Best Toys for Kids

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Jan 202012


Wooden Toys by Garry Knight (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Almost a year ago, I saw this on Wired, and I finally found it.  Kinda poignant considering my last post about toys for Nathan.

Here’s Wired Magazine’s Jonathan Liu’s list of the 5 greatest toys of all time.

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard tube
  5. Dirt

The honor of the 6th best toy of all time is more debatable, and Jonathan offers some helpful suggestions (along with his readers and commenters).

Just too funny not to share.


“Educational” Toys for Babies

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Jan 192012

My wife and I have been on a buying binge lately.  We’ve been buying toys for Nathan.  We are buying stuff that Nathan likes, like his parrot (OK, that one was a gift from friends):


and his elephant:


But we’re also getting him stuff like his donuts:


He’s also got a zillion electronic widgets that blink and beep and sing and do all kinds of things – but funnily enough, he seems to like the simple ones best.

This seems to jive with this article I read on  We are so advanced these days that we think the kid’s toys have to light up and sing a song and dance a jig for him for the baby to be interested in it, but Nathan’s favorite toys (so far) are his colored donuts, his colored blocks, and little plush toys (mostly birds – ducks and parrots are the best!).  I remember when I was growing up that my favorite toy before the age of 5 were a set of paper bricks – literally little cardboard boxes with the outside having graphics of red bricks so that when you stacked them tjhey looked like brick walls.  I think I must’ve spent hours stacking them up then knocking and kicking them down.  Loads of fun, that. 

Before Nathan was born, I read Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina and one of the anecdotes that the author told was how one year, he opened some fancy toy for his two boys for their Christmas gift, and to his surprise, disappointment, then delight, the boys were infinitely more excited about the boxes the toys came in and they had a grand old time converting those boxes into all kinds of other toys as dictated by their imagination.  I was reminded of that story when I saw this on Facebook from a feed of a buddy of mine:


Sorry Alex, but I had to post this – this was too adorable.  My buddy made an Optimus Prime costume for his son out of these boxes – the idea was the boy’s, only the scissoring was by his dad.  This is just too awesome.  I can’t wait until Nathan’s old enough.


Baby Barbells

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Jan 092012

So in surfing the web once again late into the night, I find this.  Baby Barbells is a series of exercises that guys can do – essentially weight lifting routines where you use your baby as the active weight.  Kinda makes sense – the baby is only going to be growing bigger (and thus heavier) so you have weight progression there, and you have also some quality time you get to spend with the baby disguised as “daddy play time”.  And by daddy play time, I mean that dads play with kids differently than moms – on the average we do more physically rambunctious stuff with them more like wrestling with the kids or swing them around or lifting them into the air repeatedly.  So it only makes sense that you’d capitalize on this to work out.  And as I pointed out in a previous post about what I consider the single best advice for new dads, being in shape is probably the best thing you can do for yourself to help you be a better dad.  So kudos to Dr.Levitt for actually bringing this to our attention.

Jan 052012


Important notice to us California Dads: starting 1/1 of this year (2012), a new law signed by the Governor says that you have to have your kids in car seats until they are 8 years old, or 4 feet 9 inches tall.  Under the current law, kids have to be in car seats until they are 6 or 60 pounds.  I guess Nate’s gonna have to get comfy in his new seats until 2nd grade.

My wife and I are just in the process of trying to transition Nathan from his infant car seat to a convertible car seat.  In a future post, I’ll talk about the convertible seat we bought, a Britax Boulevard and why we chose it.


How To Teach MATH To Your kids–Starting Early

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Jan 042012


I’ve always wondered how some kids become so good at math, well, really anything, at such early ages.  Think Tiger Woods at golf, Bobby Fischer or Josh Waitzkin at chess, Terence Tao at math.  My theory is that you get them started early, and you get them going in a way that makes it fun for them so that they will like what they are doing and continue doing it even when the parent isn’t there driving them on.  So with that in mind, take a look at this article from that talks about teaching math to babies – or more precisely, how to begin the process such that they get a good “number sense” so that when they get to school, they already have a good feeling for the “mathiness” of the world.

