At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Tag: Disney Junior

How Much Screen Time Should Your Child Get?

Once upon a time, my six-year-old son lived happily in a limited universe of video exposure. Now, he’s asking for more. What’s a parent to do…?

Once upon a time, my six-year-old son lived happily in a limited universe of video exposure. Now, he’s asking for more. What’s a parent to do…?

How much TV did you watch when you were a kid? As for me… I wasn’t allowed a whole lot of television, especially during my elementary school years.

That said, I do remember watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights after I took a bath and got into my pajamas. There was also “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” which my parents green-lit.

A few years later, I began to stretch when I got my TV time. For example, I watched the half-hour animated “Star Trek” series on Saturday mornings if I had made a noticeable dent in my homework.

I recall a few other shows, including “H.R. PuffnStuf,” “The Monkees,” and the original “Star Trek,” which was on WPIX TV in reruns at an inconvenient time slot on Saturdays at 6pm… my family’s dinner hour. So my mother had to figure out some fancy dinner scheduling to allow me to sneak into my parent’s bedroom to watch the next adventure of the crew of the Starship Enterprise while my dad ate his dinner.
(Remember, there was a time before VCRs existed.)

Lean TV Diet
Certain ‘educational’ shows also passed muster with my mom. A few were fun like “Sesame Street.” Others were kind of boring… but I was told they were good for me…so I struggled through.

I also remember the occasional Sunday afternoon black and white movie ‘classic’ on TV.
(Like 1939’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Charles Laughton.)

But I think it’s fair to say, my relationship with TV viewing when I was young was fairly limited.
(It was certainly not an all-you-can-eat buffet.)

Not an Expert
So I take this past experience and try to use it today for reference as my wife and I try to figure out how much screen time our-six-year-old son should be allowed to watch a week.

It’s such a complicated media landscape with the potential for my son to access so much screen exposure both at home and at school.

I know I’m not the first parent to contemplate such questions, and I’ve got to admit I don’t have rock-solid answers.

I expect this is going to be something of a Pandora’s box, but let me share what is most certainly NOT the final word on this topic.
(It’s extremely fair to say it’s a work in progress.)

I gladly invite other opinions to help guide my own perspective…

But a reader brought the topic to me last week.
So I thought I’d give it a go…

Consistency Matters
The core of my answer over the past couple of years has simply been this:

But as our son has gotten older, that simple recipe has been challenged…

First off, the length of time between when he pops out of bed and when we end up having breakfast can vary anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes.

That variance creates an inconsistent number of shows he gets to watch from week to week. And that doesn’t work so well for him.

So we’ve had to adjust the morning plan to a specific and consistent number of videos.

Okay… that particular adjustment wasn’t so hard to handle.

Outside Influences
Recently, he’s started asking about programming that isn’t quite age appropriate for him yet. I imagine he’s simply been exposed to the existence of this other content through conversations with his kindergarten friends.

My wife and I have successfully held the line on these requests and not introduced other content simply because other kids in his class are talking about it.

For example, he’s mentioned “Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders” a few times. Not that Scooby-Doo and Shaggy are really going to rot his brain, but I know there’s better content out there.

LEGO Assault
More challenging scenarios have developed when he’s personally uncovered new video opportunities. This has recently begun happening through the main page of Netflix Kids.
(‘Top picks for kids’)

Then, he’s really pumped up.

The major example to date has been through the universe of “LEGO Ninjago.”

A few months back, he ran into one of the Ninjago books at the library and was immediately enchanted with the four little Lego Ninja warriors and their Sensei Wu. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that there was a companion animated LEGO series available on Netflix Kids.
(“LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu”)

And yes, after he found it, we tried out the first episode together.

Guess, what…?
It was like eating sugar for the first time.

If we let him, he would have binge-watched all three seasons on Netflix on that first day. He really loved the continuing storyline.
(Seasons 1-6 are available on Cartoon Network.)

We wrestled a bit over how many episodes he could watch per sitting.
But even one or two episodes a pop totally disrupted the peaceful pace and balance of his previous media consumption patterns.
(We had all been cast out of our gentle Garden of Media Eden.)

After he finished Ninjago, Netflix offered up a “LEGO Bionicles” series (“The Journey to One”) based on the Bionicles he loves to build.
(Netflix, please stop being so helpful!)

Parental Guidance Required
I gave it a thumbs up, but I had my doubts… gives this Bionicles’ series a reasonable review, although they do rate it as age 7+.
(There’s a lot of cartoon robot fighting.)

Technically, by that standard, our boy is still a year out from when he should be watching this level of content.

But I also recognize that children mature at different rates, and their ability to absorb challenging content and imagery varies.
(Ultimately, I was okay with my six year old and “The Journey to One.”)

I know a couple parents who took their six year olds to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” My boy is nowhere near ready for that level of screen intensity. I’m certainly eager to introduce him to the Force, but it will first be through the much gentler “A New Hope.”
(Still, Darth Vader is a pretty scary dude.)

