Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More than you ever wanted to know about early learning

Some parents want to give their kids every edge. They'll buy flashcards for their babies, consult with preschool admissions advisers and send their elementary school kids to storefront tutoring centers.

I'd like to think I'm not one of those mothers.

Sure, I'm paying a pretty penny to send Z to a Montessori school instead of a traditional play-based preschool or one of those we-don't-care-about-reading-we'd-rather-hug-cloth-dolls Waldorf academies. But that's because I think Montessori curriculum is a perfect match for her inquisitive, self-directed personality.

But I don't think her school is 100% responsible for what she learns. I want to provide enriching opportunities at home, and I'm always on the lookout for suggestions for books to check out from the library, ideas for art activities and tools for fostering an interest in math and science (not my strong suits, honestly). And I recently learned you can find all this (and a whole lot more) at a site called The Savvy Source for Parents, a resource-filled website for the parents of preschoolers (thanks for the hookup, Parent Bloggers).

Check out the quiz on the right-side of my blog. Seriously, try it and come right back. I completed all of the questions (yes, there are a lot) and got a breathtakingly in-depth look at my preschooler's knowledge and skills across a variety of subjects. For example, Z can't yet "observe and talk about art." When I clicked through to SavvyPicks for toys, books and activities that might strengthen this skill I saw two books we already owned and I made a mental note to share Harold and the Purple Crayon and Dancing with Degas with my daughter again soon.

You can find suggestions for activities, crafts and toys that help enrich each skill area (and again, there are a lot). It is a little overwhelming, honestly. But motivated moms can print the free activities and create and share wishlists with grandparents for puzzles, block sets and much, much more. Even if you don't take all of the quizzes, you can browse activities by category or by your child's age. Here are the ideas for 3-4 year olds.

The SavvySource quiz is being sponsored by Leapfrog, which sent me their brand new Tag reading system to review. Now as a general rule, Josh and I don't buy electronic educational games. I figure if I managed to escape childhood and become a professional writer without a Speak N Spell, my children can survive as well. So color us shocked when, just hours after we powered up the "pen," both of us were determined to buying more books for the system. It's that good.

So what is this miracle toy? The Tag reader is a pen-shaped electronic device that "reads" books from the collection, which includes many classic titles as well as crappy-looking licensed character books. Our reader came with Ozzie and Mack, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and a Kung-Fu Panda book. In order to get the books to "read," we had to first download software to our Mac and connect the reader to the computer with the included USB cord. You transfer stories from your computer/online library to the reader much like you'd add songs to your iPod. It holds five books at a time. And, like an iPod, you can attach a pair of headphones to the reader and keep your kid quietly occupied in the car or at the doctor's office

Z immediately figured out how to get the pen to read the stories to her. Imagine--a tool that responds to her commands to "read to me!" without an "after I unload the dishwasher, honey." She really got a kick out of the word games embedded on pages throughout the book and doggedly worked to master levels 1, 2 and 3 (pretty good considering the toy is rated for 4-8 year olds)! And come August I'll be able to monitor and track her progress via the Leapfrog Learning Path.

LeapFrog's Tag Reader retails for $49.99 and comes with one book. Additional books cost $13.99.