Are We There Yet?


Have you been following the Rosetta mission on the news lately?  I have been a bit obsessed in the last few days to see if the mission of landing an unmanned space craft on a comet that is about 6bn kilometres away from earth was going to work, so improbably and yet, somehow it landed! It took the space craft 10 years to reach its destination; insane, right?

As we were listening to an update on the radio in the morning, my kids were asking probing questions about the mission, which I have actually been at a loss to answer. Because, how do you explain comets, space crafts, 6bn kilometres and the universe to a 6-year-old over a bowl of cereal at 8 am in the morning? Not my strong point, and many of the questions, I have to admit, I actually could not answer.  So I discovered this little animated video  called “Are We There Yet” made by the European Space Agency. It is super cute and very informative, even for adults!

– Emilie

Let’s talk about electronics and our children

This is not your average Babyccino post but I wanted to speak openly about a topic I feel really passionate about. I want to talk about electronics and the way they are affecting our children.

I recently went on a school field trip with my 9-year-old son’s class to see the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum. What lucky children to live in a city where they can take a short subway journey to one of the world’s best museums (and I must say, the Vikings Exhibit was incredible)! While in the museum, I noticed that some of the children had brought a Nintendo DS. The more I looked around, the more children I noticed who were playing games on iPhones, Nintendos and various other devices. I think my jaw must have touched the floor; I was absolutely shocked! Here we were, on a once-in-a-life time school field trip, in one of the world’s most fascinating museums, and these children were completely unengaged and uninterested in their surroundings. Some were sitting down against a wall with their little thumbs pounding against their device, others played as they walked around, bumping into people because they were so focused on the little machine in the palm of their hands.

When I asked the teachers if this was allowed, I was told that they weren’t supposed to be playing games, but that they were allowed to bring cameras on the field trip. It seems that nowadays iPhones and Nintendos are considered cameras because they all have photo-taking capabilities. So, the line between cameras and video games has become blurred, and to my astonishment, we now have children going on field trips with their video games in tow.

And not only this, but I am increasingly aware of young children sitting in restaurants with an iPhone, playing video games on the bus, watching DVDs on every car journey no matter how long.  It seems children aren’t being given the chance to be bored, they aren’t being encouraged to create their own fun or to be present in the moment. What ever happened to good old-fashioned conversation? Talking to our children over dinner? Encouraging them to talk to each other? Or just waiting patiently to eat? What ever happened to observation? Taking in your surroundings on the bus? Experiencing exhibits in a museum? Asking questions, sharing observations, making memories?

In a few weeks my eldest will be going on a 4-day school camping trip. In a meeting this week to brief the parents, I asked if electronics would be allowed. And I opened a big can of worms! The teachers explained that the children would be allowed to bring electronics because it ‘keeps them quiet while on the journey.’ Another teacher explained that he thinks it’s good for children to embrace modern technology and to learn how to use electronics from an early age.

This is rubbish, and I feel compelled to say so.

We did not have iPhones or iPads when we were young, but miraculously we all know how to use them. Even my technologically impaired father uses a laptop and an iPhone with ease. Is there really any advantage to be gained by letting our children play games on our iphones? No. And with regards to ‘keeping the children quiet on the bus’… Really?! Shouldn’t they be singing songs, chatting to each other, looking out their windows, making silly faces to the people in the cars they’re passing? That’s what we did when we were kids and the bus ride was often one of the best parts of school trips. Why would we give them a sedative dose of Nintendo?

Our children are only little for such a short time. The window for imaginative adventures and play is so small. They have the rest of their lives to be attached to a device. Why start now?

x Courtney

p.s. I very rarely share my parenting views on this blog. I am generally quite open minded about the decisions other parents make, and I know that I am by no means an expert. But for some reason, this feels different to me. I hope you too will share your thoughts and comments, in favour or against my view. I would love for this to become an open dialogue between us all. xx

(Image above found here)

What do babies and rockets have in common?

Since Coco started to speak, ‘why’ has been one of the main words in her vocabulary. I thought it was a phase, but it has been going on for 7 years and counting! A lot of questions I can still answer, but some are now starting to get a bit too complex and we have started to resort to looking up facts together on the internet.

During one of these searches, we stumbled upon a video called “What do babies and rockets have in common?” which we loved (I personally had never even thought about the similarities between rockets and babies, apart from the fact that they are both pretty noisy).

It is based on a book by Marcus Chown called “What a Wonderful World “, which is actually for adults and full of interesting facts (so that we can pre-empt all the WHY questions).

