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Kindle FreeTime is Awesome*

January 23, 2014 in Reviews

*with some glaring, super frustrating, but seemingly easy to fix flaws.

Kindle FreeTime

** DISCLAIMER ** If you are offended by using technology as a babysitting device, you can skip this article. While I do see how these things can be abused, I think, used properly, they are a huge advancement in education and parental sanity.

This year, the Little Read Mom and I got each other new Kindles for Christmas. She wanted the Paper White and I opted for the Kindle Fire HDX. I had the original Kindle Fire (which sadly was left on a train and never returned) and was looking to upgrade anyway (we already purchased the HDX when I lost mine. I didn’t “lose” it to get a new one).

I was super excited for the HDX for many reasons, the main one being Kinde FreeTime. For those of you who don’t know, Kindle FreeTime is an app that runs on the Kindle Fire HD or HDX that essentially puts the device into “Kid Mode”. You set up profiles for each child and select which books, videos and apps they can have access to. The child cannot get out of this mode without a parent, so there is no worry of them doing something like deleting your personal stuff or purchasing expensive apps. It also allows you to control what they have access to.

You can also sign up for Kindle’s FreeTime Unlimited, which is a monthly subscription service that delivers age and gender appropriate books, videos and apps to the device. These items are “free” to download and view.

Many might bemoan this as more babysitting through devices. They would not be wrong. However, where FreeTime really distinguishes itself is through the parental control. You can control how much time is dedicated to each area. You can also set learning goals, so a child must spend 30 minutes reading books before they can unlock the videos and apps.

For example, I have two children; a 2 year old and a 5 year old. The 5 year old is learning to read, so he must complete 15 minutes of reading before he can get to the apps and videos. There are many “reader” books available to him through the FreeTime Unlimited, but you can also purchase books and grant access. My two year old does not have this restriction. I have also limited each of them to a certain amount of time for videos and apps. Genius! Now each has their own environment to learn, explore and play.

You may be asking yourself, “But Little Read Dad, you said it has some, ‘glaring, super frustrating, but seemingly easy to fix flaws.'” Yes. Sadly, it does.

The first flaw is the organization. I don’t know how someone at Amazon has not looked at Netflix to see how to organize content. Seriously. It’s not alphabetical. It’s not by released date. They don’t even keep multiple seasons of the same show together. You may see Sesame Street Season 40 followed by six other shows and then Sesame Street Season 41. Why would you not just have Sesame Street and then you click on it and you see all the seasons? It’s infuriating. It’s chaotic. It seems like it should be really easy to fix.

The second flaw, and this is not as bad as the first, but still frustrating, is that the content provided with FreeTime Unlimited is age, and I assume, gender appropriate. That’s great. I like that. Except you cannot go outside these parameters. For instance, my two year old has access to all the Toca Boca apps (the hair cutting, the cooking one, a train one) that my five year old does not. Now, they may be a bit below his age, but he enjoys playing them and there is no way to move them over! There is no long press, select “Make Available to Other Account” option. Again, seems like it should be easy to fix and it’s SUPER annoying, especially since now my five year old will go into his sister’s account to play.

In the end it is a great App/Product/Idea that I hope they continue to refine. If you have a Kindle Fire HD or HDX, and children, I highly recommend it. If you are looking for a tablet/reader and you have children, get a Kindle Fire HD or HDX.

Even if you don’t have kids, I really like this device. The biggest non-kids selling point: you can download certain free prime movies for 30 days so you don’t need an internet connection to take advantage of the Amazon Prime Videos. COOL!


Evaporative Humidifiers and Bacteriostatic Water Treatment

November 30, 2012 in Reviews

As we have entered the colder months, the time has come again to dust off the humidifiers. Like most people, we use the standard evaporative system in our house. In years past we tend to go through a wick about every 3-4 weeks. If we start using our two humidifiers in October, and use them through February, we use about 10 wicks for the season. Even in finding the best price we’re looking at about $10/filter on average. That means we spend about $100 a season on humidifier wicks.

And there is no choice. You have to change them. They get nasty. Just smelly and horrible.

So this year, as I sat down to place my order for the season, I decided to see if there was anything I could do to not spend so much money. That is when I stumbled across a post from someone praising a bacteriostatic water treatment. It’s a solution that you pour into the water of your humidifier that slows the growth of bacteria and algae. This makes it not only safer, but eliminates the odors as well.

Our filters are now going on three months and show minimal discoloration and no odor. THREE MONTHS!

If you have a evaporative humidifier in your house, you should definitely invest in a bacteriostatic treatment. I got a bottle for less than $10 and it has already saved me $40 in new filters.

Little Read Father tested… Little Read Father approved!


Coco Key Indoor Water Park

March 30, 2012 in Reviews, Vacations

So the review is a little old, and almost outdated as we are approaching the warmer weather.  However, with the way the temperatures have been the past few weeks here in NY, I thought we could all still benefit from this.  Plus, I’m sure it would be equally as useful during a rainy summer day.

