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Online Learning @Curious, From #DIY Beading Jewels to #Coding Ruby on Rails

Check on the bottom of this post for a special link to get a Curious.com Course Credit.

 

Curious.com Sunset #GiftofLearning

 

 

Online learning has captured the attention of my friends and me as our children progress through Middle School and High School and we keep wondering why our kids should have all the fun, learning new skills and information online. Curious.com is a great resource in the quest for online education. It is a marketplace for lifelong learning that offers a wide range of online courses in formats friendly to anyone who wants to learn something new or advance their skills. The site offers “more than 10,000 interactive, video based lessons and courses available to anyone, anytime they feel like learning something new. Most courses typically range from $9.99 to $9.99“.

 

 

This month I was invited to a Curious.com DIY Holiday Gift Making and Wine Tasting media event featuring Sunset Magazine and The O’Neil Sisters. I was already looking at sharing the gift of learning with Curious.com gift cards to family who want to learn how to use a DSLR or learn more about coding in HTML/CSS and Ruby on Rails. At this event I was faced with something that my years of technology background could not provide: DIY beading.  It is well known in my circle of friends that I can bravely stand up to any technology challenge but I do have a fear of crafting. I want to learn, but let’s just say it does not come naturally to me.

 

I have been reading Sunset Magazine for years and enjoyed hearing the Sunset Editors at the event discuss tips on choosing wines while we did some tastings at the event. The Sunset Seminars on Curious.com already helped me learn how to cook a holiday meal,  so I was looking forward to learning more by checking out the Sunset Essentials of Wine class and maybe event setting up a Container Garden. But could I get over my fear of crafting and make a DIY Beaded necklace?

 

DIY Beaded Jewelry O'Neil Sisters Video Curious.com

 

 

The O’Neil Sisters came to the event to do a live presentation of their DIY Beaded Jewerly class.

 

 

Curious.com O'Neil Sisters DIY Beaded Jewerly Class

 

 

The O’Neil Sisters helped me overcome my fear with their step by step instructions. I was thrilled to have finished my first official DIY project! To be honest, I was actually hyperventilating when I first saw the bag of beads and the hardware. But in the end I realized it was not that hard if you have the right instruction. My friends will be completely surprised to hear me say this, but I may actually start doing some crafting to make holiday gifts!

 

 

DIY Beaded Jewelry O'Neil Sisters Curious.com

 

 

Curious.com online learning classes also make great gifts. There are a range of courses including more DIY crafts, languages such as Mandarin and Italian, Spanish for Kids, Knife Skills and other Foodie classes, Health and Fitness including daily workouts, Music classes including rock drumming and beginning guitar, classes for Entrepreneurs such as business builder workshops and unique classes such as indie film making and ninja training.  Here are the instructions from their site on giving the #GiftOfLearning : “To gift a course, go to Curious.com and click on the gift icon next to any course. Gift-givers can them crate a personal gift message and schedule a delivery date. The course recipient will own the course and will be able to watch it again and again. Delivery of the gift messages and course access happen instantly. If the gift recipient prefers a different course instead, no problem — the course credit is fully transferable to any other Curious.com course.

 

 

At the event I was excited to learn that I would be able to share a course credit code with my readers! Sign up for Curious.com with this link: https://curious.com/invited/EKusCX-M44Q and you will get a $25.00 credit applied to your account.

 

 

What type of online class would you be interested in taking? Anyone else have a fear of crafting they want to overcome?

 

 

Disclosure: I was invited as media to the event and given a Curious.com course credit. All of my words are my own and I really crafted that necklace (with a little help from the O’Neil sisters and Curious.com)!

 

 

 

 

Tips To Help Kids Learn To Code #HourofCode

Tips For Kids To Learn To Code #HourofCode

 

I studied business in college but early on realized computer programming was my real passion. I took as many programming classes that I could but still wanted to get a business degree to help (at that time) get a job. Today coding programs are well developed not only in colleges but also primary schools across the country (world!) and coding is one of the top STEM related skills for getting a job. This week starts what is called  #HourofCode  to inspire students to learn to code, even if just for one hour: The ‘Hour of Code’ is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.”