- Emilie

Easy Studio Animation App

We’re still loving the educational Montessori Letter Sounds app from Les Trois Elles, and were thrilled to discover they have just released a new animation app (especially since my husband works in animation!). My boys were especially excited about this one.

Easy Studio is a really fun ipad app which allows you to animate with coloured geometric shapes. You can create moving animals, trains, space ships, monsters, or whatever your heart desires. You can even create whole scenarios where monsters drive space ships and eat other animals (yes, my boys have done this!). In fact, the bottom image is one of my son’s most recent monsters, and you should see the way he moves and dances.

It is such a fun app which encourages imagination and teaches the magic of animation. My 7-year-old is completely hooked, and I’m so fond of his videos. I have to try to find a way to download them to share with you!

x Courtney

Enchanted Wonders iBooks for kids

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for tea in my kitchen with the lovely Ayala Homossany, the author/creator of the Enchanted Wonders interactive iBooks for kids.  I loved sitting with her and looking over the book,  seeing all the little details and features on each page. Ayala’s passion as an author, educator and mum is really inspiring. It made me think about my own parenting and how I should slow down a bit more and really sit with my kids to engage them in enquiry and exploration. So often I read a book to my kids (admittedly, often in a hurry to get through it so I can put them to bed or move on to the next thing), and I should try to be better at sitting and reading with them, encouraging questions and discussion.

Enchanted Wonders—Butterfly is designed exactly for this purpose — it is meant for children and parents to explore together.
The activities in the book are aimed to encourage children to question the world around them, explore it and give it their own interpretation. Each of the six activities in the book (draw, role-play, story-telling, sculpturing, drawing, movement and exploring the sense of touch) brings up a series of questions, and each question opens a door in the child’s mind, to another and then another, and all is done through the use of, video, audio, pop-up galleries, and heart capturing illustrations.

Unlike other eBooks and apps where the user interacts mostly with the screen, the Enchanted Wonder book series uses the screen as a springboard to engage the children with the real and physical world around them.  Don’t you love that? So it’s not just like you’re handing an iPad to your kids to ‘babysit’ them. It’s really like an activity book, encouraging children to put the book down and observe their surroundings.

x Courtney

Little Seed

I am always on the look out for new music for my little girl. We try and listen to everything at home, from reggae to classical. I recently discovered that Elizabeth Mitchell released Little Seed , a new album of Woody Guthrie covers. It is such a sweet, calm collection of songs that we love listening to while making breakfast. “Little Sack of Sugar” has been known to diffuse a tantrum or two in my house. It’s hard to fuss and carry on when your mama is bouncing you on her knee and pretending to eat you up!


Singing Alphabet app from Ministry of Letters

Remember this book? And how much we LOVE it? Well, the Ministry of Letters has just come out with a new (and equally great!) ipad app. It is literally… a SINGING alphabet! So much fun, and so perfect for my daughter who is now learning the sounds of the letters. The two of us are dancing in our chairs as I type this with the sounds of letters singing their letter sounds loud and clear. It’s catchy, it’s cute and it’s educational in such a marvellous way. (Available from itunes here, and they are soon to release an iphone version too.)

x Courtney

Looney Tunes Love

Remember these guys?! We had friends over for dinner the other night — a friend from Korea and a friend from France, and we were all remembering fondly how we watched (and loved) Looney Tunes when we were young! Isn’t that crazy how people all over the world are united by a cartoon character?! Anyway… I’ve already mentioned how I don’t let my kids watch real TV (the commercials!), but I’m okay with the occasional DVD.

We recently discovered the Looney Tunes Box Set which includes ten DVDs each starring a Looney Tunes character. My kids think it’s absolutely hysterical! Their favourite is Tweety Bird — my kids are all giggles over the silly cat-and-bird chases. I just love how simple and charming the cartoons are. Just good old-fashioned fun!

x Courtney

(Image found here)

Puff, The Magic Dragon

For accommodation on our recent trip to Australia, we managed to arrange a house swap with a lovely family in Melbourne (have you ever done a house swap before? it was our first time and we LOVED it!). One of the best things about doing a house swap is you get to stay in a family home with toys and books for the kids! So nice! (They even had a trampoline in their backyard. Constant entertainment for the kids!)

