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So many choices, how to decide?!

I feel this way about almost everything infant/kid related these days.  Need to buy a stroller? How do you decide when there are new top stroller lists coming out ever week that range from $25 to $1000!  Need a new car seat?  Good luck!  There are options for infants, toddles, preschoolers, elementary schoolers and then there are the “convertibles” car seats that can grow with your child, so you don’t have to buy a new one ever year.  What about children’s books?  We all have been taught not to “judge a book by its cover” so then how are we supposed to decide what books to get from the library- or an even more costly of a decision-from the store (don’t get me started on the question of whether we should buy e-books or traditional books for children!).  Diapers?  Its not just cloth diapers or not but what brand do you buy for either cloth or disposable?  The “so many choices, how to decide?” is an overwhelming issue for parents related to just about everything!

Likely there will be a post about each of this topics listed above in the future, but today I’m going to focus on children’s media.  Again, “So many choices, how to decide?!”  Here we have the problem of platform.  First, you have to decide whether your child is going to use a TV, DVD, book, movie at the movie theater, computer, touchscreen tablet (e.g., iPad), smartphone, etc.  That’s just decision number one.  Lets say you have made that decision.  Say you just got a new ipad and you want to download  a few good apps for your child. How in the world do you pick?  Well here are some things to think about first:

1.  Child.  How old is your child (think both about age and general developmental ability).  Is your child 2 but extremely verbal and speaking at an older level?  Is your child 6 but struggling with reading and numbers?  These are all things to think about before searching for an app.

2.  Content.  What type of content are you looking for?  Are you looking for a game that will help your child practice literacy skills? Addition and subtraction?  Social skills?  Are you looking for something that your child will be engaged in and willing/wanting to play for hours or something that he can play for 10 minutes and then put away and do another activity?

3.  Context.  Where will your child be using this app? In the car on a long trip? With a teacher at school? With dad while dinner is being prepared? With a younger sister in the living room? Or maybe playing virtually against a grandparent in a different state.  All of these contexts influence how your child will be using and engaging with this app.

(See ScreenTime by Lisa Guernesy and her article in Huffington Post: Screen Time,  Young Kids and Literacy: New Data Begs Questions)

Ok, now that you have thought about these difficult questions.  How do you decide what app(s) to download for your child?


1.  You can search the appstore (or playstore) depending on your device and see what are listed as popular according to the store.

2.  You can download a bunch of free apps and then play them to determine which one is best for your child, given the content you want to learn, and the context the child will be engaging with the app.

3.  You can ask other parents, read reviews, or check blogs that rate apps.

4.  You could look for a company that you like and trust and see if they have created an app and try that one.

All of these are valid options for selecting an app for your child, but here is another one that many parents might not know about.  Common Sense Media provides in depth reviews of media (all types of media!) on their website-which can be a great first stop when searching for children’s media.  Common Sense Media allows parents to search through their database of reviews based on their child’s age, the type of content (app, movies, videogames, etc) or by topic (e.g., internet safety, physical health, etc).  This is a great first stop when trying to answer the never-ending question of “so many choices, how to decide?!”

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Executive Function

What I really love about child development is many of the concepts and ideas really, truly make sense to most people. Unlike many other fields, the terms that developmental psychologists use to describe concepts are usually pretty straight forward. For example, “Attachment” yep, it means exactly what it says, how well attached- or emotionally connected-is the child to an adult caregiver.“Reinforcement” and “punishment”, clear as day, reinforcement occurs when you do something to increase the chances of a behavior happening again (e.g., giving a child and M&M when they use the potty during toilet training) and punishment is something you do when you want to stop a behavior from happening again (e.g., time outs as punishment for hitting a sibling).
Of course there are quite a few concepts that have wacky names that don’t seem at all intuitive to most parents.  What am I talking about? Things like Executive Functioning… To me this sounds like something that is done in a large, stuffy board room, with a bunch of people dressed in suits, in order to get some big deal accomplished. (Much like The Apprentice Boardroom below)

When it comes to child development Executive Functioning, is actually a really interesting and almost overwhelming concept.  And actually the name is a pretty accurate description if you can disassociate the term “executive” from “businessperson”. Executive functioning is the group of mental processes that a child uses to achieve a range of goals. That makes perfect sense, right? No it doesn’t! Executive function is really hard to explain because it encompasses a whole bunch different mental processes (meaning things that you do in your head!).

