Posts Tagged ‘ technology ’

Raffi Returns! The Singer Discusses His Album

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Raffi was a hit in my house (or more specifically, in the car!) while my sister and I were growing up. We listened to his songs so much that we almost wore out his cassette tape (yes, this was pre-CDs!).

Though it’s impossible to forget the charismatic children’s musician, many of us may have noticed his lack of albums in recent years. But fear not: Though Raffi–who is also an author–has taken on a variety of endeavors, which he describes below, he’s certainly did not bid adieu to singing. His album “Love Bug,” his first since 2002, hits stores July 15. Want to purchase it earlier? Here’s how.

“I feel like a new papa with this album,” Raffi told Parents.com. “I’m just thrilled to keep making music with my ‘Beluga Grads.’”

Here, Raffi discusses his song inspiration, his views on technology use, and more.

Parents.com: What prompted you to release another album after a 12-year break? 

Raffi Cavoukian: I felt the creative need to express myself to my loyal audience of many decades now, and recently I returned to the concert stage after an absence of 10 years….I thought well, gee, you know, I think a new batch of songs to express love and caring in a new way would be fun. At the same time, keep in mind that “Love Bug” is the first Raffi album of the digital era. In 10 short years, social media has changed parenting or at least made it more challenging. It has certainly impacted the landscape of childhood, so after I wrote and published the book Lightweb, Darkweb, about social media awareness and reform, I thought it would be really good to have an album of songs in response to the digital era, an album in full celebration of the real world.

P: How can kids and parents regulate technology use? 

RC:  In families, that’s the parent’s responsibility, to set the tone of their day, to set the tone of their interactions, and that requires conscious parenting, which is a Child Honouring principle….It just speaks to an awareness by parents of their inner processes so that they are mindfully engaging with their kids, and I know that’s easier said than done [laughs], but the goal is for mindful interactions, rather than unconsciously repeating what was done to us when we were kids. Parents have the opportunity and the responsibility of actually setting a tone in their families, where for little kids, I’m talking about real little ones, real life experience is valued and takes priority above all else. As I say to parents, and I’m basically saying what psychotherapists and pediatricians are saying, information technology can wait. What can’t wait is an infant’s need and desire to bond with the real world, the three dimensional world of wonders, of textures, of elements, this is the job of the formative years. You can do tech later. It’s going to change anyway [laughs].

P: Your listeners today are growing up in a different era than children of the past. How are today’s kids similar to your previous audience, and how do they differ? 

RC: The basic needs of early childhood are universal and irreducible, that does not change….What’s different is not the kids themselves, but the culture in which they live, to which they respond. It’s the culture that’s different, that’s faster, it’s more technologically obsessed, and these shiny tech devices represent an intrusion into the early years [of life for] a newborn and an infant. As I said before, the priority in early years, the job of a young one is emotional intelligence, as Daniel Goleman wrote brilliantly in that book, is to exercise the emotional intelligence, which is relational, real people, real world situations. We really have to be careful, we don’t want to introduce shiny tech representations of the three-dimensional world, these are flat, electronic representations that go hyper-fast.

P: What was your inspiration for the title track of your album? 

RC: The songs for this album came really easily to me. There was hardly any labor. I think for “Love Bug,” I had that guitar riff that I do [sings] and then the words just came immediately. I thought it was really a neat kind of way of looking at that impulse to hug people, and it’s just a love song.

P: What did you enjoy most about recording this album as a whole?

RC: I think the fact that I was recording again, a children’s album, that I imagined my fans would be waiting for it with great delight, because there hasn’t been a new one in 12 years. And the fact that I recorded 80 percent of it in my living room. In the book Lightweb, Darkweb, I talk about the lightweb being all that we like about digital technology, and I’m a tech enthusiast. I really appreciated the ability for my recording engineer to come from Vancouver, into my living room, with his laptop, and with just one connector box and some microphones, the recording console became his laptop, which is quite common these days. To work that way and the easy editing, I thought that was great fun. I look forward to doing more CDs actually, I’ve got more songs brewing.

P: One song on this album honors Nelson Mandela. Can you talk about this piece? 

