Thursday, May 31, 2012

Humble Indie Bundle V

We at Frictional Games are yet again part of a Humble Indie Bundle and this time it is quite the pack. Our contribution is Amnesia: The Dark Descent and it is joined by Limbo, Bastion, Psychonauts and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. This pack of games is offered to a price of your own choosing, and part of the revenue, you chose how much, will go to charity. This video will explain more:

I think the all of the games that Amnesia share the bundle with are quite special, and are all really worth playing if you haven't yet.

Sword and Sworcery was my top from last year and there is a lot to learn from playing it. Foremost, it has this magical blend of music, gameplay and graphics that really shows of the strengths of the medium. It is clear that this is not a game that has been created to be some kind of competition, but to create a special, mystical experience. This is something we need more of.

Limbo manages to create a very tense atmosphere, but more importantly it how to use a very simplistic control scheme to create great variety. Nowadays, game often require you to learn tons of buttons, but in Limbo you understand all required controls after a few minutes of play. And yet the game manages to give you varied activities from start to finish. It also never takes away control from the player, allowing for a highly interactive narrative experience.

Bastion is excellent in the way it builds up its fiction. The constant voice over gives meaning to your actions and also let you see the world in a quite different way than you would have otherwise. As the flowing narrative unfolds, enemies stop being cannon fodder and instead feel like proper denizens of the world. By small means a  lot of depth is added to the game, and I highly recommend it in a lesson on how to do story exposition.

Finally, Psychonauts paint up a vibrant world filled with quirky, interesting and yet human characters. What I liked best about it is how the core theme of the game, to enter people's minds, really merges both gameplay and storytelling. Actually playing the game does not simply servers as some filler between plot points, but actually adds depth to the narrative.

Also, note that the sound tracks of all games comes along with the bundle! I mean, the awesome sound track from Sword &  Sworcery is enough reason to buy the bundle alone. The music from Bastion is not bad either...

Monday, May 28, 2012

How to Hot Wire the Dollhouse

[This post was originally published on the Parentonomics blog at Forbes on May 21, 2012]
Many people, including myself, have ruminated over the gender differences in toys. Well, as if inspired by that rumination, comes Roominate; a Kickstarter project that plays the gender game but with a different set of bells and whistles. Basically, the idea is to build
components for a doll house that include the wires: you can, literally, wire the doll house up for electronics. Here is a video explaining the product. The product comes with normal building components, decorations and then wires and electronics to put in lights, bells and other jazzy features. The catch is that the electrical bits have to be built just like the material bits. But you can experiment and design as you please.

The theory here is that early exposure to science and engineering can inspire more women to eventually go into those disciplines. That is a pretty old notion. What is interesting here is how Roominate’s engineers have decided to hit on the problem. If you look at the end product, once it is built, it is a pretty normal doll house. What is different is that the back is a mess of wires. Now I can’t vouch for how this will be to use but at least the video got my seven year old daughter excited. I backed this one for that reason just to see how the end product turns out.
Of course, there are many options available these days for getting kids interested in electronics in a gender neutral, as opposed to gender-specific way like Roominate. One that seems interesting is littleBits. As demonstrated in this TED talk by Ayah Bdeir, these are building blocks but with electronic interactivity. They look expensive but again the motive was to broaden the appeal of electrical engineering. Another is Ardunio which is open source and from the looks of it is one that I would have to leave to my electrical engineer wife to explore with the kids.
What is encouraging is that entrepreneurs are taking this challenge seriously. What is also interesting is that they are drawing on their experience rather than a focus group to develop these ideas. Perhaps that is why these are all ventures independent of major toy manufacturers.

Can Facebook get a child expelled from school?

