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High Tech Inspiration For Families: Chore-inator

Chore apps for kids: Chore-inatorBack to School is a time our family sets up school year routines and strategies. One of the routines that has been hardest for our family is a chore schedule for our kids. I set up our family schedule online and we are starting to set up a study routine. With a busy school day and after school activities there “seems” to be no time for our kids to do chores. But in reality, there is time but we have no way to organize when and how we fit in chores to our schedule.

 

When I received a press email about a new app called “Chore-inator” (Chore-inator.com), I was interested to check it out to help put structure into our family chore process. The Founders of Chore-inator, Diane and Kevin Hamilton of Binaryformations.com, have their own personal story on why they created the app. So I thought I would start by finding out about why they created Chore-inator, then trying for myself.

 

Chore-inator app

 

When I read the press release about the Chore-inator, I was happy to see that the app not only lists out chores but also a payout which I think is important for my boys.  In our family, earning screen time seems to always be a good inspiration to get things done.  For example, our current “payout” is our boys earn their screen time. We also offer our kids special family events when they do extra work. But we have never been able to organize or “automate” the chores to make sure it gets in our weekly schedule.

 

We asked the Founders of Chore-inator, Diane and Kevin Hamilton of Binaryformations, to share their story on why they created the app and more details about the app. Diane Hamilton responded with the information below.

 

The Chore-inator Story:
Our immediate family consists of Kevin, myself, and our six-year-old son Adam.

 

Chore-inator Founders

Chore-inator Founders

 

We are what the software industry calls indies. We are independent app developers. Our company, Binary Formations, is a small company building apps from ideas that come from challenges within our own family. Home Inventory, a Mac App for cataloging your household for insurance purposes or just to get organized and get rid of clutter, is our most popular thus far, plus we have handful of not so popular apps. This keeps us pretty darn busy and we are grateful to be doing something that we love and can share with others who may be facing similar challenges.

 

It may be surprising that we in no way started off with the intention of creating Chore-inator. Why add yet one more chore tracking app to the pile that already exist? Seriously, we know exactly how difficult it is to compete in a store with more than a million other titles, especially in an area where there are other well-established apps.

 

Our intention was to find something that would help not only get and keep our son, Adam, excited and motivated to do his chores but also to get and keep my husband, Kevin, and I consistent and accountable for chore management. And quite frankly we needed a better way to limit the amount of T.V., computer, and iPad time Adam was getting. None of us were very good at any of this, at all!

 

We tried a variety of approaches, from the good old-fashioned chore chart to trying a few of the apps, but nothing was working for us. They were either too complicated to setup, too complicated for Adam to use before he could read, or too simple and cutesy that Adam quickly out grew it. Also, we are data privacy freaks, so a solution that requires signing into a website and sharing and/or tracking of data is unacceptable. And finally, like many others, we are on a tight budget and are unwilling to pay a subscription fee to manage chores, which is often required for a web solution.

 

Chore-inator app to help keep track of kids chores

 

It was at that point that we decided to do what we do best – build an app to help us. So we put some of our other app ideas on hold and got to work. We had three primary goals when designing Chore-inator:


1. It needed to be so easy to use that you knew intuitively what to do when you picked it up whether you were a toddler who couldn’t read but had 1 or 2 basic chores to do, a teen who just wanted to get in and out so mom and dad would quit nagging, or a busy parent who needed to get it all set up very quickly.
2. It needed to be engaging enough to not only get kids of all ages engaged and motivated to do their chores but to keep them engaged and motivated without being too cutesy that tweens and younger teens were turned off. It needed to be flexible enough to grow with our family.
3. It needed to be extremely quick and easy for parents to get a status of all the family’s chore activity for the day, all in one easily understandable view.

 

We didn’t want an app that was just the electronic version of a traditional chore chart. We wanted an app that really focused on streamlining the process of managing the household chores, an app that exploited the latest and greatest technology and design available to create a workflow that was pleasing to the task at hand and would keep us all accountable without being an extra burden.

 

Like every other parent out there, we are busy too and want to spend as little time necessary on managing the household while at the same time teaching Adam discipline and motivation for a job well done when contributing to the household.

 

Chore-inator launched at Macworld back in March. What started as a family discussion soon won “Best in Show” in addition to being twice named “Best New App” and top banner feature in the Productivity section of the App Store. The experience, as well as the media attention, was confirmation that we were on the right path so we went right back to work when we got home to finish Chore-inator 2.0, which was a top banner feature in the Productivity section of the App Store once again.

 

Chore-inator has been such a big help in our own family. From a parent’s perspective, it has really helped keep Kevin and I consistent with both making sure Adam is doing his chores but also that rewards, such as iPad time or special treats, are limited and tied to positive behaviors. And there is never any doubt whether or not allowance has been paid. Adam recently spent a few days at his Grandparents. He would not let us leave until we looked to make sure there were no rewards or allowance outstanding!

 

From Adam’s perspective, he loves to take pictures of his completed chores to show us. It makes him feel good to be contributing to the household by being responsible for completing a few age appropriate chores and he is learning the value of saving, whether it is saving allowance or saving stars to redeem rewards.

 
 
 

 

How do you setup a chore schedule (and “payout”) in your house?

 

 

Disclosure: Press post

 

For more information check out their website: Chore-inator.com, twitter @Chore-inator and Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/binaryformations and on iTunes: Chore-inator  iOS app.  .

 

 

 

 

Tips For Moms on Using Facebook Groups

Tips For Moms: How To Use Facebook GroupsHow people communicate has changed significantly thanks to social media networks, especially Facebook which covers family, friends, business networks and more. I have written before about Tips for Parents: Facebook Privacy Settings for Teens but this time I wanted to cover Facebook Groups. It is important that parents understand online security and privacy settings in social networks, then help educate their kids and set up regular communication to help guide them when needed. In addition, moms can use Facebook Groups in several ways to assist in their own communication. I even showed my teen (and did it for myself) how to create a Facebook “close friends” list to see more of their updates on his timeline.

