6 Tips to Find the Best Video Game Consoles and Games for Your Family

Consoles, portable gaming systems and video games are always hot gifts for the holiday season but how do you know which ones are right for your family and how do you know that the console you choose is best? Here are some tips on selecting the best video game system for your family and navigating through an endless array of game titles.

Read family friendly reviews. Search results pull up the most popular reviews but they’re often written by gaming or tech experts who do a great job of demystifying the technology inside but can’t always translate what this means for you and your family. To know the ins and outs of the PS4 and Xbox One that come out later this month, I really appreciated reading a comparison done by The Guardian because it written in a way that allow parents to understand how the most recent advances in technology impact the family gaming experience.

Talk to other families about what they have. What do other families that your kids play with have in their homes? It’s great to get the same system to be able to share games during play dates and even play online with friends when kids are old enough to do so.

Be educated about game ratings. Do you know what C, E, E+10, T, M, or A mean? They’re part of the Electronic Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) system to provide families with guidance about the video games and apps that may be most suitable for their family.Each of ESRB’s ratings include rating categories to suggest age appropriateness, content descriptors that flag any content that may be of interest or concern to parents, and interactive elements that might reveal a user’s location or if personal information might be shared with third parties via gaming. ESRB rating information can be found on packaged video games and apps, downloadable games, and even apps via the ESRB Rating Search App.

Preview games before you buy. It’s often hard to know what a game will really look like when it’s inside the box before it’s released. Searching YouTube for game previews and reviews by the media often provide a better sense of what you might be purchasing for $40-60. If the game has been out for awhile, ask around to see if another family has the game that you can try before you buy.

Read game reviews on Common Sense Media. Type in the title you’re looking for and chances are it’s been reviewed by Common Sense Media. This non-profit organization make it their business to provide parents with helpful guidance through easy to use reviews and ratings. Search according to game title, game type, and also the age of your child to find games that are just right for your family.

Don’t feel stuck with your purchase. Just because you bought a game or a console doesn’t mean you have to keep it if it isn’t the right fit. Retail stores like GameStop offer competitive trade in and cash back for your purchases while eBay can be a great place to get rid of a collection of games at once when they’re sold as a “lot.”


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Tags: | Categories: Gaming

3 Things Families Should Do to Prepare for Natural Disasters

On the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we’re reminded of the power of Mother Nature and the importance of being prepared after seeing how it affected businesses, families, and children. According to Save the Children, Sandy caused over $50 billion in damage, affected 650,000 homes, and damaged more than 250 child care centers so it’s not surprising that children are still trying to recover from the effects of Sandy a year later. The stress that children faced after Sandy is hard to imagine but with homes lost and belongings destroyed, the absence of routine that are so comforting to kids was gone as they had to live in shelters with strangers without the comforts of home and familiar play things.

As recovery efforts continue and children heal, Save the Children has launched a new campaign called Get Ready. Get Safe to educate families about being safe and empowering communities empower communities to protect kids from disaster. This powerful campaign not only shows the impact Sandy had on children but provides education for parents with actionable items that benefit communities across the nation.

Since no community is safe from natural disasters, here are things you should know to Get Ready. Get Safe before the next one affects your community.

  • Know how your state protects children in child care and schools. Is Your State Ready features an interactive map called the 2013 U.S. Preparedness Map that parents can click on to see how their state stacks up in four areas: a plan for evacuating children in child care, a plan for reuniting families after a disaster, a plan for children with disabilities and those with access and functional needs, and a multi-hazard plan for all K-12 schools. Currently only 28 states
  • Plan ahead to protect your kids from disaster. Get Ready.Get Safe has handy disaster checklists in the form of free downloadable PDFs and posters for parents and child care professionals. The easy to read visual for  families reminds us about the basic information to teach our kids, the need for a communication strategy that doesn’t rely on a cell phone, and essentials kid-friendly food, medical supplies, and personal hygiene items to have on hand at home. The printable for child care professionals features many of the same things as the parent disaster checklist but also highlights the importance of practicing emergency drills, the importance of knowing each child’s special needs and medical needs under their care, and a checklist for items needed in a disaster kit.
  • Know how to talk to your child in an age appropriate way. Their age will determine how much information is appropriate. If you’re nervous talking about the topic, stick to the facts without interjecting your fears and concerns. Kids pick up on our fears and will worry too. If you want to learn more about different kinds of natural disasters through helpful links, read my helpful tips about Teaching Kids About Tornadoes, talking to your children about earthquakes, and earthquakes to educate yourself for when they have questions.