Its easier to understand executive functioning by understanding some of the parts that make up the whole:

Attention: The ability to focus attention when needed is an important part of children’s executive functioning. For example, a child’s ability to sit still and read a book or their ability to attend to a long list of directions before starting an activity.
Working Memory: This is the ability to keep something in mind and to pull it out of memory when you need it. This can be something like remembering to take out the garbage after you finish your homework or remembering to complete all parts of multi-step math problem.
Task Shifting: This is the ability to switch between tasks and directions depending on the situation. For example, in music class children may play freeze dance. Children have to understand the rules of the game and shift and adjust their behavior depending on whether the music is playing (they can dance) or if it turns off (they must stop).
Inhibition: This is a child’s ability to STOP their behavior. For example, if you leave a cookie out on the table and tell a toddler not to touch it until you come back, you are testing his inhibition skills (same goes for adults!). (The image above of a child with 2 marshmallows is a classic executive functioning task)
These are just a few of the concepts that fall under the umbrella of executive functioning. Planning, flexible thinking, problem solving, and multi-tasking also play a role.

Why should parents care or think about executive functioning? Well, executive functioning skills tend to be highly correlated with a range of academic abilities. Kids who have better executive functioning skills (meaning kids who can pay attention, inhibit their behavior, plan activities, switch and adjust appropriately to directions, etc) tend to better in school (Blair & Razza, 2007;Bull, Espy, & Wiebe, 2008; Graziano, Reavis, Keane, & Calkins, 2007).

It is important for parents to understand that this is a developmental process.  Executive function skills develop over time- a long time!  Some research suggests that the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain behind your forehead that is largely responsible for controlling executive functions) doesn’t fully develop until your 20’s (Department of Health and Human Services)!  So parents, be aware of executive functioning skills with your children and  practice and reinforce behavior that is related to executive functioning (attention: sitting still; inhibition: no hitting, etc) but remember that these skills are developing and will be developing for quiet some time!

Note: Lindsay Lohan is 25 years old (DOB July, 1986).  Her prefrontal cortex and executive functioning abilities are likely not fully developed yet.

Blair, C. and Razza, R. P. (2007), Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten. Child Development, 78: 647–663. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01019.x
Bull, R., Espy, K. A., Wiebe, S. A. (2008). Short-term memory, working memory, and executive functioning in preschoolers: Longitudinal predictors of mathematical achievement at age 7 years. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33, 205-228.
Graziano, P.A., Reavis,R.D., Keane, S.P.,& Calkins,S.D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success, Journal of School Psychology, 45, 3-19.

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Valentine’s Day, Teaching About Love

Valentine’s Day, much like Halloween, is a holiday that kids love, primarily for the candy.  But the nice thing about Valentine’s Day is it’s about love and kindness and these are two very important concepts for children to learn about while they are young and throughout their life.  With all of the conversation about preventing negative behaviors (e.g., bullying prevention) it seems like we, as parents and teachers, get caught up in telling our children how not to behave rather than focusing on encouraging and empowering them to behave in a way that we want them to.  So here are a couple of ideas to teach your kids about love and kindness (both today and throughout the year) and I’m going to throw empathy in here as well because it’s just so important for acting with kindness.

Making Cards.  Valentine’s day cards are a very popular activity and one that can be a wonderful teaching opportunity when it is done with thought and care.  Kids generally have to send cards to everyone in their class, work with your child to think about each child as you address the card for each classmates.  Depending on the age of your child, have your child either write or say one nice quality about that classmate.  For example, “I like how Naomi shares the blocks with me.”  Making cards for friends and other people for other occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or first day of school is a nice way to remind your children about the importance of thinking about other people’s feelings and working to make them feel special and happy.

Get Creative.  Help your child think of novel ways to tell their friends and family that they love them.  Encourage your child to draw pictures, write a story, or make up a song of a time when they were nice to a friend or when a friend was especially nice to them.  By working with your child to create something you open up the opportunity for conversation and discussion about the different behaviors or experiences that make people feel happy as well as the ones that make people feel sad.