Anyway, my favourite find from their shelves of children’s books was this beautiful copy of Puff, the Magic Dragon . When I was a little girl Puff, The Magic Dragon (by Peter, Paul and Mary) was one of my most favourite songs. I can still remember putting the song on repeat in my bedroom and listening to it over and over again. I had almost completely forgotten about it until I discovered this book. And it was such fun to read/sing it to my kids (who know also LOVE the song!), and the book’s magical illustrations bring the song to life so beautifully. Such a gorgeous book (and it comes with a CD of the song, so you can listen while you read).

x Courtney

PrestoBingo shapes App

Sweet, this Shapes app by PrestoBingo! We’re loving the beautiful graphics and the educational content. Currently only available in English, but thanks to the easy lay-out kids will quickly figure out how to play this mathematical app, no matter what language they speak. A great way to practise shapes, math and basic geometry!

xxx Esther

Alphabeast Flash Card App

I recently downloaded the Alphabeast flash card app onto my iphone for my kids and it was an instant hit. The app features 26 alphabet flash cards, and when you tap each ‘card’ something cute and clever happens (like playable musical instruments, dancing robots, spinning bow ties and laughing monkeys). So it keeps the kids engaged and teaches them at the same time! I also like that the flash cards feature both the capital and the lower case letter (I always get confused which one to teach my kids, and having them both is a win/win). The app features charming hand-drawn illustrations based on the picture book, The Lonely Beast, and is available for the iphone and ipad.


Appracadabra: Count the Animals

We’ve been writing about some really cool and educational apps recently, and I didn’t want to leave out the equally cool and educational Count the Animals app from Dutch company Appracadabra. Count the Animals is wonderfully well designed with beautiful graphics and fun sounds, and it’s also full of cute little jokes like frogs starting to jump, dogs starting to poo, a lady catching butterflies and lice jumping from one head to the other. How can you resist? Count the Animals is perfect for children in the process of learning to count, as it is designed to help children develop the pre-math skill of connecting numbers to quantities. And if you’re unsure about your kids learning to count in Dutch (although it can be very useful) then there’s no need to worry: this app also contains Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovakian, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss German languages. So there.

xxx Esther

Montessori Letter Sounds App

My 4-year-old son’s reading skills are really taking off, and I’m pretty sure it has much to do with the educational apps we have on our iphones/ipad. It’s really cool how interactive these games are and how much the kids really pick up from them. I’ve never been a fan of video games for kids, and I know that ipad apps are not a far cry from video games… but when they’re educational and when you see how much your kids are learning, it’s pretty hard to resist them.

Our newest discovery is the Montessori Letter Sounds App from Les Trois Elles Interactive, a French company creating educational (and beautiful) apps for kids. This might be our favourite app so far. It’s extremely educational but also really, really fun. The app is based on the Montessori method of teaching kids to read and includes letter tracing activities, pronunciation exercises, and loads of fun learning games. It’s also tastefully done (I did say it was made by a French company!).

The app is available in English and French, and they also have an App for learning numbers. View their website for more details, and click here to see a demo video.


Bizzy Bear on the Farm

My husband got an ipad for Christmas (woohoo!) and we are very quickly catching ourselves up to speed with the rest of the ipad loving world.  I’m not sure who loves the ipad more — my husband (he reads the news) or the kids (they play the games)!  We have discovered the world Nosy Crow, which Mo has written about before (here and here). Nosy Crow offers clever and innovative storybook apps which not only tell a story, but also engage children the entire way through. Their newest app, Bizzy Bear on the Farm, lets toddlers (aged 2 to 4) help Bizzy Bear with all his chores on the farm. It’s amazing how many clever things the kids can do — each page is filled with different activities (pick apples, feed the piglets, run the horse, round the sheep up, drive the tractor, etc.). The Nosy Crow apps are available from the itunes store.

*And if you visit our Facebook page today, you can enter to win one of five promo codes for a free Nosy Crow app!

x Courtney

Fantastic Mr Fox

Last weekend, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the girls and I made popcorn, wrapped up in blankets and settled down to watch Fantastic Mr Fox . Have you seen it? It is turning into one of our  all-time favourite movies. So many things are great: the script, the action and George Clooney’s voice! Plus, it works for kids and for adults — there are not that many movies around that my kids and I all equally enjoy, but this film works on many different levels. I read the book when I was a kid and the film captures the essence of the book perfectly.  The clever fox outwitting the nasty farmer is a story  that works well, especially when animated with fabulous puppets.

Coming into winter does have advantages — I would feel too guilty in the summer spending a Sunday afternoon watching a movie, but when it’s cold outside, I reckon it is completely justified!

