I want my son to have fun learning and I want to take advantage of the new and old ways of teaching. Therefore, carefully selecting apps for my son has been a high priority for me. I love how apps have the ability to teach boring subjects that I son will not sit still long enough for me to teach him. I love that apps teach him skills that I can’t like art, music and engineering. Truthfully, what I love most about apps is that they provide a way for me to entertain my son and convenience myself that he is actively learning rather than mindlessly absorbing television. I’m a life-long learner and I want my son to have the same attitude and I want him to enjoy learning.
My love for apps is equally balanced by my frustration with finding good apps. I’ve spent way too much time at night on my son’s app finding and testing apps after he has fallen asleep. The other night, I decided this has got to stop and shifted my attention to finding ways to find quality apps faster. Below are 6 website to find good apps fast. They are organized by age, reviewed by educators and easily searched and skimmed. Ahhhhhh. I can breath now. And, so can you.
1. Common Sense
Common Sense is the gold standard in app reviews. There is toolbar on the right that allow you to search for apps by any age range. You can also limit your search by device, price, genre, subject, skill or topic. If they say an app is age appropriate, I trust them. If anything, I find them to be a little limiting so I search for apps above his age range. Also, due to their rigorous review process, they seem to be a little slower to update their reviews with new content. Their editorial reviews are based on a research-backed, 15-point rubric developed specifically to evaluate the learning potential of digital tools. Their rubric evaluates three key qualities essential to great digital learning experiences: engagement, pedagogy, and support, including (but not limited to) how engrossing the tool is to use, whether it promotes conceptual understanding and creativity, how it adapts to students’ individual needs, and how well it supports knowledge transfer. Keeping parents in mind, it also looks for positive messages, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking. This is the most comprehensive review process that allows you to know exactly what to expect with an app.
The toolbar on the left of Academics’ Choice home screen allows you search their winners by category. You can also narrow your search based on the price and your child’s age. It is a long list of apps. They use a standardized approach to product evaluation and assessment based on existing best practices and academic standards. In order to be selected as an Academics’ Choice™ award winner, the submitted product must be determined by our academic board and evaluation teams to have robust educational value and strengthen cognitive skills. Each submission is evaluated by a panel of product-appropriate judges, including parents, educators, scientists, artists, doctors, nurses, librarians, students and children. I also like their evaluation considers whether the products develop higher-order thinking skills.
Childhood educators find and reviews apps for kids ages 3-8 years old. They allow you to search by age, device and price. All the apps are reviewed by childhood educators. The list is long but they also provide a way to narrow the list for apps focused on math, spelling, language, art, science or social studies. I love the specificity.
Parents’ Choice annually awards mobile apps for children, which are rigorously evaluated by experts. Parents-Choice provides a short list of the best apps. The product finder tool in the left column allows you to search by likes, age, budget, contributor, and company. They consider age-appropriate content, design and function, educational value, and universal human values. The Parents’ Choice Award evaluation process is lengthy and comprehensive. It’s a multi-tiered process with its roots in a four page questionnaire that queries developmentally appropriate content and challenges, the product’s design and function, the educational value, long-term play value, and the benefits to a child’s social and emotional growth and well being.
Tech With Kids allows you to search for apps by topic, platform, company, price, age and grade. They add new reviews every week and also provide best picks list that lists apps based on their subject area or topic. They consider the app’s educational value, entertainment value, usability, value and use of technology and give them a rating on a 5 star scale.
Honorable Mention: Geeks with Juniors
Geeks with Juniors has a best apps guide for 1, 2, 3, and 4-5 year-olds. They also provide a list of the best apps each year. This makes browsing for news quick and easy. Most importantly, all the apps on the list are educational and are a good quality. While the preferences will vary with kids, I find that these seem to be genuine reviews and they are easy to browse quickly.
Well, it’s my son’s 5th Birthday tomorrow. You might assume I’ve been obsessed with planning his birthday party, getting a cake recipe or finding the perfect gift. You would be wrong. I’ve been obsessed with updating the apps on my son iPad.
I feel 5 years is a tricky age. My son is finally following directions, knows his ABC’s and can count to 20. Therefore, many of the preschool apps aren’t teaching anything. He doesn’t, however, know how to add, multiply, read, follow complex directions. On iTunes, the ages are 5 & under or 6 – 8. So, finding an app for my developing son has been a delicate balance of finding something challenging yet simple.
Initially, I feel in love with ABC Mouse and all of the subscription apps that made my life easy by having a wide array of activities and endless content. My son, however, eventually settled on a few subsets of these apps and complete ignored huge parts of the app. So, I was back to the drawing board.