RC: Those who inspire us live on forever, and Mandela was such a huge inspiration to me. Back in 2011, I wrote and recorded that song and got a chance to sing it for him in Toronto. You can imagine the thrill of being there, singing it for him, and when I finished, he stood up to shake my hand. Well you don’t forget that. In fact, that song title, “Turn This World Around,” is the subtitle of my anthology that I published in 2006, it’s a collection of essays called Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around. While we wouldn’t think of “Turn This World Around” as a children’s song, it’s the bonus song that completes this collection of songs….The other person I’ve paid tribute to is Pete Seeger. I was with him two years ago….We sang two songs, I remember we were singing together, one was “This Little Light of Mine,” the other was “This Land is Your Land,” which Pete made famous. I mean, Woodie Guthrie wrote it, but Pete made it popular, so I included “This Land is Your Land” as well in this album. The song “Pete’s Banjo,” in case you’re curious, when I came back two years ago from visiting Pete, there I was on my front deck in the sun with my guitar, and I was playing…something that sounded sort of like a banjo, and that’s where I got the idea of a tribute song for Pete called “Pete’s Banjo.” That’s where that came from, and I think that’s where the impetus for this new album may have come from, from seeing Pete Seeger in his ’90s, singing, and people loving it, and I thought, “Wow” [laughs]. I kind of saw my future, if you know what I mean….What does an aging troubadour do? Well he keeps making music. That’s the message I got.

Photo by Billie Woods

Do you have a kid with an urge to sing? Start out with this simple song.

If You're Happy and You Know It
If You're Happy and You Know It
If You're Happy and You Know It

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Getting Techy With Google Glass

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Based on the number of people who own smartphones and tablets, everyone appears to be a tech enthusiast these days. The latest must-have–Google Glass–recently became available to the public, allowing users to navigate town wearing a small, computer-like device (if they’re willing to shell out $1,500, that is).

A few weeks ago, at Google Glass’s Travel Event, I had the chance to test out the glasses themselves and explore some of their travel-themed features, apps which many smartphone users may already utilize via their handheld device. Restaurant enthusiasts, take note: Glass users can access reservation service OpenTable and set dinner plans in stone using taps and a few simple commands. While the program had some difficulty understanding my requests (my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, didn’t register even when one of the pros tried!), it was neat (and a little silly) to stand in a room and have Glass “listen” to my voice as I navigated the app. Got a little one? App-using moms who wish to complete tasks hands-free will enjoy the accessibility Glass provides while on-the-go with Baby.

Perhaps the most interesting–and possibly most helpful–feature I tried was Word Lens, which translates words and short phrases, such as those that appear on street signs and buildings. While wearing the glasses, I viewed signs that were written in Russian, and if I looked at the text from the correct angle, Glass could translate the word in front of me into English. What was especially interesting was that Glass didn’t change anything else about the building or background on which the phrase appeared. Note to self: This would have made my travels in Prague much less confusing!

While obviously the most important aspect of Google Glass is what it can do, the way the device looks is customizable. Buyers can purchase glasses with colorful components, order prescription lenses, and more. Still, the look is more techy than fashionable–if form is more important to you than function, you may not wish to sport these flashy frames.

Has your kid had an eye exam recently? Here’s why these tests are so important:

Vision Check
Vision Check
Vision Check

Photo by Rheanna O’Neil Bellomo 

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Jenna Bush Hager: “I want the moments that I have with Mila to not be interrupted by anything.”

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Last week, Jenna Bush Hager ventured to Brooklyn, New York to introduce educators to Bing in the Classroom—a new initiative (free for schools) to bring technology safely to America’s students—and to lead a special lesson plan for the kids of PS 205. As a former teacher, rising journalist, and mom to 1-year-old Mila, Jenna knows that technology can teach us a lot, but must be used carefully. Parents caught up with Jenna to discuss technology, education, and life with her little girl.

P: As we continue advancing in this digital age, technology is both friend and foe. What are some “best practices” for helping children to use these tools productively and safely?

JBH: As a new mom I’m particularly concerned with that. It’s important that we give kids access to the technology—particularly in schools—so they’ll be successful learners and eventually successful workers for our country. The one thing I don’t want to do, personally, is use technology as a replacement for the job that I’m supposed to be doing. I want to use it in a way that can help Mila learn and grow, but I don’t ever want it to replace our dinner conversations. I even found myself working while taking care of her, and I just realized it had to stop. When I get home from work I leave my cell phone up in the front of our house in a little basket and I take her back and we do the bedtime routine. I want the moments that I have with her to not be interrupted by anything.

