At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Octonauts

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…!

Where’s My Remote Control?!

Pop Quiz: Is this a photo of a alien sculpture on Mars or the power button on my useless Blue-ray player?  It seems if you lose the Blu-ray player’s remote with its magical ‘Enter’ button, you can’t run movies anymore.  Now what are you supposed to do…?

Pop Quiz: Is this a photo of a alien sculpture on Mars or the power button on my useless Blue-ray player? It seems if you lose the Blu-ray player’s remote with its magical ‘Enter’ button, you can’t run movies anymore. Now what are you supposed to do…?

It’s Saturday night.

Our three-year-old son has gone to sleep early, cozied up with his favorite Octonauts toys.

Downstairs, my wife looks at the clock, turns to me,, and she smiles.
She suggests… we may just have enough time to watch a Netflix movie.

We usually don’t get this opportunity, because we don’t want to risk going to bed too late…
Our little lad’s internal clock does not yet recognize the weekend, and his morning wake-up schedule is almost as dependable as an atomic clock.

I expect other parents will appreciate the difficulty finding enough time to consume an entire movie together without planning a formal ‘date night’ out.
(Let’s just say it’s been a while for us since we’ve tried this trick at home.)

Activate Movie Night
I rush over to the dormant media center, my pride and joy.
I swiftly open up the cabinet in the TV stand housing my four-year-old Samsung Blu-ray player (BD-P3600).

It’s quite dark inside, but there’s clearly a noticeable layer of dust accumulated on top of the Blu-ray unit.

Moon dust on Blu-ray player

Actual photo of my Blu-ray player’s surface

The shrouded device patiently awaits like Star Trek’s Guardian of Forever.

I luckily have a Netflix Blu-ray disk on hand that I think both of us will enjoy.
(Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Netflix Streaming isn’t an option, as it simply takes too much time to sift through to quickly find a good movie.

My wife sits down on the couch, and I pop the disk into the player.

Hollywood, We Have a Problem!
I reach up, and my hand misses its target.

Where’s the remote?

I quickly survey all the surfaces in the immediate vicinity.
The remote for the Blu-ray player is nowhere in site.

That’s really annoying…

I assure my wife it’s just an inconvenience.
Surely, the player will operate sufficiently from its onboard controls.

I get through the obligatory movie previews on the Blu-ray disk, and finally get to the “Play Movie” icon on the main menu screen.

I press the play button on the top of the device to begin our little Cinema Paradiso.


Then, I tap the ‘Next’ button.

I frantically press all the available onboard buttons.
But there’s no matching ‘Enter’ button, which the missing remote possesses.

Nothing can kick our movie into gear…

I turn to my wife.

Uh… I think movie night is cancelled.

But she is not so easily deterred.
She suggests we do some catch-up ‘Mad Men’ viewing on our always-ready cable DVR.

And so we successfully switch to Plan B…

Eating Humble Tech Pie
So, hanging with Don Draper really wasn’t such a bad back-up plan, but I’ve got to admit I felt like a mad man for the rest of the night.

The IT Guy had failed at the most basic of tech tasks.
How embarrassing.
(Sure, I could blame the disappearance on my little adventurer asleep upstairs, but it really doesn’t matter how the remote vanished…)

I was also rather annoyed with the stunning realization that my missing remote could completely hobble the ongoing functionality of my Blu-ray player.
(Whose genius engineering idea was that?)

Why even have a play button on the unit, if it can’t get you past the main menu?!

Brain Replacement, STAT!
So now what?

I had a giant hockey puck under my TV that wouldn’t function without its missing remote brain.

And I don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy a joint movie night at home while my three-year-old snores upstairs.

So I pledged right there that next time, I’d better be prepared!

I had four choices to consider:

  • Find the missing remote
  • Replace the Samsung remote
  • Buy a universal remote
  • Purchase a brand new Blu-ray player

1.  Send Out the Rescue Party
I’ve gradually faced a new reality over the past year living with my son:

Things disappear.

  • Sometimes we find them.
  • Sometimes we don’t, and I chalk up the missing items to the mysteries of the universe.
  • Occasionally, the objects suddenly reappear, but often months later.

I carefully considered the odds,
and then I called off the full-house search…

2.  Replace the Remote
Fat chance, right?

Where would you even you go to buy a replacement remote for a discontinued model?
(more on this in a moment….)

3.  Go Universal
Universal remotes have been around forever.
I’ve owned my fair share over the years.
But they eventually get old and have trouble playing with the newer gear you eventually buy.

Fact Check: Currently, the Lester household is without a universal remote.

I am not proud to admit this, but I use five remotes to control the TV, cable box, Roku, Apple TV, and my formerly functioning Blu-ray player.

For some strange reason, my wife says this set up is a tad confusing.
I’m not sure I understand why.

I suppose the upside is whenever we lose a remote, my entire media display zone isn’t completely crippled…

I admit we’re due for a new universal remote.
I just haven’t gotten around to it…

So you might conclude this would be the perfect time for me to pick up a universal remote and regain control of our lobotomized Blu-ray player.

4.  Go Crazy and Start Over
Our disposable tech culture would say-
Just throw the problem in the trash and buy a shiny new one…

So let’s consider the option of picking up a new Blu-ray player…

Remember how much Blu-ray players cost just a few years ago?
This technology has really matured…
Now, it’s relative chump change!
(Too bad, Blu-ray disks are still so expensive…)

All this said, we’re still talking about replacing an old top-of-the-line model with a new bargain-basement afterthought. While it functionally meets my need, it’s not quite an apples-to-apples replacement option.

Is It my Birthday?!
So remember the ‘crazy’ option of simply replacing the remote?
What are the odds I’d find an exact duplicate of my four-year-old remote?

  • 1 in 100?
  • 1 in 5 trillion?

Guess what…?
Take the odds.

Amazon indeed has the replacement remote!
It’s the ‘Samsung Remote Control AK59-00104K’
for only $12.10 plus $4.95 shipping.
(No Amazon Prime is offered, but the vast majority of reviews were wicked positive…)

$17.05 to put my next movie night back on track?

(Amazon to the rescue!)

The Conundrum of Blu-ray’s Future
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of a little bad luck and upgrading your Blu-ray player for far less than your original investment.

But the fact that my current unit sports that unsightly layer of moon dusk is a clue to how much I’ve actually used it over the past couple of years.

You can blame this trend on my new-daddy schedule, but it probably also points to the stiff competition offered today from streaming technologies..
Plus, you know I’ve been consuming much of my media as a Road Warrior.

It all points to the basic question:
Do you even need a Blu-ray player anymore?
(That’s an especially painful question considering the prices I’ve been paying for my Blu-ray movies.)

So if 17 bucks can buy me a reprieve on an answer, I say that’s money well spent!

The Power of ‘Enter’
My ‘rescue’ remote arrived in the mail last week and its powerful ‘Enter’ button immediately reactivated my sidelined Blu-ray player.

The rescue remote arrives

Then I looked around the room to see if I was alone. There were no prying eyes lurking in the corner to observe my next little precaution…

I hid my new remote control away from my little Ethan Hunt.
(and where I hopefully won’t forget where its located)

Movie night at the Lester household is again open for business!

Popcorn for all!

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