 

After college my first job was in corporate finance, but after a few years I was able to switch over to the Computer Information Systems.  I started out as a programmer coding in a language called “COBOL”. I am proud that not only was COBOL co-invented by a woman ( Grace Murry Hopper) but also the first computer programmer was a women (Ada Lovelace).  I loved coding because it was very logical: you write a string of commands using the syntax of the programming language with the goal of automating a process. While I started programming on mainframe computers (workstations and servers networked together to process large amounts of information), today you can program on almost any device from a tablet to a personal computer. If you use the right syntax to carry out some sort of process, then it will work. If you do not use the right syntax or design an incorrect process then the program won’t work.

 

 

I enjoyed my programming jobs even if it meant going through lines and lines of code to find one letter or symbol that was wrong. I moved on to jobs in database design, international computer auditing, computer security consulting at one of the biggest firms in the world and then on to founding my own website. The ability to understand programming basics has opened up many career doors and opportunities. My love of technology has also kept my skills current because I enjoy learning new programming languages and social networking platforms (and invest my time doing so).  My website TechMamas.com is a wordpress blog that has a rich text option that takes care of programming behind the scenes (I just create my blog post like I would a word processing document). But I also do my own coding to fix blog post formatting and make design changes. Even knowing HTML has opened up so many opportunities for me!

 

I suggest every parent give their boys AND GIRLS the opportunity to learn how to code. Code.org is the main website with information and the President of the United States has a great kick-off video with more information:
 

 

One of the most important things said in the video was: “Don’t just consume things – create things”.  I feel it is important to show our kids, who are growing up in the digital age, that technology should not only be consumed but also used to create. Here are my tips to help kids create their own projects by learning to code. What are your tips?

 

Tip 1: Start younger kids on “drag and drop” then easiest programming languages first:
 
Learning to program requires patience, creativity and a realistic view of the time commitment.   Many kids are used to apps that have quick response to actions, but programming does not always have a quick response. In fact, most of the time coding is a slow process with a small outcome. But all of those small outcomes put together can lead to big amazing outcomes! Business Insider posted with a flow of languages kids should learn. This flow is something I agree with and have experienced with my own kids. My younger kids engaged better with drag and drop programming. My teen wanted something more sophisticated and signed up for a computer programming intro course that focused on Python.  I know many teens that program in Javascript and Ruby in Rails that even get part time jobs after school and summer internships because of their coding knowledge! Here is a flowchart I created inspired by the Business Insider post “The Best Programming Languages Every Beginner Should Learn” by .

 

Business Insider flow programming kids coding

 

Tip 2: Inspire Content Creation and have family time “low stress” fun: 

 
The next tip is to make learning to code a fun family activity and inspire kids with logical incentives if needed. It is important to participate with your child when they first learn to code and to be supportive when they need help. It is also important that learning to code is a fun activity, so if incentives are used they should be “positive” instead of punitive.  For example, our family logical incentives are creating technology projects (including coding, video, building, designing) will earn them screen time/consuming technology.

 

It is also important to help kids find the right type of programming language and platform to make learning fun – not all drag and drop are created equal!  We tried some drag and drop programming platforms that were confusing. Other platforms, like the ones mentioned in this post on Edutopia “15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer)” such as MIT’s Scratch and Tynker, were fun and had a great interface. Both of my middle school twins enjoy using drag and drop programming and have now even moved on to platforms such as Youth Digital Minecraft Mod Design which give an introduction to Java programming through mod design.  Another online Minecraft Modding class is called ThoughtStem Minecraft Modding Class . There are inspirational programs such as Girls Who Code that  “inspires, educates, and equips girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities”  There are also sites such as Roblox and those explained in Common Sense Media coding section that offer ways for kids to create their own apps and games. I will cover the range of platforms available in a separate blog post because there are so many!  Luckily, the Code.org/Learn section also lists great coding websites for kids.