P: As Mila grows, how do you hope to ensure her digital safety and digital “health,” especially with social media as prominent as it is?

JBH: Obviously, Mila is only 1. It’s something that I think Henry and I are quite conscious of and even worried about. I grew up wanting to play outside and we didn’t have video games or any of that. I didn’t even have a cell phone until I was in college, so this is a totally different world. I feel like it’s uncharted waters for the two of us. Not only do I want her to stay protected, but I also don’t want my husband and I to be so distracted by technology that we don’t interact.

P: Are there any other specific tech safety lessons you anticipate teaching her?

JBH: It’s hard to say because I’ve only been a parent for a year so I don’t want to speak on things that I’m not that knowledgeable about yet, but I know from my students that obviously safe search is important. As a parent you have to monitor what your children are doing online, that’s all there is to it. It’s a huge concern that these kids are putting something on the internet and it stays there for the rest of their lives. I want to teach her that you can use it and to connect with friends, but it shouldn’t be your only connection and what you’re putting on there stays there forever.

P: As we were saying, Mila just turned 1. How did you celebrate the big first birthday?

JBH: We actually just celebrated on Saturday with a little cowboy and Senoritas party, so we brought some Texas to New York City. I still have Cheerios all over my apartment. We just had a lot of friends over and family, including my sister. Mila loved cake, of course, she’d never had it and she quite appreciated sugar, like her mother.

Sign up for our Best Birthdays newsletter to find ideas for an unforgettable celebration.

P: Is there anything that she does that is just like you when you were a baby? 

JBH: She reminds me a lot of the two of us. She’s really curious, which as a mom I love. She’s so interested and focused in the world. She’s smiling at everybody walking by. You can tell she’s an extrovert. When she’s around people she loves getting energy from them. She’s just the most curious little person. It’s hard to say what I was like as a baby, but I know that she has this curiosity for life that I just love.

P: Reading is a big part of your life. What are your favorite books to read with her?

JBH: This is cliché, but it was my favorite book that my parents read to us: Goodnight Moon. We have it in English, Spanish and French. I don’t speak French, I speak Spanish. Henry took a little bit of French so he reads the French one. My friend just gave us a huge collection of Madeleine books, including one that is in Spanish. I’m really excited to get into those because when I was little I just adored her. I thought she was such a fun character. I love Dr. Seuss, obviously. [Books] are her favorite toys, which I love. My mother was a librarian; I love to read. I think that’s something that I can pass on to her.

P: What are our country’s greatest challenges with regard to education today and what are some steps we can take to fix those?

JBH: That’s a huge question. I think the biggest challenge is making sure that every single child gets access to an excellent education. There’s this gap between students that have access to really good educations and those that don’t. We want to make sure every child no matter where they live, what neighborhood, has access to a really excellent education. As far as solving it, it would have been solved had it been an easy problem. But there are so many amazing organizations and innovative programs like Bing in the Classroom, Teach for America, the Harlem Children’s Zone. The fact that there are so many smart people working on it gives me a lot of hope that this problem will be solved.

Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology

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webRover, a New Internet Guard Dog, Monitors Your Kids’ Internet Time

Friday, March 14th, 2014

webRover-parental-control-internetEver worry about what your children are looking at online? Or worry they are spending too much time on the Internet? Of course you do!

There is so much to fear in the digital age, from online predators to cyberbullies to unwelcomed pop-ups and risqué advertising. But as consumers of the World Wide Web, we also know that so much good content is out there for children as well.

A new product just hit the market that may make it easier for parents to control the content as well as the amount of time kids are viewing it online. PowerCloud Systems, in partnership with Common Sense Media, launched a new parental control feature in Skydog (their home networking monitoring system), named webRover. The control is designed for monitoring kids between the ages 2 and 10. Through the Skydog-connected system, parents can set up multiple user accounts that can be controlled across all devices (including mobile and tablets).

“Kids can easily get exposed to age-inappropriate content,” says Caroline Knorr, the Parenting Editor for Common Sense Media. “They can do that by typing something into the Internet that seems like an innocuous search term, and they can arrive at a website that is not age appropriate.”

“Let’s face it, there’s no way that you can prevent your kids from being exposed to age-inappropriate content or content that you don’t approve of, but there are ways to manage their online activities so they are funneled into sites where they have a greater chance of finding age-appropriate, positive, nourishing websites versus what they might find on their own,” she continues.