Gifts.  I’m not a big proponent of gifts just for the sake of giving gifts but of course that is one way in which people do show and demonstrate kindness.  A gift can be anything and does not need to be purchased at a store. Talk to your children about the many different types of gifts that exist and some of the best “presents” you have ever received to help them understand that kindness and thoughtfulness is often a wonderful “gift”.  Also talk about the importance of thinking about what type of gift you may want to give to someone based on the other person’s interests rather than your own. This is something that is often hard for young kids to understand.  They may think that because they love the color blue that they should get all of their friend’s blue gifts, even if they know that their friend Sophia loves the color purple.  Understanding that other people may think differently than you is a very complex task for young children to understand so be sure to talk to them about this often.

Do Something Special for Someone Else.  This is something that many families think about during Thanksgiving or Christmas-time, but tend to forget to do as much as the year goes on.  Valentine’s day could be another great holiday to give back and give kindness to people in need.  Whether that means giving a piece of chocolate to a homeless man on the street or singing a song for children in a hospital.  Valentine’s day is about showing love and kindess both to people in your life who you love and care for but you can also share love and kindness with others to make them feel special.

Model Love and Kindness.  As parents it is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day activities and forget to go out of your way to show kindness to your children, your spouse, or your friends.  Remember that your children are learning from your behavior so make a conscious effort to discuss acts of kindness that others have done and the ways in which you acted kindly to others.  Also talk explicitly about acting kind at home, explain that it was really nice that Daddy picked up the carton of milk that the family needed or that it was really kind and thoughtful of your son to clean up his toys without being asked.  Talking about these events and recognizing good behavior is sometimes hard when we feel like we constantly have to remind kids about what not to do, but try to take a few minutes each day to talk about the nice things that people did for you or that you did for others, maybe over dinner or before going to bed.

These are just a few ideas to think about.  I hope that everyone gets a chance to share their love and kindess today, either because it’s Valentine’s Day or just because it’s another Tuesday.


The Baby Center. The Caring Child: How to Teach Empathy.

Sesame Street.  Empathy in Children by James Herzog & Katherine Ross

Kaboose.  Top 10 Tips to Share with your Children.
This also includes some book suggestions as well

Reading Rockets Valentine’s Day Writing Ideas

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Birthday Parties


Tips for Children’s Birthday Parties That Encourage Proper Development

by Lisa Moore

We begin attending birthday parties at a very young age and keep up with the social tradition till the end of our lives. It’s one of those cross-cultural, social traditions that it is important to feel comfortable with from early on in life. When your child is the host or when your child is the guest there are certain social norms and behaviors they need to learn how to follow. Here are a few things to discuss with your child before they attend or host a birthday party, and a few ways to deal with problems that may arise.

Before Going to a Party Preparation:

  1. Monitor the blood sugar. If the party is at a strange time or they are sure to serve pizza, soda, and ice cream there is a blood sugar variable that as a parent you need to monitor. A solid breakfast, wholesome snacks, and plenty of water paired with a good night’s sleep will help prevent mood shifts from insulin spikes and crashes.
  2. Talk about what to expect at the party and read over the invitation together. Remind your child that the party is about the birthday boy/girl and that when their birthday comes around then it will be their turn to have a special celebration for their birthday.
  3. Remind them about the importance of “please” and “thank you” responses and other good manners. Manners put other people at ease, mastering them at an early age will make a huge difference in life.

Before Hosting a Party Preparation:

  1. The same techniques from above can be implemented for blood sugar, telling your child what to expect, and for good manners.
  2. Childhood parties are our first forays into a lifetime of hosting, so discuss matters of etiquette; hosting guests is an art and something to be proud of. Talk about ways that you and your child can make sure your guests will be comfortable. Also, explain to your child that even though he is the birthday boy, considerate and unselfish behavior is still expected.

Going to a Party:

  1. Offer to help at the party or chaperone so you aren’t just abandoning your child.
  2. Watch for any potential conflict and do your best to either prevent it altogether or step in before escalation. Fights over toys or taking turns are the most common.
  3. if your child is old enough, make-up a signal in advance that you can use with your child to alert them of inappropriate behavior without embarrassing them in front of the group.

