Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A merry techno Christmas to you

With less than a month until Christmas final present buying decisions are upon us. And yes we’re feeling the pressure at MumPanel too. Lynne and I (Nicola) have daughters of the same age and they both seem to want exactly the same things this year. We’ve both had serious discussions with Santa (in our house he’s watching when the red light comes on in the house alarm monitors, in Lynne’s house she speaks to the elves on the phone as Santa is so busy at this time of year).

We’ve negotiated around the fact that Santa isn’t keen on the idea of dolls that poo green and flimsy plastic Barbie doll houses. And although we know daft, fun toys are an important part of development we’re both keen to include at least one gift that has some educational value. Both our daughters started reception this year and are in the throes of learning to read. Just this week I was told I pronounced a certain letter sound incorrectly (that would be my Lancashire accent coming back to haunt me). Reading and language development is taught in a very specific way in most UK schools – they initially teach sounds rather than letters, phonics and work on chopping up and blending sounds to understand and create words.

I played with the idea of buying my daughter a laptop (to ‘do’ letters as she says) or an iPad but I couldn’t bear the thought of hundreds of pounds of technology smashing to the floor in a forgetful five year old moment.

Lynne and I had actually struck on an identical present idea without even realising it – the Leapfrog Leap Pad, a child friendly learning tablet. It’s sort of an iPad for kids, complete with downloadable apps. I was first introduced to the Leap Pad at Cybermummy earlier this year and was impressed with both the concept and the price point. And it seems the rest of the world thought this was a great idea and it soon raced to the top of the most popular toy for Christmas 2011.

I mentioned the Leap Pad idea one day to Lynne and she shared her thoughts on the product (she’d already bought one for her daughter). The real downfall with this product is it that it doesn’t tie up with current educational practice in the UK – so it teaches letters rather than sounds, American spelling and grammar. For both our children we want them to take part in activities that will reinforce what they learn at school, especially at a stage when they are just beginning to establish these skills at school.

It’s seems like a missed opportunity that LeapFrog haven’t considered what the UK market and school age children need – something that builds on what they are learning.

It’s been enough to put me off purchasing the Leap Pad which is such a shame as it’s ideal in so many other ways. I’m keen for my daughters to interact with technology (and even Fisher Price are aware that babies want to get their hands on mum and dads tech) but I want it to have at least some educational value (so I’m afraid Santa had said no Nintendo DS this year). And an article in the Guardian last week says there are more preschoolers who know how to use smartphones than tie their shoelaces. That just shows how important it is for technology companies to take into account what's happening at school during the product development stage.

I have a feeling my tangerine and nuts in the stocking isn't going to cut it this year.

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