[This post was originally published in Forbes on May 17, 2012]
Apparently in one school in Queensland, Australia, it might do just that.
Illustration of Facebook mobile interface
I’d like to say that this news story surprised me but, at some level, it didn’t. The ignorance of educators about Facebook is extraordinary. What’s the story? First, Facebook, to comply with US law, says that under 13 year olds cannot use it. A Queensland high school, Harlaxton, has used this as a shield to first issue a warning:
As most parents would be aware, your children must be 13 to be able to join Facebook. I am aware that there are many parents out there making their children adhere to this legality. We applaud you for holding strong in what example you are setting. We are also extremely pleased to know that many parents of students over the age of 13 are ensuring they are one of their child’s Facebook friends. Well done you are acting protectively and supervising from the sidelines. Many of our students lie about their age – that is, they are making a false declaration. There is a reason why the legal age for Facebook in Australia is 13. There is an assumption that by that age children will have been taught (and understand) the implications of using social media. It is anticipated that the child will have gained a strong moral purpose and be able to differentiate between what is socially acceptable and lawful and what could be considered libellous and unlawful. We have spent the last five years teaching our students about respect, relationships and resilience. It may seem insignificant to lie about your age to gain access to a social media site but where does it stop? Will they then think it is okay to lie about their age to gain a licence? Parents, you are your child’s first teachers. What do you want them to learn? How do you want them live their lives? Is your example a socially acceptable example?
First of all, the notion that the law is about children understand morals is completely false. Instead, the under-13 law makes it difficult (but not impossible) for websites and companies to collect data regarding children. Companies like Disney operate within its constraints. Facebook, to date, has decided to not make changes to accommodate under-13s but it does not aggressively do anything about them either. The point is not that interacting on Facebook is harmful to children the way drinking alcohol may be. Instead, its intention at least is to protect children’s privacy from companies. Moreover, it is not clear there is an Australian equivalent of this law and, in any case, it would be Facebook not children or their parents that would face the legal issue here.
Secondly, the entire statement is a presumption that children are engaging in lying without parental permission. Research has demonstrated that not only are there millions of children on Facebook but 55% of parents know this and the vast majority of them actually helped their children sign up. So, in effect, the principal is extending her reach into the home.
That is what makes the next message from the principal extraordinary. She followed up with a threat:
It has come to our attention that some Harlaxton students, under the age of 13, have a Facebook account. Facebook requires its users to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. Providing false information to create an account is a violation of Facebook’s ‘Statement of Rights and responsibilities’.
It is Harlaxton State School policy and expectation that parents and their sons/ daughters would uphold the State and Commonwealth laws, as well as the guidelines set by social networking sites, with regard to their child’s use of such sites. Therefore, no student of Harlaxton who is under the age of 13 is to have a Facebook account, as per the Facebook terms and conditions and guidelines. In addition, parents should understand that a student who contravenes the law or rule in a digital scenario may need to meet with the Principal to discuss this issue and their continued enrolment at Harlaxton.
In the letter they also asked parents to search and report underaged children to Facebook. Basically, this was saying that Harlaxton would consider expelling students who simply had a Facebook account. This was apparently a child safety issue. In other words, if parents were not, by the school’s standards, keeping their child safe, the child could be removed from school. And if you look at this carefully, the expulsion could be simply because guidelines of social networking sites had not been adhered to.
The rationale behind this, it shouldn’t surprise you, was the school’s attempt to control bullying. But rather than target the bullies and work out who they were, the school wanted to punish every child. And not for behaviour within school grounds but for behaviour at home and possibly sanctioned by parents.
I have written before that there are good reasons for the decision as to whether a child joins a social network to lie with parents and not be banned by the government and certainly not enforced by a school. Parents need to be able to give their kids ‘training wheels’ in all aspects of social life, including digital ones. And what is more, the directive from the Principal, Leonie Hultgren, surely masks a double standard. I wonder are there any Jewish children at her school whose parents have given them a sip of wine in clear violation of Queensland laws? Has any teacher at the school received a speeding ticket? Again, what sort of example would it be to children to know that a teacher had broken the law in a road safety matter. My guess is not. Instead, this is one school’s attempt to ‘get out of management free’ and not have to deal with real issues of bullying that all schools have to contend with. And even after all that, what happens when the children turn 13? What’s the school going to do about all this then?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Wiggles Are No Longer Ready to Wiggle

