Almost every child that we've been around loves smart devices like the iPhone and iPad. I've lost count the number of times I've seen a child throw a tantrum when his or her parent takes back their device. (I obviously spend a lot of time around spoiled children;) Our 3yr old nephew uses his mom's iPhone like a mini Computer Science major; these devices are so intuitive that even the most untrained hands can manipulate them. This is the world we live in. Technology is becoming more and more pervasive by the year and even our littlest ones can't seem to avoid it. Many, in fact, relishing the chance to interact with it.

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The technology boom at hand is offering an interesting opportunity. We, as parents, must start to make some difficult decions in these unchartered times about how much technology we are willing to expose our young children (birth to six) to. Unlike with the rise of video games of the '80s when playing Mario Bros. was clearly for entertainment rather than stimulating brain cells, today it would be fair for some developers to argue that their programs, digital books, mobile apps, etc. actually offer tremendous educational value. So, how do we decide if the learning opportunity is worth our child spending hours in front of a screen?

I was recently discussing the subject with Sharon who writes the mommy blog, A Dollop of Me. I had asked Sharon if she was interested in reviewing our new preschool app - Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery - but she informed me that she doesn't own an iPad. She was curious about my thoughts on whether digital products, like our educational iPad apps, are really having a positive effect on learning at these early years. Clearly they're more educational than playing Angry Birds, but are they better than reading a book? As I told Sharon, I don't think there's a widely accepted answer. I believe there are a lot of educational benefits, but the jury is still out on whether technology is having the kind of meaningful impact on children's learning that we all hope it would have. While those of us who create digital products for early childhood education, be it mobile apps, online educational games, video games or the like, feel strongly that we're bringing something positive to the table, I don't think we've been definitively proven right. Not yet. Much of what we believe is subjective and based on anecdotal experiences as seen on a case-by-case basis. For parents, like Sharon, who are choosing to limit the amount of screen time their child experiences in the early years in favor of more traditional childhood activities, there is certainly nothing definitive to say that their child is missing out on a learning opportunity. 

As with many parenting decisions, choosing how much technology to expose your child to is very personal with parents running the decision gamut from those willing to buy their 2-yr old an iPad to parents who shun technology all together. The only right answer is whatever you as the parent thinks is best. As far as The Dragon is concerned, we are going to land somewhere in the middle. Based on our work, you could probably guess that we believe things like digital apps for children can have a positive impact, but we also believe finding a balance between screen time, books, arts & crafts, and good-old-fashioned running around is the best answer. Learning comes in so many forms, so why not take advantage of the myriad of options that are available to kids whether that means interacting with an iPad app or spending the afternoon at the museum. How much screen time we will ultimately expose The Dragon to will depend on how she responds and where her interests will lie. We believe every child is different, and how best to teach them should be decided on a case-by-case basis.



Digital



VS.
Analog

As this generation grows up over the next 20 years, there will be more evidence about the impact technology is having on our kids' learning. So whether we want it or not, our kids are the guinea pigs. We believe that connecting learning and technology is the obvious next step, and offers some real opportunities that traditional mediums lack. One of the most compelling reason for digital learning products is that they can offer better engagement. Animation, video, sound effects, and music provide a multi-sensory experience that in many cases can be more interesting and engaging than a flash card or book (this is coming from a book publishers too!).  If something (an app, book, craft, etc.) is able to hold a child's attention for a meaningful amount of time, then there's a fighting chance that the child will be able to learn from the experience. In contrast, if a child is disinterested in what they're doing, then how could we expect them to be in the right state of mind to concentrate and learn?  
The mobile apps that we've created offer a range of educational opportunities from stimulating imagination, practicing phonics, to reading basic sentences. While we think there is a positive impact to be had by using products like ours, we are also realistic that not every digital product is able to affect learning. In the end, parents must be involved in their child's education. A parent's role should be to enhance and shape how and what a child is learning regardless of the learning tool. In the early years, it's not enough to simply plop your child down with an iPad or book and expect learning magic to happen. In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a series of blog posts and videos that we hope will offer ideas for how to more effectively use a range of products (digital and not) to impact a child's learning. There's no easy solution, but a consistent, thoughtful balanced approach can help to foster good learning habits and build a child's enthusiasm for learning – the type of foundation that we believe all children deserve.