When I first got my son’s app, I spent many hours scouring iTunes and trying out apps. Now that my son is about to turn 5 and he has had his iPad for a while, I know what kinds of apps interest him and what topics excite him. It has made it a lot easier.
But, two things have made this search for apps so much easier. First, I have a list of trusted app developers that I know create the type of quality content I like and have topics that interest my son. Secondly, I know great places to go for curated, reviewed lists of apps by age, grade or category. While I still had to try out apps and a few were rejected because they had bugs, my son didn’t like them, or they resulted in mindless clicking for sound or action, rather than quality interaction, I was able to find a good list of apps much faster this time.
My favorite app developers (in no particular order) are:
SylvanPlay is a library of fun, Sylvan-approved educational apps that improve skills in math, language arts, science, geography and more. Sylvan Learning provides math, reading and writing tutoring, test prep and coding & robotics classes for kids. Their teaching system blends personal lessons taught by Sylvan-certified instructors with iPads. It is no surprise they have a great collection of apps. My Son’s favorite apps by Educate, Inc. are Get Rocky and Ansel & Clair’s Adventures in Africa.
PBS Kids is the leader in educational entertainment for kids. All of their shows are fun and enriching and their apps are no different. PBS Apps are probably my son’s favorite apps. And, anything from PBS is pretty much a no-brainier. Some of my son’s favorites PBS apps are Odd Squad Blob Chase, Peg + Cat Tree Problem, Martha Speaks Story Maker, and Cyberchase 3D Builder.
Disney is one of the oldest family-centered media outlets. They have a huge selection of characters kids love. Disney knows how to entertain. Some of my son’s favorite Disney apps include Where’s my Perry, Disney Princess: Story Theater, Disney Story Central, Mickey’s Magical Math, and Finding Nemo Storybook.
Duck Duck Moose is part of Khan Academy, which offers online practice exercises and instructional videos in math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Duck Duck Moose creates apps that encourage kids to explore and learn in a safe and fun environment. They work with educators and do lots of play-testing with kids to ensure their apps are frustration free. My son loves their creative expression apps like Superhero Comic Maker. I hope he gets into their math curriculum based like Moose Math.
HMH is a global leader in Pre K-12 educational content and services, combining digital innovation and research to make learning more engaging and effective. Some of their apps are listed as Tribal Nova apps or I Learn With, but they are all HMH companies. iLearn With creates apps with learning and game and activities designed for kids in preschool and kindergarten. The games are designed with the hel of teachers and developmental experts to ensure they meet the National Standards for math, literacy, language development and science. HMH/iLearn With apps include Curious World and Max & Ruby! Science.
Nosy Crow creates children’s book apps that encourage children to read for pleasure. These apps are not existing books squashed onto screens, but instead are specially created to take advantage of the devices to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways. Their apps have great illustrations and writing. My son’s favorite Nosy Crow app is Goldilocks and Little Bear.
While many may thing Montessori and iPad apps don’t mix. I love the quality application of Montessori’s method to the iPad. Kids learn through experience, rather than long explanations. The games are developed by experienced Montessori teachers. Their top apps include Crazy Gears, Zen Studio, Busy Shapes and Montessori 1st Operations.
Oceanhouse creates apps based upon children’s books such as Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears, Smithsonian and Little Critter. My favorite app by them is The Cat in the Hat – Read & Learn app.
StoryToys’ digital books and games combine storytelling with games and activities. They create apps based upon children’s books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chuggington and Power Rangers. All of their apps are designed to help children learn through reading, sequencing, task coordination or some other activity. My son’s favorite apps by them are Batman Unlimited, Dino Dog, and Leonardo’s Cat.
Slim Cricket creates and develops interactive stories for children aged 4 to 10 with integrated games that advance the plot of the story. My favorite app is the Witch Witholastic appsh No Name.
In a time of a lot of political hate, Valentines Day is a day to remember love. And, when it comes down to it, marital love is about practicing gratitude. I am grateful that my husband has dealt with my total abandonment of domestic duties since the election. He has sacrificed nights and weekends so I can go to events. He has supported me in every audacious goal I have set (while gently reminding me that I need to take it easy). So, on Valentines Day, I remembered to be grateful for his support.
But, my gratitude didn’t stop there. I love that we have had a Black president. I love that women marched throughout the country. I love that lawyers and judges are standing up for justice. I love that more people are becoming actively involved in the democratic party and politics.
