Sunday, April 30, 2017

These Are The Apps You've Been Looking For

When you are trying to get stuff done there is just no way around it, technology can be a pretty good babysitter as long as you don't let it get out of hand. There are times when I need to work on something for work, school, or home related issues and I know I won't be able to get it done if my kids are bugging me every five minutes to tell me they are bored.

That's why I've started scheduling time on the computer with times they will use tablets for their screen time. There are some caveats that I lay as ground rules before they start using them. They are only allowed to use it for an hour of time. So, I set up a timer on my watch and we synchronize our watches. I get verbal confirmation from each one to turn over the devices when my watch beeps with no exceptions. Failure to comply ends up with a time penalty.

Each tablet is protected with a code that I often change. The oldest boy figured out some of my codes and when his sisters were bothering him, he would ply them with promises of iPad time as a bargaining tool.

Tablets cannot be used on the go. Too many accidents have involved people looking down and not where they are going. Any time we are walking, tablets are tucked under their arm like a book and their eyes must be up. Only until they are seated and safe is use of a tablet okay.

They are responsible for connecting them back to the chargers when finished. If they want battery life on their favorite device, they need to be responsible enough to plug it in.

Homework ALWAYS comes before screen time. I use a new app for their tablet as a reward for our six year old daughter to complete her "funwork" which includes one writing journal per day and an activity from her monthly task list. Once she has completed an entire month's funwork and journal, she can choose one app.

Of course, apps are only as good as the network you're on, so with our Verizon FiOS we have no issues with fast downloads, connecting to Wi-Fi, and keeping Dad happy that he can use the internet for work with three kids on devices and no lag or slowdown in our productivity. My kids are pretty much experts in the best games around so listed below are some of our picks for best apps.

Here are the apps that have us obsessed right now. 

6 year old's Favorites 

Pepi House - Explore the Pepi family's house and all you can do within it.

Toca Life Hospital - It's like a teal hospital, only cuter and you don't get that bad smell

9 Year Old's Favorites 

Goat Simulator - The whole point is to use different kinds of goats to terrorize humans. You can see why my kids love it.

Color Switch - Tap the ball carefully through each obstacle and your ball will switch color with some powerups.You must follow the color pattern on each obstacle to cross it

12 Year Old's Favorites

Marvel Contest of Champions - Pit your favorite Marvel Superheroes against one another in PVP battles.

Jetpack Joyride - You've just stolen a jetpack and you are trying to get away from the scientist you stole it from. 

My Favorites 

Fallout Shelter - Build a vault underground and become the Overseer. Keep the people alive!

The Walking Dead : No Man's Land - Play missions from past and present seasons as your favorite TWD characters. Power up their weapons and upgrade your personal hideaway.

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes - Collect your favorite heroes, villains, and ships from the Star Wars Universe. Battle other players and power up your characters as you face challenges along the way.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post with Verizon FiOS in Philadelphia. All opinions expressed are my own. #FiOSPhilly

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why The Fine Arts Are Important to Your Child's Education

The greatest tool you can use to help your children grow is something that doesn’t appear on any standardized test. It’s creativity, and it’s something we as humans are born with. Creativity affects the way we learn and grow; it can be applied to any subject at will and teaches us that even within rigid structures there is a freedom of movement to make something new.

How do I know this? Show a child a painting and ask them to tell you what it is about. No two kids will have the exact same reaction and they will talk to you about what they see. You may be surprised at their interpretation because children are not bound by adult knowledge of the world. Picasso once said "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

Take your children to see a play and ask them what they liked. Processing visual cues and interpreting vocals train our brains to pick up on nuances about relationships, music, and emotion. Have a child listen to music or play an instrument and they will hear things we never even thought were possible.

New brain research shows that not only does music improve skills in math and reading, but also it promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self worth. Our interpretation, as individuals with independent creative thought, can be as varied as the snowflake patterns that fall from the sky and as vast as the molecules within and around us.

I’ve watched this in my own children when they bring home artwork from school. I have a pile in my office of their different stages of life; from scribbles to actual people, their perception of the world is shaped by what they see, hear, smell, and touch.  Walk down the hallway of an elementary school and you’ll see their personalities in their artwork bursting with individuality.

Teachers use creativity in their classrooms on a daily basis. They create lessons centered on an individual’s thought or perception of a concept. Students demonstrate this in projects and performances, critiques and discussion.  We know for a fact that promoting the arts in education helps students succeed in other subjects. In fact, students who study art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance.