Cheers,
Kevin
 
To follow up on this article I contributed to that was published yesterday on CMN.com, we thought we'd share more of our stroller shopping experience for The Dragon.

In the lead up to The Dragon's birth in June our very supportive friends and family threw us a few baby showers to celebrate. Because of their generosity, Yun and I actually didn't have to buy many of The Dragon's baby essentials. Plus, my sister lives nearby and with 3 children under 4 years old, she was more than willing to let us go "shopping" at her house picking up a crib, clothes, and other goodies. In the end, the only big ticket item we really had to purchase for The Dragon was a stroller. As a result, what I originally anticipated being a very easy, straightforward decision, turned into the first BIG DECISION we would make as parents. Yikes! 

Being A-type personalities, "Decision Stroller" consumed us for the better part of 3 months (yes, months not days) before we could pull the trigger! It took us longer and required way more debate to choose this stroller than it did our last car. Seriously! It was like studying for a final exam; we watched a slew of Youtube videos (we really like Babygizmo), read product reviews online, and made a list of the attributes we really wanted The Dragon's stroller to have. By the end of it, I was ready to be a stroller salesman. 

In addition to our neurosis, what makes the process so labored is that there is a surprisingly large number of different stroller brands and models available in the market. It's as if we're in a baby boom and the best business to go into is making strollers. Anyway, variety and choice is usually a great thing, but it definitely makes some processes more complicated than one would otherwise want them to be. Ultimately, it wasn't that we worried we'd make a bad decision as much as we wanted to make the best decision. We're Asians after all. What would we be if not overachievers. The most important factors for us were: price, size, comfort of the ride, design features, and functionality in some order.

We wanted to find a stroller that could fit easily into the trunk of a sedan without much heavy lifting and since we walk a lot, we wanted a stroller that wasn't too big to push around stores and the supermarket. Another design feature that was super important was how the stroller would fold down. We wanted the closing mechanism to be elegantly designed so that it would be simple enough for our parents to use if they take The Dragon out on the town, and we wanted a stroller that would fold up all-in-one, into a single piece. Some larger strollers require you to remove the seat before the stroller will fold down, and that just seemed too cumbersome and time consuming. The luxury of having a lot of options and multiple pieces did not outweigh the impracticality involved. Not for us. 

Enjoying the southern California weather and walking on a daily basis is important, so having a comfortable ride for The Dragon was paramount. We inspected seat padding, tested shocks, and literally kicked tires. We put these baby movers to the test!  We also considered the size of the accompanying basket and how large it was for all the blankets and toys we expected to have to bring along with us. The bigger and more accessible the basket, the better. Yun is a shopper! Lastly, we needed a stroller that would be appropriate for our different heights. Not that I'm a giant at 5'8", but Yun is 5'2" and the one stroller that we most agreed on (at the 2 month mark), frustratingly, was simply too tall for her, so we decided against it. 
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We even considered some specialty strollers like a jogger, but ultimately decided that compromising The Dragon's comfort for the occasional jog wasn't a reasonable trade, so that was quickly nixed. 

All in all, we probably looked at 15 different strollers and seriously considered 3 or 4 before we made our choice. The brand name wasn't much of a factor in our decision though knowing that a company would happily replace any damaged parts was a comforting bonus.

Here are the top strollers we poked and prodded:

UPPAbaby: Vista


This was our #2 choice. It had everything we wanted, and I loved the matte black frame option, but there very limited colors that came w/ the black frame. Note to UPPAbaby: mistake! As a dad, there aren't a lot of masculine baby-related products, so you want to push around a cool looking stroller. Sadly, Yun needed to be 2" taller!

