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Monday, October 21st, 2013
Kids and parents who are loyal to PBSKids.org and enjoy accessing content online have probably already seen the site redesign that focuses on games, videos, and shows featuring favorite characters but the highly intuitive and visual site aimed at ages 2-8 now works across all devices, is organized in an age appropriate way, and features wealth of educational resources for parents.
“The number one reason for the redesign was to incorporate new PBS branding,” said Chris Bishop, Creative Director at PBS Kids. Responsible for the new look and feel of the site, Bishop believed it was important not “to disturb what already works well. If a kid can’t get to what they want, that’s horrible. We want to be sure that they can still get what they want.”
The redesigned site incorporates a new look for familiar characters, Dot and Dash, a blank canvas above the site’s hallmark spinning wheel, and a wealth of contextual information for parents that appears while kids are playing games, watching videos, or going to a show.
“With this redesign, we are folding our elementary school age features previously on PBS KIDS GO! into a single PBSKids.org destination designed to appeal to all kids 2-8,” said Melissa Mills, Associate Director of PBS Kids Public Relations and Social Media. Since the former PBS Kids Go site was retired, all content from lives at PBS Kids but Bishop “wanted to provide different ages with distinct experiences through the same site.”
The new site allows for the youngest PBS fans to find content they love quickly and easily. Large thumbnail images in the video section makes it easy to find full episodes or segments featuring favorite characters whereas in the games section, the similar layout contains 6 games at the top where kids can either flip through to find the things they want to play or search by topic.
Where can ages 6-8 find favorite content that formerly lived on PBS Kids Go? It’s been integrated into the bottom part of the site. The depth of content they’re used to can be located on the right side of the PBSKids.org homepage. While preschoolers tend to be overwhelmed with content, focus group proved to Bishop and his team that “older kids like to feel overwhelmed. They like to navigate by games” and sort by topics. The site also highlights harder games, targeting kids who are looking for an extra challenge.
All the changes at PBSKids.org also means more information for parents. While the educational value might not have been apparent before, PBS has integrated a Parents Bar at the top of the site to tie in content from other parts of the site and learning objectives. Now when children play a game featuring Peg+Cat, Daniel Tiger, or any of the other popular PBS characters, parents see get a targeted message about other content from PBS such as resources, things to do and tips for families on the go on the Parents Bar. Video content now features information about the clip such as the name of show, name of clip, length, and goals like language, literacy, social and emotional development.
Images courtesy of PBSKids.org
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Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Chances are if you’ve been keeping up with the news about the tornado damage following yesterday’s twister that caused widespread devastation in Moore, Oklahoma, your kids are probably asking questions about tornadoes. It’s a great time to seize upon the teachable moment for a science lesson about tornadoes and to talk about ways your family might be able to help those affected.
What is a tornado? The definition of what a tornado is should depend on the age of your child. According to Weather WizKids, a tornado is a “violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.” Younger children need simple explanations with concrete examples so illustrate this by rotating a household funnel. National Geographic Kids has an easy to understand video for kids called Forces of Nature: Tornadoes 101. Older children will want more in-depth information and may have questions about tornado-related vocabulary that can be answered through the glossary of tornado terms on EnchantedLearning.com.
Are there different types of tornadoes? Yes, there various kinds and shapes of tornadoes. Tornadoes can also appear to be different colors! The different or kinds of tornadoes and their cousins are described on The Weather Channel Kids! and pictures of some types of tornadoes can be found on ThinkQuest.org.
How does it form? Tornadoes form in complex weather conditions, usually when two large air masses of varying temperatures collide. RiaNovosti has a great graphic showing tornado formation but younger ages will probably understand the animation of formation and destruction of a tornado on ThinkQuest.org.
What’s more dangerous? A hurricane or a tornado? According to Scholastic.com, hurricanes take days to develop whereas tornadoes tend to develop quickly but it’s hard to determine which is more dangerous.
Will a tornado hit where we live? It depends. According to National Earth Science Teachers Association’s Windows to the Universe site, 75% of tornadoes happen in the United States. Most of these occur in the Great Plains, a place that weather watchers call “Tornado Alley.” Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana comprise Tornado Alley and while tornadoes are common in these states, it does not mean that they can’t occur in other states.
Are we safe? It’s always a good idea to make sure everyone in your family knows your emergency plan for any disaster that could strike. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov page on tornadoes has information about how to prepare before a tornado, what to do if your area is under a tornado warning, and what to do after. Ready.gov’s Family Emergency Plan is a free, printable PDF that can be filled out so family member’s names, healthcare information, etc. is in one place and easiy accessible.
How can we help? Not only is a great time to teach your kids about tornadoes and review your family emergency plan, but it’s an excellent time to reinforce charitable acts by figuring out how you can help. Type A Parents’ How to Help the Oklahoma Tornado Victims by Kelby Carr shares ways families can offer assistance. Talk as a family and choose a method that works well for you or come up with a strategy to raise money for those affected.
Tornado about to make damage via Shutterstock
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Thursday, April 18th, 2013
While we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, there’s never a bad time to start teaching kids about the environment. Young conservations can learn to care for the planet through interactive apps, educational programming on television and DVDs, and age appropriate websites. This guide featuring age appropriate suggestions for toddlers through teens is designed to provide engaging activities for everyon as they learn more about taking care of our planet.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Curious George Swings into Spring— From spring fever to spring cleaning, from a canoe ride to a hot air balloon journey, George and his friends get viewers ready to explore the outdoors this Earth Day in a one hour special airing on PBS stations on Monday, April 22. Curious George lovers who want to learn on the go will be interested in knowing that a new online game focusing on natural science concepts such as plant growth and butterfly metamorphosis will launch later this month.
