Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Can you imagine life without a computer or an internet connection? In an age where cell phones, tablets, and eReaders are common in houses across the country and kids go home to conduct research for homework online using personal computers, it’s hard to imagine that there are households that don’t have home computers with access to the internet but they exist. The inequality of access to digital technology is often referred to as the “digital divide” but Estella Pyfrom travels Florida’s Gold Coast in her Brilliant Bus, bringing technology to those in need.
Pyfrom is a 76 year old retired educator who, after an illustrious career teaching and serving as a counselor, invested her pension in a bus outfitted with 17 computer workstations. She and her team of volunteers visit underserved neighborhoods that don’t have access to technology in the Palm Beach County area, making stops at day care centers, community events, and community centers in places such as The Glades and Vero Beach.
“When we go into a neighborhood, we listen and try to structure our activities based on the needs,” Pyfrom stated during a recent phone interview.
Families with children as young as 3 years old get access to pre-kindergarten curriculum that helps prepare kids for school by teaching reading readiness skills and includes diagnostics. High school students have the opportunity to use online curriculum to prepare for Florida’s state standardized tests, college standardized tests, and the GED. All curriculum taught on the Brilliant Bus is correlated to national Common Core standards, Florida state standards, and district standards.
Pyfrom believes that aligning the curriculum on the Brilliant Bus with what is taught in schools helps further a child’s learning. “When we’re in communication with kids, they understand. When we’re talking to teachers, we’re talking the same language.”
In order to know what each child and family within the community needs, Pyfrom says she asks. “As we’re talking to kids and adults, we find out on the very first visit how many have internet and don’t.”
In addition to providing online curriculum to meet the needs of the populations that the Brilliant Bus serves, Pyfrom also ensures that she spreads the word about Comcast Internet Essentials, a program that provides qualifying applicants with access to the internet and a laptop for $9.95/month. According to Pyfrom, this helps “bridge the gap between those who have computers and those who don’t.” It also provides families with “constant access to the online curriculum 24/7.”
Since Estella’s Brilliant Bus began serving communities in 2011, she estimates that she has spent $900,000. Funds for a majority of the bus’ expenses have come from Pyfrom’s personal retirement and community partners such as Boca Raton based Office Depot who provided $20,000 worth of computers, tablets, digital cameras, webcams, Microsoft Office software, office supplies, and financial support. However, when this school year ends, Pyfrom is concerned about additional support for new computers to replace outdated ones and office supplies.
More information about Estella’s Brilliant Bus can be found through her website and donations for her nonprofit can be accepted through Office Depot’s REAL Change by selecting Estella via Pahokee Middle-Senior High.
Image courtesy of EstellasBrilliantBus.org
Friday, April 12th, 2013
The technology infused world that our children are growing up in includes social interactions that occur in real life and online through virtual worlds and mobile devices. As parents, we’re continually challenged to keep up with the newest forms of technology and methods to teach our kids about safe online behaviors. One of the best ways to teach kids about appropriate social interactions and social networking in an age appropriate way is through Club Penguin.
With over 200 million kids and their penguins populating the online game, Club Penguin is the most popular virtual world for kids. Often called a social network on training wheels, the game serves as an introduction to the online world for kids ages 6 and above. It also provides a multitude of learning opportunities for children and parents alike. During a recent visit to company headquarters, I received an inside look at this virtual world and discovered five things that children can learn through play in the Club Penguin world.
Online safety— From the start of game play, kids begin learning about online safety as they create their penguin name and avatar. Children can be as creative as they want as they name their penguin but each name is reviewed by a member of the human global moderation team that consists of over 200 people in four locations. Moderators check to ensure that kids aren’t giving up any personally identifying information, such as first or last name and address, in their screen name before being allowed to enter the Club Penguin community.
Creative imaginative play— Club Penguin is a world where kids can be creative and use their imaginations to decorate their igloos with an assortment of items, dress their penguin, and devise creative ways to use the props found in the environment. Chris Heatherly, Vice President of Disney Interactive Worlds (aka Spike Hike in the penguin world), believes “Club Penguin is like a cardboard box. We give kids the tools and let them make the play.” The team spends a lot of time listening to conversations between penguins in the online world to incorporate ideas into the products they make. “Anytime an idea comes from a kid, it’s more powerful than when it comes from us,” says Heatherly.
Empowerment through community— Club Penguin recognizes that kids need a place where they can play and be who they are. Heatherly “encourages kids to be wacky, crazy, be themselves” because “the more YOU you are, the better.” Kids are empowered to express themselves through online game play in a world that’s free of judgment. Creative Lead, Charity Gerbrandt (aka Grasstain), shared Club Penguin “will love and support you and want you to share your crazy ideas that inspire you.”
Appropriate online behavior- Despite the freedom to be creative, Heatherly recognizes that “kids need to feel safe to have fun.” Heatherly recognizes that kids will be kids and test the boundaries of what is acceptable versus what crosses the line but Club Penguin has a variety of tools in place to ensure safety in the community. Players in the Club Penguin world have the ability to report other penguins for inappropriate behavior with the click of a button on a penguin’s profile. Reports are reviewed by the global moderation team who specializes in pop culture with an eye on trends in music and television to ensure that conversation is appropriate. Reminders about behavior are sent but kids can also be banned from Club Penguin. The first infraction comes with a 24 hour ban, a 72 hour ban for the second, and a lifetime ban for the third.
Charitable giving and social good— Since Club Penguin was founded in 2005, the company founders have given a percentage of membership fees to charitable projects that help children and families around the world. The company works to empower employees to participate in community projects while Club Penguin inspires kids to make a difference through their Coins for Change campaign. Coins earned during game play can be used personally to purchase items to personalize their igloo, outfit their penguin, take care of their pet puffles or donated through Coins for Change. Kids vote about what causes to support through their coin donations. To date, Club Penguin has donated over $10 million since 2007 to help over 200,000 children and their families each year in over 40 countries around the world. The impact of Coins for Change demonstrates that kids don’t have to wait to be adults to make a difference. Nicole Rustad, Club Penguin’s Corporate Citizenship Program Director who heads up the Coins for Change, says “we believe that kids can be leaders today and they can change the world through what we do on a daily basis and around the world.”
Club Penguin logo courtesy of Disney Interactive
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
If you have a tween, chances are you’ve heard about Minecraft. Minecraft is a game that requires using cubes to create or survive in an imaginary world in an online virtual environment where game play occurs individually or collaboratively. Game play can occur in a variety of different ways ranging from on a Mac or PC, on an Xbox, or through the mobile versions available for iOS and Android devices.
If your child has convinced you to purchase Minecraft for them and you’ve watched them play but are feeling a little lost, the new Minecraft for Dummies book can help. Written by 16 year old Jacob Cordeiro, Minecraft for Dummies is a 140 primer on everything you need to know about the virtual world. It’s an easy to read book for kids who want to know more about the game and strategy and also for parents who want to feel more educated about what their kids are doing when they’re playing Minecraft.
Between spring break and high school midterms, I had the opportunity to interview Jacob via email about Minecraft to get his perspective on who the game is most appropriate for, online safety risks that come with playing the multiplayer version, and educational benefits of gaming.
Tech Savvy Parents (TSP): Minecraft seems to be growing in popularity among my daughter’s third grade peers. How old were you when you first started playing and what age do you think Minecraft is most age appropriate for?
Jacob Cordeiro (JC): I think I was 13 when I started seriously playing Minecraft, but I think that it’s an appropriate game for all ages, because there are so many ways to regulate difficulty to your personal skill level.
TSP: For parents who are hesitant to purchase Minecraft, can you describe the educational benefits?
JC: While it doesn’t directly say so, Minecraft is a very educational game both in single player and multiplayer mode; in addition to providing an outlet for creative world-building, it teaches resource management, fundamental economics, theoretical survival skills and even programming. I’ve used it as a building tool for solving math problems, and have employed the “redstone” power system to practice circuitry and logic. Looking back, Minecraft has been a major catalyst for most of my creativity, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
TSP: What are the benefits and drawbacks of a single player versus a multiplayer game?
JC: Multiplayer mode is also a great social network, allowing players to survive together, trade, duel or simply interact in the same world. While the economics can become more society-oriented, it’s a great way to share your creative universe. In addition, Multiplayer servers can use modifications that allow for massive games of capture the flag, collaborative building or any other game the community can create.
TSP: Are there online safety risks associated with playing with others through the multiplayer game and is there an age you think it’s most appropriate for?
JC: It’s a safe way of sharing data and is appropriate for any age, though younger players might want to set up small worlds with each other rather than logging in to unfiltered public servers.
TSP: Can you speak to the differences of Minecraft as a computer game versus the iPad version? Are there advantages to playing it on a PC versus on a mobile device?
JC: Minecraft also supports platforms such as the Android, iPad and Xbox, with controls that fit the device. The PC version is much more developed, with a vast amount of content, but it’s always interesting to take your worlds to the Xbox, or edit your world on a touchscreen and take it with you on your iPad or Android.
Nature in computerized, day and leaves of the squares via Shutterstock
Friday, April 5th, 2013
Stylish and versatile bags that do double duty as a bag to carry professionally and personally are true treasures. Gone are the days of the dedicated diaper bag. Today’s mom wants a multitasking bag that that can function as a diaper bag when the kids are little but grow with them and her. From a day of meetings to a day off at the park, here are four must-have bags for any mom to consider.
Holly Aiken bags are somewhat of a legend in North Carolina where they are designed and built. Charlotte area native, Lisa Frame who blogs at Daily Pinch speaks highly of her large Turbo in the Paspartou pattern. “My Holly Aiken bag is stylish, yet functional. I use it for everyday, as well as for work. It will hold a MacBook Pro, 2 video cameras, an iPad, a Kindle Fire and my camera, not counting my makeup kit, wallet, and iPhone without straining. I’ve had my bag for three years and it still looks like it’s brand new and I wouldn’t trade it for another.” The large Turbo measures 12” high x 16” wide x 5” deep with a 12” strap drop is roomy, comfortable to carry, and made of durable vinyl that wipes clean, making it look as new as the day you got it.
Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, Rock Flower Paper bags feature gorgeous patterns that range from subtle to bold nature themes, are affordably priced, and well made for every day use. The Weekender Tote line is a new favorite of mine thanks to a roomy interior measuring 14” x 16” x 9” that provides room for clothes and a laptop in a sleeve and has a zipper to keep everything inside during your travels. Features abound to keep you organized on the go. There are organizational pockets inside and out and the option of wearing the shoulder strap or carrying it by the handles provides versatility. The all cotton bag has a water resistant lining for easy cleaning, making it great for carrying to work, the park, the beach, on family trips, and wherever life’s journeys take you.
J.J. Cole bags are commonly found in baby product stores but Thien Kim Lam from I’m Not the Nanny is on her third bag from the company. She loves the gorgeous prints that they come in and the spacious interior. “It’s roomy and has plenty of pockets which come in handy when you’re carrying around a myriad of baby gear and your wallet, keys, lipstick, etc.” Lam currently carries the J.J. Cole Caprice tote in Vintage Poppy that allows her to “fit my basic things like my wallet, keys, camera, a diapers, a change of clothes for Jaxson and still have room to stuff in my current book and my iPad with room to spare. ”
Best known for high quality travel products, Eagle Creek Travel Gear Emersen Daypack isn’t really a backpack at all. It’s a stylish shoulder bag that is great for travel, for commuters to use during their daily commutes, and even as a tote when you’re with the kids. As with all Eagle Creek products, organizational features abound in this bag. There are interior pockets for your smartphone, pens, and zippered pockets to hold keys and other small items. A toggle closure secures your computer inside a padded compartment that is generously sized to fit a 17” laptop.
Happy Young Beautiful Woman Looking At Hand Bag via Shutterstock
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
Family air travel can be stressful for even the most travel savvy parents who rack up frequent flier miles for business trips. All parents are put to the test when it comes to traveling with kids in tow. Managing extra bodies and bags in the same lines that you are used to doing solo, dealing with unexpected surprises of air travel and the impact on your children, and hoping that fellow passengers are understanding of wiggly kids in flight are elements that are not present during work trips. Even if you’re not an experienced business traveler, use these six tips to prep your family for an upcoming flight to appear like a travel pro.
Let your kids know what to expect at the airport. While you talk about your upcoming trip, include important information about what to expect before the plane takes off. Discuss getting boarding passes and checking bags, the security lines (kids under 12 can leave their shoes on), and waiting to board the flight. Helpful books for young kids include Helpful books for young kids include Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport or Flying by Donald Crews.
Pack together. Whether packing in-flight entertainment or outfits for the duration of your trip, it’s always a good idea to involve your child. This ensures that your toddler has their favorite stuffed animal, your preschooler has a couple books that are familiar to be read at bedtime, your persnickity tween has a wardrobe that you both agree upon, and your teen has remembered the many chargers needed for their digital devices.
Have a discussion about in-flight manners. This is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about respect and how to ensure that they’re respectful of everyone they may encounter during their trip. Remind them to look the flight attendants in the eye during beverage service and to say please and thank you. Talk about how to respect fellow passengers by limiting the sprawl of their belongings to the area in front of their seat and their seat back pocket, being gentle with the tray table, talking in quiet voices, and not kicking the seat in front of them.
Purchase new things to keep kids entertained. Load up your smartphone with new apps, purchase episodes of a favorite TV show or movies to watch on your tablet or laptop, and invest in some new markers, crayons, or stickers. Having new and novel items that your kids haven’t seen before will help keep them occupied on your flight.
Bend the household rules when it comes to screen time. To preserve everyone’s sanity once you’re in the air, throw screen time limits out the window. Let your child drain the battery on your smartphone for an Angry Birds playing marathon, deactivate Kindle Free Time screen limits, and let them watch movies back to back if needed.
Compliment them on a job well done. Make sure your kids know you recognize their good behavior by telling them how well they’ve behaved during the trip. If fellow passengers compliment them, be sure to let them know that others recognized what good travelers they were too.
Family in the airport via Shutterstock