Archive for the ‘ Tech Savvy Parents ’ Category

Farewell to Tech Savvy Parents

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

For the past two years it’s been my pleasure to write for, sharing technology tips, the latest gadgets, and educational tools for families through Tech Savvy Parents. Even though I will no longer be updating this column, previous posts will always be accessible for your reading pleasure.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting on the 185 posts I’ve written over the past two years. I hope you will continue to follow me on my personal blog, Tech Savvy Mama, where I will continue to assist parents in navigating the ever-changing world of technology and through other social media channels such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Customer service telephone assistance concept via Shutterstock

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5 Tips for Capturing Great Photos of Kids

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The holiday offers for photo cards are flooding our mailbox and inbox, making me feel the pressure to capture the perfect shot to describe our kids and year in a single image. We’ve hired professional photographers from time to time to capture family shots but this year we’ll be taking our own pictures. The ritual of dressing up, going to an unfamiliar place, and trying to relax for someone you don’t know so well can be especially trying on kids and parents who know that the clock is ticking and need that perfect shot. This year take the pressure off you and your kids by taking your own photos with tips from the pros.

Well known for gorgeous images in each issue, National Geographic is always eye candy for the soul and the very talented Dan Westergren, Director of Photography for National Geographic Travel, and National Geographic Kids Photo Editor, Kelley Miller, are here to provide the following tips to help you capture the most stunning images.

Take photos of kids in an environment that they’re comfortable in. Miller often shoots photos of animals and feels that the landscape shows a sense of space that provides scale and dimension. The same can be said for growing kids. With your couch or favorite playthings around them, it’s easy to see how big they’ve grown but how little they were when you look back at your photos from year to year.

Take pictures in a place where there’s something to capture kids’ interest. Westergren says that a common mistake is to document children in front of recognizable landmarks that can be the “recipe for boring pictures.” It makes it easier to get children together if they find something of interest that keeps them actively engaged.

Prevent awkward smiles and posed photos. Westergren often asks his subjects to “to relax their mouths, then close their eyes and open them when I count to three.” Or he suggests a fake out by framing the scene and just waiting. While you may not get the most perfect smiles, “the photos that emerge will be a more meaningful expression of their personality.” Miller likes to “pursue the personality” of the subject she’s shotting.

Go for motion. Some of my personal favorite photos of our kids involve them jumping or running. It’s so fun to look back at pictures where they’re giving it their all with their feet off the ground. It’s playful and fun and captures their personality but taking action shots can be tricky. Miller suggests “get as close as you can to action. Timing is everything” and a slower shutter speed can also help.

Be creative with your shot. Different angles, zooming in for that closeup, changing the color to black and white, and making the individual stand out by using a simple background or a shallow depth of field are ways that Miller says will help your kids leap out of the printed photo.

For more tips on taking great family photos, visit Dan Westergren’s How to Photograph Kids piece on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel.

Couple and children taking family picture via Shutterstock

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8 Ways to Incorporate Geography into At-Home Learning

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Geography Awareness Week is a celebration in honor of the 125th anniversary of National Geographic and an opportunity to promote geo-literacy in kids so they get to know what’s around them and can build on their knowledge to have a better understanding of world geography. The world is a big place and can be quite overwhelming for small children but there are many ways we can incorporate learning about the world around us to teach our kids about the places where we live and the larger world.

Since Geography Awareness Week is November 17-23, it’s a great time to make an effort to incorporate more geography into your family’s learning because there’s so much that can be done easily. If you don’t know where to start, here are eight things to do with your kids to make them more geographically aware.

Start small. For young kids, the world is a big place and it’s best to start with things they know. Start by getting to know your immediate neighborhood and recognizable landmarks such as your street, best friend’s house, their school, and other places you frequent like the grocery store, favorite restaurants, and neighborhood shops. This helps build knowledge about a place they’re familiar with and when they’re ready, expand their horizons and incorporate adjacent towns and then to your state as they get older. Since visuals are always helpful, work together to draw a simple map of your neighborhood or use this free printable neighborhood map from Crayola.

