First - An Explanation.

This blog will primarily review things that are of interest to fathers. While my interests may not match yours entirely, one thing we share in common is we both have children, so that will be the main focus of the blog. I will have occasional posts about other interests of mine though, such as video games, home improvement, etc.

For reviews - I will rate on a basis of 1 to 10 for learning, enhancing creativity, fun, and for toys, cost. and then give a general review. A 5 will be baseline, IE if a show is less than a 5 for learning, it means it may well be teaching your kids things you DON'T want them to learn, although this rating is likely to be rare. For cost, a higher number means more expensive.

Some people are of the belief that kids do not learn anything from watching TV or playing games. While they are welcome to believe what they wish, I am a first-hand witness to the contrary.

What I review will be both past and present, but will still be accessible, older kids shows for example will be stuff you can still tune into with a Netflix account. If you don't have Netflix - I recommend it, there are TONS of shows for kids on there, and the sheer variety will keep any toddler learning and watching for hours.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

To Breastfeed or Not - A father's perspective

Your first question upon seeing the title to this might be "Why does this matter to me?"
Well, if you're a workaholic, rarely see your kids, and pretty much let your wife handle decisions concerning them 99% of the probably won't matter that much to you.  For those more involved fathers though, this has a significant impact during the first year of your child's life, and chances are if you are involved with your children, you will also have a fair amount of influence in your wife's decision of whether or not to breastfeed, especially if you appear to be informed about the topic.

Now first off - by no means is this a clear-cut choice.  Despite what the Breastfeeding Nazi's, aka "Le Leche League" will tell you, neither method is wholly superior to the other.  So I'll basically go over the upsides and downsides of Formula VS Breastfeeding.  Since any upside to breastfeeding is a downside to formula and vice versa, I will just go over it from breastfeeding being the "default", and you can put 2 and 2 together and figure out which is better for you and your family.

As a side note - if your wife happens to know any breastfeeding Nazi's - be warned, they will be VERY opinionated as to how YOUR child is fed.  Resolve this however you feel is most prudent - personally, I prefer the "Extremely rude tell-them-to-fuck-off" approach.  This may not work so well depending on who the person happens to be to your wife though.

Breastfeeding -

Positives -
1 - From your perspective, breastfeeding takes a load of you, a lot of the work is shifted to the mother for a breastfed child. This may or may not be a positive to you though - perhaps you prefer to be more involved.  For myself, since I was taking care of the other children while my wife cared for the infant, this worked out fairly well.

2 - A Breastfed child is generally easier to comfort.  You stick a boob in their mouth, and they'll calm down around 90% of the time.  And the other 10% they don't, there is usually a problem you can fix, such as a diaper change.  If baby bumps herself, put them on the boob, if baby is getting overwhelmed, put her on the get the idea.  It is, for most children, somewhat of a cure-all.

3 - Skin issues.  If you have any sort of skin issues or dryness in yours or your wife's family...this can be the most compelling reason by far to breastfeed.  Look up "Eczema" if you want to see what I mean.  Breastfed children have a much lower rate of Eczema, which, if your child ends up with it, can be a MAJOR pain in the ass.  By that I mean, applying a type of skin cream EVERY day, sometimes twice a day, for years.  And that only staves it off - your child will still suffer from skin irritation constantly.

4 - Cost.  I think this one is self-explanatory.  Formula isn't cheap.

5 - Unknown?  There are many other possible long-term benefits of breastfeeding, however these are harder to quantify, as it us currently not 100% known how much breastfeeding impacts them.  For example, there used to be a study that breastfed kids were smarter children overall, but it was found out to be untrue - breastfed children simply had smarter parents, so the benefit was actually genetic(although I suppose if smart people are doing it it may not be a bad idea, right?)

Negatives -

1 - If you want to develop an early bond with your baby as a father, breastfeeding may in fact hamper this.  While you may love your baby(hopefully!), your baby may not be as fond of you, as you do not provide food for them.  This may sound inconsequential, but to a baby, food and sleep are pretty much all they got going for them at that stage in life.  My second daughter would have nothing at all to do with me for the first 6 months of her life(Although my 3rd there was no issue).  The upside - if you're persistent, it won't matter, they'll come around eventually anyway.

2 - You know how I said a positive is that it lightens your own personal load?  Well, this can be a negative as well, as it puts a large amount of extra burden on the mother.  If your wife is easily stressed out, prone to depression, etc, it may be a safer bet to go with formula.   Your wife is more prone to emotional problems in the months following giving birth, so take that into account.

3 - Breastfeeding may not always work.  Some women simply don't produce enough milk, or the baby may have trouble latching, or any number of other things.  This can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy.  Although formula can have it's own problems, there are many types of formula so it's usually possible to work around them.