So we know that the arts are important but what is the first thing government tries to do when there is a budgeting issue? Cut programs for the arts. President Trump took funding from the National Endowment of the Arts so that he could buy bigger bombs and build walls. It seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? They want to make America great again but in the process eliminate these programs from our children’s lives.They see self-expression as an unwanted attribute and they fail to see the connection between creativity and success.

Students in high school see the value in science, math, and English so much so that they believe doubling up on these subjects will make them better students. Standardized tests only measure a student's ability to complete these tasks with a certain level of aptitude. But ask any employer what they are looking for in an employee and attention to detail and an ability to work outside of the box are must haves.

Let's consider the funds that the government sets aside for the arts to determine their worth. Federal funding for the arts and humanities rolls in around $250 million a year, while the National Science Foundation is funded around the $5 billion mark. So while people understand the need for fine art education, they don’t invest in it nearly as much despite knowing the benefits.

How do we combat this violation of our need to be creative? Get our children involved in as many fine art education programs as possible. Encourage them to take an art, music, or theater class despite their perceptions of their strengths or weaknesses. Everyone is creative in their own way and kids need that outlet in order to grow.

Visual art helps develop eye-hand coordination and because projects are mostly log term, they learn how to develop something to completion and tackle how to meet problems head on by thinking outside of the box and solving complex issues.

Music teaches them focus and concentration. As with any performance, repetition and practice until a song is mastered teaches children self-discipline and promotes a passion for something people use in their daily lives.

Theater teaches social skills and interpersonal communication. Interacting with a cast and creating everything from backdrops to props to costumes means they are building an attention to detail to make their craft as realistic as possible.

Dance teaches an awareness of their body and the expression that flows through it. Dance can be interpretive or choreographed and provides opportunities for a declaration of feelings through movement when being static just isn't your strong suit.

Theater, movies, and the culture around fine arts permeate everything in our culture that we value. Actors and actresses, artists and musicians claim high praise in our hearts and minds. Music, art, dance, and theater represent our past, present, and future; they remind us of moments in our lives and activate our memories.

So how do we encourage our children to follow the creative path? We become their agents, their coaches, their mentors and their muses. No uttered word should be ignored. No sour note left unheard. No scribble is insignificant. For a child, exploration through the fine arts will open doors that may have been previously shut or most likely unseen. We owe it to our children to keep the arts alive.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Unlock a Child's Potential with iD Tech Summer Camps

Remember the elation you felt as a child when the final seconds to summer break started and all the you time started? I spent many summers milling about my neighborhood riding my bike, throwing a ball against the garage, and doing all the things kids do when there isn't a rigid structure. To be honest, a lot of that time was not spent constructively. We used to look at summer as a time to unwind, to throw caution to the wind and forget our worries for three months sans deadlines and homework. 

But the summer can be much more than that. It can be a bridge to learning something new or trying out a skill you wish to develop before crossing the bridge into your next grade level.  Among those moments of downtime, my mom invested in my interests and ultimately helped to shape my future by signing me up for a summer art camp.

While my friends were whiling away the hours kicking a soccer ball around or shooting hoops, I reported to a well lit elementary school art classroom devoid of the bustling masses. We gathered in the art room where the afternoon summer sun streamed in to illuminate my paper like a golden papyrus. It was here that I practiced painting and drawing to my heart's content against an easel caked in paint, like graffiti of past artists who had been there before me . 

I remember it being quiet and peaceful but also incredibly challenging in that this was the first time I got to tell the teacher what I wanted to create. I wasn't doing an assignment that twenty other students were making in an art factory but applying what I knew and liked in a creative endeavor of my own, one on one with a real artist. That summer really shaped me into considering that art for me could be more than just a creative outlet but a job I would enjoy.

Yes, the summer can be a chance for our children to express their individuality and creativity. It can be a chance to delve into the things that they feel defines them as a person. If your kids are into technology like mine are, there are opportunities in the summer to learn skills that children of the future should know. The trick is, finding something that doesn't have them staring at a screen all summer playing video games. What if you could instead channel that interest and give them the opportunity to make an app or video game of their own design?  

Enter iD Tech Camp, a summer technology camp for kids ages 6-18 with 180 locations across the US including camps right here in Pennsylvania which include Villanova, WCU, and UPenn campuses.  At iD Tech, they offer day and overnight summer camps for aspiring programmers, app developers, video game designers, engineers, filmmakers, photographers, and more. iD Tech Camp gives our children a chance to learn the skills they will need to have to progress advancements in technology for the next generation of learners.

iD Tech has specific programs for girls, teens, tweens, and young learners. Courses are led by tech-savvy, adult-only staff in a fun, energetic and experiential environments. In addition to providing entertaining and age-appropriate activities, their STEM summer camps are loaded with original, real-world curriculum and professional software. 