I am grateful for women in politics who stand-up for the rights of women and all people. I am grateful that such a strong group of women have come to the forefront to protect the future of our country. I am so grateful for all of the strong women that have come before me fighting for woman’s suffrage, civil rights, freedom, education and equal opportunities. I am also grateful for all the women who have sacrificed their bodies, careers, sleep, time and sanity to raise a family. I am grateful for the women who have quietly supported the great men of our nation–the first ladies, the fundraisers, the wives, the mothers. I am so grateful for all of the powerful women from which we draw inspiration and who have paved a way for women today.
I am grateful for the black women who have come before me and created such an amazing culture of strength, resiliency and courage. I am grateful for my mother who never put limits on what I could do as a person or a woman. I am grateful for my beautiful feminine spiritual teachers who have shown me the feminine side of the divine in a deeper way than I had previously known. As I get more in touch with the divine feminine, I understand parts of myself that I previously ignored and belittled. I am grateful for the wisdom to listen rather than act. I am grateful for fluidity. I am grateful for the lesson of the ocean and rivers. I am grateful for the nurturing sun and earth. I am grateful for the sisterhood that I have only recently begun to feel with other women and especially other mothers. I am grateful for the stay-at-home-moms, the teachers, the nurtures, the quiet warriors.
I am also grateful for the men in my life. I am grateful for the divine masculine energy. I am grateful for strength and determination to accomplish my goals. I am grateful for having a father that I know loved me. I am grateful for having a husband that I can trust and depend on. I am grateful for a my son that is teaching me daily what is means to be mom and what it means to raise a man.
I am grateful for:
Those women and men who work quietly without recognition,
Those people who feed to the poor, those people who volunteer to stuff envelopes and help at church,
Those people who make it their job and life mission to raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted children,
Those people who help kids who have been abused or neglected,
Those people who will drop and everything to help a family member in need, without the need for recognition or reward,
Those people who do random acts of kindness,
Those people who stop to help the elderly cross the road, return a found wallet, post a found pet sign,
Those people who smile at people as they pass,
Those people who give without the expectation of reward,
Those people make it their mission to help kids learn and succeed,
Those people who do the right thing, even when it hard or no one is watching.
I am grateful for you reading this. I am grateful for all of my fellow liberal, progressives. And, for you, I say that we must make take time for gratitude. A friend of mine has been doing 100 days of gratitude on Facebook and I have been using her practice is my lazy woman’s gratitude practice. It has reminded me that there are still things to be grateful for. But, a personal gratitude practice is much more powerful.
Taking a daily moment to practice gratitude before calling your representative to oppose a bill, executive order or cabinet appointed is a necessity. We need to balance the energy in the world right now. Many things that we took for granted, are now uncertain. But, love remains in the world and we have to nurture love every day with the same force we fight hate. As MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” So, as we fight and resist, we must remember to be a beacon of light by taking time to remember those things we are grateful for, praise those leaders who hold our values and uplift those that are oppressed. As we fight to protect our planet, we must also have gratitude for all that our planet provides. As we use our passion and fire within us to stand-up and fight, we must also remember to use our love and compassion to uplift those that fight with us. We must remember to love our enemy, not for their sake, but for the sake of the future of our country.
Right now, despite the stories of our victories, I feel defeated. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels in mud. I feel like I fight one battle, only to have 5 more present themselves the next day. It’s overwhelming. It’s draining. It’s intimidating. The ultimate result of of this is an overwhelming cloud of negativity surrounding me. That cloud is increased when I read Facebook for 5 minutes and see 5 action items and have to somehow choose one to act on. That cloud of negativity is increased when I have to choose which event to go to rather than spending time with son or doing yoga. So, finding time to balance that constant bombardment of negativity is essential. And, this balance is not just essential for our personal well-being, it is essential for the collective energy that surrounds everyone. None of those feelings are feelings I want to create in the world. I want to fill the world with love, peace, joy and harmony. Therefore, I can’t spend my day being enraged and fighting.
I must find a way to spend my day being informed and spreading love. So, when the indivisible guide says be polite or be nice when speaking with your representative, don’t just do it to get what you want. Remember that each time you speak with anyone, it is an opportunity to spread love. Maybe you take a moment to find some common ground with your representative. Maybe you find a bill or platform that you agree with. And, rather than twisting that belief against them, you can genuinely thank them for the good work they are doing at the same time you ask them to oppose the atrocity you are calling about. Again, this act of love and gratitude is not for them. It is for you and to help create a world filled with love, compassion, gratitude and hope. What we do on the spiritual and emotional level right now is just as important as what we do on the political and physical level.