[This post appeared on the Parentonomics blog at Forbes on 17th May 2012]

Today marks the end of an era for parents. The remaining three original members of The Wiggles are leaving the group after 21 years. The grind of touring had become too much for Australia's most successful musical export of
The Wiggles Movie Soundtrack
The Wiggles Movie Soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
recent memory. (And they were a big export still earning $45 million in 2009).

It is hard to imagine how we could have survived parenthood when our children were very young without The Wiggles. When we got married in the mid-1990s, it seemed that the future was a purple dinosaur named Barney with excruciating songs. But unbeknownst to us at the time, The Wiggles had already arrived and by the time we became parents in 1998, they had produced nine albums of the greatest children's music ever. And by great I mean, not annoying to parents.

Children's music has the quality that it invites repetition and that repetition destroys the soul of new parents. While it is the case that new parents often claim they are investing in Mozart for babies in the hopes of spurring child development or something, instead it is the hope that their children might not want to list to children's music. That turns out to be a false hope.

But The Wiggles were different. This Australian group did what entrepreneurial types now call a 'pivot.' Two of the Wiggles started out in a more child unfriendly mode as The Cockroaches in the 1980s. They had a modest hit with "She's the One" but then faded. The other two Wiggles were studying to be pre-school teachers when the four met. A school project, in fact, became their first album where they proclaimed the world, "Get Ready to Wiggle" as the opening track. The album was otherwise lacklustre with traditional children's music. However, it did contain few other songs penned by the band members including one famously introducing Dorothy the Dinosaur that would continue as a muse throughout the band's life. In 1993, they introduced Captain Feathersword a decidedly friendly pirate.

But it was Yummy, Yummy that was their first true classic and incredible tour-de-force that introduced children to fruit salad recipes, amongst other food related themes, including their signature hit "Hot Potato". While it might be a stretch to call this a concept album, as it was unclear where the "Numbers Rhumba" fit in, it was one that could move to a 'parental sanity secure' high rotation on the car's CD player. We would sing along too while driving sometimes to discover that we had no children actually in the car at the time. The Wiggles had hit on a secret sauce for children's music -- something that would be liked by all.
Of course, the Wiggles weren't done innovating. In the next two years, as if it couldn't get any better, the Wiggles bought a car that was big and red and also pretty much a lemon. Their troubles and heartache inspired a new set of
The Wiggles performing at the MCI Center, Nove...
The Wiggles performing at the MCI Center, November 8, 2007 with the new yellow Wiggle, Sam Moran. Photo by Anthony Arambula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
songs and then an incredible celebration of auto-movement with "Toot toot" with its improbably optimistic claim that they would "ride the whole day long."

The followed a tour of world music, including New Zealand, but the pressure of coming up with concept related themes was starting to show. Their collaboration with Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, in 2000 generated a rush to the stores by parents reminiscent of The Beatles White Album but while not bad, it did not live up the hype. From there, with a stock of solid songs to cater for my children, I lost interest and no new albums were purchased in our household. But we would attend concerts into the mid-2000s joining other parents in chanting for another round of "Wake Up Jeff" but sometimes I got the feeling that The Wiggles only wanted to do the new stuff.

The Wiggles will all be replaced and the franchise will live on. For each of us parents, The Wiggles have given us reprieve from an otherwise horrific music existence. Of course, as the children grew older our risks would change. Now with young teens, we have Glee.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do Bullies amount to nothing?

