I generally cringe when I see tiny children with their attention glued to an iPhone screen, or when I read gadget reviews and see commenters asking if such-and-such a device would be a good first smartphone for a six-year-old. I guess that’s a little hypocritical of me now, since I just set up a smartphone for a three-month-old.
To clarify, however, James isn’t allowed to play with this phone. It’s basically the music player for his room, and his portable baby monitor, and it’s very handy. It’s also very cost-effective; I bought this Droid Razr M used on eBay, and after three years of very hard use, it was replaced by a newer eBay phone that Heidi bought me for Christmas. So what all can we do with this scuffed and chipped phone?
For the past month or so, we’ve been using the Dormi baby monitor app to keep an ear on James when he’s napping. It has all the features of a regular old analog baby monitor, but smarter. You’ll need at least two devices, one of which is set to child mode and listens for noise, and the other is set to parent mode and waits for alerts. Instead of listening to an infuriatingly constant drone of 900mhz interference, you only hear the baby when he starts waking up.
That means that it’s very data efficient, and very battery efficient. The two devices can automatically find each other when they are on the same wifi network, or you can set them up manually over the internet if you need more distance. The connection is encrypted, you can also have multiple parent devices listening to a single child device, there’s an option for two-way communication, and you can even use the phone’s cameras to see what’s going on.
We would recommend this powerful app for any Android users (there doesn’t seem to be an iPhone version). It gives you four free hours of monitoring so you can test it out, and then another four hours every month. If you only need a baby monitor during short naps at other people’s houses fairly infrequently, that might be enough, but just to be safe, we bought unlimited lifetime access for the princely sum of $7.
When my siblings and I were growing up, my parents and grandparents recorded themselves reading books and singing songs on cassette tape for us. Generally we were allowed to listen to books or Bible stories during naptime, and a tape of songs or Bible reading when we went to bed. It was a very peaceful way to fall asleep, and a lot of the verses that we memorized and songs that we learned as kids were learned that way.
So, Heidi and I have started to record the Psalms and hymns that we want to James to know, just in our living room as part of regular family worship, and we’re putting those MP3s on James’ new phone. We also have a bunch of scripture songs recorded by real singers, some classical music (because Mozart makes babies smarter), and a few looping tracks of white noise for helping him sleep in strange and noisy places. At the moment, we’re using the free Rocket Player app, since it handles playlists well and has a good sleep timer.
We’re probably going to get a set of $10 speakers for his room at some point, but for now the speaker on the old phone works fine. He can hear his music in bed if we set it near his crib, or on long drives if we leave it wedged near his car seat. Since this phone no longer has a SIM card, we just leave it in airplane mode, and the battery lasts for days. We only turn on the wifi if we need to use the baby monitor, or stream audio off the internet.
While my favorite Bible reading app is the open-source and off-line AndBible, the Life.Church Bible app allows the streaming of several audio Bibles for free. Thanks to the good advice of many older and more experienced parents, we’ve been using it to play James chapters of the Bible since, well, a few months before he was born.
We are already seeing scripture memorization and the fruit of listening to scripture in James’ older cousins, and we plan on reading and playing the Bible to James for a long time to come. I’m not a big fan of streaming audio all day, especially when our internet is already so poky, so Heidi waited for a good sale over at at ChristianAudio.com, and we just bought a downloadable audio Bible for $5, which added a considerable amount of content to our audio library.
As a filmmaker, I actually have a fair amount of professional audio gear lying around, but it’s more convenient to just press record on a smartphone that was already sitting handily in the pocket of the diaper bag. I’m hoping to record more of our casual interaction with James as he gets older, and record more of us reading to him… once we get past the books that revolve entirely around animal noises.
The books and songs that our parents recorded on cassette weren’t mastered in a studio, they were just recorded on cheap 1990s tape players sitting on our kitchen table. And so Dad singing “Let God be Magnified” after dinner might be joined by tiny tone-deaf Isaac. Mom reading Little House on the Prairie is constantly interrupted by spell-bound little listeners asking questions. Our favorite tapes, by far, were the ones where our grandparents talked to us.
I’m not sure why those candid, interactive recordings were so fun, but that’s the kind of thing that I want to start recording, and it’s quite a bit easier to do now, digitally, than in the days of cassette-eating tape recorders. And so, as James gets older, we’ll be continually adding tracks to the library; other audio books, more singing with uncles and aunts, conversations with grandparents, perhaps some great-grandparent recordings if we can salvage those ancient cassette tapes, a few favorite sermons, and so on. We’re also going to add a password to the lockscreen, so he can’t mess things up too badly. I think he’s already trying to order pizza with it.
If you have an old phone lying around, now is a great time to turn it into an educational tool for your younger kids. If not, you can get a decent used phone or a small tablet for about $50, and a 32gb microSD card for about $10. That’s enough space for several hundred hours of audio, or many years of storytimes, naptimes, and bedtimes.