 

 

Lately it seems that every conference I attend, social media groups I am involved with and “In Real life” groups I join use Facebook Groups as communication central. I even have a Facebook Group for a business group I joined in college (made up of business majors from my alma mater). They use a Facebook Group to keep in touch and coordinate events. I recently attended their annual reunion and it was magical to sit with them in real life and catch up on information beyond their frequent online updates.

 

Coincidentally, I was able to join this local reunion because I was in town speaking at a social media conference which used Facebook groups to organize attendee communication.

 

As a mom, Facebook groups are a powerful tool to help organize school, meetup, sports and even fitness group meetups. I just joined a Facebook fitness group with other moms to help inspire us to exercise. My experience as a Facebook Admin for many groups helped me gain information that I have shared with other moms to help them set up their groups. For example, the Facebook Group Admin Help section has basic information on privacy and settings.

 

The most important decision for setting up a Facebook Group is whether your group will be open (anyone can join or be added or invited by a member), private (anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member) or closed (anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member). I view Facebook Groups as set up for group communication. Some of my friends have businesses and they want to communicate with customers. I suggested Facebook “Pages” to them as a great tool for customer and community interaction. My next post will cover setting up Facebook Pages.

 

One of Facebook Group’s features is the ability to store files (including DropBox files). For social media conferences, we create group files that contain everyone’s website URL and social media profiles so we can follow and connect with each other online. You can also load photo’s and video to Facebook Groups. I recently just started using this tool called Canva to create not only Facebook graphics but also Facebook banners for Groups and Pages.

 

I also stress the importance of establishing Facebook Group community guidelines with admins such as banning people who say inappropriate things. Communication can flourish in a Facebook Group that is focused on a theme (i.e. fitness, networking group, conference, mother’s group) and, in the same light, shut down if members don’t speak to each other in a respectful way, keeping inappropriate topics and language off the group’s timeline.

 

Managing any group of people can be challenging, especially one that is online. But with the right guidelines and members, it can be a vital source of connection and information exchange.

 

Facebook did some research related to moms and Facebook Groups and shared it to press. The information below is from that Facebook press release.

 

Facebook Press Release: Insight from Moms Group

 

Access/Usage:

  • Check the Group daily, as often as News Feed
  • Access via both mobile and web; also utilize email notifications to see new items in email and flag for follow-up

 

Why they use Groups

Top Reasons:

  • A robust resource – Group members are from all over the US and the world, so you feel that you can ask a question and get a variety of responses and perspectives.
  • They can relate – Moms can ask any question to see if someone else has gone through the same thing, what the outcome was, any first-hand advice.  Your friends or family may not have children, or children at the same age, whereas in the Group, you can connect with other moms in the same situation that you’re in.
  • It’s separate – The Group is separate from other friends/family/co-workers on Facebook so you feel comfortable posting in a secure, like-minded forum.
  • It’s fast – “It’s so easy to post a question and get several responses within minutes”

 

How they connect w/ other moms

 

Moms use Facebook Groups mostly to connect with other moms outside of their friends/people they already know, in some cases developing deeper connections –

  • “I have friended many of the women in this group, even though I have never met them. I started to recognize certain names and stories. I felt like I knew these women personally. So I would reach out and say hi and then our friendships began.”
  • “There are a few groups that have been spun off from this group. In some ways, there are moms that I see in multiple groups and stay in contact with them more than I see my husband’s posts!”
  • Some noted that the Facebook Group is even more supportive than local meet-ups in-person.
  • “I use a local meet-up group as another source of information and way to meet people, but this group is by far more supportive. Interestingly, my local group has since moved onto Facebook.”

 

How-To

Facebook Groups is an easy way to connect and share things with family or specific sets of people like teammates, coworkers, or anyone with a shared interest. Over 500 million people use Groups each month and hundreds of thousands of Groups are created each day with the goal of connecting with others on common ground.

 

Below are some tips from Facebook on how to create a Group as well as how to continue to maintain a successful and active Group:

 

How To Create a Group:

  • On web: From your homepage, go to the Groups section on your sidebar and click on Add Group. Click Create New Group, from there a window will appear where you’ll be able to add a group name, add members and select the privacy setting for your group. Click the Create button when you’re finished.
  • On iPhone: Tap More, then under Groups, tap Create Group and enter Group name, description, privacy setting, and an icon.  Tap Create in the top-right corner to confirm.
  • On Android:  In the menu, scroll down to Groups, tap Add Group, enter the group’s name and select the privacy setting.  Tap Continue to confirm.

 

How to Join a Group:

Go to the group you want to be part of and then click Join Group in the top-right corner. You can also join any Open group that you see on the About page of someone’s Timeline by clicking Join.

  • You may have to wait for a group admin to approve your request. In some groups, you can also be added by a friend who’s already a member.
  • Customize Your Groups Privacy Setting: You can select one of three privacy options for each group you create: Open, Closed or Private.
  • Open: Anyone can join or be added or invited by a member
  • Closed: Anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member
  • Private: Anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member.

 

Tips for Creating and Maintaining a Successful Group:

  •  Post Early & Often: Groups are more successful when the Group founders visit the Group early in its existence and post more often – get your Group started with posting on topics that encourage members to engage, share from the get-go and Like posts from other members.
  • Spread The Word: Groups thrive when more than just the original Group founders invite people to join – add additional people as administrators for the Group and encourage other Group members to invite their friends or networks. For Open groups, add tags like life, sports, food, and more so that other people can find your Group and join.
  • Make it Visual: Facebook found that flourishing Groups include logos, pictures, descriptions, or other visuals.  Consider adding a link or visual to every post on the Group page. You can also add files to your Group – here’s more info on sharing stuff from your Dropbox with your Facebook Group.
  1. On your group’s page, start a new post and click Add File. You’ll see a “From Your Dropbox” section next to Facebook’s regular file uploader.
  2. Click Choose File. If you haven’t already, sign in or create a Dropbox account. If this is your first time, you’ll also be asked for permission to link your Dropbox account to Facebook.
  3. Select the file from your Dropbox, and a link to the file will be added to your post. You can also include a message with your post.