4 - Travel, especially in early months, can be difficult.  One major advantage of formula is you can whip it out anywhere, and even feed the child while moving or driving.  For obvious reasons, this is not so easy with breastfeeding, especially if your wife is uncomfortable doing it in public.(there are items to help hide it by the way).  As your child can go longer and longer periods between feedings, this becomes less of a problem.

5 - On the same note, while breastfeeding is the ultimate source of comfort, it's not as portable.  Many breastfed children will also shun a pacifier, making it difficult to comfort them with anything but the boob.

6 - Sex.  This can likely impact different women in different ways, but personally, I've found that breastfeeding tends to kill a woman's libido.  This makes scientific sense, as a woman's body would want to avoid getting pregnant while breastfeeding, to avoid having to produce for 2 children at once.  This is supported also by the fact your wife may not ovulate during breastfeeding for up to the first 6 months or so.  Also - a woman who's breastfeeding tends to have sore nipples all of the time, so this kind of eliminates them as anything but a feeding device.

In conclusion - although it may seem there are more negatives than positives, not all have equal weight, so the overall is that it's simply a matter of what works best for you and your wife.

Monday, September 26, 2011

LeapFrog My Own Story Time Pad

Fun - 7
Cost - Around $30
Learning - 7
Creativity - 8

At a slightly higher than average cost, and a shorter period a child is likely to retain interest in it, My Own Story Time Pad isn't a great purchase, but, it's not a bad one either.  The age is a little off on this one - it recommends 2+, but I'd say an older child closer to 4+ would get more out of it, as simply figuring out how it works is a bit difficult for a 2 year old.   One upside is that, for a child who is interested in hearing the stories, once they get bored of the current ones you can go download new ones to replace them, this applies to several other things such as the music and songs, which could extend the life of the toy some.  Battery life seems pretty good, have had it about 2 months with 2 kids using it and haven't had it show signs of dying yet.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Show Review - Blue's Clues

Fun - 10
Learning - 9
Creativity - 9

Blue's Clues is a show about a guy living in a cartoon world with a pet dog named Blue, who's constantly requiring his owner to solve puzzles by leaving various "Paw Prints" around the house and yard on items which provide clues to the puzzle.  They're fairly simple of course, in order to build on the reasoning capabilities of young minds.  It also has other focuses in Art and Math to boost creativity and learning in those areas.  The biggest upside to the show is it's well-rounded nature, it has a very strong appeal to young children and a broad focus of learning.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Building a cheap play-house.

Total Cost - $50-$100, depending on what deals you find.
Fun - 9
Learning - 9(very good early on for building motor skills)

If you frequent home depot, or Costco, or Wal-mart, or any other major department store, I'm sure you've seen "Kits" for building your children a play house.  Generally these kits cost between $1000-$2000, and you STILL have to build the thing yourself.   So I decided to just build my children something simple, for much cheaper, that they still love to hang out in.  Also, since you're making it yourself, you can fit it to your own dimensions.  

This is what I made - the photo's aren't too good since I've taken it back apart(because we're moving), but you get the idea.  I haven't had anyone get hurt on it, and this is with having a 1 and 2 year old play on it for more than a year.  I've learned a few ways to improve on it as well since putting it together.

Tools -
A Drill
A basic power saw.

Total Materials -
2 4x8 sheet
4 4x4s
3 2x4s
A box of 3" square head drive screws
A box of 2" square head drive screws
Some Carpet remnants
Either some carpet glue, or heavy duty staples with a stapler
Outside walls vary based on how you want it

First, Measure the height of your room, and the height of your kids.

Basically, go to home depot or something similar, and buy 2 4x8 Subfloor pressboard subfloor pieces.  It's easiest to get one cut into 2 4x4 pieces, since you'll have to anyway, and it's easier to transport.  The other, get cut into 2 2x4 pieces and 1 4x4 piece.  Then, buy 4 4x4x8s, whatever material is cheapest - it'll be more than sturdy enough regardless.  Mine has a 4x6 simply because I had it left over.

Have all 4 4x4s cut.  Where you cut them will depend on the height of your kids and the height of your ceiling.  You will have each one cut twice, into 2 large and 1 small piece you'll get rid of.  You want the large cuts to be at least a few inches longer than the height of your tallest kid, and the total of the two to be a few inches shorter than the height of your ceiling.  Home depot I know at least does 2 free cuts per board, by the way.

So, lets say your tallest kid is 42 inches tall and your ceiling is 8 feet, you'd cut the 2 large pieces to be 46 inches long each.  Since the 4ftx4ft pieces are 3/4 inches thick each, that leaves 2.5 inches of clearance from your ceiling.  This is ideal, since you don't want them climbing over the top of it.

Lastly, get something to make it softer, find the cheapest carpet remnant you can in the flooring section, you only have to cover a fairly small area, so it will probably be the smallest one there.