Hosting the Party:

  1. Have structured activities planned.
  2. Keep a movie on hand in case the kids need some quiet time.
  3. Keep your energy relaxed, kids pick up on your anxiety and can’t help but be affected.

Birthday parties are wonderful if you can keep them running smoothly. It is important for kids to learn how to handle these social interactions when they’re young, because they certainly aren’t going to lessen in frequency as they get older.

About the Author: Lisa writes about throwing successful birthday parties with the help of Mario birthday party supplies, proven hosting techniques and fun activities and crafts.

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That’s a Bad Word

A few weeks ago the  Modern Family Episode “Little Bo Bleep” brought up the ever common experience of kids swearing.  While, I wasn’t impressed with the “realness” of Lily’s swearing escapade it did provide an excellent viewpoint of the options that parents tend to take when their child swears.  Cam found the swearing uncontrollably funny and Mitchell, true to character, found it inappropriate and vowed to teach Lily that it was bad to say that word. The lesson in the end is that children will swear, likely at inappropriate times, especially if they are as old as Lily is realize that using this word results in attention and laughter from others.

OK great.   Don’t laugh.  Lesson learned. We can move on to the next subject.  Yeah we all get that you aren’t supposed to laugh, but trust me, when a kid swears and it comes completely out of the blue, it will take more will power than most parents have NOT to laugh.  With a Ph.D. in child development, years working in a preschool, and decades babysitting children, most times when I hear a child swear, I have to either leave the room or shove a dish towel in my mouth to contain the laughter.  Literally just this morning I had to bury my face in a couch cushion, when out of nowhere, a friend’s 2-year-old daughter said, “No, that’s not a *BLEEPing* doll.”

To me, Modern Family failed in the realness factor with the arbitrary use of the swear word.  Most kids, actually don’t say these words completely out of the blue or without any sort of context, unless they are older and already have picked up on the fact that it is a bad word and will get some sort of reaction.  Language learning occurs through hearing adult speech and through repetition.  As children get older they begin to copy the sounds they have heard over the years. First it’s things like: “momma” “dadda” “doggie” “no”.  Then as they get older they begin putting two and three word phrases together “more please” “that’s mine” “doggie running.”  It can be around this stage when your kid might drop a swear word in a sentence they have heard before.  As children begin using full-sentences you may start to hear swear words used in an appropriate but novel context rather than a direct imitation.  We are impressed when our children hear us saying something like, “wow this dinner is delicious” and then on their own transfer it to a new context “wow, mommy, this ice cream is delicious”.  Great!  the word delicious was learned and is now being used in novel ways by our children.  Unfortunately for us, bad words are learned in the exact same way.

A good friend of mine (with a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology- so don’t worry it happens to all of us!) has a great story of when her 2-year-old went to the store with his father.  The father was in hurry and looking all over for diapers and the kid said, “Dad, where are the *Bleeping* diapers”.  The context was correct (frustration and stressed).  Placement and use of the word was correct in the sentence. Apparently the word was successfully learned.

So, word (sometimes bad word) learning happens and what’s amazing is how quickly and easily young children pick up on language.  Anyone else have a good “bad word” story they want to share to spice up our Fridays?

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Happy Birthday!

PlayLearnParent has turned 1 (DOB: 1/9/2011)!  Amazingly, just one year after the launch of this website, research has  come out to back up the importance of a space like PlayLearnParent where parents can get child development information!  Zero To Three, a wonderful organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of infants and toddlers by informing policy makers, professionals, and parents, just reported in their Journal of Zero to Three about a survey they conducted to understand the complicated world of parents today.

The findings from this survey indicate that parents have a better understanding about the importance of reading, singing, and communicating with their children than they did 10 years ago, but parents still struggle to grasp the importance of babies earliest experiences.  Additionally, parents still struggle with common challenging situations like: temper tantrums, controlling emotions, and sleeping and eating issues (Hart Research Associates, 2010).

Other findings from the survey indicate the value and role that technology has on parenting today.  Parents frequently turn to parenting websites, especially when their children are very young.  About 25% of parents use parenting blogs, chat rooms, and other social networking sites to find information on a regular basis.