You can curate your News Feed for content posted to your Groups.  If you’d like to modify what you see from your Groups in your News Feed, click on the drop-down in the upper right hand corner of a post on News Feed, and select one of the following options:

  • I don’t want to see this
  • Unfollow your Friend
  • Unfollow the Group

 

You can also control the Notifications you receive from your Groups.  On the Groups page, click on “Notifications” in the upper right hand corner and select one of the following options:

  •  All Posts
  • Friends’ Posts
  • Off

 

 

How do you use Facebook Groups?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post.

 

 

 

Top 5 Ways To Help Your Teen Remember To Smile

Disclosure: I am a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board

 

Top 5 Ways To Help Your Teen Remember To SmileThe teenage years can be challenging enough with pressures from school, peers and awakening self identity heading to adulthood. Throughout it all, we try to help our teen (and our kids) remember to laugh and smile with techniques we have developed. Please share yours!

 

1. Ask the Question: Favorite Part of the Day?: At night we try to ask our teen what his favorite part of the day was.  While at first he rolled his eyes, now he actually looks forward to it. We especially like to ask him “what made him laugh” which usually ends up making us laugh!

 

2. Watch or Read Funny Content (age appropriate): When my teen gets stressed about school work at night we like to take some comedy breaks. When I was young we used to read comics, funny stories and jokes to laugh. The modern teen gets many of their content online. Because our family has regular “internet safety” talks we have discussed what web sites are appropriate and what are inappropriate. Lately it seems that videos of dogs wearing GoPro cameras really makes my teen laugh (my teen uses his GoPro all the time). But we still like a good old fashioned joke now and then to bring more smiles into our house.

 

3. Get Active:  There is something about either being outside, family hikes or bike rides, going to our health club or participating in sports that seems to put a smile on our boys’ faces. For my teen, going on mountain biking rides with his friends scores a bigger smile even if they make it a more challenging ride (which leaves him sore but happy). Sometimes we even just go for a walk after dinner and end up having a great discussion while in motion.

 

4. Get Social: No matter what type of mood my teen is in, going to social events either as a family or with his friends seem to leave him smiling. We even like to sneak a dinner out during the school week now and then to celebrate getting homework or big projects done.

 

5. Dental Health: One of the surprising things I learned about my son was that he was self conscious about smiling because of his teeth. Luckily that is something we could fix - so we set out to correct his teeth (crowding) with Invisalign. He is half way through his Invisalign Teen treatment and already he is feeling better about his smile. And there is something that always warms my heart seeing my teen smile!

 

 

 

Disclosure: I am a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board. My son has received complimentary treatment from Align, but all opinions expressed are my own. Here is information on the Invisalign smile assessment, treatment process and how to find a Doc.

 

 

 

 

 

Pantech Vybe Review: First Phone For Kids

Pantech vybe first phone kidsBack to school is a busy time for parents, preparing their kids for the classroom, fall sports and other activities. Choosing a new phone and managing cell phone use is also at the top of many parents’ list. Kids nowadays use phones as one of their main forms of communication with other kids as well as pesky parents who pick them up and drop them off places. I covered the topic of deciding on the right age to buy a phone and tips on setting up your kid’s first phone in a recent back to school post.  I drove to the AT&T store myself to try to figure out which phone I was going to buy for my twin boys who are starting middle school. After receiving an email about the Pantech Vybe, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins.

 

As I mentioned in my “tips for buying your kids a phone” post, I believe phones should be given to kids on an as-needed basis. My kids are taking the bus, riding their bike or walking to school and activities on their own now we decided it was time for them to have their own phones. Because they are just starting middle school, I just wanted to have the ability to call, text and use phone tools while not using any social network or the mobile web. The Pantech Vybe is a great first phone because in addition to making calls it has a slide out keyboard that’s perfect for texting and has its own operating system so kids can’t use app stores to load up on apps and games. We also found it helpful to have the option to disable data on the phones if necessary.

 

Of course at first we the kids pushed back. They wanted an iPhone or another fancy smartphone like some of their other 11-year old friends. Beyond being RIDICULOUS that 11 year olds have full featured smartphones in the first place, tweens especially may not understand the consequences of all of their actions – so why give them mobile tools to do so?  We do believe as a family that all kids should be educated and make informed decisions about Internet safety but temptations and peer pressure can be hard for tweens/teens to resist. Already one of their peers is posting things on Instagram that are pretty alarming for their age group.  While many kids have full access to browsers and apps on tablets, desktops and laptops at home – at least those devices are being used at home and not being taken with them every day and used without supervision.

 

PANTECH VYBE SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
FEATURES:
Here are the features of the Pantech Vybe:

  • Slide-out QWERTY Keyboard
  • 3.2” Touchscreen Display and 3 Customizable Homescreens
  • Hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command button”

 

The user manual has information on setting up and also found the Pantech support section of the AT&T website useful because of the setup videos.
pantech vybe home screen

 

Touchscreen Display, Navigation and Customizable Home screens:

The touchscreen display is 3.2 inches and can be customized with favorite apps such as notepad, calculator, contacts and more.  There is even a hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command” button. Pantech included a proprietary dual-user mode: “Easy Mode has one home screen and a simplified menu for a truly intuitive user experience. Advanced Mode is customizable and offers more options and flexibility. You can safely switch back and forth between modes without losing your contacts or favorites. ”

 

What I found useful to understand is that there are two types of “menus” in advanced mode. The main menu is called the home screen (starting point for using applications on your phone) . The home screen can be customized with a picture or standard backgrounds (customizable from “display” section of tools). One of the home screens can be customized to display shortcuts for favorite apps (Max 9 icons can be added) and another for web addresses. Once the main screen is set up it is simple to use the phone (unlock, tap and go).
The second menu is listed on the home screen in the navigation at the bottom as “Menu”. This has access to load lots of different tools (more than the 9 max on the home screen). In the tools area we loaded shortcuts for pre-loaded apps such as sketch pad, notepad, calculator, alarm clock voice memo, pictures, address book, video player, and camera.