Popular classes include Programming and App Development, Robotics Engineering, Game Design and Game Development, Web Design/Photography, Film/Video, and 3D Modeling/3D Printing. If you have a child who endlessly talks about Minecraft, you can get them to apply all their research to the creation of their own map in the Brick Busters: Minecraft Game Design class or have them take a Web Design and Photography class so they can build an online portfolio of their work. 

Worried if your child is getting the most out of their summer? With personalized, hands-on instruction for all skill levels and small class sizes of just eight students per instructor, ID Tech Camps anticipate that their students will become the world’s next creators of innovative technology. 

If you'd like to unlock the potential in your STEM student, you can register for a week of summer camp and use this code DADNCHARGE17 to receive $75 off your registration. Sign up now as spots are quickly filling up and turn this summer into an unforgettable experience with iD Tech Summer Camps. 

This post was sponsored by iD Tech Summer Camp and I received compensation for this post. All opinions expressed are solely my own. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Discovering Their Words and Other Things

From the first audible cry to the cooing sounds of a content baby, our words have been forming since before our birth. Before we can communicate, we rely on sounds to let others know that we are distressed, hungry, or have desires we can’t fulfill. The way we respond to those cries for help, usually with soothing words of affirmation lets a child know that we are there.

You learn, as parents, to recognize your child’s patterns. Before long, you are able to tell a hungry cry from a distressed cry and “a diaper leaked in my bed” cry from an “I’m not feeling well” cry. Their nuances become clear because we are listening to them and that’s how we all learn.

What are we without our words? You’ll hear parents say to children who have trouble communicating that they must “use their words” to express why they are pointing to something and grunting excitedly. Effective communication begins with the ability to not only listen but repeat what you hear. The first time they latch onto a concept or recognize a word will result in eruption of recognition when they utter their first word.

From there, it spirals into something magical. Kids who listen to words and repeat them learn how to talk because of repeated patterns. So, we do that in the best way possible, we read to them. We read the same stories over and over ad nauseam until they know them by heart. But it’s that next step that excites me as a parent when they leap from a listener and repeater to an independent reader. The dawning of a child’s comprehension is an exciting time as a parent.

As my six year old daughter starts to recognize sight words, I watch her finger move across the page with awareness. Her eyes concentrate on the curves and line that form letters, her lips purse to mimic every sound. She is putting things together, she’s exploring language, and she is discovering how words go together to make sentences.

Now, there are some drawbacks to this process like the pointing out of the speed limit every time they see a sign or when your budding reader backseat driver lets you know that the last sign you passed said “STOP” even though you didn’t. But becoming an independent reader opens up the world to a child who has just been a casual observer until now.

My daughter is starting to put sentences together and formulating her own opinions about the things she experiences. I’ve begun to see the things that she gravitates towards and likes being reflected in what she likes to read and write about. Her perception is shaping her world and developing her individuality.

And when they finally turn their appetite towards reading and writing, they become as voracious as a kid coming home from school looking for an after school snack. To fuel this uptick in brainpower, we explore new and exciting snack options like Teddy Soft Bakes. The teddy bear shapes are there to oversee the homework proceedings and the light-textured treats with chocolate or vanilla filling are there to satisfy their hunger and keep them motivated. 

When it comes to kids, their exploration never ceases, it just may switch to a different outlet. Kids need to be challenged not only in schoolwork but through play. Play evolves into discovery and discovery turns into comprehension. Children will retain more if their learning pertains to their actual lives. So, here are some ways you can turn regular old snack time into an activity that they enjoy using wholesome Teddy Soft Bakes as your inspiration.

Use these and other prompts to do a fun activity with you child and help them discover their words.
  1. Teddy Soft Bakes writing prompt: This Teddy is.... sad? surprised? hungry? let your child write down what they think and then color the Teddy the way they want. Then talk about it. 
  2. Have your child look at the box and draw their version of Teddy
  3. Have your child tell you descriptive words about how Teddy feels, smells, looks, and tastes and write them down.
  4. Draw a picture that explains just how they got that delicious filling inside Teddy
  5. Looking at your Teddy Soft Bakes, try to make one using only shapes. Color it in!

I'm sharing Teddy Soft Bakes in my life as part of a sponsored series for 
Socialstars™  #myfirstTeddy #discoverTeddy