Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Skeptics, Draw Near! My Baby Can Read! I Think...

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When The Parent Bloggers Network issued a call for folks to review a series of DVDs called Your Baby Can Read! I though I was hitting the proverbial snark gold mine. This was ready-made mocking territory, and I hadn't even gotten to the part about it being based on the research of Robert C. Titzer, Ph. D.

(I know. I am juvenile. Like, fourteen.)

But then I read some of what Dr. Titzer had to say and watched the 'parents' section of the video and I thought, hey, this might make sense. Dr. Titzer's theory is that babies can learn written words as easily as they learn spoken words, often at the same time, by using a multi-sensory approach. The videos show the word, say the word and then show a picture or an action related to the word. For example, they show the word 'Cat', say the word 'Cat' and then show a short clip of a cat with a simple narrative. It didn't hurt that the video also showed numerous babies and toddlers actually reading, including Dr. Titzer's own children. So I decided to dedicate a few minutes of Sam's day to these DVDs and playing with the accompanying cards.

Right out of the gate Sam seemed to enjoy what he was watching. Naturally, we began with the Starter DVD. The images are engaging without being over-stimulating, so they held his attention well. There are also segments of song, which he seemed to enjoy even more. The accompanying cards, while seemingly plain, have been and continue to be a huge source of entertainment for him. There is a word printed on each side, and a pull tab at the end. When you pull the tab, a picture or action of the word slides out of a pocket.

Every morning, I would put on the Starter DVD for Sam as he ate his breakfast. Initially I was thinking that he probably just enjoyed watching TV while eating, something we try to discourage in the household, Daddy. But I noticed that he did seem to be paying attention. I think it helped that all of the people featured were children or babies. Also, all of the narration is done by children or soft-spoken adults. There are several requests in the video for the viewers to repeat words. At twelve months, Sam only says 'Mama' and 'Dada' so he hasn't gotten around to actually saying any of the words yet, but he has picked up on some of the actions. The first time he clapped when the word 'Clap' came on screen, I considered it a fluke, but I encouraged him. So you can imagine how shocked I was when he did it the next day. And the next. And then later that afternoon when I showed him the card that says 'Clap.' Is he reading? Dr. Titzer says that at first, the babes aren't truly reading, but memorizing the look of the word. Over time, they can begin to recognize individual letters and can begin true reading, but it takes time. Once we started Volume 1, I noticed that Sam would sometimes clap when the word 'Chimpanzee' came on the screen. Perhaps he's made some sort of connection to the letter 'C'

We've only just begun. It's recommended that you watch the starter DVD for one month, and then Volume 1 for two months, while occasionally reviewing the starter DVD. There are five DVDs in total, and I'm hoping to continue to see Sam make progress as we continue to watch. If you are interested yourself, go get yourself a free demo DVD or watch some testimonials. Or click on over to the Parent Bloggers Network and see what other parent bloggers have to say about it.

The only major drawback I can fathom is that we'll have to be much more careful about spelling out words when we don't want him to know what we're talking about. It would be really embarrassing to be corrected by a three year old.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Huzzah! Cheese Party Reviews School Zone Discovery Cards for the Parent Bloggers Network!

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When we arrived back home from Pittsburgh, we were delighted to find a package waiting for us. I love presents, even when they're not exactly for me. I tore open the box to find that our School Zone Discovery Cards had arrived. Since this was going to be my first review for the Parent Bloggers Network, I was very careful to give everything a good once over before giving up the goods to my evil overlord. We received the Peak-a-Boo Bunny Guess Who set and the Fuzzy Animal Friends Discovery Cards. My initial reaction was that these cards seemed like something I would probably buy if I saw them at Target or Babies R Us. The packaging was colorful and engaging enough that Sam probably would have been happy with that alone! I do have one small complaint in the packaging department. The Peak-a-Boo Bunny Guess Who box had little tabs that held the cards in place, which were secured with several small pieces of Velcro. The glue holding the Velcro in place wasn't the greatest and two pieces came off. I found one stuck to my rug and another stuck to the back of Sam's jammies. It wasn't a huge deal, but worth mentioning in my opinion.

We started out with the Fuzzy Animal Friends Discovery Cards. These cards are suggested for babies six months and up and retail for $15.99. Each card has an animal on it with different 'sensory rich' parts, such as the bird's feathery tummy or the alligator's shiny teeth. Each card also has fabric tags that stick out from the edges. Each card has two sides, so when Sam flipped them over there was a whole new animal to play with. On one side you get a frog with crinkly eyes, and on the other you get a mouse with crinkly ears! A short phrase accompanies each animal for the grown-ups to read aloud. The big hit in our house was the card with the googly eyes. He would shake the card wildly as I would read 'Slither and Shake Purple Snake!' While Sam appeared to enjoy these cards, they didn't hold his attention very long. I do think, however, that these would be ideal for a baby who is closer to six months, and maybe slightly less independently mobile. I can imagine he would have spent more time figuring them out when he was a wee bit younger.

Next we moved on to the Peak-a-Boo Bunny Guess Who cards. What I liked initially about these cards was that they seemed slightly more complicated, and hopefully that would translate into more interest from Sam. These cards are recommended for babies nine months and up and retail for $11.99. The was they work is kind of hard to explain. Basically, there is a magnetic card with a plush bunny head on top, and six other cards that you stick to the bunny card. Each card has a picture with two animals, say a cat and a spider, on one side with a question such as 'Peak-a-Boo! Who lives in the web?' When you flip the card over, there is a flap that you pull down that reveals the answer. 'Spider lives in the web!' Additionally, the plush bunny head has magnets in the hands and eyes, so you can cover and uncover the eyes as you flip the card. There is also a squeaky toy in the bunny head! Do you see what I said about it being more complicated?

Initially, Sam only wanted to play with the bunny head card. He had a good time exploring the magnetic peek-a-boo hands. He then tried to get the bunny's ears to play the peek-a-boo game, too, and he got a little frustrated when that didn't work. Once he mastered the bunny, we moved on to the cards. One problem I encountered with this product was that the magnets in the cards weren't very powerful, and frequently the cards would not stick together. Several times we ended up playing with the question cards without the bunny card. Sam really enjoyed pulling the flaps down on the answer side of the cards. I am quite pleased to report that after almost two weeks of playing, none of the flaps show even the slightest signs of distress. Since he loves to grab the cards by the flaps and swing them around, to me this is a true mark of durability!

Overall, I was pleased with both sets of cards. The Peak-a-Boo Bunny Guess Who cards could use a little work in the magnet and Velcro departments, but the concept is what matters most. Both sets of cards are very educational, but they come across as just plain fun to babes. I plan on tucking away the Fuzzy Animal Friends Discovery Cards until early next year when I will whip them out for Numero Dos.

Want more? Click on over to the Parent Bloggers Network to see what other folks are saying about the School Zone Discovery Cards!