We can legislate and litigate all we want, but real change comes from the heart and mind, not politics. We can force businesses to admit gay employees and customers but it doesn’t’ accomplish our true goal if we don’t change those individuals hearts and minds about gays. Seeking to solve problems with laws and politics has created the current situation that that Black people face in America. On paper, everything is equal. We have all the same rights. But, when someone hates you because of your race, those laws don’t protect your heart. The laws can’t regulate the heart and it is the hatred that still hurts us.
We can rally and protest for more regulations (and they will make things better), but the more important work for me is increasing the amount of love in the world, which will naturally dissolve the hate and fear just as water erodes rocks to create valleys. It is a slow process, but it won’t happen if we are overcome with outrage because outrage is a form of hate. I need a more productive form of action that results in overarching outcomes. Please excuse the imperfection of this analogy, but I feel like all these calls are like stepping on ants rather than eradicating the anthill. Don’t get me wrong, if it works for you, by all means keep going. But, for me, personally, it does not. I need something proactive, rather than reactive. As Earnest Holmes says, “Changing your thinking, change your life.” If we change our opponents hearts and minds, we can change not only their lives, but our own. I find this one big hairy audacious goal to be more attainable than battling their endless little actions.
We can and must act on this physical level but we must also remember that at the root, we are all energy. We must remember that the energy we send out is what we receive. We must remember that the spiritual level is the root cause of our problems, not Trump. Trump is simply a manifestation of hate, fear and ignorance. If we dump Trump, but fail to address the root cause of his rise to power, we will simply have to fight another “enemy.” My true, deep calling and purpose is to eliminate the hate, fear and ignorance that is predominate in our society, by cultivating love, wisdom and unity. I will use law, politics, gratitude, prayer and any other tools I have in my arsenal to accomplish this goal. I will be mindful of this mission at all times and measure all my actions by its ability to accomplish this end. The magic of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not in what he did or said but in the heart and spiritual foundation upon which those words and actions were based. That is what we must remember and emulate today.
During the holiday cheer and chaos we are easily reminded to stay thankful for our family, our friends, and the precious time we have with them, but its important to keep our focus on gratitude once the gifts are all exchanged, and the snow has stopped falling. When the new year rolls around, we often spend our precious mental energy making resolutions, and planning our next big goals. While this can be helpful to some degree, often this practice adds extra pressure to our already frenetic lives, and also takes us away from the gifts we are already experiencing in this present moment. Practicing gratitude can actually change your life and likely help you achieve all those goals anyhow. Here are7 reasons to start or recommit to a gratitude practice in 2017.
1. Increase Well-Being & Satisfaction
Writing about what you are grateful for might be one of the most profound ways you can affect your brain patterns for the better. In a study that measured people who wrote letters of gratitude for several weeks, experimenters found that the subjects’ prefrontal cortex had greater activity even three months later. This area of the brain is associated with developing well being and happiness. Additionally, research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, has shown that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can greatly increase our overall well-being and life satisfaction.
2. Attract More Good in Your Life
Want more time with your family or more prosperity? Research has shown that by focusing on the time or money we already have, and being grateful for it, actually creates new neural pathways in the brain, and subconsciously we start to figure out ways to have more of those things in our lives.
3. Find Real Solutions to Problems
Rick Hansen, PhD and author of Buddha’s Brain suggests that our brain had to evolve in such a way that we could fight or flee in the face of danger. This habit has been reinforced over thousands of years, and is the reason for our brain’s tendency to suspect the worst and remember difficulties long after the actual danger of any situation has passed. This pattern affects internal self-talk, relationship patterns, learning capacity and even world politics. By practicing gratitude, we actually help the brain self-create the antidote to fight or flight. Gratitude is a form of transformational thinking that helps us to find real solutions to problems instead of running from them or freezing when faced with them.
4. Experience More Joy
In what is being called self-directed neuroplasticity, or the rewiring of the flexible brain, we can practice gratitude in order to cultivate true happiness. With practices like mindfulness meditation and conscious gratitude practices, we can rewire the neuronal pathways to more consistently experience joy and pleasure instead of fear and pain.
5. Gratitude is Teachable Skill
Angeles Arrien, a teacher, author, and cultural anthropologist, who is affectionately called the “Gratitude Lady” says that according to many traditional cultures, “There are really three medicines that you should put in your medicine bundle every day, which are the power of genuine acknowledgment and gratitude, genuine apology, and the spirit of laughter and joy.” Arrien says that even for people who don’t experience gratitude naturally, they can develop this mental state so that it becomes a mental condition that they experience often.