 

Entertainment:
The “My stuff” folder has applications, games, audio (alert tones and ring tones), music, pictures, video, other files and info on memory. Available games include brain challenge and UNO (we bought the full version of Uno). You can insert a memory card if you wanted. For kids who do have data plans there is a video player and for those who want to load music there is a music player. The help section of the website has instructions on how to transfer music to the Pantech Vybe.

 

What I like about the Pantech Vybe is that it does not have access to an app store so kids are limited to what is loaded on the phone. As I said in my “getting your kid their first phone tip post”, having access to app stores can be expensive and give access to inappropriate apps for kids.  While the Pantech Vybe does have Facebook, Twitter and mobile web apps – I explained to my kids that we blocked the data plan so they can’t use those apps anyway.

 

AT&T Services:
Along with the other apps, the Pantech Vybe has AT&T services apps preloaded such as like AT&T Navigator, AT&T Address Book, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Drive Mode and myAT&T so I can help them see their account information.

 

Specifications:

The specifications have the phone at just 4.94 ounces so it is light for the kids to either carry in their pocket, bags or backpack pockets. It is also slim at just 2.32 inches width and 4.49 inches height (depth is only .51). The 3.2″ TFT Touchscreen Display has nice resolution (240 x 400) for a first phone and the touchscreen makes it more intuitive to use. Calls made to my sons on the phone sound great. I am able to hear them clearly and they have been able to hear me (even if they don’t want to!).

 

The proprietary operating system (Pantech Proprietary J2ME)  gives me comfort that they can only use the apps pre-loaded on the phone.  The Pantech Vybe has cellular technology to meet my kids need (2G – Quad Band (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) – (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) 3G – Tri Band (UMTS/HSDPA) – (850/1900/ 2100 MHz) and Bluetooth if they want to use it with wireless accessories.

 

Overall my kids are very happy with the phone and were able to start using it without any instruction from me. But we did of course spend the time to go over the family phone use rules, multiple times to make sure they understand (even though I had to hear “I KNOW Mom!!” multiple times).   With the Pantech Vybe I have the comfort of knowing they can call and text with a phone that has all the features they need right now (as a middle schooler) without having too much access to the wide range of apps available on other smartphones and in other app stores. When my twin boys turn 13, maybe we will allow them to use the Pantech Facebook app

 

Pantech Vybe Overview from press release:

Purchasing your child’s first mobile phone has become a rite of passage for tweens and young teens, and parents too. The big question looms: Is your tween ready for a cell phone?  The Pantech Vybe is a great compromise, offering your child plenty of must-have features like messaging, easy camera access and social media without unrestricted access to apps and a high data plan. The Pantech Vybe is your solution.

The Pantech Vybe is an affordable, easy to use quick messaging phone, with access to the features and apps kids want at a price parents love. With a low-cost monthly plan for talk and text, the Pantech Vybe is an attractive option to add to a family plan at an affordable price.

In addition to being budget-friendly, the Pantech Vybe is tween and teen-approved with a slide-out keyboard for quick and easy texting, social media shortcuts, quick camera button, multiple customizable home screens and music and video players.

 

The Pantech Vybe is $29.99 with a two-year contract and can be purchased exclusively at AT&T. For more information on the Pantech Vybe, visit MyFirstPhone.com”.

 

 

Here is a video I received with the press release:

 

 

 

Disclosure: I have received products for review purposes.

 

 

 

Top Tips: Choosing First Phone For Kids

Top Tips to Help Kids Choose First PhoneOne of the most frequent requests I receive from parents is to discuss the right age to buy a child their first phone, what type of phone to buy and how to establish and enforce phone usage rules. Back to school is the perfect time for families to create family rules for existing kid phones and establish new rules for kids just starting to use cell phones.

 

Our older son received a call and text only phone for middle school and then a smartphone for high school after he proved he could not only follow our family phone use rules but also engage with us in regular “phone safety” discussions. Now that our twin boys are heading off the middle school, we decided it was time to buy them their first phone and set up new family phone use rules. Here are some of the tips from our experience of setting up our kids with their first phone. Please share your tips!

 

Tips To Buying First Kid’s Phone

 

TIP 1Buy your phone on as as needed basis:

Buy your kids their first phone on an “as needed basis”: I tell parents that the age when their kids should have a phone is dependent on when they “need” a phone.  Just because a third grader may say to their parents, “my best friend has a phone, I should get one too”, does not mean a new phone is one the way. Peer pressure is not a valid reason to get a child their first phone.  One appropriate reason is to keep in touch with your kids when they start transporting themselves to school (via bus or bike for example). But each child has different needs and different timing.

 

TIP 2 - Decide what type of plan (i.e. “emergency only”, voice, voice & text or voice, text and data phone):

 

When my kids started riding their bikes to school in 4th grade we decided to buy them inexpensive “pay by the month” phones that only had minutes for emergencies and were not for regular use. But when my twins went off to middle school this year, we agreed to get them a phone with a voice and text plan so we could communicate with them and they could communicate with their friends. A few of our friends purchased phones with a voice and text plan for their kids because they had multiple after school activities and sometimes needed a way to reach the parents where were driving.

 

Although our family phone plan has shared data, we do not allow them to use the data and can easily track this on the monthly bill.  We can also disable data from their phones if their discipline weakens or they don’t comply. The AT&T website (our phone service) has details on disabling data on phones.

 

TIP 3 – Develop family phone use rules and phone etiquette standards:

 

The most important thing to teach your kid when you give them their first phone is phone etiquette.  A cell phone can be a great communication tool or a tool that can get your kids in serious trouble (even danger). Parents should take the time to first educate themselves then create family phone rules. We started talking to our kids about cell phone etiquette a year before they had their first phone. Now we are creating rules as well as a phone “safe use” contract that they “sign” to confirm they understand. Breaking the rules means they lose use of the phone.