 

When parents ask me how to get their their kids started in programming I say:

Expose your kids to different computer programming languages (starting off with drag and drop for younger kids) and see if they have an interest in any of them. If not, see if they can just do some basic programming to understand how coding works. If they have an interest then your kids will initiate learning more about programming and developing their own skills. If not, help them find other ways to become a technology creator” 

 

When my teen took the Python class he did understand the basics but was not as interested in programming as he thought he would be. So we told him to do the best he could in the class and find other ways to be a technology “creator”. Knowing that he just needed to do the best instead of feeling the pressure to “master” programming helped him feel less stress while learning.  We wanted our son to discover what his technology passion was. Luckily it did not take our teen son long to figure out that his true passion was computer design (engineering). He can spend hours going over computer specifications and features. He loves to fix anything related to a computer and technology. He decided that his “creator” project would be building his own computer! So if your child is not excited about coding, he or she may be excited about computer design, photography, video editing or other ways to experience content creation. Finding your child’s passion will turn something that could be stressful – into a skill they develop on their own because they love doing it.

 

When kids have a passion to learn coding, online computer programming courses can help take learning to the next level. There are sites such as Code.org and Khan Academy which are geared towards kids but there are also an unlimited amount of courses for teens and adults that are either free or available to purchase. Some examples are Edx, Coursera, Udemy (like this course on Python), Curious (like Ruby on Rails and HTML/CSS) and many more. Parents that want to update their job skills could also participate in the #hourofcode and look into sites such as Udacity that has Nano Degrees.

 

This #HourofCode video from Khan Academy discusses all of the different things you can do if you learn to code, has coding challenges plus it gives you a great overview:
 

 

Here is the Khan Academy video on making web pages:
 

 

Click here for the full list of Khan Academy Computer Programming videos.

 

Most of all remember that every child has their own special skills, so it is important to help them find their path. If your child does have an interest in programming, then show them the world of opportunities available to them to learn coding online. If your child has no interest in programming then ask them “What are you interested in?” and help them pursue that path.  While one of my twins enjoys learning Javascript his true passion is History. He reads non fiction history books during his free time so we may also do an ” #hourofhistory ” this week as well!

 

 

3. Help kids understand the relation of technology skills to future job potential (but also low stress): 

 

Because my husband and I have tech jobs that we got based on our tech skills, we like to talk to our kids about all of the different types of tech jobs (and other jobs) that utilize tech skills.   Having a basic understanding of programming and technology can be a prerequisite for many careers. It is also important to help them understand that programming can be challenging. My earlier career as a computer programmer helped me understand the reality of the commitment. Another Business Insider article titled “A Programmer Describes How He Nearly Went Insane Learning To Code” shows the reality of having a career in programming.

 

At the same time, there are unlimited examples of how kids that were truly interested in programming and engineering created amazing things. Kimberley Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, shared that when she was a freshman in Electrical Engineering that Fortran and Pascal were the popular programming languages (Note: I studied Fortran in college). Marissa Mayer earned a Bachelor of Science in symbolic systems and Master of Science in computer science and went on to become Google’s first female Engineer. Mark Zuckerberg’s programming skills helped him create Facebook. Bill Gates was 13 when he first got access to a computer and before he knew it- he and some friends were teaching the programming class. Even NBA Superstars like Chris Bosh believe that everyone should learn to code.

 

Are you going to have a family coding day this week? Sam Patterson posted on Edutopia with some ideas for that!

 

 

 

 

 

Kurbo Health App Empowers Kids To Eat Healthy

Kurbo Health App

 

 

A top concern shared by the parents of growing children is making sure their kids eat healthy and exercise frequently. But distinguishing healthy food as well as empowering and educating kids to choose healthy options is a real challenge. Teens and pre-teens enjoy sports but may not understand what amount of exercise is needed each day. My kids are open to eating healthy but are more attracted to unhealthy foods (as many kids are). We serve healthy foods at home but at times it come off as “nagging” parents. We want our kids to understand the importance of healthy foods and make good choices on their own, so we started involving our kids in the process of cooking while exposing them to healthy food choices at home and at restaurants. In the end, what was missing was the link between eating healthy, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. With diabetes and heart issues in our extended families health history, it was important to link all this together.

 

 

Kurbo - Traffic Light Food Classification System

Photo Credit: Kurbo

This summer I signed up to beta test a new app called Kurbo,  which is based off of the Traffic Light Classification System developed at Stanford University. The Traffic Light System, that many parents have already seen in nutrition books, separates foods into either red, yellow or green. Green foods (GO) are the healthier foods you can eat more often, be cautious with yellow foods (Slow Down) and red foods need to be limited each day (Stop and Think). Kurbo also has a personalized approach which includes the use of live coaches to assist in the overall  process of setting and monitoring goals for each child. There are also games and videos to help educate and entertain along the way.

