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These apps, tools and gadgets do some of the hard work of a nanny, babysitter, tutor and parent, all rolled into one.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this year, toy manufacturing giant Mattel unveiled the most advanced virtual nanny the world has ever seen. The Aristotle can help kids of all ages with homework, read bedtime stories (complete with light- and sound-effects), give teens foreign-language tutoring, register if a baby wakes up in the night and play a lullaby or turn on a nightlight, plus it offers simple educational games, logs wet nappies, automatically orders baby supplies from retailers, and also functions as a high-tech baby monitor. It will go on sale in the States in June from around $300.
This kind of awe-inspiring cutting-edge technology will not be available in South Africa for a while (nor is it currently compatible with any smart home tech available in Mzansi) - and, to be honest, we're not 100% sold on the value of a tool that performs so many of the routine, mundane parenting jobs that all add up to the rich, rewarding, rollercoaster experience of parenting.
But, luckily, there are simpler, more attainable apps, tools and gadgets that can make life easier for both tech-savvy and technophobic parents. Here's our pick of the best.
Keep an eye on them with smart baby monitors
In the last five years alone, baby monitor technology has soared to the heights of futuristic surveillance. No longer simple one-way audio monitoring tools, baby monitors today can make you feel as if you're in the same room as your kid - even if you're on a different continent.
Using a Wi-Fi compatible baby monitor lets you check on your baby through a video feed on your phone, tablet or computer, no matter where you are.
Some, like the BabyWombWorld Nanny Camera, can record in a completely dark room, and you can pan and tilt the camera remotely, from your smartphone, to view an entire room. Plus, it offers two-way audio, so even if you're away on a work trip, you can talk to your baby when they wake up at night.
Teach them a thing or two with educational apps*
There are loads of educational apps on the market for kids of all ages, but these three are our favourite.
- Language learning - The Xander apps: Kids' language learning gets a boost in their mother tongue, plus the apps can help them learn a new South African language. The apps focus on core preschool principles, from telling the time to shapes and colours. Xander is a homegrown, South African-built family of educational apps available in Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Sotho, Swahili, Shona and English.
- Reading - Moppet: As much as we'd like to be able to read stories to our kids whenever they ask us to, it's not always possible (such as, when we're cooking dinner or racing to meet a deadline from our home office or when we've already read five bedtime stories and worry that we're about to lose our voice). The Moppet app has a feature that reads stories to your kids, and there are 10 different worlds for kids to explore, each populated with different kinds of stories. Plus, it's free to download. They can also choose to read a story themselves, which gives excellent practice to primary school learners.
- Logic and spatial awareness - The Thinkrolls 1 and Thinkrolls 2 apps: These award-winning games provide hours of stimulation for kids between the ages of three and nine, presenting them with challenges that they have to use their visual logic to solve. This is a zany, more addictive, colourful, whacky version of Tetris, and we wouldn't be surprised if you enjoyed it as much as your kids do.
Give them (safe) access to back-to-back kids' shows
If you've not signed up to Africa's own internet-TV service Showmax yet, you're missing a parenting trick. They've got ahuge line-up of kids' series and movies (from a variety of Barbie movies to Paw Patrol to classic Disney flicks to TMNT to SpongeBob SquarePants to Dora and many, many more) that you can stream onto your smartphone, smart TV, laptop or tablet. If you're data-sensible, you can download them while you're at home for your kids to watch later for free - on the plane, in the car, at the dentist, or at their siblings' soccer matches.
What we love most about Showmax is that there's no need to be concerned about the content your kids are exposed to. By setting up kid-friendly profiles, you'll make sure that they don't have access to anything that's not appropriate for their age. There are four different age settings: younger kids, older kids, teens, and adults. And different profiles can be used on different devices simultaneously, on the same account - so you can watch your series on your TV on your profile while your kids watch their shows on the tablet on their own profile.
Track their development with stage-based guidance
Mum and Baby, powered by Vodacom Siyakha, is a brand-new service that offers stage-based maternal support and gives you access to health information and videos based on stages of pregnancy and early childhood development. It's available via a free subscription service, and gives you guidance on:
- Sexual and reproductive health
- Mother-child bonding
- Early childhood development
Having this kind of support direct to your smartphone is almost like having a nurse in your home! Visit the Siyakha page for more info.
Note that while some apps may be free to download, the data to do so is not. Buy data bundles on the My Vodacom App or by logging into My Vodacom online »