Baby Jogger: CIty Mini



If budget was our #1 priority, then we'd have chosen this one. It's very affordable, a nice ride and really easy to fold into one piece. A lot to like. Our biggest gripe was the seat felt a little cardboard-y. Okay, maybe a lot cardboard-y and we were worried The Dragon wouldn't like sitting in it. Also, the seat only faces forward meaning we can't stare at our beautiful bundle!

4moms: Origami


A very tech-y stroller for the 21st century. At the push of a button, the stroller would automatically fold up into a single piece. Talk about so cool! Unfortunately, SO HEAVY too! I think this was 30+lbs, which meant it would be pretty heavy for Yun though she's stronger than the average bear, but definitely too heavy for either grandmother. Out!

Orbitbaby: Stroller G2

A lot of thoughtful design options here. The seat swivels so you can turn the chair 360 degrees on the base. We liked the idea of the chair being able to swing from side to side without futzing with the stroller, but we ended up dinging it because it is a closed system that required you to purchase only their hardware (ie carseat & accessories) and we already had our carseat. Oh, and picking up their carseat was  like a trip to the gym.

So, here's what we chose: The Bugaboo Bee in Electric Blue (EDITOR'S NOTE: Yun wants me to point out that she was very pregnant in this photo:)
The Bee isn't perfect – it's not that masculine – but it satisfied most of the criteria we laid out: it's a smooth ride, it's not too big and has an accessible basket for Yun's shopping, it folds down into one piece and has a rather simple mechanism governing how it opens and closes, and it came in a fun blue color. Even though we didn't know her sex at the time, we didn't mind the idea of The Dragon in a blue stroller...  girls don't always need to be in pink. NOTE TO Bugaboo: Love the all matte black frame option, but we couldn't get it w/ the electric blue cover!!!

For the past four and a half months, we've taken the stroller in and out of our car, up and down the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, and I'm happy to report that the Bugaboo Bee is the nicest, smoothest shopping cart anyone could ever own. What do I mean, you ask? After all of our research and well-intentioned testing, The Dragon doesn't much like her stroller!!! Kids, I tell you! The maximum amount of time she has ridden happily in her Bee is about 20 minutes. This is in no way a condemnation of the Bugaboo Bee, we're confident her aversion has nothing to do with the stroller itself. But, StrollerGate has become a running joke between Yun and me. Now, whenever we go out for a walk, invariably one of us will end up carrying The Dragon while the other pushes a baby-less stroller filled with all of our stuff. We're hoping she grows out of this sometime soon, before she gets too heavy to carry for long distances:)
 
Check out this great article about choosing the best strollers including a few quotes from a new dad you might know;)!
 
One of the really fun things that Yun and I did in preparing for The Dragon's arrival was to transform our rather plain, white-walled 2nd bedroom into a proper nursery. We wanted to make sure it would have the right feel for when our little bundle would come home from the hospital. While we decided against painting the walls, we added lots of color with wall decals and artwork from some of our favorite artists, giving the room some life, making it fun, bright and whimsical.

Check out some of what we did below:
This was a wedding gift from me to Yun. It's by one of our favorite artists – Mackenzie Thorpe's "Walking on Love".
These two prints are by the super talented Japanese artist - Yoshitomo Nara. We actually purchased a book of his artwork, cut out some of the pieces we liked the best and put them in frames we purchased at IKEA. Yun loves the DIY art projects!
This is a cute piece we found in Venice, CA at great little Scandinavian design shop – Huset. It's by a Swedish artist, Stina Wiren, called Brokiga Kalas.
Yun found some fun wall decals that we've used to surround The Dragon's crib. She often wakes up and talks to her new animal friends before beckoning her parents into the room.
This was a free poster Yun had picked up in Toronto years ago. We've had it all these year without ever framing it until now. I'm glad we held onto it since it complements the other colorful pieces in the room.