 

For example, some kids may have goals focused on losing weight while others will have goals focused on learning the components of eating healthy and how much exercise they need each day (like my twin boys). While I kept asking my boys to make sure they were eating their vegetables, they did not really understand how much they needed. Even though healthy options like Avocado were in the red category, we also wanted them to learn the difference between healthy and non healthy fats – and the need to watch the overall amount of fat each day in a balanced diet. With exercise, they did not understand the concept that just playing sports once or twice a week was enough exercise. Some sports do not even provide that much real exercise. One example is baseball, a sport I later learned exercise instructors call “the lazy sport”.

 

 

 

Kurbo Health App

Photo Credit: Kurbo

 

 

Here is how Kurbo works:

“1. Track foods & activities with our app:  Kurbo’s fun, easy-to-use app helps children and teens track what they eat, as well as how much they exercise. Each time your child enters a food, it’s classified using our clinically acclaimed traffic light system. The app also has virtual coaching and introduces important concepts such as food classification, portion size, and planning ahead with videos, games, weekly challenges, and messages.

2. Increase success with live text or video coaching: Kurbo’s human coaching gives your child the opportunity to have one of our weight loss experts interact with your child. The coach uses the data your child enters in to the mobile app each week to review your child’s food and exercise choices from the previous week, then makes actionable suggestions—including concrete goals—for the week ahead.

3.  Measure, track, improve, and enjoy your new life: Tracking food and exercise in conjunction with meeting goals will ensure that this is a true lifestyle change. The goal of Kurbo is to make it so you don’t need Kurbo again.”

 

 

Here is a link to the Kurbo page where they show success stories.

 

We had a busy summer so we only had a short time to beta test. But even using Kurbo’s app plus personalized coaching for a short time helped kick off my twin boy’s abililty to manage their own healthy habits. I enjoyed that I could step out of the process and let their coach give them tips.  Kurbo helped them learn that they were not eating enough fruits and vegetables each day. The app also helped them see they were not always getting the minimum 30 minutes of exercise each day, which made them find new ways to exercise to reach their goals.  One of my son’s requested to have an exercise routine planned out by a fitness trainer so that we can start working out as a family.

 

Exercise

 

 

Next we started making “mix your own ingredients” salads, soups and stews so we could eat a healthy dinner that everyone could enjoy. We even experimented with vegan options such as smoked tempeh and veggie sausage.

 

 

A photo posted by BethB (@techmamas) on

 

 

Then we made a goal of cooking healthy as a fun family event. So we started cooking more at home together and signed up for cooking classes we could take together.

 

A photo posted by BethB (@techmamas) on

 

 

We also decided that although the school lunches had healthy options, they did not have enough fruits and vegetables included (we learned with the Kurbo food tracking features). This inspired me to start making my twin boys their own school lunches loaded with fruit and vegetables. While this is a time investment, it has high ROI because my kids end up eating healthy, are full and energized to make it through the school day. I will be creating a series of posts (coming soon) with the pictures and information on the fun and easy school lunches that my kids actually enjoy! They even ask me when choosing food at restaurants which dishes have enough fruits and vegetables.

 

A photo posted by BethB (@techmamas) on

 

 

 

The Kurbo App helped guide our family to start making healthy changes with strategies to reach our goals.  We only had the opportunity to use Kurbo during the beta phase so we can’t wait to try the app again to reach new goals!

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post.

 

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting

Screen-Smart ParentingOne of the top questions I get from readers is how to control their kid’s screen time. Now that kids have access not only to computers but also smartphones, tablets and other devices it is even more challenging to set up a system to help them be safe and limit the time they spend using devices.  I have explained in many of my posts that I believe helping your kids control their screen time and understanding internet safety starts with age appropriate and regular family communication on those topics.

 

 

Jodi Gold MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that has a unique perspective, especially when it comes to family communication! When I found out that she just wrote a book called SCREEN-SMART PARENTING: Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices (Guilford Press, November 1, 2014, paperback) that had research and practical strategies, I wanted to find out more.