Now, lay 1 4x4 piece out on the floor and attach the carpet however you are going to.  If you use staples, make sure they are in there deep, hammer em in after stapling if need be.  Next, lay out 2 of your 4x4 boards on the floor, and set the 4ftx4ft subfloor piece on it's side.  Attach the boards at the corners using around 5 of the 3" screws.  Flip it over and do the same thing with the other 2 boards.   After it's done, you should have the 4ftx4ft subloor piece laying flat, with 4x4s sticking up from each corner.

Lay the other 4ftx4ft on top.  Once again screw around 5 screws into each 4x4.  Attach carpet on top of that.  You now have an open box.  If need be, you can take a break and continue the next day, it's safe enough for the kids to be around it at this stage, as long as someone is in the room watching them.

Anyway, onto the next part, the ramp.  This house should be placed ramp-side flat against a wall, so that they won't be able to fall off the side of the ramp.  Take 2 of the 2x4s, and lay them on the ground parallel approx 2 feet apart.  Then take 2 of the cut pieces of the second 4ftx8ft, and basically form a "Bridge" laying them on top of the 2x4s.   The 2x4s should be out to the edges for the most amount of stability.  To get an idea what I'm talking about, just look at the left side of the pictures, that is the "ramp" which you are building.  Drive in a 3" screw roughly every 2 feet or so.

Next, take the remaining 4ftx4ft piece, and attach it to whatever side of the "Box" you built before that's going to be facing towards the wall.  This is where you will attach your ramp to.   Put the ramp up next to that newly-made "wall" of the box, to where the ramp touches the top-left corner, sort of like in the picture.  Then, place around 8-10 of the 2" square drive screws through the 2x4 on the bottom of the ramp and into the newly made wall.

You should have one remaining 2x4, which you're going to use to support the other side of the ramp.  Simply measure how high off the ground the top of the ramp is and cut a 2x4 piece to attach to the other side of the ramp.  Be sure to attach it on the INSIDE of the 2x4, so that the ramp can go flush up against the wall.  Then cut another piece to attach to the middle.  This ramp won't just hold your children - it will hold your own weight in case you need to climb up after them.  At around 285 lbs, it held my weight just fine.   After you're done with the ramp, attach a piece of carpet to it to make it softer, and you can then push the whole thing up against a wall.  

Now, take the remaining 4x4s and attach them to the top floor of the "house".  Put them just inside of where the other 4x4x come up from the bottom so that you can easily screw into it from below.  Once again, 5 of the 3" screws per 4x4, to make sure it's nice and sturdy.  If you want, you can even drill a few holes and put a few lag bolts in there for extra strength.

Now for the last part, the "Walls" of the top floor of the house.  These can be pretty much anything, depending on what you want to spend and how the room is laid out.  Again, refer to the pictures for an example, I used some scrap 1x4 boards I got at home depot for the lower part of the wall, so my kids could sit there and watch TV from that angle, and I used some peg board on another wall so they could have fun looking out the tiny holes.  If you use something like peg board though, make sure to reinforce it with either a 1x4 or 2x4 going across it.

For the ramp-side of the house, you can either leave it open if your toddlers are in the older range, or put a 2x4 across the top, then one more going down the middle, and block off the side that's a further drop to the ramp with a pegboard or other thin piece that you typically find located near the pegboard in the store.  For mine, I had an extra 4x4 piece, so I used that.

You can paint the finished result, or leave it as-is.  Either way, your kids will enjoy it easily enough to be worth the $50 or so you put into it.  And I like building things, so this was a fun project for me.  The reason you used square-head screws on the entire thing was, when you do want to take it apart, it'll be pretty easy as the screws won't have gotten stripped putting it in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

LeapFrog® Scribble & Write

Fun - 9
Cost - around $20
Learning - 9
Creativity - 8

For the price, you can't beat this toy.  I got it a little over a month ago and neither my 2 nor 3 year old has grown tired of it.   My 3 year old is rapidly learning how to draw letters with it, a vital skill for development.  It has 4 different modes to it, so approaches letter-writing from multiple angles, making it ideal for any type of learner.  It's also quite durable as it's been dropped many times and still showing no signs of loss of function, and it is still being powered by the original batteries it came with, despite heavy use.

Show Review - Team Umizoomi

Fun - 9
Learning - 10
Creativity - 7

This show is about 2 small people and a robot who interact and help children, mostly through solving scientific puzzles.  It goes over geometric shapes, basic math, recognizing patterns, and even teaches some basic values.  The show is highly appealing to toddlers, with very bright colors and a good solid pace to keep them interested.  It's pretty well-rounded from a math angle and is a good precursor to preparing your child for school later on.

Show Review - Bubble Guppies

Fun - 8
Learning - 10
Creativity - 7

This show is about a bunch of mermaid-like child creatures who live among fish, starfish, etc.  It's very bright and colorful, and is attractive to a large age range among toddlers.  It's a show that mostly teaches purely educational things as opposed to "life lessons", focusing on colors, anatomy, etc, on a level that toddlers can understand.   All in all, a very good show to let your children watch.