Coco Key is a chain of indoor water parks.  There were two about the same distance from us — one in CT and one in NJ.  For whatever reason we went with the on in Mt. Laurel, NJ — Coco Key Mt. Laurel.  Turns out we drive past it on our way to Philly for the Adventure Aquarium and the Please Touch Museum (see my previous post).

A quick hour and a half from NYC, the water park is connected to a hotel if you choose to stay the night.  Truthfully, if the drive isn’t far, there isn’t much need to stay.  The park consists of an area for smaller children, a water basketball area, a lazy river, an aquatic jungle gym, an activity pool that uses balance and strength, two tube water slides and a hot tub area for adults.  There is also a place to get food and a full service bar.

The area for small children has a wading pool, a small slide, a couple of fountains and some infant bouncers.  The water basketball area is a pool that has four baskets in the middle and a bunch of balls.  The lazy river is a loop along the back wall of the building with some fountains.  The tube slides are just that.  The activity pool is a series of floating lily pads with a cargo net over head where kids can walk across the pads using the net for leverage.  The biggest attraction is the jungle gym.

For anyone who has ever been to Sesame Place in PA, the aquatic jungle gym is essentially The Counts Splash Castle.  Well, not essentially, I’m pretty sure it IS the Splash Castle just painted differently.  it has all the climbing areas with the water spraying from all directions.  It has three slides with varying height requirements and the giant bucket on top that fills with water and pours over everyone at regular intervals.

We got there early, which I would recommend for ANY activity.  We were able to check in, get a locker, get changed and get situated before the crowds showed up… and the crowds did, eventually, show up.  The first thing we noticed was the heat.  All the reviews we read talked about how hot and humid it is inside.  And it is.  And it should be.  What we did not read was that as hot as it was in there, the second you get wet you are freezing.  My son spent most of the day shivering with blue lips (not that it slowed him down any).

The second we noticed was the staff.  There were so many life guards and staff members walking around, watching the different areas and overall just helping out and providing a nice experience.  We felt very safe.  And each one was more pleasant than the next.  We were immediately impressed.

We had gotten there early, so the place was very clean.  But even at the height of the crowds I only ever saw one piece of garbage on the floor, and it was immediately picked up.  The staff kept this place immaculate throughout the day.  I almost could not believe it.

The dining area is your standard theme park fare — hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, pizza.  It was expensive, but not more than any other place where they have a captive audience.  And, truthfully, in terms of theme park food, it wasn’t bad.  The lines do get long for the food, so next time I might try eating a little early, or holding off the hunger with snacks and doing something a little later.

The hotel/water park also has a game room, which was nice.  I had read in one review that it worked like a charm to get your kids dried and dressed.  Just tell them you will take them to the game room.  From there it just becomes a matter of getting them out the door.

All in all it was a great experience.  I think next time we might try the CT one, just to see the difference.  But I would highly recommend Coco Key for a cold or rainy day adventure.


Weekend in Philly (and Camden)

August 15, 2011 in Being a Dad, Reviews, Vacations

In a rarely seen phenomenon, we had an entire weekend with no plans. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zero. It was shocking. Rather than sit around and stare at each other, we decided to do an overnight in Philadelphia.

We had two things in mind that we wanted to do (three if you include me getting a cheesesteak from Pat’s, which, incidentally didn’t happen, and four if you include seeing the Liberty Bell, which you will read about shortly); go to the Please Touch Museum and the Adventure Aquarium (which is not in Philly as we had originally thought, but across the river in Camden, hence the title of this post).

The Please Touch Museum is AMAZING. I have been to a few children’s museums. We are actually members at a museum in CT. And for those of you who have never been to one, but “museum” I mean area where kids can run around and play with stuff in themed settings. So, one area might be a supermarket theme and kids can shop, or work a register, or stock shelves or whatever. Another area might be all water activities. One might be animals. The Please Touch Museum is like a children’s museum on steroids. It is HUGE. My wife and I were very impressed.

That night I mentioned that I wanted to see the Liberty Bell. I mean, I’m in Philly, I should see the Liberty Bell. My wife was tired from walking around and from being 7 months pregnant. So, I asked my son if he wanted to take a walk. We set off to find the Bell. It is not outside, as I thought, and the building that houses it closes at 7pm. I got there at 7:09. So, I was able to peer through a dirty window, from about 25 feet away and see the Bell.

Our next stop was the Adventure Aquarium. Again, a home run. Great aquarium. Lots to see. A couple of interactive areas for kids. Just a great day overall. We missed the Hippo feedings, but other than that we saw everything we wanted to see.

I would definitely recommend either of these places to anyone looking for a good day trip (or weekend) who is within comfortable driving distance to the Philadelphia area. I also hear the Zoo is nice. And I still need to get back for my cheesesteak!