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting Jodi Gold MD1.       What motivated you to write SCREEN-SMART PARENTING?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist.  Every day, I went to work and listened to my patients.  A theme began to emerge.   This one got dumped on text and that one was playing too much World of Warcraft.  Parents were worried that their kids were distracted during homework and increasingly concerned about how their children presented themselves online.  Then I went to pick up my younger children (aged 5, 7, 9) at school and this mom was concerned about too much TV and that one was upset that her 4 year old could navigate an iPhone. I realized that if I listened carefully, I couldn’t make it through the day professionally or personally without confronting the realities of our changing digital landscape.  I wasn’t startled that technology was ubiquitous or that current parents are the last generation of digital immigrants.   I was surprised at the fear and ignorance. Parents, teachers and families were constantly fearful and distrustful.  I went looking for answers on how to embrace technology and use it for good, but found little guidance.

 

At the same time, I had been presenting nationally about treatments for ADHD.  A senior editor from Guilford Publishers approached me about writing a book for parents about ADHD.  I really felt like there were many good books about ADHD already on the market.  I was convinced that the Guilford editors would think that I was scattered and crazy but I told them that I really wanted to write a handbook for raising kids in the changing digital world.  I wanted to reach both physicians and parents.  I had begun to talk about the digital world with my patients and their families within a developmental framework.  We spoke about when children should be reading, making friends and going out alone.  Theses are all normal parts of growing up.  I realized that reading an e-book, getting a phone and creating a social media profile were also part of growing up but we didn’t have any graphs, charts or handbooks.  I wanted to write a book that looked at the existing research and offered concrete recommendations based on an understanding of research and child development.  Guilford didn’t think that I was crazy and they agreed to publish it before I wrote the first page.”

 

 

2.    Tell us about how you brought your background in as a doctor to helping explain these issues?

 

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Both the Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have begun to weigh in on parenting in the digital age.  It is critical that physicians make this a priority for research and policy.  I believe that we should be adding “digital milestones” to our list of developmental milestones and challenges.  I hope that Screen Smart Parenting will deepen the dialogue on raising digital citizens in both the medical and parental world.

 

In medicine, we base our decisions and approaches on double blind longitudinal studies.  When they are not available, we do our best find evidence based research.  The goal is to use sound research to support our medical treatments and decisions.  In pediatrics, we view everything on a developmental framework.  Children are not little adults.  We need to understand children and adolescents from a developmental lens.  We misperceive and mistreat children if we apply adult rules to them.  In psychiatry, we use what is called the bio-psycho-social model.   This means that we try to understand children and adults in a multi-faceted way that encompasses genetics, psychology and the realities of family and home life.  In psychology, we understand human behavior so we can develop incentives and plans that help children internalize healthy behaviors.  We need to use this knowledge as we build behavior plans and create consequences around digital devices.    I used these basic principles from research, medicine and psychology to write Screen Smart Parenting.  I believe that it is one of the first books on this topic written within a medical model from the standpoint of a practicing clinician.”

 

3.   What is screen smart parenting and what areas does your book discuss?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Screen Smart Parents are parents who are thoughtful and communicative about managing digital technology.  They want to cultivate online resilience which scientists increasingly feel is linked to happiness and success in life.  They want to instill in their children the tenets of digital citizenship.  Eventually, screen smart parents will have the experience of being digital natives and citizens.  Right now, most of us are digital immigrants with newly stamped passports and limited command of the digital language.  Screen Smart parents do not need a Ph.D. in computer science but they need to check their fear and be willing to learn from and with their children.

 

In Screen Smart Parenting, I ask parents to figure out their parenting style, understand the digital landscape and develop a family technology plan.  In order to parent your children through the digital landscape, you need to understand your family culture and your own relationship with technology. It’s important to understand the developmental evolution of the use of digital technology: what happens at what age. It’s also essential to get a feel for how digital technology is actually used today by children and adolescents.  In the book, I write about how technology does affect your child’s development.  I also introduce the hot topics that monopolize our conversations from the iBlankie to the proverbial 5 minutes of Facebook fame.  In the second part of the book, I write about different age groups, each of which explains how digital technology intersects with what your child needs to achieve during those years and how you can promote technology as a tool to support, not hinder, healthy development. In the third section, I take a more sophisticated look at children who need more attention and parental involvement and may exhibit red flags for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. These “orchid” children may need extra care and modified digital parameters.  In the conclusion, I used my experience with behavioral interventions and plans, to give parents the tools to build a realistic and effective family technology plan.  I offer age-appropriate templates and suggestions on how to trouble shoot.  The goal is to build a family plan that includes your children’s voice in finding balance and using technology as a tool.”