6. Improve Heart Health
Gratitude has been linked to decreasing heart failure. For some this may seem like an outlandish claim, but for ancient yogis and martial artists, the subtle energy of the heart is well known. The anahata chakra, or heart chakra regulates our experience with others around us, and connects us to the spiritual world, so cultivating gratitude would, of course, help the energy of the heart to flow without being interrupted.
7. Have Better Friendships
Expressing gratitude promotes ‘pro-social’ behavior. In other words, people are more inclined to want to be around you, be open to talking to you, and generally want to socialize with you if you are in the habit of feeling and talking about how blessed you feel. This practice helps people to feel valued.
Remember to count your blessings all year. Need more gratitude? Get more oxytocin. Scientists have found that people tend to feel more grateful when they have a little extra boost of oxytocin. This is the hormone released by our pituitary gland when we give and get hugs, or experience physical closeness. Funny how giving someone else a hug is just as effective as getting one, and it can boost your sense of gratitude in the process. Not only will it bring you greater joy, but being thankful brings well-being and happiness to those around you, also.
About the Author:
Christina Sarich is a freelance writer, musician, yogi, and humanitarian. The second edition of her book, Pharma Sutra, is now available at her website: YogafortheNewWorld.com.
“Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century,”says Gregg Roberts, world language specialist for the Utah Office of Education. Only 17 % of Americans can speak another language, while over 50% of Europeans and up to two-thirds of adults in other parts of the world can converse in a second language. A 2007 Gallup poll reported that 85% of Americans believe children should be learning a second language, yet only 25% of our elementary schools offer bilingual or foreign language instruction. Approximately 15% of elementary school students (grades K‐6) were enrolled in a language course, but almost 80% of those courses were “exploratory,” rather than aiming at bilingual education.
In a 2006 report entitled, Education for Global Leadership: The Importance of International Studies and Foreign Languages for U.S. Economic and National Security, the Committee for Economic Development stated ,
“To confront … twenty‐first century challenges to our economy and national security, our education system must be strengthened to increase the foreign language skills and cultural awareness of our students. America’s continued global leadership will depend on our students’ abilities to interact with the world community both inside and outside our borders…. The educated American of the twenty‐first century will need to be conversant with at least one language in addition to his or her native language, and knowledgeable about other countries, other cultures, and the international dimensions of issues critical to the lives of all Americans”
According to Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education, it is in our economic, cultural and political interests for Americans to able to read, speak and understand other languages. Global problems including the environment, health and disease, poverty, development and peace require international understanding and cooperation. We need diplomats, foreign policy experts, politicians, military leaders, business leaders, scientists, physicians, entrepreneurs, managers, technicians, historians, artists, and writers who are proficient in languages other than English. By being able to communicate in two or more languages, the children of the future will be free to interact with diverse cultures and ideas. People who speak two languages can communicate and learn from two different perspectives. Being bilingual also makes it is easier to travel and find a job. In fact, research shows that bilinguals earn an average of $7,000 more per year than their monolingual peers.
In addition to the economic and sociocultural benefits, the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages has compiled many studies establishing that being bilingual helps children improve focus, develop better English skills, improve school performance and develop the ability to learn a third language. In fact, Jennifer Steele at American University conducted a four-year, randomized trial and found that dual-language students in Portland outperformed their peers in English-reading skills by a full school year’s worth of learning by the end of middle school. And, data from the Admissions Testing Program of the College Board show a positive correlation between SAT scores and the study of a foreign language. Verbal scores of students increased with each additional year of language study. The most interesting piece of information is that the verbal scores of students who had taken four or five years of foreign language were higher than the verbal scores of students who had taken four or five years of any other subjects. Bilingual student’s performance on English tests is likely superior because they are more aware of language structures, grammar, literacy and language skills. But the positive effects of bilingual education extend beyond standardized test scores in English. A study by Taylor Ward in 2003 focused on third-grade foreign language students who continued their foreign language study through and including the fifth grade in Louisiana public schools. The researcher found that the foreign language students significantly outperformed their non-foreign language counterparts on every state standardized subtest. And, in studies covering six states and 37 districts, they have found that dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores, better attendance, and less behavioral problems.
Raising a bilingual son when you aren’t bilingual yourself is a challenge. From 2 to 3 years old, a child naturally knows the language to which he is exposed and expresses himself in that tongue. I’ve sent my son to a bilingual or immersion school since he was 15 months. I enrolled him in a part-time immersion preschool at 4 years old and I saw a lot better results. Despite sending my son to bilingual and immersion preschools, he is now 4 1/2 and doesn’t speak Spanish. In fact, research reveals that native English speakers in immersion programs don’t quite achieve native-like levels of speaking and writing skills. When native skills are achieved, students received several months in a complete immersion environment with regular language instruction. I think the problem is that I attempted to pawn the job of teaching Spanish off on his school. I really don’t think there is a substitute for speaking Spanish at home if you only want to send your child to school part-time. My son can count to 10 in Spanish and knows how to say yes, hi and bye in Spanish. But, he rarely converses with me in Spanish (despite my attempts) and doesn’t like watching shows in Spanish for long. The best results come from reading and speaking with my son in Spanish. If I want my son to be bilingual, we are going to have to bring more bilingual fun in our home through music, movies, storytime and dialogues.
