Jan 302010

All those years writing parenting articles and raising four, count-em (hang on, where’s the little one?!), four children have taught me an important lesson: there are just two kinds of kids, clingers and bolters.

I had four bolters. At one stage there, I had three children under the age of three who would each attempt a nine-minute mile towards three different compass points whenever I looked like I was thinking of standing still for a second.

If you’ve got one of those clingy kids, a permanent whining attachment to one or both of your legs – you can stop whining yourself, you really don’t know how lucky you are!

For the rest of us, for any parent who has run panic-stricken towards every unfenced water feature in a large park when their toddler has disappeared, for all those parents who were on first-name terms with the local police from when their kid could stagger – have I got a gadget for you!

It’s overpriced, it’s over there (the USA, where else!), it’s over-the-top – but as a bolter-parent, I have a sneaking fondness for it.

The Amber Alert GPS 2G is a small (child tracking device that allows you to keep track of your child via GPS. It’s quite small – less than 5 x 5 x 2cm.

It’s got fancy-schmancy website access with voice monitoring, info on the speed of travel, and instant location feedback with street address, latitude and longitude.

You can program ‘safe zone’ boundaries (like child’s room, or every room but his brother’s room, or the house and yard – you get the picture) and then, parents get an alert (email, SMS, whatever) when the device leaves the boundaries.

And herein lies a problem – unless your child remains attached to the device, all you’ll get is info about the device remaining stuffed in the bottom of the sock drawer for many hours.  The makers suggest attaching to a wrist, ankle or boot. I suggest superglue to shin.

The device is US-focused but claims to work in any of 120 countries, provided there is a GPS signal and cell phone reception.

Bottom line: A leash is cheaper …
How much : US $ 379 plus US $10 per month subscription

Dec 202009

As any parent of a pre-schooler knows, young children are very, very cunning; they are born with an innate ability to sense the slightest moment of adult weakness; then their inbuilt instincts kick in, allowing them to take maximum advantage.

It’s very easy to make a major childrearing mistake in a matter of seconds. One day, in a moment of desperation, you hand your mobile phone over to your beloved offspring to keep them quiet at a critical moment – and, to put it bluntly, dear reader – you’re stuffed.

No matter how many Dora or Wiggles plastic substitutes you now try and fob off on your child, they’ve tried the real thing – and few substitutes will suffice.

Some parents have, in desperation, bought a Nintendo DS, just to regain control over their phone. But that’s just being a bad parent, because they’re not really educational. (Though when your child is naughty, you can confiscate it and play with it yourself!)

But now – yay – there is an Educational Alternative – you can be a Good Parent, and still have your own phone.

The clever clogs at Leapfrog have come up with a series of gadgets (beyond toys, really!)  that are all about education. They all feature an animated dog called ‘Scout,’ complete with BBC accent.

The Scribble & Write is my favourite of the bunch of toys (which include a mobile phone, called the Text and Learn, which has simulated text messaging!)

A cross between an etch-a-sketch and a kiddy-friendly chunky plastic PDA, the writing tablet part of the gadget lights up a series of dots for a series of shapes and then for each letter of the alphabet. Kids trace over the lit-up dots to form shapes and then upper- and lowercase letters.

Combining high-tech speech and animation with low-tech writing tablet is inspired, and really encourages active learning.  This cynical reviewer is a total convert!

It’s great for the car. My preschooler loves it – and at just three, she’s getting quite reasonable with pen control and letter recognition.  (Plus I’ve got my mobile back!)

Bottom line: Great little pre-schooler gadget that’s fun and educational
Where:  www.leapfrog.com.au.
How much : Au $ 43

Jul 012008

Despite my family suspecting me of early-onset dementia, I do have some remnants of working memory and, like most people over the age of about ten, once I have read a book, I’ll only read it again if it was a jolly good read and some time has passed.
But as any parent knows, once your pre-schooler has decided a particular book is a favourite, you’ll be up for a recital several times a day for the next six months or until you hide it somewhere they would never look (like their wardrobe).

US-based toy company Leapfrog scored a winner with their LeapPad kids own laptop reading system, launched a few years back, which appealed to a broad range of parents: the pushy parent wanting genius advantage before little Johnny got to kindergarten; the time-stretched parent whose kids had learned the alphabet from Sesame Street; and the desperate parent who had to buy themselves a new laptop following a trip to the sandpit.

The LeapPad’s successor is destined to be an even bigger winner, apparently; called The Tag Reading system, it is based on a chunky plastic pen-like stylus, in green or pink, that will read a paper-based book aloud and never has to do the washing-up first.

The Tag stylus contains an infrared camera that scans dot patterns on the books and then reads out the appropriate text to the child. Magic, I told my two-year old (though it probably uses an inbuilt MP3-like audio file.)

A USB connection allows you to plug the stylus into your PC to track your child’s progress and additional phonics-based activities at the back of the book can be useful to promote reading. Or you may have the kind of child who just wants to make chicken noises hundreds of times in a row. (Maybe that’s just my offspring!)

At least there’s a range of books to choose from – 18 books have been rolled out with the initial launch with the promise of more to come. And though aimed at 4-8 year olds, this would make a great present for stressed-out parents of 2-6 year olds. Just add batteries.

Where: http://www.leapfrog.com/tag
How much : Basic tag and book kit from Au $99, with extra books starting at around $22