Image courtesy of SavetheChildren.org


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6 Halloween Trick or Treat Safety Tips for Families

As you make final adjustments to costumes, finishing decorating the house, and ensure that you have enough candy for trick or treaters, it’s also a good time to think about safety for Halloween night. Dimly lit streets, dark colored costumes, candles inside pumpkins, and traffic present certain hazards that are good to keep in mind.

“Just about everyone loves a good scare on Halloween, but not when it comes to safety,” said Lorraine Carli, the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) vice president of Outreach and Advocacy.

Here are some additional safety tips to help everyone stay safe on Halloween:

Do a costume check. The NFPA recommends that families stay away from billowing or long trailing fabric. If your child’s costume is looking a bit long, give it a trim or tie it up. Also, if your child is wearing a mask, make sure the eye holes are large enough so they can see out.

See and be seen with glow sticks. Disposable glow sticks are fine to help kids be seen on a dark night but we love light up glow sticks from Rayovac because the light stays illuminated as long as it’s on and they come with a handy lanyard that goes around their neck to keep hands free. There’s no fumbling around as they ring doorbells, hold treat bags, and accept candy from our neighbors, plus there’s nothing in their hands in the event they stumble and fall and need to catch themselves before hitting the hard pavement.

Replace candles with battery powered lights. With decorations being the start of many home fires, the NFPA recommends avoiding candle decorations. “Costumes with billowing or long trailing fabric and candle decorations should be avoided to keep fun events from turning into tragedies,” Carli recommends. Instead, tea lights can provide a constant safe glow inside pumpkins and other decorations to replace hazardous candles but if you must use candles, the NFPA recommends keeping them well attended at all times to keep everyone safer.

Trick or treat together. Not only is trick or treating is always more fun with others but there’s also safety in being with a group. Younger ages love going out with mom and dad but tweens might balk at the idea of parental supervision. Rather than a group of parents accompany the tweens, plan to have one or two parents go with the group who can hang back on the sidewalk as they ring doorbells to help the kids maintain their cool factor.

Exercise safety when crossing the street. Sticking to one side of the street at a time, rather than zig zagging through a neighborhood, and taking an extra second to pause before crossing at intersections can keep kids safer while trick or treating when it’s dark. Older kids with trick or treating experience who are going out with friends should also receive a gentle reminder before heading out on their own.

Check candy before consuming. It’s so tempting to eat as you go but encourage kids to hand candy to a parent to give it a once over to ensure that the package is sealed before diving in. Once you’re home, dump out the candy haul out on the kitchen table and have kids help you sort to search for any candy with ripped packaging that will need to be thrown away.

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Portrait of happy friends sitting together on stairs in Halloween outfit via Shutterstock

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11 Family Movies to Inspire a Conversation About Bullying

Since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, there’s no better time to empower your kids against bullying but bullying is a serious topic that is often hard to begin talking about if you haven’t already started the conversation. We know we want to teach kids that it’s ok to fight back, the importance of being a good friend and standing up for each other, and it’s ok to come to you, a sibling, another family member or a trusted adult but where do we start?

Sometimes we can find a helping hand thanks to a movie. Sitting down for a family movie night provides together time and can inspire an important conversation in an age appropriate way.

Even though it may be National Bullying Prevention Month, bullying is a topic that can be discussed throughout the year. So seize your time together by popping some popcorn, snuggling up a blanket, and watch as these real and relevant stories teach older ages how to fight back and younger kids learn to stand up and be heroes by streaming one of these movies on Netflix this weekend and the others throughout the year.

5 movies with themes perfect for older kids:

  • Bully — Exploring the subject of school bullying from a personal angle, this eye-opening documentary tracks the stories of five different families whose children are struggling to defend themselves on a near-daily basis.
  • The War — Vietnam War vet Stephen Simmons deals with an entirely different set of conflicts back home in Mississippi, where he copes with post-traumatic stress disorder and unemployment, and helps his son, Stuart, stand up to a group of bullies.
  • Billy Elliott— When 11-year-old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) trades boxing school for ballet lessons, his father (Gary Lewis) — a hardworking miner from Northern England who despises the idea of his son running around in toe shoes — is less than pleased. But when the boy wins an audition for the Royal Ballet School, he experiences a change of heart. Stephen Daldry directs this Oscar-nominated drama that spawned a Tony-winning Broadway musical of the same name.
  • The Fat Boy Chronicles— Overweight teenager Jimmy Winterpock transfers to a new school, where he’s mercilessly bullied by classmates. After he starts keeping a journal that puts him in touch with his feelings, he resolves to lose weight and win the girl of his dreams.
  • Cyber Bully— Teenager Taylor Hillridge finds herself a target of bullying by fellow students through a popular social website in this topical drama with a message. After the abuse makes Taylor afraid to face her classmates, her mother gets involved.