In a nutshell, what the article proposes is that a child’s number sense is established by the time they get to kindergarten and sets them on a trajectory that can determine how well they do in math when they’re in the fifth grade.  I don’t know if I buy this completely, but I’m all for doing whatever you can to help them along.

There are some theoretical concepts that would be useful to understand in how a child learns numbers, such as math talk and (according to the article) the five numerical conceptual processes that a child goes through to gain that number sense.  I quote:

“- Stable order. The child learns number words have an order. For example 1, 2, 3 is correct. 1, 2, 4 is not.

– One-to-one correspondence. The child learns each number can only correspond to one object in a set of things counted. For example, when counting, each truck has its own number: the child can’t skip a truck or count the same truck twice.

– Cardinality. The child learns the last number used when counting a set of things is the number of things in that set. For example, when counting 4 trucks, when they label the last truck as number 4 that is how many trucks there are in the set.

– Abstraction. The child learns anything can be counted, even things that are not the same. For example, 2 trucks and 2 cars is 4 things in the set of things counted.

– Order irrelevance. The child learns that things can be counted in any order. For example, a set of trucks can be arranged in a circle and then in a line and there will still be the same number.”

And in keeping with the spirit of what I was talking about earlier – that is, motivate and inspire your babies by making these learning exercises fun, the article also has some very interesting suggestions for what you can do.  Again, I quote:

“- Encourage your child to the list off numbers 1 to 10 in the right order. While not necessarily counting, it helps them become familiar with number sequence.

– Count objects that are in front of the child and label the set size: “Let’s count your dolls. 1, 2, 3, 4. You have 4 dolls.” Point at each object as it is counted and encourage the child to do the same. Counting something is better than just counting.

– Vary what you count: count objects, but also steps, stairs, and sounds.

– Numbers can also be talked about in the context of reading stories to young children. There are often objects in pictures that can be counted and then the set size should be labeled. After counting something, labeling at the end is just saying “so there are 3 bears”

– Line up two sets of things: 3 trucks and 2 cars. Then count each set while pointing to each member of the corresponding pair: “1” (point to a car and a truck that are side by side); “2” (point to a car and a truck that are side by side); “there are 2 cars”; and “3” (pointing to the one extra truck that is not paired with a car); “there are 3 trucks. There are 2 cars and 3 trucks.” This helps kids learn one-to-one correspondence.

– Parents should find contexts in their daily routines when they can talk about numbers with their children. For example, “tonight there will be five people at home, so we need to put five plates on the table. Let’s count them: 1-2-3-4-5. We have 5 plates.” This lets kids know people do math all the time.

– When you are walking in the neighborhood, count the number of red cars you see, “1 red car, 2 red cars, 3 red cars — today we saw 3 red cars.” This helps give kids a clue to the fact that things can be categorized, and therefore counted, in different ways.

– Counting can come up when you need to share. “We have 4 cookies and 2 children — let’s give 1 to you, and 1 to your friend, another 1 to you and another 1 to your friend. Let’s count how many each of you have — 1, 2 — you have 2. 1, 2 — you have 2. Each of you has 2 cookies!” This gives kids a clue to the fact that the same items can be counted in different ways.

– Introduce basic calculation. “You have 2 trucks. If I give you 1 more, you will have…?” (Wait for child to answer, or supply an answer if the child doesn’t know: “Now you have 3 trucks.”) Subtraction: “You have 3 trucks — if you give one to me you will have…?” (wait or supply an answer).”

All excellent ideas, I say.  Now Nathan is just getting to that age where he can recognize when we are talking to him and he’s now responding back.  I don’t know if he’s going to understand “2 cars and 3 trucks” yet, but I’m certainly going to give this a shot as soon as possible.