While media is not a great way to learn a second language without real life experiences, it is a great way to introduce you and your child to new vocabulary that you can practice together. One of my favorite ways to practice Spanish at home is with Learning with Yaya because it was developed by a pediatric, bilingual speech and language pathologist. We taught our son baby sign language by watching Signing Time together and using the signs ourselves until he started using them, too. Similarly, Learning with Yaya’s songs and books help me and my son learn Spanish together in a fun way. There are also Spanish apps for kids by Rosetta Stone, Endless Spanish, Little Pim, and FunSpanish.
Kids love music. Music engages the entire brain and makes learning fun. Through songs, children not only can improve their listening and memory skills, but they can also learn new vocabulary, sentence structures, and practice their pronunciation skills. My son likes listening to music in all languages. He loves music in Spanish just as much as music in English. He even likes listening to my yoga kirtan music in Sanskrit and repeats the mantras back exactly.
My son also loves books but I have found it laborious to read even the most simple stories in Spanish. Even Dr. Seuss books are too difficult. In order for me to feel comfortable reading, I need books with simple Spanish vocabulary. I leave the more elaborate stories to my public library, which occasionally offers bilingual story time. My son also enjoys workbooks, which are available in Spanish. High Five magazine has a bilingual version, which is a great way outside of the library to access a variety of new and interesting reading material in Spanish.
Lastly, one of the best ways to bring a second language into the home is by bringing a person into the home that speaks that language. I’m finally considering hiring a nanny to watch my son when I need to go to meetings or networking events rather than scrambling and begging the grandparents every time. I will definitely be hiring someone who speaks Spanish.
Research shows that language is developed from birth (maybe even in the womb), improves general academic success and is necessary to prepare our kids for the global marketplace. We need to make bilingual education a priority in our homes and seek language enrichment for our kids from the start. As we seek and use bilingual early education tools, the market will respond to the demand with even more robust options.
One of the most important ways for a monolingual parent to raise a bilingual child is through dual language and immersion schools. The best time to learn a language is between birth and 8 years old. In most European countries, students begin studying their first foreign language as a compulsory school subject between the ages of 6 and 9, according to a 2012 report from Eurostat, the statistics arm of the European Commission. However, most foreign languages are introduced much later in U.S. schools. Primary schools have very low rates of offering foreign-language course work, let alone making it compulsory.
In a bilingual program, language is not considered an academic subject, because the language is not the object taught, it is the instrument used to teach the curriculum. One of the hottest trends in public schooling is what’s often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs. In these programs, one teacher teaches in the native language and another teaches in the second language. This method is taught on alternate days, or perhaps morning in the native language and afternoon in the second language.
According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, there are 294 school districts that have elementary schools with a dual language program. Utah, California and Minnesota are the leaders in immersion, and New York City, North Carolina, Delaware, Oregon and Washington have followed suit by creating dual language programs as well. While dual immersion exists in many school districts and metropolitan areas, Utah is the only state with a program. When students graduate from a Utah high school, they are only two classes short of having a minor in a foreign language. California, New York, Illinois, and New Mexico also have a Seal of Bi-literacy on their high school diploma that signals to future employers and college admission officers that the student has attained proficiency in a second language by the time they graduate from high school.
All of this progress is very exciting. I was happy to find that my local school district, Dallas Independent School District (DISD), has had a two-way dual language program since 2006 and offers the program in 50 elementary schools. While most are flocking to the suburbs for better schools, I was more interested in the dual language and Montessori options available at DISD, which are absent in the suburbs. When it came time to enroll my son in kindergarten, however, I was disappointed find out that these programs have limited space, which are given based on a lottery system.
As mothers and advocates for our children’s education and future, we need to share information about why bilingual education is a worthy endeavor and how the transition has been successfully accomplished in other cities and states so we can catch-up with the bilingual education and capabilities around the world. We need to integrate foreign language the way we have integrated technology into schools. We need to help and encourage our education administrators to find high-quality, licensed, foreign language teachers and develop appropriate curricula, materials, and resources. Therefore, we need to find out what programs are available in our areas and reach out to PTAs, state supervisors of languages, superintendents, school boards, state boards of education, congress members and other elected representatives to educate and assist them in implementing more programs. The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the National Network for Early Language Learning have a lot of helpful tools for advocating for bilingual education. Let’s not just make bilingual education lofty yet unattainable ideal or personal endeavor for our own children, lets make it the next revolution in American education.