Take a road trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling five minutes or five hours but before you hop in the car, talk about where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Show your children where you live on a map and where your destination is in relation to where you live. This helps develop spatial sense and can serve as a way of introducing direction like north, south, east, and west. Keep an atlas in the car such as National Geographic Kids United States Atlas or Ultimate Road Trip Atlas. Both are laid out nicely that makes it fun to browse and having them readily available in the back seat pocket of the car means they’re more likely to pick them up and learn at their own pace.

Explore a new place with a virtual field trip. While it’s great to be able to travel, a virtual field trip can be a wonderful way to learn about places in our country and around the world. Spark your child’s interest by sitting down and browsing through the vivid photos from the Windows Travel App that will spark conversation and drive a desire to learn more. In addition to gorgeous photos, the Travel App also features an overview of the location pictured, maps, weather conditions, and tons of great information to facilitate learning about a new place.

Learn while you’re in the car. Listen carefully to your vehicle’s navigation system. So many times we’re focused on getting to where we need to go that we forget how much learning can be done by listing to the voice. Younger kids can pick up on street names and direction while older kids get a sense how your travels connect to the area beyond where you live. If you don’t have an in-car navigation system, printed maps from Google Maps work just fine and are a wonderful way to provide an overview of where you’re going and how to get there. I often prefer having a printed map than relying on my car’s navigation system because it provides me with an overview of the area where I’m headed.

Think about geography in terms of food. Have a favorite restaurant that serves a different kind of food? Visit that restaurant and bring an atlas to look at while you wait. Talk about where the country is in the world, what the capital is, geographic features like mountains and rivers, and maybe even ask your server about how the geography of the country impacts the flavor of your favorite dishes. You might be surprised to find out how the climate impacts what is grown in the country!

Involve your kids in vacation planning to build background knowledge. Once you’ve chosen a destination for a family vacation, involve your kids in the trip by building background knowledge. Talk about the place you’re going and where it’s located, how you’ll get there, and take a trip to the library or do some online research to brainstorm things to do once you’re there. Pre-screen some YouTube videos for them to watch to get a better sense of where you’re going and what to expect when you get there.

Have resources available at home. Having a United States and world atlas are must-haves for any home library. It’s also great to have a globe on hand because it provides a better understanding of world geography, especially for young kids who need a more concrete way to know where places in the world are in relation to each other. I find that a globe is most helpful in teaching about relationships between continents and oceans because it provides the big picture understanding while providing a tactile way to learn about topography. We have the Illuminated Orion Relief Globe with a Non-Tip Base from HearthSong.

Learn on the go. One of my family’s favorite apps to browse is Barefoot World Atlas. This gorgeous interactive app is chock full of so much information that it’s hard to ever get tired of the content on your iPhone that’s fun for adults and kids alike.

Small boy looking at a Globe in his bedroom via Shutterstock

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Disney Infinity: Disney Introduces a New Way to Game

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Last month Disney unveiled their new Disney Infinity gaming system at E3, a gaming trade show where the latest platforms, games, and tools for play are unveiled to the industry. This new video game initiative stars the beloved characters from Walt Disney and Pixar Studios’ most popular franchises, including Monsters University, the Incredibles, Cars, and Pirates of the Caribbean and provides aspiring video game designers to create their own games that can be uploaded for review by Disney to be included in the platform for others to play.

Disney Infinity is being hailed as an open ended virtual world where you can play with your favorite characters to create endless possibilities. Disney Infinity incorporates real-world toy versions of favorite Disney characters onto a device called the Infinity Base to transport players into virtual game world of the characters, locations within the Disney Parks, as well as into a giant Toy Box. It takes the imagination and creativity of real world play that combines toys into the virtual space.

To begin game play, families will need to purchase the Starter Pack which is currently available via pre-order with an August 18 release date. The Starter Pack is available for all gaming platforms and consists of the video game, Infinity base for character figurines to sit on, 3 Play Sets (Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Incredibles), 3 Infinity characters (Mr. Incredible, Jack Sparrow, and Sulley), an Infinity Power Disc, and web codes to unlock unique content. Play Sets serve as the worlds that characters can play in and contain gadgets for them to use. Items from each Play Set are added to the Toy Box where characters, buildings, weapons, gadgets, and more that can be mixed up to create a game.

