Merry Christmas!

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas are having a wonderful day today. I made chocolate chip pancakes this morning, and we’re taking it easy and enjoying all our new toys. We opened our presents on the solstice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t heap them around ourselves in piles and enjoy them all over again now. Which is exactly what Robin is doing:

(My big present this year was a brand new camera, the first fruits of which you are viewing right now!)

As you can see, Robin got some fuzzy new shoes (and some new clothes, not pictured), along with a whole depot’s worth of Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise. I’m not sure I’ve posted about this yet, but as anyone who has spoken to Robin recently knows, the boy is obsessed with trains. “Choo choo!” is often his first word in the morning and his last at night. He brings his trains to bed with him, and he won’t leave the house without at least one engine clutched in his little fist.

I thought maybe this train mania was a Phillips genetic legacy, but then one day at the park another little boy spotted the train Robin was holding, and started shouting urgently to his mommy: “Choo choo! Choo choo! Choo choo!” So now I’ve decided that it’s a more universal thing—little boys just love trains.

Our present to Robin, though, wasn’t a train. Because Robin’s driven to imitate us, and because Sam and I both spend a lot of time on our computers, it’s been a constant struggle to keep him off our laptops. We gave him an old laptop to play with, but he quickly demolished the keyboard. So, we decided that a great present for Robin would be an age-appropriate computer toy. After doing some research we settled on the LeapFrog ClickStart:

It communicates wirelessly with a console that hooks into the TV, so he gets to bang on a keyboard and move a mouse around, but the screen display is the television. There are lots of games for the ClickStart: it comes with four, and we also bought a Thomas the Tank Engine expansion cartridge that has three additional games. These are aimed at kids three and up, so some of them are a bit too advanced for him right now, but Robin’s already gotten the hang of the simpler games. And he loooooooves it.

He loves it to, frankly, a kind of scary extent. The first night he got to play with the ClickStart, he threw an enormous, epic tantrum—the likes of which we’d never seen before—when we finally turned it off and told him it was time for bed. Not wanting to see that behavior again, we’ve been limiting his time with the games, and not allowing it right before bed.

There’s a running debate in parenting/early education circles about the appropriate use of games and TV for small children. Some educators recommend no screen time at all for toddlers, and most recommend strictly limited amounts. Because Sam and I are both big nerds, we tend to view electronics pretty positively, and our instincts are to be fairly liberal about letting Robin explore this world. So far I’ve been very impressed with Robin’s ability to determine, for himself, what he needs in order to learn and grow: he seems to really seek out appropriate challenges for himself. There is a lot of educational content in the games and programming that we give him: he’s already learning numbers from Sesame Street—not, I think, the concept of mathematics, but he likes to chant along when they’re counting to ten. He’s only reliable up to three, but he sort of hums along for the other numbers. He does the same thing with the alphabet.

So, I only feel slightly conflicted about allowing Robin to watch his videos when he asks, or to spend time on the ClickStart. I am keeping a close eye on his behavior, though, and if it turns out that screen time really is associated with more problematic behavior for him, that’ll be a big strike against the games.

Anyway, right now we’re all headed out to the park. Hope everyone is having a wonderful winter day!

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