Everyone is on the hunt for deals for the beginning of the Christmas season. This year is a little different — we have a new president-elect that requires vigilance, not just in politics but with our wallets as well.
I believe the way I spend my money is just as important as the way I vote. I believe I’m not just buying the product, I’m buying into that company’s employee policy, environmental policy and the politics of the CEOs of that company every single time I spend a dollar. I refuse to give individuals more money to lobby against my interests and treat their employees so poorly that the employees have to get government assistance for basic needs. There are more organic and natural options without high fructose corn syrup because customers demanded it. People shifted from conventional produce and artificial flavoring and forced companies to respond to market demand. Likewise, I hope to make environmental and socially conscious business a requirement for business success.
This is the season of giving, light and birth. It is the season we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and it is also the season of shopping and giving to charities. I want to focus on supporting those companies that are doing the right thing. I want to recognize shopping as an opportunity to give to the retail workers and my community. I want to think of my shopping choices as voting for companies that will support legislation and policy with which I agree. I want to do this in three ways: (1) give gifts that also give to charity, (2) shop at local, socially conscious and/or environmentally friendly establishments, and (3) give more meaningful, rather than purely consumer, gifts so I have more money to give to charity.
There are a lot of fancy, expensive and complicated ways to shop consciously but I tried to find gift ideas that aren’t too expensive or complicated.
Not all gifts need to be bought. Rather than stressing over crowded shopping malls, make the holidays a season for creativity by making more gifts rather than buying them. With the money you save on gifts, you can give a little extra to charities this season.
- Create a coupon book of certificates for your children or adults – ten gift coupons for them to redeem during the year. Your spouse may appreciate a “back rub coupon,” your kid, a “no room cleaning today” pass, and for a friend a “babysitting coupon.”
- Do Pinterest Crafts: you can make your own lemon sugar hand scrub, vases with photos, pillows with photos, banana bread in a jar, make your own coasters, make jam, jewelry, bath bombs, and the list goes on.
- Everyone loves personalized gifts, so create a simple book about your child for your child, written and illustrated by you.
- Make your own Christmas cards, maybe even with the help of your kids.
Gifts that Give Back
That’s Caring Food Basket – Food Basket gives supplies for a weekend food bag to a child living in a food-insecure environment. The company founders sourced unique gift items from local charitable organizations and fair trade, sustainable manufacturers, offering very high quality gift options with little to no non-biodegradable waste to consumers and businesses across the country. Many of their gift baskets are centered around food, including gourmet chocolates, confections, cheeses, wines and more. They currently work with Northern Illinois Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank and Food Bank of North Georgia.
Pantagonia – Pantagonia is a Certified B Corporation and is donating 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental groups. The donations will come from sales from both physical stores and online sales. They also use organic cotton grown in the US and are fair trade certified. Their mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Uncommon Goods – This is a collection of artisan crafts and art. Uncommon Goods is a Certified B Corporation. With every purchase you make, they donate $1 to a Better to Give partner of your choice. They make sure that their products never involve any harm to animals – they don’t carry products made with fur, feathers, leather, or pearls.
Better World Books – Better World Books is a Certified B Corporation. Every time you purchase a book from BetterWorldBooks.com, they donate a book to someone in need. The books they donate go through hundreds of non-profit organizations. In addition, organizations like Room to Read, the National Center for Families Learning, and Books for Africa receive funding from every book they sell. As part of their commitment to environmental sustainability, they never, ever throw away a book. Any book for which they cannot find a proper home is recycled. Sharing books is a great gift for kids and adults. We get to share information and imagination.
One Hope Wine, Coffee & Gifts – This gift does double good because it provides a consumable gift that also gives to charity. A portion of proceeds from each bottle of wine, gift set or bag of coffee goes to a good cause. The wine is from Napa Valley and the company was named Empact 100’s Social Business of the Year in 2012. Their donations are given to nonprofits selected by using a 13-point criteria standard.
Giftback Baskets – Giftback has gift baskets that give 10% to the charity of your choice. Like One Hope, I like that these are consumable gifts. I don’t like giving gifts that clutter people’s homes. While they have cookies, they also have fruit and other healthy options. I enjoy food and love giving and receiving gift baskets.