 

We checked online resources including the Common Sense Media Parents Guide to Kids and Cell Phones, Emily Post Top Ten Cell Phone Manners, Parents.com Teaching Kids Cell Phone Etiquette and more. We focused on different types of etiquette including appropriate cell phone voice and texting, cell phone etiquette do’s and don’ts (Common Sense Media),  email etiquette, school rules for phones (don’t use during school!) and overall phone safety rules such as not sharing personal information or location information with anyone but family and friends (and never accept “online friends” you don’t know if real life!).

 

My friend Sarah Granger just wrote a book called “Digital Mystique – How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life – Online and Off”.  I recommend this book as a great starting point for parents to educate themselves on the online world. She interviewed me for the book and included something I always tell parents: “Internet Safety is the New Sex Talk”.  This includes cell phone etiquette because it opens kids up to a world of communication between other kids, even if it is just calling, texting, and sharing photos.

 

Most of all, I have written for years that the most important tool for proper cell phone use is active communication between parents and kids. We manage this communication by rewarding our kids for sharing their personal experiences and rewarding this open communication with freedom to use their phones. It has been hard at times, but we have a “discuss anything” policy and try not to be upset when they come to us – even with upsetting news. We want them to feel comfortable talking about their phone use and work with us to navigate the scary waters of cell phone use. When my oldest made a mistake or two in the past we discussed why it was wrong and how he can make sure it never happens again. We do not use apps such as “Ignore No More app” that limit cell phone use when kids ignore their parents calls because they do not treat the underlying issue: trust. Of course, each family needs to choose what works for them.

 

For example, the day oldest son received his first phone he attended a pool party that afternoon where he took pictures of his friends, several of whom were wearing bikinis. Some of the girls were posing in ways that could be seen as provocative and the photos were inappropriate. Luckily, our son showed us the pictures in an effort to comply with the “open communication qualification” for phone use. This gave us the chance to explain why the pictures were inappropriate and he deleted them from his phone. It was an innocent situation, which happens so often, but those are also the most dangerous because the kids don’t know that what they are doing is wrong.

 

We also explained that even if someone else takes a picture that could be perceived as inappropriate and sends it to him – he needs to delete it from his phone right away. If he shares a picture even that he did not take, he will still be held responsible and could even include being arrested.

 

TIP 4 – Choose a Phone:

 

I received an email about the Pantech Vybe phone around the same time I had just been to the AT&T store (my carrier) to look at possible first phone options for my twin 11 year olds.  Because I had already included the Pantech Vybe on my list of phones to investigate, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins. Here is a link to the review “First Phone For Kids: Pantech Vybe Review”.

 

For my kids, we did not want to get them a “smartphone” until they were older. Because they are just 11, we decided that making calls and texting was appropriate for their age (in our family). We also felt that having access to an app store was something we wanted our tweens to do at home using our WiFi only devices.  For example, we set up home tablets to request a password sign-on before any app can be purchased. This allows us to review the app as a family before they download it.  But even then, having access to a device with an app store can have it’s challenges. Both Google and Apple faced lawsuits over in-app purchases by kids. Beyond the cost consequences of using apps, apps that “seem” family friendly can at times lead to inappropriate features. So I always recommend parents use “family friendly” rated apps together at first.

 

TIP 5 – Privacy Settings and Digital Safety Toolbox:

 

To prepare for my kids for getting their phone, I created a list of digital safety tools and phone settings which they later helped me set on their phones. This includes location, which can be a safety issue for young kids.  The tools we implemented include  LoJack for Android, and Find my iPhone to track the device plus apps to track your kids (some of which are covered in this post on Tom’s Hardware “8 Apps for Tracking Your Teens”) including Life360 (family locator, messaging tool and communication app all in one).

 

What was the first phone you chose for your kids and what apps, settings and rules did you set up that worked or did not work?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post. Some items were provided to me for review purposes.

 

 

 

 

Back To School Organization Tips – Family Online Calender

Back-To-School-OrganizationAs kids head back to school many families start the process of organizing their schedules and lives.  I will be covering the tools, apps, tech and processes that I have found helpful for back to school organization over the next few weeks , and hope to hear from my readers what works for them. Because organizing for the new school year can be overwhelming, I suggest starting with setting up the school year and after school activity schedule.  While there are many paper based organization systems, my family prefers to use online calenders.  Here are the steps we took to set up our family schedule online:

 

STEP 1: Pick an online calender.

 

There are individual sites such as Cozi.com that have web and apps to capture family schedules, but there are also online calenders such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal, Yahoo and Google Calenders. To help choose, look at the email accounts and operating systems that most family member’s use. At the same time consider that because online calenders can be accessed over the internet, they do work across operating systems and devices as long as you have either WiFi or a data plan for phones.

 

STEP 2: Gather School, Sports and After school Activity dates:

 

Gathering a list of school, sports and after school activity dates make seem time consuming, but it is worthwhile investment. Setting up an online calender in the beginning of the year (and updated seasonally) will help organize the family schedule and family life in general. Some schools and sports leagues have online calenders you can load to directly to personal online calenders (look for the “+” calender or “add calender” option).  If you only have paper printouts our online lists, I suggest putting those in a folder then pick a time that I call “input day” where I just input everything into the calender. It may seem like a big task, but it actually does not take as long as it would seem it I just start it at the beginning of each school year then just update as needed.

 

 

STEP 3:  Input school, sports and after school dates into the online calender.

 

Next pick a time (or a few times) to input the school year calender dates into the online calender. Check out the features of the online calender system so you know in advance the ones you want to use. For example, I use special features like “repeat” for the timing of each school day (8:15am-3pm) so it just repeats each weekday for a whole semester at at time. Then I delete or change the timing for vacations. I “invite” family members to events so they get it on their online calenders (such as school concerts).