[This post was originally published at on 11th May 2012]
When news broke yesterday that Mitt Romney had alledgedly physically bullied another student while in high school, there were mixed reactions. We are all outraged when
Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
we hear about bullying but, at the same time, there is a notion of teenage indiscretions and that a person without life experience can be a different person four decades later. That said, as Emily Bazelon noted, when a teenager or person of youth does something courageous, as George W. Bush did when sticking up for a bullied gay student, we do believe that this is a sign of better qualities.
As I contemplated it more, I began to think of this as a parent beyond any political implications or how this impacted on someone’s Presidential qualities. And, in doing so, I thought about my own high school experience. Like many (perhaps all) academically oriented students in high school, back in Australia I was bullied. It was something that I came to accept as a fact of high school existence (and I attended a high school not unlike that of Mitt Romney). My parents were aware of this and I recall us discussing it. In the end, what I recall, strongly, from that is a narrative: “just remember, they’ll amount to nothing.”
The basic idea is that bullies were exhibiting their own poor characteristics and it was not about those being bullied. And those characteristics were the sort of thing that will serve them poorly in later life. I imagined prison or destitution but, in reality, what I did not expect to see was broad success. I have taken this narrative and used it when similar things had occurred to my children as it is powerful and makes sense. (Of course, these days we have more responsive schools as well).
Mitt Romney’s now revealed teenagehood flies in the face of this narrative. He hasn’t amounted to nothing. Even prior to being selected as the Republican nominee for the
Governor Mitt Romney of MA
Governor Mitt Romney of MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
most powerful position in the world, he was extremely successful both in wealth and experience. Mitt Romney had amounted to something.
Now one counter-example shouldn’t kill a fact (bullies don’t succeed) or, indeed, nullify a hypothesis. However, the narrative was never a fact. It was a theory. It made sense but my parents and many, many others did not know it to be true. So this big counter-example matters.
In thinking about this post, I came to recall how important that narrative was to me. I remember the names of those who bullied me and, to tell you the truth, I have delved into the Internet on occasion to see whether things had worked out for them. I have no evidence of strong success. But I also remember the names of those who chose to stand up to bullies (sometimes on my behalf) and I have looked into how things worked out for them and have found some positive outcomes. At some level, this is a life-long source of comfort.
It would be nice to just plough on and continue to use the “they’ll amount to nothing” narrative with my children into the future but right now I worry about whether we can do it. Should Romney become President I would worry even more. And I have no alternative to fill the gap. Perhaps, “it gets better” but is that enough.
So let me throw it open to others to maybe offer suggestions: if you, as a parent, couldn’t rely on “they’ll amount to nothing” when comforting a bullied child, what might you say?

Friday, May 11, 2012

What my 11 year old's Stanford course taught me about online education

[This post was originally published at on 7th May 2012]

My 11 year old son just took a course at Stanford. That has a nice ring to it but it is actually meaningless because these days anyone can take a course at Stanford. You don’t even have to pay. All you need is access to a computer and a reasonable Internet connection. So what we can say is my 11 year old son just watched a bunch of videos on the Internet. 

That doesn’t make for an interesting post except that this ‘bunch of videos’ is currently being heralded as the future of higher education. In the New York Times, David Brooks saw courses like the one my son took as a tsunami about to hit campuses all over the world. And he isn’t alone. Harvard’s Clay Christensen sees it as a transformative technology that will change education forever. And along with Stanford many other institutions, most notably Harvard and MIT, are leaping into the online mix. This is attracting attention and investment dollars. It has people nervous and excited. So I wondered, what happens when someone who has grown up online encountered one of these new ventures?

The course my son just completed was ‘Game Theory’ taught by Matthew Jackson and Yoav Shoham. That wasn’t his first pick (he favored Computer Science 101) but that course was delayed and so he jumped into Game Theory a couple of weeks late
The logo for Game Theory userbox
The logo for Game Theory userbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
to see how it was. I was more than a little curious, as I’m a game theorist myself. But he agreed to take the course on his own; although I would be on hand to help with some specific questions and occasionally shake my head at some answers he wanted to submit for problem sets. Nonetheless, to a large degree, I could observe when thrown into the deep end of a real University level course, how would a middle school student do? And more importantly, what would he learn?