- The Lorax— This interactive storybook app for iOS devices aims to create confident young readers thanks to three different ways that kids can interact with the well known Dr. Seuss classic. Children can choose to have the app auto play the story of The Lorax, have it read to them, or read it themselves as they work to build their reading skills. Words can be highlighted as they are read to help build sight word recognition in young children and kids can interact with the text and pictures with a tap.
- Sid the Science Kid— Through games, video, and printables, toddlers and preschoolers are exposed to a single scientific concept in a fun way. One of the themes is backyard science that encourages curious children to explore the homes of animals such as ants, birds, and squirrels that live outside their door since they serve as the building blocks for entomology, geology, and botany. PBS aligns available web content in order to allow them to learn more in parallel with available television programming.
Early Elementary Ages
- He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands —This DVD begins with a rendition of the American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and features a guide for parents and kids with tips on how to be green. Positive messages about diversity and beauty of the world are conveyed through stories like Jane Yolen’s “Owl Moon” that is about a magical, night-time walk through the snowy woods in search of the Great Horned Owl, “Come On, Rain!” an ode to a good, soaking, and the appreciative Thanksgiving address, “Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message.” With environmental issues top of mind, this DVD is perfect for a new generation of eco-conscious kids ages 5 and up.
- Ranger Rick Jr. Appventures: Lions — This story app lets young ones Explore, Create, and Play their way through incredible animal adventures as kids join Ricky Raccoon and his friend, Lars the Lion, on a trip to the African grasslands. Kids discover how lions spend their days, raise their young, and much more through interactive photo stories, engaging games and creative play activities centered around a specific animal.
- Wild Kratts— Brothers Chris and Martin Kratt combine science education with adventure as they teach kids about amazing wild animals through their adventures that feature live action and animation. Early elementary ages are exposed to scientific concepts that are relevant to the animals explored in the 30 minute episode.
- Ranger Rick’s Treehouse — This virtual tree house is packed with clickable animal stories, comic adventures, multi-level games, videos, nature activities and wildlife mysteries around every corner. Children have the incentive to learn by earning badges when the show what they’ve learned!
- National Wildlife Foundation Activity Finder— If you’re tired of hearing the words “I’m bored” from your tween, put them in charge of their learning by having them research nearby activities that will be fun for the family. From geocaching, hikes, and so much more, the Activity Finder suggests a plethora of activities that help families connect with nature.
- DisneyNature Chimpanzee— Families will enjoy sitting down to meet Oscar, a three year old chimpanzee who is orphaned and raised by another chimp through a visually stunning nature documentary filmed in Africa. Children get an inside look at the life of chimpanzees, relationship between those within the community, and their struggle for survival.
Boy embracing globe of world via Shutterstock
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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
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Monday, March 25th, 2013
Seasonal transitions often cause the desire to clean out the old to provide a fresh outlook for the coming season. While it’s great to write off donated items on the following year’s taxes, sometimes it’s better to recoup money spent on items.
Where do you start and how do you know what items might be worth your time to sell versus donate? eBay makes selling easy for novices and experienced sellers alike but sometimes to fetch top dollar, it’s good to look beyond eBay to more specialized sites focusing on niche items that appeal to fellow consumers. Here are 7 sites worth looking into as you look to declutter your home.
thredUP.com— This online consignment service provides a way to clean out children’s closets and turn outgrown clothes into cash. Start by ordering a thredUP bag and when it arrives, fill it with kids’ clothes and earn up to 40% of the resale value. For those who are looking to buy items from thredUP, rest assured that consignors inspect every item and resell only the best clothes.
EcoATM— As you look to replace outdated technology with newer and faster models, what do you do with your old items? It’s true that even broken computers sell on eBay, often to buyers who are looking to purchase parts, but if you’re looking to reduce time spent listing, packing, and selling, try EcoATM. This easy-to-use service is an automated, self-serve kiosk that quickly evaluates your items before buying them back and giving you cash. The best thing about it is that EcoATM makes it easy. EcoATMs can also be found nationwide through their website.
Chairish.com— Furniture can be a trickier thing to sell because of its size but if you’ve inherited valuable pieces that just don’t quite match your décor, try Chairish. Submit your furniture details through the site and Charish will take care of payment, insurance, and even white glove shipping for grandma’s curio cabinet. If you’re in the market for new furniture, Chairish’s curation team approves listings to ensure the best furniture quality for their buyers.
GoldFellow.com— Chances are you’ve seen the Cash for Gold advertisements and heard of gold parties where people bring their jewelry to parties and leave with cash but GoldFellow.com is another option for pieces that were once favorites. GoldFellow even takes broken jewelry!
BookScouter.com— Book lovers who just have too many titles around the house can use BookScouter.com as their book broker. Simply type in the ISBN and Book Scouter searches all the sites that are currently paying for used books and gives you a quote.
GiftCardGranny.com: Gift cards can be a welcome gift until you get the odd one that you just can’t seem to spend. GiftCardGranny.com is a gift card exchange that helps you trade in gift cards you aren’t planning on using for gift cards you will use or cash.
UsedInstrumentBuyer.com— Musical education in schools is wonderful until your child loses interest in playing and you don’t know what to do with the instrument you’ve purchased. You could pass them along to another family or try selling them on CraigsList but why not find out how much you might be able to get for them on UsedInstrumentBuyer. You’ll get a quote from the site and if you choose to sell through them, the used instrument will ship for free.
Secondipity.com— Large items like TVs aren’t easy to sell other than through local listings on Craigslist or eBay Classifieds but Secondipity.com provides a third option for bigger items. You can also feel good about selling through Secondipity because for each item you sell, they’ll make a donation to a classroom in need.
Volunteer with clothes donation box at second hand store via Shutterstock
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