I love my parents. They've made their mistakes (as all parents do), but one of the things I really admire them for is bringing my brother and I up to be who we wanted to be, not what they wanted us to be. There was never any pressure for us to do well at school - only to behave well. They helped us with homework and encouraged us at what we were good at. If it was obvious that we weren't putting any effort in, there'd be the odd nag, but generally we were left to make our own mistakes and learn from them. My brother and I are like chalk and cheese, but the one thing we have in common as adults is that we both work doing something we love (I write and he's an independent games designer). We're both a bit crap at doing what idiotic office managers tell us to do, but we've definitely thrived on this environment of making our own way and not being pressured.
On the other side of the coin, are the type of parents who push from an early age and never stop. Their children are pushed to do their best, be the best, succeed at everything and fulfil ambitions that are not their own. They get rewarded with money for As in their GCSEs (or even their spelling tests). They do stupid amounts of extra curricular activities. When they want to relax, they are forced to play educational games or...even worse...watch BLUE PETER. I feel really sorry for anybody who was brought up like that and have resolved that Rory will be brought up as I was - with support and guidance when it's required but enough of a free rein to be himself, make mistakes and learn from them.
Believe it or not, this is all relevant to this review - all will become clear later.
So, Rory and I were sent a Hot Dots card pack and pen to review.
Hot Dots is a self checking learning tool aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 11. It consists of a box of cards relating to an area of learning, and a self checking pen.
The pen requires batteries and is MAGIC*. You read a question on the card, choose one of the answers, press the MAGIC PEN* on the dot next to the answer you've chosen and it flashes green if you're right and red if you're wrong. You can also turn on the pen's MAGICAL VOICE*, which will cheer and shout out praise if you get an answer right and, amusingly say "err, no" if you're wrong.
We were sent 'numbers and counting' which was perfect for Rory as he's great at phonics but pretty poor at number recognition. He quickly got the hang of using the pen to choose the answer, and got stuck in. It's an activity that requires an adult's help for younger children as you need to read out the questions on the cards, but children who can read should be able to do this independently.
He liked the talking pen and the green and red lights, but after 5 minutes, he got bored and wandered off. I put the box where he could see it and waited for him to ask to play with it again. Four days later, I was still waiting and wondering how I was going to write the review.
Here's the thing: I love this product. I think it's great. I think it's a fun way for children to learn and adults to assess what they know. I think that children should love it. But Rory didn't seem bothered. And then I started worrying: Was I turning into the sort of parent who pushes their child and has too many ambitions for them? Was I going to make him watch Blue Peter, learn the violin and start paying him for getting his spellings right? I had vague memories of the Little Professor (maths calculator type toy of the 80s that kids were supposed to love, but in reality got use once and then ignored because it was boring) and started feeling twitchy. Then I let him eat five Party Rings in one go and watch Fleabag Monkeyface and felt better about myself.
The next day, Rory pointed to the Hot Dots box. "Can we play numbers, please?" I got it out, and he played with it happily for about 20 minutes. This happened the next day too, and the next. He's enjoying it now, and I'm really pleased to see how much it's helped already with his counting and number recognition. I'm really glad I let him choose when to play with it rather than trying to force it on him though or he might not be so enthusiastic now. Phew - parental smugness can resume.
To conclude, here's my list of pros and cons:
1. I love how portable this is -the pen will fit in the box, and the box has a handle of just the right size for little hands. I think it will come into its own for things like waiting at the doctors or in a restaurant when Rory might otherwise get fidgety and impatient.
2. You only have to buy the pen once. You can buy different sets of cards depending on what your child needs to work on and their age, so it's a toy that lasts a long time.
3. The self checking pen is innovative and fun.
1. Why isn't there an 'off' switch? Or a lid? the pen nib can get pressed down accidentally whilst in the box, making the batteries run down.
2. It would be tempting to try and force this on a child, which I think would result in resistance. Buy it, show them how to use it, and let them use it in their own time for best results.
*It's probably not really magic. I wouldn't know. I was rubbish at science and hated it and therefore my parents never pushed me (see above). Therefore anything that I can't work out is 'magic'. This includes magic painting books. Seriously, how do they make them? You may want to consider this before embracing my parenting technique.
I was sent a Hot Dots set of cards and pen free of charge to review. All opinions are my own. i was not paid for this review.