At the outset, I had modest expectations for this exercise. I expected my son would enjoy game theory. He enjoys thinking about games and strategies. He devoured both volumes of a Cartoon Guide to Economics. And he was interested to learn more about what I did everyday.

Could he handle game theory? Well, at its essence, game theory isn’t too difficult. It is just a way of structuring common sense. I personally had taught some gifted students aged 10 to 16 two days of game theory and knew that there was little ‘life experience’ was going to add to the learning exercise. But that said, the Stanford version wasn’t a course full of fun along with the games. Instead, it was very quantitative. So while game theory can be filled with stories of Cortez and vicious competition between Microsoft and Apple, this one was very, very dry. It focussed on the formal mathematical concepts and shied away from applications. Certainly, none of my MBA students would tolerate it for long and I know from experience that few of them would feel comfortable with the quantitative approach. This was a course that would appeal to engineering types.

What this meant is that you needed a good solid base in algebra and probability in order to keep up with Game Theory. For my son that meant learning some of these on the fly. So he spent more time on the Wikipedia page for geometric series than would a typical student taking this at Stanford. And franky, by the time he got to Perfect Bayesian Equilibrium, he was struggling to understand it deeply. Of course, he should join the club. Few economists have mastered that one. I had worried that some of the maths might prove a barrier to him but it wasn’t enough to stop him from ploughing on.

The lectures

So what of the lectures themselves? Professors Jackson and Shoham had done exactly what you would expect. They had taken the Powerpoints slides from their current course and lectured to a camera with their own disembodied heads popping up from time to time. They had divided the course up into chunks so you didn’t have to block out two hours at a time to absorb a whole lecture. But that was pretty much it.

And so how did my son react to those? He commented, “I think the concepts are interesting but the presentation is dull. Couldn’t they have done animations and things to make it better?” He had a point. Compared to educational videos he had watched these were extraordinarily dull. As I took a look through his eyes, I could see what the problem was: they were exactly like most university lectures. They slowly and methodically take you through the material. Sometimes in a classroom a professor might react to a question with an interesting story or clarifying anecdote. But for these online versions, they were all business. My son asked whether University was really like this and I was sad to say that, in the main, yes it was. More to the point, if you were to ask a current University student what they thought of these videos they would likely think of them as wonderful. After all, this is what they were getting in class but could now pick and choose where and when to attend. They would see the liberation. But for an 11 year old, there was a more demanding standard and, on many levels, a standard worth respecting.

This is when I started to learn more about this medium. The issue is one of design. University lectures are designed to bring everyone along. They have to because you need to build up knowledge and it can’t be easily chunked. This is tolerated when people are in a lecture hall but online for even the average student it is all going to seem somewhat slow.

The most important button for video lectures is not ‘play’ but ‘pause.’ Students can always choose to pause at a point and, say, absorb a slide. What that means is that when you are creating an online lecture, you can build this option in and go fast. This is something that the Khan Academy have already worked out. But that Stanford course was still in the old style. To be sure, you can double the speed (and the pitch) of the lectures but I suspect design when students have the power to pause will look very different. (Click here for more of my thoughts on speed learning).

The significance here has implications for online education. What it tells us is that it is not simply the case that the elite institutions will be able to take their existing courses and pop them online. More will need to be done and lectures will have to be rethought; something I will have more to say about below when we through assessment into the mix. Now the Stanford course did do more than just lectures. It offered some online experiments where you could play games but my son found these disjointed from what was really going on in the lectures. They also offered Google Hangout office hours but as they were during the day they interfered with school so we didn’t see what happened there. But my point is that we have only just begun to learn how online subject matter differs from its traditional counterpart.