 

 

4. What’s the right age for a phone/smartphone/social media access?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “This is a personal family decision but I can give you some guidelines as a mother, physician and expert in this field.  Your child will eventually own a smartphone so the question is not “if” but when.  You should give your child a phone when he/she truly “needs” one.  Most kids get their phones and smartphones between the ages of 11 and 14 years of age.  Here is a list of reasons for why you might choose to give your child a phone prior to the age of 11.

  • Parents are divorced and the child would like to have more control over his or her communication with the non-custodial parent, and/or there is shuttling back and forth.  A phone may help with the transition between two households
  • A child is taking long bus rides and needs to communicate with parents for some reason
  • The child has a chronic medical condition and needs a phone in case there is an urgent need to reach parents and caregivers
  • The child has a psychiatric or medical condition that causes her to miss a lot of school.  A phone may help to keep in touch with friends and teachers

It is likely that this decision will be somewhat driven by community/peer pressure.  It is important for parents to be thoughtful about when and how they introduce a phone.  A phone should be introduced in a developmental way (especially if you are giving a child a phone at a younger age).

*I can talk more about social media but similar rules apply.  However, there is some social media that is targeted for young children.  I encourage interested children to start with child-friendly sites before they move onto Twitter and Instagram.”

 

 

For more information, check out her website Screen Smart Parenting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms With Apps Survery Results: Thoughts On Kid’s Apps

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Moms With Apps and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

 

 

As parents we want our kids to engage with technology in a positive way that inspires learning as well as entertainment. The challenge is helping our kids choose appropriate apps and setting screen time limits. Moms With Apps is a website that offers information about kids apps, including How To Choose Apps For Kids. I have twin 11 year old boys that like using their tablets or my smartphone for their screen time. I use resources like Mom With Apps to help me – help them – choose appropriate apps for their age and also apps that will inspire creativity, learning or just wholesome fun. Just this morning at a doctor’s appointment I searched for Math apps my son could play with while we were waiting.  My concerns related to apps are to make sure they are age inappropriate but also not just simple time wasters. I would rather help my kids use the powerful technology tools they have to enhance their lives, a lesson that they can take to adulthood.

 

 

Mom With Apps just finished a survey of more then 450 parents around the country with their app questions and concerns. The results are interesting so I wanted to share them!

 

 

 

Moms With Apps Survey

 

Here are some of the specific findings from their press release:

 

  • 96% of parents believe that apps are beneficial to their child’s education and development.

    Moms With Apps provides parents with the ability search for trustworthy apps in a variety of different subject areas, including science, math, reading and critical thinking.  

  • 87% of parents report that ​they are concerned about ​their​ children ​making in-app purchases, and 81% say they worry about app​s​ ​​collect​ing​​ their children’s​personal information.

    Founded by parents who love using technology with their own kids, Moms With Apps only features developers who have committed to high standards for protecting kids’ privacy and building great family-friendly apps – and Moms With Apps always makes it quick and easy to Know What’s Inside every app they feature so that parents can decide if it’s right for their kids.

  • When selecting apps for their children, the three key issues for parents ​are: 1) the age-appropriateness of the app​;​ ​2) ​if it’s engaging for their child​;​ and ​3) ​if the app protects their child’s privacy.

    Moms With Apps gives parents simple tools to find the right apps for their kids. Just like nutrition labels help parents decide which snack is right for their kids, Moms With Apps provides parents with information up-front and in plain English to help them decide which app is right for their kids.

  • Parents feel they waste time looking for the right apps for their kids. 49% report the process as “moderately” to “very hard.”

    With more than one million apps to choose from, it can be hard to find the right apps for kids – and even harder to know if the app their kid loves is one they can trust. Moms With Apps is the only resource for parents who want to find great, trustworthy apps for their children.

     

 

What are your thoughts and concerns about children’s apps?