From previews, this highly engaging game seems to suit all ages. Younger kids will love adding new Disney figurines that are available for individual purchase beyond the Play Sets to their game play while older kids and adults can exercise their own creativity as they build fully functional games. According to Disney, logic editor tools and the tutorial will help users “build their own environments from scratch or use pre-built template. Players can let their imaginations run wild by creating adventures and mini-games within these customized environments. They can create obstacle courses, sports games or even re-create classic arcade games by using a variety of characters such as Mr. Incredible and Jack Sparrow, and vehicles including the Tron recognizer while fending off opponents with a variety of combat tools.” Games created through the editor can be saved, uploaded to Disney, and reviewed for possible inclusion on the Infinity platform for others to play.

For more information, visit the Disney Infinity website, the YouTube channel, or look for the Summer of Endless Fun Tour with remaining stops in Richmond (August 10-11), culminating with a weekend of launch activities in New York City on Saturday, Aug. 17 at Nintendo World Square and in Times Square on Sunday, Aug. 18. Activities at each tour stop include game demos, surprise guests, photo opportunities, giveaways, contests, entertainment provided by Radio Disney and more.

Images courtesy of Disney Interactive

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5 Internet and Mobile Safety Resources for Families

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

June may be Internet Safety Month but in honor of the start of summer and kids  clamoring to play on devices more than they do during the school year, it’s not a bad time to review online and mobile safety policies in your home. Having a conversation together rather than laying down the gauntlet about the dos and don’ts is always preferable. Kids need to feel empowered and like they have a say in the decisions in order to take more ownership of the rules.

If having a conversation seems scary and you’re not quite sure where to start, here are five helpful resources that can provide conversation starters and guidelines for your discussion.

Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is an international nonprofit organization that works with government, educators, as well as businesses and other nonprofits to make the online and mobile worlds safer for kids and families. Free downloadable materials available through the Parent Resources include Internet Safety Tips for Kids, Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents, and a Family Online Safety Contract with a side for parents and kids that is reasonable and realistic for today’s families.

Common Sense Media can help provide guidance about that hot new game that your child insists that all their friends have and is a must-have for your home. Before jumping into any purchase, stop at Common Sense Media for helpful reviews on apps, games, and movies to make an informed decision about the media that is part of your child’s life. Common Sense also reviews TV shows, websites, books and music, making it the most comprehensive and unbiased source of information online for families.

Recent survey results published by Cox Take Charge! found that tweens openly admit to engaging in risky online behavior including breaking family rules, accessing inappropriate content, and covering their tracks as they go to hide their activities from their parents. More than anything, parents of tweens need to create conversations that involve their tween. Start by getting up to speed on the latest terms your tween may be using through the Take Charge! glossary of terms. Then swallow some pride and ask your tween to teach you what they know. They’ll love the role reversal and being the teacher and chances are, you’ll learn a lot from them that will be beneficial to your relationship in the long run.

If a conversation about a mobile phone is happening in your home or comes up during the summer months, the thoughtful individuals over at Safely have developed a family smartphone agreement to serve as the springboard for that must-have conversation you need to have with your child before you take the steps to purchase a device. This five step contract incorporates important talking points but includes humor with each rule. For example, the agreement outlines how a phone is a privilege but “ownership of a phone is not guaranteed” and encourages kids to make good decisions or else they “may have to resort to tin cans and string to get in touch with anyone.”

NetSmartz acknowledges it can be hard to have conversations with know-it-all teens but older kids need to be mindful about things like their digital reputation when posting on their social media networks. It’s often hard for this age to realize that the things they post to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and other online sites are there to stay and what this could mean for their digital reputation. Through their Real Life Stories section, NetSmartz has content tailored to teens about topics that take on a serious tone and feature stories from teens who have been victimized in real life. Videos like Your Photo Fate that details what could happen with a photo once it leaves their control and Cyberbullying: You Can’t Take It Back encourage teens to learn from their peer’s mistakes, recognize risky behaviors, evaluate their choices, and encourage communication with trusted adults.

Safety first concept with green key on computer keyboard via Shutterstock

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