Each webRover user profile can be customized based on what each parent deems appropriate for each child. For example, parents can schedule designated study hours during the week for school-age children where only approved websites can be accessed during that time. So even though kids may need the Internet to research a homework assignment, you won’t have to worry that they are wasting time playing an online game. For even younger children, parents can allow access-based categories, including learning potential. This is where Common Sense Media comes in.

The organization rates and reviews media across multiple platforms (like movies, TV shows, video games, apps, etc.) and assesses the appropriate age for each product. Multiple factors come into play, including violence, sex, cigarettes and drugs, language, positive role models, and learning capability. So, even though some websites may be kid-friendly, they may not necessarily promote learning. Through webRover, parents can customize the sites they want to allow, like ones with a higher educational rating. For sites that don’t have a ranking (like religious and regional websites), parents can manually enter in their own information and ratings. Parents can even override Common Sense Media’s ratings if they decide their young child can handle websites aimed at older children, or if they find something age-inappropriate based on their own values.

“Often parental controls are blunt instruments that block out too much good stuff,” Knorr says. “That’s been a real downfall with the controls up until this point. So the way Skydog has implemented it…they are saying, ‘You know what, we want to just curate the good stuff for kids.’”

The big key here is that although there are different recommendations about the what, how, and when children can access the Internet, the webRover feature allows ultimate control to be left up to the parents. And that deserves a little sigh of relief!

Download our Internet-use contract so your kids know the rules before they log in online!

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

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How to Make New Parents Even Crazier

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The interwebs are abuzz with the Mimo, a baby bodysuit with a sensor attached that allows parents to track their child’s temperature, breathing, position, and so on from their smartphone. I saw it at a trade show last September and dismissed it, because 1) it’s creepy to have a sensor attached to your baby outside of an obvious medical situation 2) it’s $200! for the starter kit and 3) new parents need to sleep when their baby sleeps, not track each breath on their smart phone.

But the Consumer Electronics Show and one Today Show segment later, everyone is excited about how this will change the baby-monitoring world, and maybe it will. After all, a good video baby monitor costs about $200 (or more). And traditional baby monitors often have cords, which are a safety hazard, so maybe having the sensor stuck right on the baby’s outfit is best. The bodysuit is machine-washable, Mimo promises, and presumably can take the spit up/vomit/explosive diaper happenings that come with a baby. 

On the flip side, my brother and his wife are using a nap app, Sprout’s Baby Sleep Tracker, with my niece right now, and I am unsure if it is making them more relaxed parents or making them feel like scientists studying data. Presuming you put your baby in a safe sleep environment, does it matter to have a graph showing whether the last nap was 20 minutes or 40? I look at the bar graphs that the Mimo produces and I start to get agitated. A friend with a newborn posted to Facebook, in regards to Mimo, “Oh yeah. This won’t give me a nervous breakdown.”

Like most things in the baby world, whether or not you “need” something like the Mimo will come down to your personality and lifestyle. Does a flood of information calm you down, or key you up? Do you love tech, and consider yourself an early adopter? Or are you happier doing things the low-tech way? There is no right or wrong answer. Different strokes for different folks.

We are huge safe-sleep proponents here and do like that the Mimo promotes back sleep and teaches parents to watch things such as temperature (overbundling your baby, daytime or nighttime, polar-vortex or no, is a SIDS risk). Here’s a video with some more safe-sleep reminders. And what do you think, would you buy the Mimo?

How to Create a Safe Crib
How to Create a Safe Crib
How to Create a Safe Crib

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Play the Latest Sesame Street Apps!

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Who doesn’t remember loving Sesame Street as a child? I was so obsessed that my parents got Big Bird to come to my fifth birthday party, a day that still goes down in infamy among my family.

These days, Sesame Street’s educational and award-winning story lines aren’t just for television. The show now tops children’s learning in the digital sphere as well. Parents got the chance to check out some of the program’s latest apps, all designed for children 5 and under to expand their creativity. 

1. Big Bird’s Words, $0.99
Recently launched on Google Play (and soon on iTunes), Big Bird’s Words is an app that uses verbal cues to teach vocabulary. In the game, Big Bird and your child help Sesame Street’s friends find items on their lists, such as shopping for Cookie Monster at the grocery store. Once everything is checked off, kids can explore further by taking pictures of everyday objects matching each item and learning additional related words.
2. Elmo’s Story Maker, $3.99 
Based off Sesame Street’s “Elmo The Musical” segment, this app for iPad and Kindle allows kids to tell a story from beginning to end. They can choose or create their own characters and pick special objects as the tale plays out. The app reads your story out loud, or you can make a special recording. Later, share with family and friends through email or social media.