 

 

 

 

Women Rock The Vote! Websites To Help Find Polling Places

VotingToday is voting day for 2014 Mid Term elections.  I usually don’t talk about politics, but I do want to talk about how important it is for everyone to vote. It is especially important for women to vote to make sure their voices are heard. I remember my mom taking my brother and I to vote after work because she worked full time. I kept that tradition and have taken my boys with me for years to vote. Today I cleared some time during lunch and will take a run to my local poll location (exercise and voting at the same time)!

 

To do my part, I also wanted to share the online websites that can you help you find your local poll locations.

 

1. Vote411.org  is a website created by the League of Women Voters and asks users to “enter their addresses to find their polling place, build their ballot with an online voters’ guide and much more!”

 

2. Get To The Polls (Voter Information Project): Get to the polls is a great website just to find out where you can vote. This website worked the best for me quickly finding my local polling location.

 

3. Can I Vote Website: The Can I vote website has information on polling places by state.

 

4. Make a pledge to vote #WhyIVote at MomsRising The website Moms Rising posted with a request to make a pledge to vote:  “Why pledge to vote? Elections, particularly local elections, are sometimes won or lost by fewer than 20 votes.  So when you pledge to vote you’re also part of activating moms and dads across the nation to show up on Election Day to make a critical difference. Women are 53% of the electorateand if we all show up to vote, we can determine the outcomes of elections.” The Moms Rising Facebook Page has great stories that women shared on why they voted. Here is one from Ariana Huffington:

 

Moms Rising #WhyIVote

Photo Credit: Moms Rising

 

 

Please share “Why You Vote” and make sure you head to the polls today!

 

 

 

How To Enforce Screen Time Rules For Kids

How To Enforce Tablet Screentime Rules For Kids

 

With an overwhelming number of mobile devices available today, parents can struggle to keep their kids safe online and set rules for screen time. Even if parents don’t make mobile devices or home computer accessible to their kids, these pesky young ones will find other ways to go online, either from a friend, at school or even the library. From a cultural standpoint, technology in the hands of kids has become an essential part of modern social communication (i.e. texting to make social plans) and education, including school work and online learning. This makes it even more important to set up screen time rules and ensure kids know how to unplug.  Because devices are so enticing, even adults have trouble unplugging (speaking from personal experience) and logical consequences may be needed at times to enforce rules.

 

Like many parents, my husband and I struggle to discover what boundaries and logical consequences work best with screen time rules. If parents use a logical consequence that in the end can’t be implemented, kids won’t respect the rules. In our house, we frame tablet use as a positive reward for homework completion and we establish time limits. Our logical consequence when rules were not followed was taking away the tablets. The kids can always do homework on the family computers in public spaces such as the family room. But on the down side, when we took away their tablets our kids could not read their e-books or listen to their audio books.

 

A few days ago all the moons aligned and I finally found something that works for one of my most tech addicted sons. I have 11 year-old twin sons and one of my twins, J, just started following our family screen time rules including no screen time at bed – reading only. I even purchased both of my twins Amazon Kindle Paperwhites to do their nightly reading. The Amazon Kindle HD Fire’s parental controls are very robust. We choose the Kindle Paperwhites because they are so light, have a great screen for reading in all conditions and the charge lasts for a few weeks.

 

My tween son J was able to actually put down his tablet before bedtime when asked and read books on his Kindle Paperwhite. The ability to manage his own screen time is the goal we have worked toward since they were little. His twin brother, D, had trouble putting his tablet down to read and we tried many other strategies. We had him listen to audio books from Audible at night for bedtime reading, and he went through tons of different chapter books until he said he wanted to go back to reading the books.

 

But D could not resist the temptation to watch YouTube videos at night instead of reading (mostly STEM, minecraft, harmless cartoons and other age appropriate videos). So last night I did what years of learning emotion coaching from the fabulous TheGoToMom Kimberley Clayton Blaine inspired me to do: without emotion, I told my son D at bedtime that he has not shown me he can comply with screen time rules and I am taking his tablet away at night. I also told him that I am only returning it temporarily for his daily hour of screen time. TheGoToMom’s emotion coaching really helped me understand the next thing I did: walking  away! Before my son could resist, yell, debate or plead for his tablet back I just walked out of the room and put the tablet where he could not find it. It was the logical consequence that felt right and I decided to go with it.

