Sunday, September 14, 2008

We Start Our Gamers Young Here

Cordy loves watching TV, but for the most part it is a passive activity. She's never been one to talk back to the TV, even if the characters on Blue's Clues were prompting her for an answer. TV is for watching, and nothing else.

My husband, however, loves to play video games. At first Cordy protested, but when he bought Lego Indiana Jones, she became interested. She loved to watch him play "Cowboys in the Jungle" (her name for it), but the game is far too complex for her to play along with. And there's no way we'll let her near our Wii - too many stories of preschoolers throwing Wiimotes through TVs.

At BlogHer this year, I had the chance to see the new V-Motion Active Learning System from VTech, and I fell in love with it. When PBN then told me they were looking for reviewers, I practically climbed into their laps and begged. I've been wanting to try a game system for Cordy, but wasn't sure if she would ever like it. I didn't want to spend $40+ for something that may be completely ignored by my fickle child.

The V-Motion is the newest game system from VTech. It's designed for children 3-7 years old, with games that are simple, fun, and designed to teach children while they play. The controller is far more simple than a Playstation controller: one big button and a joystick control most of the action, with four smaller colored buttons that are used less often. What's unique about this system is the gyroscope in the wireless controller that lets you direct the action simply by moving the controller side to side or back and forth or up and down. It's like a Wii for the preschool set.

While I was totally sold on the idea, I wondered if the actual play would live up to the hype. I set it up quickly by plugging it into the TV, and popped in the Action Mania Smartridge that came with the system. The game is a series of different games, like driving a car, sledding down a hill, playing tennis, and backyard games such as sorting different colored balls. (It reminds me a lot of Wii Sports.) Your child has the choice of using the joystick and button combo to play the game, or using the motion sensor to play.

At first Cordy didn't understand how to use the controller. She kept pushing the joystick to one side, or turning the controller sideways and not moving it. I stepped in and tried to show her, which just made her mad. At the end of our first attempt, I was the one racing the car while Cordy stomped away, asking to watch Super Why again.

But later she was asking to try the game again, and she did a little better with it. I wondered if maybe she wasn't that interested in the game itself (she's more likely to play something if it features a character she recognizes), so I bought her an early birthday gift of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse game for the V-Motion. We ended up doing the entire adventure game together, and this time we made it all the way to the end without anyone stomping off in frustration. (Actually, there is nothing quite as funny as watching your kid dance around and twist her entire body to turn the controller right and left. Hil-arious!) I had to help her with some parts of it, but she really had a lot of fun, and cried when I told her it was time to stop.

She loves her game system now, and asks to play it every day. I still have to be right with her, helping her through each challenge, but she is only three years old, which is the bottom of the age range for this system. I think as she gets older she'll be able to play the games without my help. And actually, I think it's been good for both of us to work together as she learns the fine motor skills needed to use the controller. Playing games with the V-Motion is not too different from some of the therapy exercises she does with her OT.

I only have two complaints with the V-Motion. First, the AC power cord is not included, and has to be purchased separately for an additional $10 if you don't want to run through your entire supply of batteries to keep it powered up. And second, while I like that each game gives you a choice of using the joystick or the motion sensor, I wish it didn't ask right before each new mini-game or puzzle. It was hard for Cordy to know how to select the right one, and often she'd be trying to turn the controller side to side when the joystick mode had been selected. Choosing your option once when the game begins and sticking with it would be enough, I think.

As for features that I like: I think the controller is awesome. It's wireless and the motion sensor is very sensitive and accurate. The system also supports game cartridges (Smartridges) from all the regular V-Smile games, giving you more options to choose from. (Note that only games designed for the V-Motion can use the motion sensor function.) The games are fun, age appropriate, and teach colors, shapes, numbers, letters and more. Also included is the V.Link device. I haven't used it yet, but it's essentially a flash drive you plug into the game system that tracks your child's progress on games. You can then plug it into your computer to play games online at VTech and your child can compare scores against others who have been online.

Overall, I'm giving the V-Motion Active Learning System by VTech a big thumbs up. We've been toying with the idea of getting an early learning game system for over a year now, and I think this is the perfect system for Cordy. We've bought one game so far, and I know it won't be the last, either. There are a wide range of characters in the games, including Disney characters, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Dora. Each game incorporates learning with game play, so that I don't feel like game time is mindless fun time. And anything that can give Noggin a run for entertaining and educating my daughter at the same time is welcome in my home.

Find more reviews of the V-Motion at the Parent Bloggers Network blog.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Help For Everyday Toddler Battles

I go through battles with my three year old on a daily basis. It used to be far worse, when I didn't understand where this rebellion over every minor detail came from. I mean, does it really matter that much if I hand over her snack before her juice?

The hardest part of the day for us is morning, when Cordy wants nothing to do with getting ready for school. Despite loving school, every day begins with, "I don't want to go to school!" She drags through each task of the morning, unwilling to move at anything faster than a slug's pace.

It's because of this that the books Ready for the Day and Ready for Bed are now regular reads at our house. These books from the ParentSmart/KidHappy series feature tales of getting through these two difficult transitions at the beginning and end of the day. They're like a lesson for both me and Cordy in parent/child relationships.

Ready for the Day tells the story of a little girl who at first is resistant to getting ready for school. But her dad uses several different techniques to encourage her to get ready, and as a reward they have time to play before going to school. Dad gives her choices when getting ready, like asking which of two outfits she wants to wear. He also expresses understanding of how she feels, and points out when she uses her manners or otherwise behaves appropriately.

I can vouch for the technique of providing choices. Once I learned how to do this, it cut our battles down by half. Given a choice between two things or activities, Cordy feels in control and it often disarms her stubbornness. I just have to be careful not to give her too many choices, or she feels overwhelmed.

In Ready for Bed, a mother and her son go through all of the bedtime activities. The boy is grumpy and doesn't want to comply, but his mom makes it fun by doing many of the same techniques in the other book. She offers him a choice of which PJs he wants to wear, sympathizes when he doesn't want to get out of the bath, and encourages him when he remembers his manners. Bedtime ends up being fun, without tantrums and resistance.

The illustrations in these two books are beautiful and lively. The action is drawn well and the characters' feelings can easily be determined by looking at their faces. I'm also glad to see diversity in these books, both in ethnicity and including a dad in one book. I haven't seen many picture books that feature a dad in a primary care role.

Cordy really enjoys both books, too. She celebrates each accomplishment along with the young characters, and when a choice comes up in the story, she tries to make the choice as well. I think that seeing the positive interactions modeled by the parent and child in each book has made her think more about her own actions. The dialogue does seem a little forced at times, but otherwise it flows naturally and could be words spoken by a parent and child. It's been a good refresher for me, too - I'm consciously trying to offer more choices and encourage her when she does good things, rather than focus on the negative.

These books also provide a script for how early morning and bedtime should run, and can provide a sense of security for a child. I often remind Cordy of the little girl in the story, asking her, "What did she do next to get ready for school?" It's helping her remember which tasks need to be accomplished each morning.

Thanks to Parent Bloggers Network for this review - you can read more reviews of Ready for the Day and Ready for Bed at their blog!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ju-Ju-Be Winner!

Thanks to all who entered the Ju-Ju-Be diaper bag giveaway! determined that the winner is:

Wisconsin Mommy!

Stay tuned, more giveaways will be coming soon!