 

 

But my favorite feature is the option to color code different calenders to represent different kids in my family of three boys. I then “invite” my kids via their email address to access their calender so they can not only see their schedule but also learn the process of managing their schedule. The goal is as they get older they will become independent by setting up their own online calenders. Color coding has also taken care of any “you did not tell me about that appointment” complaints because I can always say “it was on your schedule – so please check it”.  My teen has a smartphone with access to a data plan so I have higher expectations for him to regularly check his schedule versus my twins who have talk and text phones with no internet access.  I also try to print out my kids “color coded” online schedules and have them up in the kitchen as a reminder.

 

How do you set up your family school year schedule?

 

 

 

Video Chat With Doctor – Using LiveHealth Online #spon

*Disclosure: Sponsored partnership with LiveHealth Online. 

 

 

mother with sick sonParenthood has many requirements and playing Doctor to my kids scares me the most. While I can usually figure out any computer problem, medical issues always cause me stress.  Does my kid have a fever? Could it be a stomach flu, skin rash, food allergy, grass allergy or even homework allergy?  For some odd reason it seems like my most complicated questions about pediatric medicine pop into my head when the Doctor’s office is closed. Calling the on-call doctor can take time and seem impersonal. So when I heard about LiveHealth Online, a website that offers video chats with doctors 24 hours a day from either a computer or mobile device,

 

 

 

Live Health Online - Video Chat For Moms To Get Medical Advice

 

 

Here are some of the features of LiveHealth Online explained on the website and press releases:

 

  • The LiveHeath Online app  (for iOS or Android) offers a safe, fast and easy  way for moms to talk face-to-face with a doctor to get a diagnosis and  treatment for themselves and their families for urgent care conditions that pop up every summer such as hand­, foot­ and mouth disease, pink eye, rashes, sunburns, and other air ­and ­water borne viruses.

 

  • Moms can use the LiveHealth Online app 24/7, 365 days  to talk securely and privately by two­-way video chat with a U.S.-­based, primary care doctor.  If relevant, the LiveHealth Online doctor can send  prescriptions electronically directly to a local pharmacy.

 

  • Doctors can make diagnosis, prescribe basic medications if needed and answer questions. You can review doctor profiles and ratings to choose which doctor to see for your visit.

 

  • To use it, sign up at LiveHealth Online or download the app to use it via mobile devices , create quick profiles for yourself and your family members (by just entering name, DOB, and gender) and then search for Doctors within your state and based on language. Then you can choose which doctor you want to visit with. “LiveHealth Online is a cost-effective alternative to urgent care or retail clinics and costs $49. For PPO and EPO members of Anthem Blue Cross, a LiveHealth Online visit is covered at the same or lower out-of-pocket cost and in some cases, less than the cost of an office visit, and and claims reimbursement is automatically filed for a fast and easy experience.”

 

  • During the session, the LiveHealth Doctor can review your health history and send a record  to your regular doctor.  The site states that for emergencies of  course to dial 911.

 

As part of this campaign I received a complimentary session which I was excited to use. One of my sons has had Eczema since he was a baby, and as a tween it is has become even more bothersome.  His doctors are helpful but I have been looking for a second opinion for some time.

 

I visited the LiveHealth Online website, created my account profile and profiles for my kids and then requested to see a doctor from my state. Of course the only time I have free is after 9pm so that’s when I logged in for a visit. I was put in an online waiting room for a few minutes and then the doctor promptly joined in the live video chat . At first I apologized for calling so late and she was so upbeat and said – “no problem, what can I do for you” with a calming smile. It was comforting to be able to video chat live with the doctor from the comfort of my home computer.

 

I started by explaining the history and challenges of my sons Eczema as she reviewed his health history which I had prepared online. I told her that I have been looking for some time for natural ways to help him. I was then delighted to have a great conversation with her about different types of nutrition and natural remedies that might be effective. This is exactly the type of information I had been looking for some time.  Having the conversation on a video chat at a time that fit into my schedule was definitely more relaxing then the stress of making it into the doctor’s office.

 

Now I just wish that they had doctors that I could video chat about my kid’s homework allergy!

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All of my words are my own. I received a complimentary session to try out the service.


 

 

 

Give gift of Time and Organization with OneNote for Mother’s Day!

Disclosure: Sponsored Post

 

Mother's Day Gift Time

On Mother’s Day, the gift options for that special Mom in your life are endless. One of my favorites is the gift of time with my family, friends and myself. Both organization and automation are essential to freeing-up that valuable time and Microsoft OneNote really helps.

 

New updates to OneNote are pretty exciting and I shared several in my last blog post. It’s available across my wide variety of family devices, and the perfect way to help get better control of my time. Better yet, my family helps by organizing their lists as well on OneNote so we ALL have more time!

 

Here are some of the ways you can give the gift of time and organization to your Mom (or if you are a Mom, suggest to your family!)

 

CREATE/UPDATE FAMILY PHOTO ALBUMS: Scan and organize old family photos into a OneNote notebook to create family albums. OneNote’s integration with apps like Office Lens (for Windows Phone) and Genius Scan (for iPhone, iPad and Android) give you a OneNote scanner in your pocket, so getting your family photos into OneNote is a snap!

 

ORGANIZE WEEKLY RECIPES: Have the whole family find recipes they want to “help” cook for dinner and scan those or save the online links into a OneNote Notebook. Then save in a “special occasion” notebook some fun recipes to cook for Mother’s day or other events. You can even download this customizable OneNote recipe book!

 

MOTHER’S DAY CARD: Have your family create their own pictures as well as find special memento’s or photos to scan for a Mother’s Day OneNote Notebook.

 

GROCERY LIST: Have the family help create a weekly Grocery list on OneNote that can be shared across devices so the family can all help with shopping! Even kids can read OneNote shopping lists on their parents’ phone to help find items at the store!

 

WEEKLY SCHEDULE: Have the family create a weekly schedule in OneNote that can even include screen shots of school lunch schedules, after school activities, scanned calendars and online links. A family that plans together has MORE TIME together! The schedule can also include TODO’s for the week so no one will forget to practice guitar, baseball, tennis or coding (hint hint to my kids!)