 

This technique was extra difficult because my son has a hip injury and is on crutches. He actually got out of bed, grabbed his crutches and followed me from room to room begging to return his tablet. I felt so guilty inside, but TheGoToMom helped me learn that I need to not engage, just calmly say “you will get your tablet back tomorrow, now it is reading time”.. The image of him using his crutches to follow me around while I was cleaning a few different rooms made me want to give in, but I had to keep a straight face and stick to my logical consequence or else I knew it would never work.

 

What happened the next morning can only be described as magical. The night before he finally got tired of chasing me around in his crutches and went to bed – AND READ… Then he told me he work up early and READ MORE before going back to sleep.  When he got up he READ AGAIN. I gave him a big hug when he told me and I said “for now on, I will hold your tablet a night and you can get it back during the day”. D said “OK” and I felt that exhilarating feeling you get as a parent when you see your child taking responsibility and embracing something he needed to do for his own good. I know that we will go through more screen time challenges in the future, but for now – all is good.

 

HOW TO ENFORCE SCREEN TIME RULES FOR KIDS (including tablets!):

 

Step 1: Create family screen time rules. For reference check out Common Sense Media’s section on screen time.  In my experience, it is important to create rules that the whole family can follow (and parents can enforce) – so try to be realistic. For example, because we have all of the family desktops in public family areas, my kids use their personal tablets to check homework websites for school when doing homework in their bedrooms. So a regular rule that includes not tablet use at night would not work. But we do have a rule that tablets can only be used for reading or homework after 8pm in their bedrooms.  We also have a rule that our kids can have one 30 minutes of screen time after school, then they need to finish their homework to earn more recreational screen time (if time permits).

 

Another important point is to define what websites are “appropriate” for screen time. My tween sons can only play Minecraft, STEM websites such as Scratch, sports and other video games rated for their age while my 16 year old can play teen rated video games for his screen time (in a room away from his brothers!). We also have a family rule that states that exercise or sports before screen time! If my boys don’t have organized sports that day, they can play any sport such as a quick game of pickup basketball. But for one weekend morning, they can watch cartoons above and beyond the regular screen time rules.  I find it helpful to print out the family screen time rules and put them next to family desktops and in my kid’s bedrooms.

 

Step 2:  Decide on how to enforce the screen time limits/rules. Create appropriate logical consequences and positive rewards. I have found positive rewards always works better than consequences, but at times logical consequences are needed. For example, my kids “earn” their screen time for doing their homework and doing outside play/sports times each day. At the same time, they may have trouble sticking to the screen time limits so that is when we have logical consequences (like taking away their tablets for a day).

 

When my kids were younger I set up web filters to limit their access to websites. But now that our kids have access to computers at school and friends with smartphones, we have more open access at home and regular discussions about internet safety including the consequences of visiting inappropriate websites. Along with the logical consequences of losing screen time, we have regular talks with our kids about the serious dangers that exist online. Some families I know needed to put more serious logical consequences such as closing down home WiFi access only on an as needed basis. Home WiFi access can be controlled with parental control software or on the home router controls. There is also a great selection of parent control software that can be used across home devices and computers (which I will post on another time).

 

Step 3: Make a promise (to yourself) to always keep emotions in check and set up system to support that. For example, when I enforce the consequence of taking my kids tablet away I either do it when they are asleep or now that they are older I calmly explain that they have not complied with the screen time rules so I am taking their tablet away for (“x” nights or days etc).  I feel it is important now that they are older (11) they see me taking their tablet away as a logical consequence. When they were younger their reasoning was not as strong so I just took it away when they were asleep. To keep my emotions in check after I take the tablet away and to not engage in emotional debates or pleas, I always walk out of the room and then decide on a household chore to start doing. That way, if they want to follow me around I will just focus on my household chore to remain calm. Sometimes I left the house to go for a jog, giving myself a necessary exercise break.

 

 

For more information, check out Common Sense Media Screen Time section.

 

For information on choosing your kid’s first phone (which if it is a smartphone – will have access to a web browser), check out my post titled “Top Tips: Choosing First Phone for Kids“.

 

I am excited to be a volunteer as one of the Common Sense Media Learn On Ambassadors.

Common Sense Media LearnON Ambassador 2014

 

 

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?