former Soviet scientist, who left his native country over twenty years ago.  Since it was just the two of us, we talked about current politics, the Cold War, and the differences between Americans and Russians.  At the end of class, he asked:  “I can call you friend, right?”  “Of course,” I assured him.  He has been coming to this class for over two years.  Then he said:  “I love America!”  He told me that life was better here, that Americans didn’t realize how wonderful our lives were.  Then he wished me a Happy Thanksgiving.


Cape Cod (think cranberries)

I have been thinking about what my student and friend said.  Over the years, I have heard many stories from people who have immigrated and the hardships they left behind.  But this is not an essay on immigration.  Instead I want everyone to think about the wonders of our great nation.  Tomorrow we give thanks for our blessings, our family, our friends, our community.  But sometimes in the preparation for tomorrow’s feast, we forget why we have this holiday.


Fort Ticonderoga





In our national mythology, the first settlers celebrated after their first harvest to give thanks for survival in a new land.  In the first years as a nation, several presidents including George Washington (but not Thomas Jefferson) proclaimed a national day of prayer and thanksgiving, but even though Sarah Joseph Hale (who also wrote “Mary had a Little Lamb”) campaigned to establish a national day of Thanksgiving for almost three decades, the tradition of a national holiday does not begin until the Civil War.  After the Union victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November a public day of Thanksgiving.  This is a day to be thankful that we are a nation.

We are a diverse nation.  We are a vast nation.  Today the snow is falling outside my window and from the other side of the country, my son- in -law texts a screen capture of the weather in LA:  84 degrees.  I am making the same dishes that I have served at Thanksgiving for the past twenty years or more because my family expects them.  You may be making something different.  We are a nation of different opinions, different traditions, different tastes, different attitudes, and different landscapes.  Yet we are a nation.

As a result, the song stuck in my head this week is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”  And so I leave you with some photos of our great nation.  Be thankful for what we have.

Summer 2010 025

Redwood forests

El Capitan Beach, CA

El Capitan Beach, CA


Vermont Barn on President Calvin Coolidge’s home








Death Valley

Death Valley


I really like these pigs. On the Arkansas border . . .

statue 7



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The “Me-Pad” Dilemma

20140819_123203My grandson has been sick the past week and a half.  First he had a cold.  His actual symptoms were not bad: low grade fever, nasal congestion, some coughing.  But he wasn’t himself.  He would stop playing and stare out the window, swaying and blinking as if he were trying to stay alert.  His meltdowns increased:  nothing was right.  The penguin was in the wrong place.  The tower fell.  The car slipped under the sofa.  He just wanted to climb in a lap and cuddle.  So the television would go on:  Cars, Happy Feet Two, Finding Nemo slid into the DVD player.  But it’s a smart television and he’s a smart boy.   “No More Fish!” came the command.   “George!”  And the television would change screens and episodes of Curious George would play.  We do not have a television that responds to voice commands (yet), and while my grandson can work the remotes enough to turn on the TV and DVD player, he cannot navigate the smart TV (and neither can his grandmother).  So Grandma didn’t turn on the television; instead she handed over her IPad.

This is not the first time Grandma has handed over her IPad.  It’s a bribe.  It’s a way of getting something done.  Sit here with the IPad while grandma talks to the contractor, the doctor, a friend.  My IPad has 18 interactive games for preschoolers.  It didn’t come loaded with them.  I bought them.  I also bought some age appropriate books (and my grandson knows that he needs to open the bookcase to get to them).  He loves my two bird identification books. We enjoy playing with it together, but as interactive as the IPad is, I know that it is still “screen time.”    20140815_125807

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two, which pretty much translates as don’t watch television in front of your baby.  I didn’t watch television in front of my grandson but I did load an interactive book called Peekaboo Goes Camping onto my IPad.  Peekaboo, who is blue and has huge eyes, hides behind a deer, a tree, in a cave.  When you tap on his hiding place, he pops out and giggles.  Peekaboo also goes to the store and the beach.  By the time my grandson was ten months, he could bang on the correct spot and make Peekaboo appear.  And as a result, the screen on the IPad cracked slightly, just a hairline, not even halfway across.  I cut back on his use of my IPad.  If he saw the IPad, he wanted to play with it; otherwise, it was forgotten.  Out of sight; out of grandson’s mind.  Until he was two.