 

VACATION LIST: Create the family vacation “wish list”: A OneNote Notebook with vacation idea pictures, links and information so the family can plan special places to visit. After you’ve decided on your destination, download this OneNote travel planning template. Once all your research and planning details are in this OneNote, it’s easy to recall a particular detail at any given moment. You can even use Instant Search in the bar on the top right to recall anything you’ve ever put in OneNote.

 

GIFTS: Have the family create a OneNote notebook recording the gifts everyone wants for special occasions. Add a section detailing ways to earn rewards by completing homework and household chores. For example, if my kids want toys outside of holiday’s or birthdays, they need to create a plan to earn them!

 

ENTERTAINING: Our family realized that we have not been entertaining family and friends as much as we would like so we decided to create a OneNote Notebook with a list of who we want to invite over and meal ideas.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored series. I am an Office Champion and have received sponsorship and products. All of my words are my own.

 

 

 

Carpool Management Tip: Get Help with Boost by Mercedes-Benz (Giveaway)

Disclosure:  This is a press post. One ride credit was provided to me for review purposes but I also paid for another ride. All of my opinions are my own.

Too busy motherOn TechMamas.com l write about innovative services, apps and websites for parents on TechMamas.com. But just recently as I ramped up my own work,  I realized as a parent with tweens and teens that the main help I needed was driving my kids to and from school/activities after school. I have carpools, but that does not always work because kids go to different activities afterschool. I tried to fit in work during school hours but it seemed like my kids were either always waiting for me to finish something so I could drive them, or waiting to get picked up at times when I was running late from a meeting. Yes, driving my kids around was the one challenge getting in the way of me ramping up my work. So I set off to find a service, website or app that can help me find a solution to my carpool challenges. As would have it, I was lucky enough to see an email from the folks at Boost by Mercedes-Benz on their new innovative transportation service for kids.

 

Boost by Mercedes-Benz

Photo Credit: Boost by Mercedes-Benz

 

Here is the information from Boost by Mercedes-Benz on the story behind their innovative transportation service. The current zip codes covered are in California – Palo Alto (94301, 94302, 94303, 94304, 94305, 94306), Los Altos – 94022, Menlo Park – 94025 and Mountain View – 94043:

 

Story behind Boost By Benz:

Busy schedules and the stress of scheduling for today’s youths seem to be part of the daily family life. Boost by Mercedes-Benz was developed to address that challenge. Boost by Mercedes-Benz (www.boostbybenz.com) is a proof-of-concept business launched by the Business Innovation Team at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development in Sunnyvale. This youth transportation service is designed to transport children safely and reliably to and from the educational and recreational activities that fill their day.

 

 

Knowing how important it is for children to balance school and extracurricular activities, it can be very tough for parents to get their kids from place to place – safely and on time. The goal at Boost is to make parents’ lives easier, while enabling children to participate in more activities. In addition, Boost hopes to minimize the number of vehicles on the road (and in the school driveway) by providing a safe, reliable youth transportation alternative for parents.

One of the goals in Business Innovation is to change the way people think about transportation and with Boost; the team has already seen this shift taking place.

 

 

Technology story behind Boost by Benz:

 

Innovative technology is the backbone of Boost by Mercedes-Benz. We built a seamless system that handles route planning, notifications and updates to allow our Boost Dispatcher, Driver and Concierge to focus on what’s most important, your children.

 

 

We kept a parent’s busy schedule in mind when we built our scheduling and notification system. A simple, three-step process guides you through the one-time, online account setup. Once your family’s info is in our system, simply schedule a ride online by selecting riders, pick-up and drop-off locations, and ideal pick-up and drop-off times. Confirm your child’s ride and you’ll get an email confirmation with the ride reservation details.

 

 

The rest is even easier. We’ve built custom tablet apps for our Boost Team to allow you complete transparency throughout your child’s ride. You’ll be notified via SMS or through our iPhone app 24 hours before the ride notifying you of our arrival time. Then, the day of your child’s ride, we’ll notify you that we’re on our way to pick up your child. When we arrive, we check them in via our technology and you’ll be notified that they’re aboard Boost. If so inclined, you can log in to your account while they’re aboard Boost to get a birds-eye view of their ride. Lastly, we’ll notify you to let you know they’ve safely arrived at their destination.

By blending the ease of technology with the best in transportation, you’ll rest easy knowing your kiddos are safely bound to their next adventure.

 


Overview of Business Innovation:

Business Innovation initiated in 2007 is Daimler’s ‘think tank’ for innovative solutions beyond the core business of car manufacturing. The team deals with future trends and technological, social and cultural developments to create profitable business models. Tested and evaluated on a pilot basis, success stories like car2go and Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy started here as proof- of-concept projects and have subsequently become prosperous businesses. Business Innovation teams are also located at the headquarters in Stuttgart, in Beijing, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Sunnyvale, CA. Business Innovation at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc. started in 2012.

 

 

Boost by Mercedes-Benz

Photo Credit: Boost by Mercedes-Benz

 

 

Details:

To sign up visit https://boostbybenz.com/. The hours currently are Monday through Friday from 12noon to 7:00pm.  The trips are scheduled online but there is also an Boost by Mercedes-Benz iPhone app and they send texts (I have an Android phone so I used the text option). Pricing will depend on the package you get, but for me it was cheaper then hiring a sitter for their minimum amount of hours per day. Instead I was just paying per ride which worked for my kids schedules.  In the van there is a driver (of course) and a Concierge that is in charge of watching over the kids and walking them to their destination from the car.

 

Boost by Mercedes Benz

Photo Credit: Boost by Mercedes Benz

 

 

Above is one of the press photos of the Concierge that rides with the driver. I used Boost to take my boys to an exercise class. The Concierge greeted me for pickup and then at drop-off walked my boys into the facility and to the class instructor per my instructions. The driver waits with the other kids in the van while the Concierge delivers the child being dropped off. In my experience, both the driver and the Concierge were very friendly and my kids enjoyed using the service (which is the most important thing!).