Family Movie Night
One successful idea my wife and I have used to guide the direction of new video content for our son has been the creation of our ‘family movie night.’

I put the iPad away and power up our hulking HDTV on the occasional Saturday…

We treat it like something of an event, and we all settle in together to watch an age-appropriate movie that my wife and I choose.

My son has generally enjoyed family movie night on the big screen, although he’s still getting used to the idea of being presented with ‘unknown’ content.

One time, he wasn’t so sure he would like 2006’s “Charlotte’s Web.”
(There weren’t any cool robots in it.) But this irresistible movie with an all-star voice cast for the animals quickly melted away any doubts.

Questioning the Rules
So I know my wife and I are still at the beginning of our journey to guide my son through a limitless supply of video opportunities and to help him consume ‘quality’ and age-appropriate content during his early years.

I imagine what I’ve documented here might draw a few opinions. Some may point out the discrepancy between my own upbringing and the relative loose set of rules I’ve employed to date.

(Welcome to parenthood.)

But if sharing my story has been of assistance to anyone with some of the same questions, then perhaps I’ve contributed my small piece towards the greater good.

Let me know your thoughts…

How to Feed Video to any HDTV with Your iPhone or iPad

If you want the ability to take over any HDTV in the universe sporting an HDMI connection, your iPhone or iPad can actually do the trick directly without AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV. Your portable Apple devices just need a little help….

If you want the ability to take over any HDTV in the universe sporting an HDMI connection, your iPhone or iPad can actually do the trick directly without AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV. Your portable Apple devices just need a little help….

Once upon a time I would go on vacation with a small army of tech gear to create an on-demand multimedia viewing experience for my entire family.
(The irony here is there has never been any demand for this capability. But of course, that hasn’t stopped me.)

First I brought my Panasonic portable DVD player along with 8,012 Lester-documented cable combinations to handle any possible TV configuration in the wild.
(Only slight exaggeration)

When iPads showed up, that made my packing so much easier. Who can argue with bringing a portable TV the size of a book? You just have to make sure it’s preloaded with all the videos you’d need.
(Assuming there’s no local Wi-Fi to stream with)

Problem solved.
(Well, not quite…)

How Many People can Sit in Front of an iPad?
The remaining issue is only one person can comfortably sit in front of an iPad. Maybe two…
(Of course I’d bring an audio splitter for two sets of ear buds, so my wife and I could watch an episode of “Downton Abbey” while our toddler dozed. But in those days, our little guy didn’t really doze, and by the time he got to sleep in a new hotel room, it was time for us to get some Z’s too!)

But recently I was introduced to a more advanced solution by some friends using their own iPad. This family is very much at home with their tech….
(I swear they come from an alternate universe where consumer technology always works.)

Vacationing with the Jetsons
Earlier this summer our two families took a short vacation together at a little beach house in Rhode Island. On the second morning, the adults were busily preparing breakfast.

The kids? Well, they were experiencing some early morning energy ‘bursts.’ They needed some focusing in this new and somewhat compact space. I’m not proud to admit this, but I suggested powering up thirty minutes of Disney Junior programming on my iPad Air 2.

I looked around for the 9.7” screen, knowing it wouldn’t be an ideal solution for our three young viewers.
(two five-year-old boys and a three-year-old girl)

Simultaneously, the other dad reached for a compact case of cables that was conveniently positioned by the large, flat screen TV set in the living room. For a second, I had a flashback to my own monster pile of travelling cables I had long ago abandoned. But it was immediately evident that this moment was about to reveal something entirely different.

A solution that made real sense…

The dad carefully revealed a sleek, white adapter cable. It was barely 4.5”” long. More of a mini adapter box with a short Apple lightning cable attached to it.
(What was this?!)

Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter

It was Apple’s Lightning Digital AV Adapter that allows you to mirror the display and audio from your iPad or iPhone to an HDMI-fed TV or screen.

It looked so simple….
(of course)

It was constructed with a lightning connector on one end for your source Apple device, and a little white rectangle on the other with a hole for a HDMI cable and a hole for a second lighting connector to run power from a plug.
(Keeping your Apple device flush with energy)

I watched as my friend effortlessly performed a little tech surgery, slipping the HDMI cable out of the back of the DIRECTV box and connecting it to his iPad. And then, as if by magic, the iPad took control of the TV.

I think I heard the three children coo simultaneously. They immediately settled in on the couch to watch their favorite Disney show in this newly created movie theater, powered by the iPad… streaming off of the house’s Wi-Fi.

I started to drool….

Late to the Party
Look, this Lightning Digital AV Adapter isn’t especially new.
Deep down, I think I knew it’s been available for the past couple years. I just hadn’t entirely understood how it could help me.

But to see it in action during a live field test…

In many ways you can think of it as your own portable Apple TV.
(Without the need for AirPlay Mirroring)

Sticker Shock
But this magical convenience comes at a price.

Apple sells it for $49.
(Really? For just a cable…?)