6 age appropriate titles for younger ages:

  • Hercules— In Disney’s animated take on Greek mythology, the heavenly Hercules is stripped of his immortality and raised on Earth instead of Olympus, where he’s forced to take on Hades and assorted monsters.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius— When gooey green aliens kidnap all the adults in Retroville, it’s up to Jimmy Neutron to come up with a plan to rescue them. The 11-year-old genius and his pals blast off in homemade rocket ships on an intergalactic mission.
  • Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes— The Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes, work to bust up nefarious plots set forth by villains such as Loki, HYDRA and the Red Skull. Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Iron Man and the Wasp are ready to save the day.
  • Spy Kids: All the Time in the World— Former Spy Kids Carmen and Juni Cortez return as teenagers to help 10-year-old twin siblings Rebecca and Cecil Wilson save the world with their stepmother, a retired secret agent who’s been called back into service to stop a conniving smuggler.
  • Justice League Unlimited— As humanity faces threats from all kinds of new and vile villains, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and a dozens of other animated superheroes create a league from which they form small, specialized teams to combat each new menace.
  • Ben 10: Alien Force— Cartoon Network’s sequel series finds the now-teenage Ben Tennyson hoping to locate his missing grandfather by using his Omnitrix device, which has been updated to give him access to a whole new variety of alien life forms.


Please note that the above descriptions were provided by Netflix but I always like visiting Common Sense Media to double check that the movie is right for our family.

Happy young family watching flat TV courtesy of Shutterstock

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Not-So-Scary Halloween Fun For Families

As fun as trick or treating is for kids, Halloween can also be scary for young ages but doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of age appropriate shows, apps, and books to get you in the spirit without being frightened. Here are some ways you can enjoy some not-so-scary fun as a family.

Carve a virtual pumpkin for practice. Create some mess-free fun and practice your virtual carving skills thanks to the Parents Carve a Pumpkin app. This easy-to-use free app lets your child drag and drop shapes to carve a virtual pumpkin while saving you cleanup headaches. Other great pumpkin carving apps for older ages includes the Carve It! Pumpkin Carving ($0.99 via iTunes) and Carve a Pumpkin! app via iTunes. ($0.99)

Watch Halloween episodes featuring favorite characters. Originally broadcast on October 27, 1966, It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a Halloween classic but for those who don’t love the Great Pumpkin, PBS Kids has special Halloween specials featuring Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, and Curious George. Catch your favorite characters on special episodes airing on your local PBS stations on the following dates:

  • Sid the Science Kid Halloween Spooky Science Special: October 28 and 31
  • Dinosaur Train Haunted Roundhouse/Big Pumpkin Patch: October 26, 27 and 28
  • Curious George: A Halloween Book Fest on October 28
  • Dinosaur Train Night Train on October 29

Do some bewitching Halloween science experiments. Brew up some misty punch, create a touch box to invigorate the senses, make ghosts and bats dance with static electricity, write and reveal secret messages, or concoct some glowing bubbling brew before you head out for a night of trick or treating. 6 Spooky Science Experiments for Halloween is your how-to guide to some engaging science fun that will enthrall young learners.

Curl up on the couch with a fiction or nonfiction Halloween book. Some favorites include:

Create a no-sew costume together. If your child has changed their mind yet again and their indecision is driving you batty, go with a no sew option that’s easy to put together. PBS Parents shows parents how to easily transform their WordGirl superfan into the beloved superhero with the colossal vocabulary, by using just a few materials. There’s also a video tutorial on how to create a Halloween Ninja costume with a single t-shirt.

Decorate the house and take care of last minute costume details together. Involving little hands help kids get into the spirit of the day and even if you’re strapped for time, Fiverr provides busy parents with a helping hand with Halloween task prep at prices starting at $5. What can Fiverr do for you? Get a Halloween pendant necklace made, have a festive Halloween poster designed to hang in your home,  transform into a vampire or another creature for the class party or Halloween night, ensure that your house has the coolest lit pumpkins on the block, or send a fun Halloween video greeting to loved ones far away!

Group of kids dressed up for Halloween via Shutterstock


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Tags: | Categories: Education, Parent Resource