 

 

Now I just need to figure out my schedule in a way that I can plan the rides in advance.  Boost By Benz usually recommends scheduling rides at least 1-2 weeks prior but some time frames may be open if you need to schedule closer to the date needed. Boost also requires 48 hour cancellation to receive a 100% refund.  They will also be running over the summer! In fact, there is a special promo going on now dedicated to summer booking. Parents can use the discount code “SUMMER15” when they register and checkout on boostbybenz.com to receive 15% off rides (expires on April 30th).

 

 

I am thrilled to know that transportation services like Boost by Benz exist to help busy working parents manage carpooling challenges!

 

GIVEAWAY:

 

Please share your family carpooling challenges in the comments and we will randomly choose one comment to win ONE RIDE CREDIT received when they sign up for Boost by Benz.

 

1. One Blog Post comment per person. One Blog Post comment is equal to one entry (so only one entry per person)  2. Winners are limited by zip codes valid to Boost by Benz stated above and to US residents only 21 years of age or older. 3. If a valid email address is not provided in the entry, another winner will be chosen. 4. The prize is not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. 5. Approximate value of prizes may vary. 6. All decisions are final 7. By entering any giveaway on this website you release Techmamas.com from any liability whatsoever, and waive any and all causes of action. 7. Contest ends May 6 2014 -10am pst. Winner will be announced by May 7 2014.

 

 

 

Disclosure:  This is a press post. One ride credit was provided to me for review purposes but I also paid for another ride. All of my opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Women Entrepreneur Spotlight: Sofia Keck of Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs

Sophia Keck & TechMamaI reached out to a California Mom Bloggers Facebook group asking if any bloggers in San Francisco wanted to come to a local tech event and was delighted when Sofia Keck (SK) responded enthusiastically yes. Even though the tech event started at 10pm, she attended to help support a fellow blogger  which I appreciated! I was thrilled to also learn about her bilingual blog American Vida, which shares her food, amateur photography, the latest technology and essays on family and culture. I  especially noticed Sofia’s delicious looking food posts, so when she said she was opening up a restaurant – I was not surprised. Her new restaurant is called Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs and the location is 3224 ½ 22nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. To learn about her new business and her entrepreneurship tips, I decided to interview her. So here it is!

 

1. What inspired you to start your own business?

 

SK: “I got laid off during my maternity leave in 2009 while working for a tech startup company. I was very disappointed with “the system.” The economic crisis was evident, however it was hard for me to understand how employees could be so disposable.  I was holding my 2 week-old baby girl when I got the call and it was devastating. Since that moment I promised myself that I would never put myself in a situation where no matter how hard I worked I could be gone the next day.  I was happy that I got to stay home with my baby. I started a consulting business from home and I have been a business owner ever since.”

 

2. Why did you start a food business?

 

SK: “I love food, I cook and bLos Shucos Latin Hot Dogslog about food.  My restaurant is Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs, which are street hot dogs from Guatemala, my country of origin.  Shucos are a staple food item in Guatemala and internationally known by foodies and travelers and you used to be able to find them only in Guatemala. One day we were walking on the street with my husband and I told him I was craving a Guatemalan hot dog and that I wished they would have them here in San Francisco, my husband then said to me “well, why don’t you sell them”? So now I do.”

 

3. Tell us more about your restaurant.

 

Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs

 

SK:Los Shucos Latin Hot Dogs is located in the heart of the Mission district in San Francisco, California. We sell Guatemalan hot dogs, called Shucos and other Latin-inspired creations.  Our flavors are unique, we make our own bread, we serve hand made chorizo and imported sauces.  Hot dogs will NEVER be the same! Check out the story at www.LosShucos.com and our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/losshucos.”

 

 

2. What advice would you give to other moms wanting to start their own food business? Sofia Keck responded with these tips:

 

  • “Remember it is not only about the food: Make great food but keep in mind that marketing, location, great customer service, a strong business plan and financial resources are all part of the equation.”

 

  • “Ask for help: You will need help at home, more if you have children.  You will also need help in your business, so get a mentor or advisor.  I shadowed a couple of chefs to learn from them. I had lunch and coffee with other restaurant owners. I still ask questions to line cooks, to high end chefs, to other business people and to investors. I ask for help. You can also go to your local small business administration (SBA) or an organization that helps you start your own business. They will teach you how to apply for a loan, how to write a business plan, and other important aspects  of your business that you may not have considered.”

 

  • Love what you are cooking: Make sure you really love what you are cooking, because it’s one thing to cook it once a week for dinner with your grateful and loving family.  It’s another thing to cook hundreds per day for an audience that demands a high quality product every time. For example, I am not a vegetarian, so it took me a while to find a vegetarian option for my hot dogs. I wanted to find a vegetarian hot dog that I would love no matter what it was made of.  I could never sell something that I wouldn’t eat myself.”

 

  • “Don’t feel guilty: It’s ok if you can’t cook homemade meals for the family every night, whether because you are at the restaurant or just because you tired of cooking the whole day. It’s ok to take a break and do nothing for a change. By taking a break you are doing something for yourself.  It’s also ok to immerse yourself in your business and forget about the rest of the world for a while. It’s ok to follow your dreams.

 

  • “Keep going: Like most great food ideas, the idea for my business came from hunger.  There will be many challenges but you have to keep going, because if you really want it you will not be satisfied until you get it done.  Opening your own food business is really hard work.  But as a mom you already know what hard work is all about, so you can do it.

 

3. Besides food, what other interests do you have?

 

 

Sophia Keck

 

SK: “I love kids. I have two of my own, an 11 yr old son and a 5 yr old daughter. I love pets, I have 3 dogs. I love spending time with my husband, I’m passionate about Guatemala, technology, meeting new people, social media, being involved in the community, attending conferences of all sorts, reading, coffee and tea which are technically not food but drinks” 

 

Check out Los Shucos – Latin Hot Dogs in San Francisco.. I know just looking at the pictures on the website are making me hungry!

 

 

Photo credits: Lonny Ivan Meyer or lonnymeyerphotography.com