3. Sesame Street Family Play, $0.99 
Lacking inspiration for new games to play with your kids? The Family Play app available on iTunes features 150 ideas! Whether you’re at home or on-the-go, this generator will help you find an activity based on location, number of kids, and objects around you. Each idea encourages playtime outside the screen, proving technology isn’t totally necessary for a good time.

 

Also on our radar: Sesame Go, a video-on-demand service that will offer content from the show on any web-based application. Currently in Beta testing, the service will be available to fans in the next few months, proving Sesame Street really is just about everywhere you look…or click and tap.

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Google’s Latest and Greatest

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Google Glass DemonstrationI’ve seen the future–maybe–and it is Google. But you knew that already, no?

I was among a group of journalists invited to an event yesterday in which Google showed off some of their latest and greatest products, including the much-discussed Google Glass (worn by a Google staffer in the photo at the right). In a space set up to simulate a household, they showed, room-by-room, the magic that Google applications can make.

The presenters kept reiterating that Google knows “everyone is on the go,” and has designed its products to cater to that busy lifestyle. That’s doubly true for us parents, whether we’re running after the little ones, or carpooling the older ones. To that end, here are some of the highlights of what  saw at the event:

Voice-Activated Search
Voice search has come a long way. Using the Google search app from your mobile device, click the microphone icon and speak your query. On Android devices, it will speak right back at you, but that isn’t available on my iPhone, where I have to settle for it following my commands silently. Its ability to understand what you’re saying is solid, and beyond just searching the web, you can ask for directions, add items to your calendar, and send emails, all without typing.

Nutritional Information
Food-related searches will now bring up full nutritional information on foods. So you’ll be able to say exactly how many calories that slice of pizza will set you back or how much protein that smoothie will give you. This just launched today, so it’s hot off the presses.

Google Glass
What would a look at Google and the future be without discussing Google Glass, that tiny, wearable computer that clips onto your eyeglass frame? I didn’t get to try it, but did watch a demonstration, which helped me understand both the “what” and “why” of this technology. Glass is an attempt to address two paradoxical problems: We tend to walk around with our faces glued to our phones, while at the same time, we’ve all wished we could get to our phones–the camera, especially–quicker, before missing that unique moment. Glass sits just above your field of vision and is controlled by a swipe or tap of your finger, and significantly, your voice. Record a video, snap a picture, get step-by-step directions as you walk, send an email, all without breaking stride or burying your face in a phone. Imagine being able to actually capture your child’s first steps on video–while also being there to catch her when she stumbles.

Will it catch on? Only time will tell. Now, how about the self-driving car?

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Parents Daily News Roundup

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Child Care Centers Overhaul  Proposed By Federal Health Officials
Federal health officials say they will propose Thursday to overhaul federally funded child care centers across the country, beefing up safety standards including background and fingerprint checks for employees and requiring states to better monitor the facilities. (via Huffington Post)

Slightly high lead tied to less reading readiness
Children with even slightly elevated blood lead levels are less likely to be ready to read when starting kindergarten, according to a new study. (via Reuters)

Cracking the Tech Job Talent Crunch by Teaching Kids to Code
For all the parents losing sleep over their kids’ prospects in such a tightfisted job market, I can see at least one recourse: teach them how to code. The earlier, the better.(via Huffington Post)

Judge declines to nix ’79 NYC child-killing case
A man charged with murder decades after one of the nation’s most infamous child disappearances can be brought to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday, turning down the man’s claim that the case was too thin to proceed. (via Yahoo News)

Pop-Tart Gun Suspension: Attorney For Suspended Student Says No Resolution Has Been Reached With School
An attorney for the family of an Anne Arundel County 7-year-old suspended from school after being accused of nibbling a pastry into the shape of a gun says he met with school officials Wednesday in an attempt have the student’s suspension expunged, but no resolution was reached. (via Reuters)

Parents sue South Carolina, hospital over child’s sex assignment surgery
A couple filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state of South Carolina for what they say was an unnecessary sexual assignment surgery performed on a toddler they later adopted. (via Fox News)

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