By the time my grandson was eighteen months, he could recognize the words: Good Night.  He slept with a board book version of Good Night Moon, which we still read before nap and bedtime.  He insisted that any board book that had “Good Night” in the title be placed in his bed.  We would hear him reading before he fell asleep and when he woke up.  It seemed a little odd that he didn’t have a stuffed animal that he slept with so I ordered a Good Night Moon bunny.  We put it in his bed but he didn’t cuddle with it.  He could sleep without it.  It was the book he loved.  Perhaps this early love of literature made it easier to load the IPad with interactive toddler games.  I could sit on Sunday mornings in our sun room and he would cuddle next to me and play with the IPad while I read the paper.  But shortly after his second birthday, things began to change.


Media began to intrude on our lives.  First the IPad and then movies:  Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two, Cars.  He loves going to the aquarium in Mystic to see the belugas and the penguins.  Happy Feet seemed like a perfect movie.  The next thing we know his crib is crowded with stuffed penguins (and a beanie baby puffin) that follow him everywhere.  Good bye Bunny!  Hello books about penguins.  He still sleeps with Good Night Moon.  We read Curious George stories twice a day.  We read all the time but the media monster has raised its ugly head.

The recent illness has not helped.  Now that he is back to normal, he still wants to watch television or play with the IPad.  “Me-Pad!” he demands.  “No” elicits a roll on the floor temper tantrum.  Last year I read a newspaper article about parents buying children as young as three electronic devices for Christmas because that’s all they want.  Really?  What happened to wooden train sets, Duplo, dolls?  The Me-Pad is an addiction.  The more I load on it, the more he wants to use it.  Is it good for him?

20140430_161550I am not sure.  I have taught remedial reading to seventh graders.  How do you make reading exciting when there are so many distractions in the world?  How do you convince teens it’s necessary?  By the time my grandson is in middle school, there will be even more distractions.  There are no clear studies.  One day I read an article suggesting that children who play educational games may have lower reading skills than their peers who don’t.  Another study says video games cause children to have shorter attention spans (that was also said of Sesame Street).  Then I read in the NEA daily news review that an NYU researcher did a study where low income preschoolers were allowed to use a mobile app for reading readiness.  Their scores went up 74 percent without a teacher.  But did they interact with an adult while using the app?

My grandson likes alphabet apps—we have three.  A few weeks ago, he looked at the letters of his placemat and pointed to each:  “Horse Apple Pumpkin Pumpkin Yak.”  He paused and then continued:  Horse Apple Lion Lion Owl Worm Elephant Elephant  Newt.  Last week he laid on the floor of my office, staring at my Jude Law poster, and intoned:  Horse Alligator George (Monkey) Lion Elephant Tiger.  George and Monkey are interchangeable but letter recognition is coming.  This is a plus point for the educational games.  When we read the board book Good Night Train, he calls out the last word of each sentence.  He may have it memorized, but he points to the word.  Score one for the tradition of reading to your child.

The answer is balance.  Play is the most important activity a child can do.  It helps develop imagination.  It helps develop hand-eye coordination.  It helps develop social skills.  Today I ignored the fervent chant for the Me-Pad.  We did four puzzles together.  He did one on his own and then he pulled out the Duplo.  Somewhere there’s a world where bunnies live in a blue house, a giraffe shares a cage with a baby lion, tigers and polar bears play together in a yard while penguins swing or drive cars.  He’s doing just fine (but the Me-Pad is about to go on vacation).


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