In response to these findings, Zero To Three has created a new podcast series Little Kids, Big Questions to provide parents with more information on important topics.  And of course PlayLearnParent is here to help translate some of this complicated research and information for parents too!


Hart Research Associates.  (2010).  Parenting infants and toddlers today: A survey among parents of children birth to three years old in the U.s.s. for the period June 4-11, 2009, Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

ZERO TO THREE website:

University of Minnesota: Parenting Education

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Wrap an App

When I was younger the high-tech toy that children desperately wanted Santa to bring was a Teddy Ruxpin, a toy that could move his eyes and mouth and would read books to children when they put an audio cassette into the hard tape player he had in his back.  Today kids want an iPad; 31% of kids age 6-12 according to a new Nielsen Survey.

Now, I never got a Teddy Ruxpin, so this isn’t a push for parents to buy iPads for their children.  But if you are going to buy one, or if you have some type of touchscreen app-using device (like an iPhone, iTouch, Amazon Kindle, or android phone) that you let your children use, it’s helpful to know what types of apps to look for. Unlike the days of Teddy Ruxpin with a handful of tapes you could purchase, today new apps are being introduced daily and just like websites, they can be created by almost anyone!

Here are some resources to check out before downloading:

Common Sense Media provides reviews, age appropriateness, and some description of the content.  For example, “Eddy’s Number Party! HD” is reviewed as “A hidden gem!” for 4 year olds.  It receives 5 stars.  It gets 4 A+ for its educational value and 5 controllers for ease of use.

Parents’ Choice 2011 Holiday Gift Guide posted a blog by Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D. Editor of Children’s Technology Review about best apps for kids.  For example, Doodlecast is listed for Preschoolers and Cinderella Nosy Crown Animated Picture Book for Elementary Schoolers. (Two of my favorites!)

Of course there are also apps to help you find apps:

KinderTown (free) is an app to help parents find appropriate apps for their children.  You can search apps by platform, age, subject matter, and price.  This app doesn’t offer much beyond a searching service (meaning it doesn’t review the apps) but it will link you to the app’s page where you can read more about the app from the app developer.

Moms with Apps App  (free) allows you to search apps based on general categories (e.g., art, games, geography, parents), books, developers, apple pics, new releases, etc.  Again, this app doesn’t offer reviews of the apps, just another way to search for them.

Lunchbox Reviews provides reviews and ratings on a variety of apps both for kids and for parents.  Ratings are provided using a star system and users can rate the apps and include comments for others to read.  Lunchbox reviews also categorizes the apps by age group, platform,  categories, and device.

While all of these systems are helpful ways of organizing and helping parents find apps for their kids, from a research perspective we are very far off from actually understanding what kids are learning from these various apps. As a parent here are some other things to consider when buying your child an app:

1.  Child.  Think about your child specifically.  How old is your child?  How developed are her fine motor skills (e.g., controlling her finger movements on small objects)?  How well does she understand different types of content? Try to pick apps that move slowly, allow the child to set the pace, and are relatively simple.  Children will likely only be playing each app for a few minutes, there is no reason that the app needs to teach them EVERYTHING!  Think about the activities your child can do outside of technology – if he likes coloring, look for coloring apps that can allow him to expand his coloring experiences by mixing colors, etc.

2.  Content.  Think about the areas in which your child excels (e.g., running, counting, colors, drawing) and which areas she needs more help.  Also consider the topics that interest her (e.g., soccer, coloring, building) and topics that she hasn’t been exposed to yet but might like (e.g., travel, history, art).  Try to look for apps that push her to further develop her understanding and interest in topics she already likes and ones she may not have experienced yet.  Make sure the content is age-appropriate and help her to understand what she is playing with (the same way you help your child understand the content of a book when you read it!).

3. Context.  Before you buy apps think about how you want it to be used by your child.  If you plan on playing and engaging with your child while you use the app, look for apps that encourage interpersonal interaction (e.g., Toca Tea Party).  If you are looking for apps to keep kids busy in the car, look for ones that provide the interaction through the app (e.g., Sesame’s The Monster at the End of this Book).  How you engage with your child while they are using apps will influence how/if they are able to learn from the experience.

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