Of course, I Googled about, hoping to find another manufacturer with a knock-off at a lower price point.

(Not even AmazonBasics)

I did some additional research and came upon the reason…

Apparently, this adapter is doing some really heavy lifting converting the signal from Apple’s native H264 video format to an HDMI signal for your HDTV. Apparently, if you took a buzz saw to the white adapter box, you’d find something that approximates a mini computer inside.

The exact process of the video conversation is something of a mystery, and whether the video quality is entirely maintained is a bit of a debate online.

All I care about is that it works.
And it’s 49 bucks.

To ease the painful price point a bit, B&H Photo has it for less- $44.99.


Ready for the Next Vacation
So I now own the ability to take over any TV I come across in the universe with my iPhone 6 Plus or iPad.
(An iPod touch with a Lightning connector works too.)

Will I ever actually do that?
Just knowing I can is worth the two Jacksons.

Call me crazy…

Three iPad Apps that Teach Spelling and Math

Our son is hard at work training to become the 2022 National Spelling Bee Champion.  (He doesn’t know that yet.)  But I figured at least 2014 would be a great year to turn our iPad into more of an educational machine for his noggin.

Our son is hard at work training to become the 2022 National Spelling Bee Champion. (He doesn’t know that yet.) But I figured at least 2014 would be a great year to turn our iPad into more of an educational machine for his noggin.

Our little boy will soon be turning four!
And as his birthday approaches, I figure it’s a good time to review how he’s ‘using’ our iPad.

Way back when he was only two, he effortlessly learned the touch screen user interface on my old iPhone.
Finger swiping was as intuitive for him as drinking out of his favorite blue sippy cup.

We loaded up a few age-appropriate game apps and let him explore his newly digital terrain.
His favorite game was a fun puzzle app called ‘Tozzle.’

The challenge, of course, was setting limits as to how long he could play with the magic screen. The longer he spent with my iPhone, the more ‘engaged’ he became.

So eventually, the iPhone was banished to ‘the repair shop,’ and we refocused our boy towards more analog-based learning toys.

A year later, we brought out our iPad and experimented with the Disney app to stream some age-appropriate cartoons.
(His first pick was often “The Octonauts,” although he’s now started to go through a pirate phase and really enjoys “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”)

But we soon ran into the same ‘disagreements’ surrounding how many shows he should consume in one sitting.

And so the iPad had to take its own extended trip to the virtual repair shop.

A few months ago, it reemerged as a weekend-only device and only available as a privilege if the previous day had not seen any unsupported behaviors.
The year of the terrible threes really did have some ‘special’ moments.

I would say we’ve finally developed a reasonable balance of limited multimedia time in our son’s life.

But he’s going to be four soon.
He’s almost a man!
I know there’s so much more to the iPad for preschoolers than streaming Disney Junior!

It’s time to dial up the learning quotient!

Teaching Words and Math on the iPad
The other day, a friend of ours pointed us to three math and vocabulary/spelling apps she really likes for her five-year-old son. I think she even included the word, ‘phenomenal’ in her email to us.

These apps are a little pricey, costing a few bucks each, but a recommendation from a friend who’s also a teacher goes a long way towards making this kind of decision.
So I downloaded the apps from iTunes and set them up on our iPad for my son to try out…

Montessori 1st Operations
He played with this adding/subtracting game for about fifteen minutes and was fully engaged.
But it was relatively difficult for him… my boy adds by counting actual objects.
(as opposed to memorizing sequences of addition)
So it’s really just above his learning level.
But I expect it will gain more traction through the year ahead.

‘1st Operations’ also offers multiplying and division… should your little Einstein be ready for all that.

Endless Alphabet
This one was the clear winner.
He really loved this spelling and vocabulary game.
It allows him to match letters and listen to their sounds as part of a word while he builds words and listens to their definitions.

That said, he spent a lot of time working with ‘yucky.’
(I don’t know if that’s one of the next fifty words I’d prefer he learn…)

Maths with Springbird
$5.99 (schools edition)
This one is the coolest-looking of the bunch.
For you deal seekers out there, there’s also a free version you can download that contains the usual in-app purchase options for additional content.
I chose to spare my son from all the marketing static and went for the full boat upfront.
(Hey, his birthday is coming up!)

Unfortunately, it was way too advanced for his nearly four-year-old brain…
‘1st Generations’ was a much better fit, and that one was still a stretch for him.

On the up side, the graphics were really engaging.
I’ll dust off ‘Maths with Springbird’ again next year…

1+1 = 3
I’d like to give a special shout out to our friend who pointed me to these three apps.
Though they weren’t all exact fits in the Lester Learning Lab, I’m happy we’re exploring more educationally focused apps for our son.

Our friend also asked if we had any recommendations of our own.
In an attempt to harness the wondrous power of crowdsourcing, I thought I’d put the question out there to the greater parental consciousness.

So if you have any favorite learning apps for your four or five year old,
please share…!

%d bloggers like this: