Archive for the ‘ Must Read ’ Category

Bing for Schools and Comcast Internet Essentials Promote Digital Literacy in Schools and for Families

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Kids are growing up in a world where connectivity is part of life and digital literacy is an expectation but in many schools, shrinking budgets are causing districts to do more for less. Pricey hardware plus time and money for teacher professional development along with the resources to support ongoing education for our kids to ensure they’re using current tools to provide them with the skills they need for the future can be a challenge. Thankfully company initiatives are helping strapped school systems and financially challenged families get the hardware and connectivity they need to prepare this next generation of learners with the digital literacy skills they need for their future. Please share these two great initiatives with your child’s school to ensure that they can take advantage of offers for free hardware and spread the word about how families can get affordable internet access.

Bing For Schools

Bing for School is a new initiative focused on digital literacy for students that puts technology in classrooms, helps students learn how to use the power of search through helpful lesson plans that teach critical thinking with technology, and allows them to practice what they’re learning in a safe, supportive, and ad-free environment. By signing up for Bing Rewards, community members earn credits for Bing searches and the credits are given the school of their choice. When schools earn enough credits, Bing for Schools sends a Surface RT with a Touch Cover. Unlike other programs where it takes a long time to aggregate credits to realize the rewards, Bing estimates that with 60 parents/community members using Bing Rewards, a school can earn a tablet a month! Bing has also created a safe search environment that removes ads from Bing search results for any school district and private school that registers for kids, school districts, and private schools that register for the Bing School pilot. Bing believes that schools should be ad-free zones, free of adult content, and privacy enhancements used to ensure that kids’ data isn’t being monetized.  School administrators can register at and parents can encourage their kids’ schools to participate by visiting

Comcast Internet Essentials

We don’t hear much about the digital divide that President Bill Clinton discussed during his presidency but while it may not be talked about, it still exists. In an attempt to provide more families with access to home computers that are connected to the internet, Comcast Internet Essentials makes accessibility affordable by providing qualified families with computers for $149.99 and monthly internet access for $9.99/month to help eliminate the digital divide.  Comcast offers free learning tools through their Online Learning Center that offers videos and tutorialsassistance in locating an in person internet training classlessons in social media, and links to aid in an online job search to help families increase digital literacy skills by providing computer training and teaching users how to navigate the internet.

Portrait of two schoolgirls looking at the laptop during lesson via Shutterstock

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6 Children’s Author Websites For Families to Learn Beyond the Book

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Every family has their favorite authors and in many homes, these are the books that you find yourself reading over and over again to your children night after night after night. While they may get old to you, they’re never old to your kids. The words and pictures often leave them clamoring to know more about the author, their inspiration, and favorite characters.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, many authors enable families to continue the education beyond the book thanks to interactive sites featuring games with delightful characters, videos, answers to the questions your kids have probably asked you about their favorite author, tutorials on drawing the creatures on the pages of the dog-eared book you so often read, and printables to color and adorn their walls. Here are six popular children’s book authors and illustrators whose phenomenal sites allow for families to explore a world beyond the book. As always, parents should preview the sites first to ensure they’re age appropriate for their child and then introduce it by sitting down together to take a look.

Kevin Henkes— Kids who identify with Owen’s attachment to his yellow blanket, delight in Lily antics with or without her purple plastic purse, and are inspired by Sheila Rae the Brave will love learning more about their favorite author on his beautifully done website that is chock full of videos where you can meet the author and get his perspective on your favorite books. A six minute video called Meet Kevin Henkes is fun to watch together to get a look inside the author’s studio, his early inspirations, and creative process.  Homeschooling parents and teachers will love downloadable activities for many popular books, including the Lily books, along with teaching and discussion guides for books like Penny and Her Song, Bird Lake Moon, Olive’s Ocean, and Junonia.

Grace Lin— For many years, Round is Mooncake was my daughter’s favorite book. The beautiful illustrations by Grace Lin captivated her while teaching her about our Chinese heritage. I love Lin’s site because it allows families to learn about a different culture.  Kids can learn Chinese with the correct pronunciation audio guides and character studies from The Ugly Vegetables and Where The Mountain Meets the Moon and are treated to a new Chinese word a day on her blog. It’s also fun to go on a virtual field trip of her studio, get ideas for crafts inspired by her different books, and read about the other careers she could have pursued based on her interests though she’s glad to be a children’s book illustrator!

Eric Carle— Well known for over 40 books, Eric Carle is a favorite in many homes across the country where children have memorized the words of his stories. While the text is memorable, so are his unique illustrations. Slideshows featuring how Carle paints his tissue papers, creates pictures, and made collages for Mister Seahorse can be found on his site. There’s also a short video of Carle reading his famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar that is fun for young fans to see. For families teaching their kids another language, there’s also an audio gallery of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in simplified and complex Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Lithuania, Maori, and Norwegian on his site.

Jan Brett— This fall Jan Brett is visiting 24 cities and towns as part  of a tour for her new book, CINDERS a chicken Cinderella. Her site provides dates and locations of tour stops for her book talk and illustration demonstrations. If Brett isn’t visiting a city near you, her site features a wealth of activities for her many books, video drawing tutorials to help her fans learn to draw favorite animals from her stories, virtual ecards and printable cards, coloring pages, and so much more! It’s easy to get lost on her site looking at the amazing resources she’s made available for fans of all ages.

Mo Willems— Mo Willems’ site is just as fun as his books. Sure, kids can get to know Mo but the content is really the shining star of Willems sites. There are multiple links from the main that lead kids and parents to different microsites with tons of content. features interactive games, like the Bedtime Game, Spot the Dinosaur, Alligator Wants to Play, and Knuffle Bunny’s Baggage Claim Game, that include audio cues where the directions are read to young learners who aren’t quite reading independently. They’re easy for preschoolers to play plus provide plenty of encouragement thanks to positive reinforcement. Parents will love that the audio can also be turned off. Fans of the Pigeon books will enjoy an entire website devoted to Pigeon-centric activities like games, coloring pages, information about favorite characters, and teacher and parent stuff like teacher guides and event kits.

Tomie dePaolaHaving written and/illustrated over 200 books for children, Tomie dePaola is truly an inspiration for kids. Kids can learn more about Tomie (the frequently asked questions section is particularly fun!) while also learning about his creative writing and illustration process on his site. Mr. dePaola’s website also provides contact information for young fans and classes to write him a letter.

Portrait of happy family with two children reading at home via Shutterstock

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7 Tips and Resources to Keep Your Family Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

After settling into a new school year, it’s only a matter of time until the weather starts to get cooler and cold and flu season starts. The common cold results in 22 million lost days of school for students meaning millions of days of lost learning and millions of opportunities for students to fall behind.

Regardless of how much handwashing and antibacterial gel you use, how insistent you are about taking at trip to the sink to rid little hands of germs upon setting foot into your house, or the fact that your family has gotten yearly flu shots, there is always a chance that you could get sick. Since being sick is never any fun for parents and kids alike, here are six helpful tips and resources to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season.

Teach good hygiene to keep kids healthy. Research shows that teaching good hygiene habits, such as hand washing, can help eliminate lost school days by 26 percent. The Healthy Habits Program reinforces the practice of healthy habits in helping to keep students well through three key areas of healthy habits: hand/surface hygiene, nutrition and physical activity. This collaborative effort from the PTA, National Education Association (NEA), and Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides teachers and parents with downloadable materials to help educate students and families about healthy habits through ready-to-use, standardized lesson plans, a year-long activity calendar for parents, a classroom supply list, tips on helping families and classrooms to stay and healthy, and more.

Be aware of the different illnesses that are more common among certain age groups and how they spread. The Healthy Habits Program provides helpful information about the kinds of illnesses more commonly spread among young children (ages 3-5) compared to elementary school ages and older students.

Know the difference between cold and flu symptoms. The cold and flu have some common symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes but there are also distinct symptoms of each illness. Knowing the symptoms helps parents figure out what their child has faster in order to provide relief in the form of over the counter medicine.

Have the right medicines on hand to treat symptoms. According to statistics from and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), 5 out of 10 parents report that over the counter medicines have helped keep their child from missing school. Make sure that your medicine cabinet is well-stocked and has a variety of over the counter medicines for adults and kids that aren’t expired.

Know how to administer over the counter medicine safely. Often times symptoms are the worst at night and rather than desperately grabbing for whatever you might have on hand, make sure you have the right medicine to treat the symptoms and you’re administering it as directed on the Drug Facts label.

Know possible prescription drug interactions. According to, cold and flu medicines have active ingredients that are designed to treat four basic categories of symptoms including pain/fever, coughing, thick mucus, and a congested nose. Refer to this handy chart to check to make sure that what you’re giving yourself won’t interact with any prescription medication you might be taking.

Store medicine up and away. Sometimes it’s too easy for us to forget to store medicine out of reach of small hands especially when we’ve been up all night taking care of a sick child but leaving medicines out on the counter is not safe. wants to keep families safe by ensuring that everyone is storing medicines safely and practicing safe medicine disposal.

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5 Free Sites That Make Volunteering Easy

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Volunteering doesn’t have to be hard. There are often many jobs that teachers, extra curricular activity leaders, and sports coaches would love to have help with. These free websites make managing, coordinating, and even polling volunteers easier so you can dedicate more time to providing assistance where it’s needed.

Parents, teachers and room moms who are coordinating activities at school, teams, Scouts and groups can use VolunteerSpot. VolunteerSpot saves time and allows ANYONE  to create a schedule of jobs or items needed and invite volunteers to sign up for a day and time with a single click or tap either through a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Volunteers get a confirmation and reminder of what they’ve signed up for so they don’t forget and the organizer just has to take a look at the VolunteerSpot calendar to see what spaces are filled and by whom. VolunteerSpot invites teachers and parents to give VolunteerSpot a try for the opportunity to win $1500 for your school by pledging to volunteer in the classroom this year. Teachers can enter to win 2 iPad Minis (one for them, one for their classroom!) by agreeing to try VolunteerSpot. Enter on the VolunteerSpot site before September 15.

Room parents trying to coordinate treats for a class party will appreciate the ease of Sign Up Genius. A coordinator creates a sign up form, indicating how many of each item they need for the class party and invite parents to sign up via email. Parents will get a direct link to the Sign Up Genius form where they can indicate what they can bring among the list of items. It’s also a helpful tool for coordinating events and potlucks for clubs, groups, and sports teams too.

It’s often helpful to coordinate meals around the birth of a new baby, illness, or death in the family and Lotsa Helping Hands is a site that makes it easy for each person to know what to do and when. A calendar makes it easy to schedule and sign up for tasks such as meals, rides to appointments, and visits and reminders are sent so no one forgets. The Community Building Feature is a great one that allows caregivers to communicate with each other through message boards, sharing photos, and even sending well wishes to the family.

If your school community is small, a Facebook Group could be the perfect communication tool for parents who are also friends on the social network. It’s easy to create a private group and add individuals but if you’re not a regular Facebook user, you may forget to check the group for posts asking for help.

Looking to create a database, send out a survey, or collect information from parents or the community? Google Forms are the way to go. Google Forms can be used by teachers to establish a spreadsheet of contact information for parents, create a database of expertise among parents for Career Day, or even ask community members to weigh in on different topics of interest to the school.

Volunteer group hands together showing unity via Shutterstock

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7 Ways to Be a Good Neighbor While Teaching Kindness with Daniel Tiger on Neighbor Day (Sept. 2)

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Every adult who grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood remembers the iconic show’s theme song but the idea of being a good neighbor is an important concept that can be taught to kids at the youngest ages. What does it mean to be a good neighbor? One of the fundamental skills involved is kindness. Kindness can be taught in many ways beginning at the youngest ages but it also needs to be modeled by adults and reinforced in a variety of different ways.

To celebrate the upcoming Labor Day Neighbor Day with Daniel Tiger this Monday, September 2, PBSKids provides the following seven suggestions for families to help teach children kindness while getting to know your neighbors and neighborhood better.

  • Go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt with this downloadable PDF from PBS Kids. Featuring words and icons, it’s a great tool to reinforce early literacy skills while taking a walk on the sidewalks near your home.
  • Invite some friends for a neighborhood game day and have them bring their favorite game. Things like flying kites, playing hopscotch, and jumping rope are always better with friends.
  • Have a potluck at a park or central location to spend some time getting to know each other and having a face to face conversation.
  • Create a sidewalk chalk art murals where everyone gets to exercise artistic abilities to make your neighborhood a little more colorful.
  • Arrange a neighborhood book swap/swap meet to share your family’s favorite books with others.
  • Play the Make a Card game on This interactive game gives children a way to create a card for someone they care about and helps them know that everyone in the world, young and old, is a giver and a receiver.
  • Have a Daniel Tiger’s Neighbor Day viewing party on Monday, Sept. 2. In this half hour special, Daniel learns how good it feels to be neighborly and that one kind act can lead to many. His first good deed starts a chain reaction of kindness all around the Neighborhood, culminating with the declaration of “Neighbor Day” where kids will be encouraged to do something nice for a neighbor. If you can’t wait for the special Neighbor Day episodes, episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are available on and the PBS KIDS Video app.

Additional activities and resources for parents can be found on the Daniel Tiger Neighbor Day website. The Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood parents site also has a lot of good advice from Mister Rogers, including an article on Fred Rogers wisdom on making friends and an article by PBS Parents about helping your child make new friends.

Image courtesy of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood © 2013 The Fred Rogers Company

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