The assessment

The Stanford course had assessment although, as with all these things, they were at pains to tell us that this did not constitute official accreditation. Want that from Stanford and you have to get in and show up. For online courses, no one has cracked how to verify whether an identified student is the same person as the one doing the assessment.

Nonetheless, being game theorists, Jackson and Shoham seemed to want to ensure that students had the right push. So they put in place four problem sets comprising multiple choice questions and also a final exam (which was much the same but with a time constraint). As this was a quantitative course, the assessment matched the lectures.

But it was here that my son, taken out of middle school and into a University environment, started to struggle. He had started the course late and so rushed the first few lectures and problem set. That didn’t bode well and we sat down together to see what went wrong. Basically, he was not used to a format that required very careful reading of instructions. For these problems, you had to pay attention to every detail. Miss something small and you would get the answer wrong. He needed to learn something new: how to check your work and read things carefully.

And this worked for the next couple of problem sets until he made a more drastic mistake; one only really possible online. Due to a confusion about precisely what week it was, he opened the final problem set, saw that there was something amiss and rather than just close it, he clicked submit (and also the ‘are you sure’ confirmation). Another bad outcome. The reason was that only your first attempt at the assessment counted. You could try again to improve your understanding but that was all.

Again, I knew why our game theory professors did this. If you want to assess, allowing people to keep trying wasn’t going to get you a good signal of their ability. But then if you think about it for two seconds you have to wonder why we want a good signal of these students’ ability. This is not assessment for accreditation so who cares about getting such incentives right? What one surely wants are problem sets that signal to the student whether they had mastered the material or not. By not breaking out of the assessment mould, the course designers missed the opportunity to focus on learning rather than signalling.

In contrast, this course was very well placed for a Khan Academy type model. In that model, students engage in online assessment and are not permitted to go to the next stage until they have mastered the current one. In game theory, that would mean trying a variety of problems again and again until you got them right.
After the accidently submitted problem set incident, my son was devastated and took a little persuading to push ahead with the course and the final exam. He did that and scored almost 90 per cent for that part. But alas, with two out of the four problem sets a disaster and problem sets receiving the bulk of the weighting, he was a percentage point or two shy of a pass mark of 70 per cent. That said, he was only frustrated by that for a couple of minutes. Another lesson that rules are rules and that sometimes taking care and taking your time is important.

The learning

Assessment and grades aside, let’s focus on the learning outcomes. Did my son actually learn anything from this? The answer is a resounding yes. As I noted the lecturers were rather dry and divorced from the real world, especially his world, but once he started he began to see applications of game theory everywhere. What is more he believed what he was learning could help him understand the world.
Extensive form game 2. An example of finding p...
Extensive form game 2. An example of finding perfect Bayesian equilibrium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now in some cases this was very useful to me as it saved some parenting time. On one occasion he decided he did not want to eat a particular vegetable for dinner. We said that he wouldn’t be leaving the table until he did so. I said, “now use your game theory to forecast what the outcome of this is and let me know what you decide.” He laid out his options, our reactions and everyone’s payoffs and worked out that he would do well to eat his vegetables sooner rather than later.

But he took his lessons to more unexpected, and depending upon how you look at it, somewhat disturbing places. At school, students were asked to form teams and go out onto the streets and raise money for kids with cancer. His team had to choose a location and that is where he informed me that he used his game theory. On their street they saw a homeless man (a comparative rarity in Toronto). He realised that the homeless man had already worked out what the best location for charitable contributions was. In this case, it was at a point next to a subway entrance and a Starbucks. He convinced his team that they could set up their own stand right there. Two things could happen, he explained to me. One is that the homeless man, moved away to come back another day. The other was that the homeless man stayed in which case he believed that his team would have edge in their claim as their cause was for other people and his was just for himself. In the end, the homeless man abandoned the post.