- Emilie

Cinderella App

We’ve often talked about ‘apps’ here on Babyccino and I definitely fall into the camp of loving them for my kids but I do have some rules …

1.  I want them to be beautiful
2.  I want them to be imaginative and to use the media to its best advantages (so not JUST being a book or a TV show – it has to be interactive so the kids have a different experience then they would in another media)
3.  I don’t like them being part of a big corporate machine promoting some already huge kid’s brand (I realise this is highly hypocritical from a lady whose career was spent in advertising but this is mainly because they rarely satisfy points 1 and 2 and are seemingly lazy/cheap way to expose children to a bigger brand — I am all open to be shown I’m wrong on this!)

I really love the ‘Peekaboo’ (Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Wild and Peekaboo Forest) apps for my 2-year-old but my 4-year-old needs something a bit more. Enter the new Cinderella App from Nosy Crow (the same people who made The Three Little Pigs app I wrote about a while ago).

Nosy Crow’s 2nd App, Cinderella includes dazzling extras that my kids can not get enough of: helping Cinderella with her chores, stacking the king’s invites to the ball, dressing the ugly step-sisters, building the carriage, choosing Cinderella’s dress for the ball and even the music she dances with the prince too (our favourite bit!). All beautifully illustrated (tick!) and narrated by child-actress, Freya Wilson (who you may recognise from The King’s Speech).

Scooby Doo, Where are you!

My kids have never seen a normal television program — so far they’re only experience with TV is when they get to watch the occasional Disney movie (the old ones are the best!). My husband and I are both against commercials and the consumerism that is directed toward children (not to mention, the stuff on TV these days is nothing to write home about). So, for my kids, it was Disney movies or nothing … until they discovered Scooby Doo!

Scooby Doo was my husband’s favourite cartoon as a child (can you believe it has been around since 1969?), and so when my kids stumbled upon Scooby Doo in a hotel room recently, we caved in and let them watch it. Of course they LOVED it and haven’t stopped talking about it since (what’s not to like about men in monster suits, a talking dog, and a group of friends solving mysteries?!). We recently bought the Scooby-Doo, Where are you! DVD which has the entire first and second seasons of Scooby Doo. I must say, we’ve spent a few rainy summer nights watching the shows and they’re so fun! The whole family (including grandparents!) gets into them. We’re talking about good, honest, old-fashioned mysteries solved each time by a silly dog and his crime-fighting friends.

x Courtney

Les Chansons

The songs my girls learn at school are so cute — they are the same ones that my mom sang to me when I was little. The problem is: my girls are very enthusiastic singers, but slightly tone-deaf just like myself. They have also inherited my inability to remember the words to a whole song — I only ever remember the chorus and then make the rest up to cover my path.

Entertaining as this is, it gets a bit tedious at some point, especially when all 3 of us are doing it. So yesterday I picked up the sweetest little book called: “Les Chansons De Toujours“, illustrated by the master of retro-children’s illustrations, Alain Grée. This book contains the lyrics to most of the famous French children’s songs and comes with a CD so you don’t start singing “Oh Clair De La Lune” to the tune of “Frère Jacques”.

This little book is available at Bianca and Family, which is, by the way, one of my favourite webshops. If you are ever looking for something retro-chic for children, this is the place to find it!

Park Math and other Apps from Duck Duck Moose

I am clearly a big fan of the Duck Duck Moose educational apps for kids. I just checked, and I have four of their award-winning apps on my iphone. I think The Wheels on the Bus is my daughter’s favourite, and Fish School is another, but their new app, Park Math, is now a hot contender with my boys. I love that these games are educational as well as fun, and they really come in handy when you just need a bit of distraction (in the car when you are trying to keep your son awake, in a long queue at the post office when your daughter is having a meltdown, while you’re making dinner and you just need some peace and quiet, etc.). Now… if only I had three iphones so my kids would stop fighting over mine!


A high-tech classic

I don’t know about you but my i-phone is becoming an increasingly important tool in retaining my sanity as a parent. It now holds a dozen or so children’s Apps which get us through those boring, frustrating daily-life melt-down moments. As boredom levels peak whilst my 2-year-old is pushed around in the Supermarket trolley, I whip it out and let her paint pictures, guess the animals (in Peekaboo Barn or Peekaboo Wild which we wrote about here) or just blow up some balloons with the fabulous Balloonimals.

These games are perfect entertainment… but can a book work as an App?  I guess you all know by now that I love children’s books and don’t mind telling you I was a touch conservative about the idea of a book being on my phone or i-pad.  However Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs App has totally converted me and I’m now so excited what new technology can bring to brilliant stories. (more…)

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