Raising Tech Kids: Kindle Fire and FreeTime

Kindle Fire with FreeTimeBoth the girls received Kindle Fire’s for Christmas. They had not asked for them but I was looking to make an active move towards purchasing gifts that I felt hold more value and would be used more often than random toys and bling encrusted junk that just gets left around for Mama to pick up.

I had stumbled across a promotional price (less than a DS and way less than a ipod)  the week of Black Friday and snapped two up. It was total surprise and ended up being their favorite gift.

In early December Amazon announced the release of FreeTime – a kid zone type app that would (with my prime membership) allow a number of pre-approved kid friendly items to be at their disposal without me having to pay a la cart for them.

Awesome.

And it is, although it’s very clear that it’s a first generation product at this point.

In spirit –  the FreeTime app rocks. Here is what I love about it.

  • It’s a flat monthly rate (about the cost of 1 book), no begging me for every game or video or book
  • Once they are in it, they are locked in it. They cannot access content outside of it without me unlocking the machine
  • I can choose to add content from outside FreeTime into their FreeTime profile, so if you let your kid on Facebook for example, or maybe download a Judy Moody Book,  that can be added and they are still locked in.
  • You can set up multiple profiles for different kids with different additional content – my oldest is allowed some things that my youngest is not. (i.e. certain Judy Blume books)

But like I said, it’s clearly the first pass at the idea. I think there is a great deal of improvements that can be made and I look forward to seeing the products get better and better.

(Amazon – want to hire me to be a consultant on some of this? Here I’ll give you the first ideas for free )

  • We should be able to segment the content by age level. It’s all in one big pile right now and it’s hard to browse through the entire haystack.
  • Amazon suffers from what most internet app designers do when approaching “Kid friendly apps” – they are totally caught up with Pre-Schoolers and forget there are older kids out there. The majority of the book and video content is focused on the 5 and under crowd and not so much the 6-12 age group. Hint to the content curators – no kid who’s started Kindergarten wants that much Dora… Pull back on the Dora! Nothing against Dora but OMG there is so much of it! You need a Dora filter or something.
    • Especially books, you need more books that aren’t beginning reader books. It’s very heavy on the early reader crowd.Hard to find things for say 4th-6th graders.
  • Make it easier for me to admin. It wasn’t that easy to set up and seriously if I’m tweaking the settings I have to put in my parent password every three steps.
  • Love idea of being able to limit the game time, video time, and book time separately – that was smart. But how much smarter would it have been to give even finer controls, like time periods. i.e. no games during designated times for example my kids do their homework from 4-6pm.
  • Better yet –give us the option to gamify it. Let them earn more game or video time by reading … let me set the parameters maybe every 25 pages or 25 minutes of active reading = they earn the  same amount of game or video time.
  • Allow limited internet access to approved sites. My kids get web based homework assignments from school on sites like IXL.com and www.spellingcity.com and they love doing them on their Kindle’s but I have to let them out of FreeTime to do it. Let me approve websites, like I can approve purchased content.  (also these site have apple apps but not android apps? Why is that?)

So here is my favorite story of Kids with Kindle’s so far… One night little FancyPants was sitting beside me in bed watching videos or playing games or whatever, and I was reading or watching videos or whatever on mine (yes I have one too – older gen 1 Fire). I had on headphones. She taps me on the arm and I pull off the headphones and she asks me this question, “What’s up with the guy in the videos that takes his clothes on an off all the time?”

I tried to hide my panic while I desperately tried to remember if I somehow forgot to put her back in the FreeTime app last time I was doing something and thinking she somehow got into something on the Prime Instant Video stuff I have access to. Very calmly I ask.. “What man, honey?”

“You know,” she says “He’s always doing this (mimes removing a jacket) when he comes and goes.  And his shoes, he always taking his shoes off”

At that point a light bulb went off.. “Do you mean Mr. Rogers?” (Oh thank gawd!)

“Yes!” she says. “What’s up with that!?!”  And then I realized that my kids being daycare and pre-k type kids – they never see Mr. Rogers. PBS puts on a little Sesame Street on Sprout at night but never Mr. Rogers. He’s a day time fellow. The Free Time app has what looks like several season of his show in the video area.

“OMG!” I told her – “Do you love the Neighborhood of Make Believe or what? Henrietta Pussycat was my absolute favorite!” – at which point her eyes got wide and she enthusiastically nodded and we spent the next 2 hours watching Mr. Rogers episodes together – totally fast forwarding to the part where Trolly comes in.

* Note, the products discussed in this blog post were/are paid for in full by myself. I was not paid to write this in anyway.

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