Now it is hard to know precisely what to think about that but it is hard to fault his raw logic in terms of the competitive charitable market. The game theory was impeccable assuming that the homeless man was rational. Alas, the Stanford course hadn’t touched on the possible alternative but fortunately some of the more dire scenarios there did not happen. I’m also not sure about relatively well to do kids competing with the homeless but my son had some good arguments in his own defence.

All that aside, this course did actually manage to teach my son some game theory. For that we can (probably) all be grateful. But if you were to ask my whether it is worth getting middle students to take these courses, I would say that there is no need to rush. I’m sure they will get better and better in quite short order so it is best to wait.

The future

In the end, from this exercise I learned that online learning will require considerable investment in time and energy of academics before it really hits the mark. While an 11 year old is far from the right test subject, the notion of taking someone out of their element to see what a learning experience is really like is insightful. Lectures need to be redesigned with pause in mind. The purpose of assessment has to be completely rethought. But when it comes down to it, the subject matter is broadly accessible and one can imagine that younger and younger students will delve into what we previously thought of as University-only course material.

There is much hype about online learning and its potential to disrupt higher education. But all we have really learned by the tens of thousands signing up is that there is tremendous demand. That itself, however, does not spell doom for higher education but should be a sign of its continuing value.

My guess is that online education is more of a complement than a substitute for offline experiences. To be sure, watch something like Michael Sandel’s online course, Justice, and there is no need to attend Harvard for the same thing. But that is because a huge amount of effort went into its design and production. And it is also one where the lecture experience translates online. For courses like Game Theory, the lecture experience is limiting and bringing it online only demonstrates that more starkly.

Monday, May 7, 2012

My 11 year old takes Stanford's online game theory course

As regular readers know my son is the least strategic of my three children. So I was a little surprised when he was the one who jumped at the chance of doing Stanford's online game theory course. Perhaps he knew he wasn't strategic and was hoping for some firepower. 

Over at Forbes I recount his experience and also what it taught me about the future of online education. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Is it time for subscription parenting?

[This post was originally published on the Parentonomics blog at Forbes on 28th April, 2012]
There have been all manner of parenting styles from attachment parenting, to helicopter parenting, to free-range parenting. All of them focus on pretty much on the time you spend doing things for or with your children. But what about the time you spend buying things for your children? It seems that there has been a broad acceptance that you just have to shop.
Now shopping requires search. I’ve already written about how Disney would like you to subscribe to family vacations rather than go to the fuss of searching for the right spot every year. And certainly if you don’t use disposable diapers, there are services that allow you subscribe to clean cloth ones. But what other areas of parenting can be take the shopping out of the equation?
Enter an operation called Wittlebee. Their idea is to take out the whole shopping thing for clothes for children under the age of 5. Basically, you give them your preferences(type of clothes, current child size etc) and for $39.95 they send you a box of clothes each month. What’s in that box? 8 items of clothes. (You can see an example to the right that I found on Pinterest). So that’s $5 an item. I can’t vouch for the quality but that’s Target pricing.
Presumably, it isn’t too hard from that point to keep upping the sizes with a child’s growth (probably erring on the larger) but the point is that you may never have to rush to children’s clothing sales again.
That got me thinking about what other aspects of parenting we might like to subscribe to. One possibility is batteries. Toys seem to go through these quite readily. Well, I haven’t seen quite that but these people — EarthCell– will allow you to subscribe to rechargeable batteries. The idea is that as you use the batteries, you put them in a box and then, when it is full, pop it in the post. In return you get fully charged batteries. This notion is interesting but I do wonder whether we have time to even post a box!
But my guess is that perhaps what we’d really like a subscription to is Tupperware. Near as I can tell our Tupperware needs grow with our children and at an exponential rate. The other day I found that we had a Tupperware to store Tupperware lids. It would be nice to commit to a plan and a budget for these things.
Anyhow, if you have any areas of your parenting life that might benefit from a subscription, let us know in the comments. Maybe we can all evolve into subscription parents