UNICEF – UNICEF Market offers beautifully crafted items, including gifts and cards, with part of the proceeds going to talented artisans and to help UNICEF save and protect children. Unlike many non-profit shops, UNICEF has many beautiful items that are reasonably priced and have a general appeal. It is not filled with items with brand recognition, but you can truly find a gift that your friends and family will enjoy.
Charity Pot by LUSH – Lush is 100% vegan, handmade, refuses to test on animals and supports various campaign organizations. Charity Pot is a rich and generous body lotion. With every purchase of Charity Pot, LUSH donates 100% of the price (minus the taxes) to small, grassroots organizations that could use the helping hand to continue the incredible work they do. Charity Pot supports organizations that align with LUSH ethics in the areas of environmental conservation, animal welfare and human rights. All profits from the sale of their Error 404 bath bomb will be donated to Access Now and grassroots digital activism groups working to protect digital rights in areas at risk of government-enforced shutdowns. LUSH also gives a portion of the proceeds from their FUN line to a good cause.
Alex and Ani Jewelry – Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design line of bracelets are eco-conscious jewelry that is made in America and gives to non-profit organizations.
Good Cause Greetings – Give greeting cards that support charitable causes throughout the world. Good Cause Greetings donates a minimum of 10% of the revenue from the sale of each card directly to the specific charity whose work is described on the back of each card. Every Good Cause Greetings card is eco-friendly. Chlorine-free recycled paper is used exclusively. All paper is certified by both FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). The ink that provides the bold, bright colors is soy based.
Tiny Prints Operation Smile Partnership – Support Operation Smile through Tiny Prints.
Socially Conscious Shopping
Socially conscious vendors include fair trade companies, B Corporations, companies with high Corporate Equality Index (CEI) ratings and companies that with high employee satisfaction as measured by Glassdoor.com. Fair Trade Certified™ products were made with respect to people and planet. Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. CEI is the Human Rights Campaign’s rating system for American workplaces based upon LGBT equality. Glassdoor’s ratings are based solely on employees’ anonymous reviews of the company. I realize that none of these are perfect standards but they are a start.
Shop Local & Used – If you aren’t able to find gifts that also give to charity, try shopping at small local shops that help keep the money in your community and support local artists and business owners. Also, try shopping for used goods at thrift stores and stores that refurbish items. Many bookstores, music stores and high-tech vendors offer used or refurbished items as well.
Etsy – Etsy is a Certified B Corporation. They view their social, environmental and business goals as inseparable. They don’t just recycle and compost in every office, they know exactly how much their trash weighs and bike their compost to community farms every week. They provide entrepreneurial training for artisans looking for new ways to support themselves and their families. They give their employees five days a year to spend volunteering in their communities.
Junior Explorers – Junior Explorers is a Certified B Corporation. Junior Explorers was developed as a program to develop kids’ understanding of our planet, its ecosystems and species through fun and interactive missions. Junior Explorers is dedicated to educating and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards. As kids learn about our planet with Junior Explorers, they also learn about environmental conservation projects happening around the world today. For every sign up, Junior Explorers donates a percentage of its revenues to environmental projects.
Fair Trade Winds – Fair Trade Winds has reasonably priced fair-trade items made by artisans around the world. They partner with artisan co-ops and small workshops that are mindful of the materials that are used and re-used. They also pay a fair wage which helps ensure a decent standard of living and secure a future for artisans’ and farmers’ families.
Apple – Apple has a 4 out of 5 satisfaction rating from employees on Glassdoor.com, it has a 100 Corporate Equality Index score from the Human Rights Campaign and it is
Starbucks – They received a rating of 100 out of 100 on the Corporate Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign and employees have anonymously rated Starbucks with an average of 3.8 out of 5 on Glassdoor’s employment website. They also care about the environment and ethical sourcing. I love giving and receiving Starbucks gift cards. I use them when I need energy on the go or I need water at the airport, and obviously some people go there every day. In 2002, Starbucks began using and selling Fair Trade Certified coffee, and by 2009 they had become the world’s largest buyer of Fair Trade coffee beans.
Costco – Costco is the affordable way to take a stand. Costco has an average hourly wage of $12.49, a Glassdoor rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 and great healthcare benefits. It is exactly the way we want corporations treating their employees. Costco has a CEI Score of 80. Although hourly part-timers at Costco have to wait a little longer than full-time employees for benefit eligibility (180 days instead of 90), the national wholesale retailer offers a competitive package that includes health, dental and vision care, and a 401(k) plan with employer contribution. Costco’s ethical sourcing goals include avoiding slave labor; selling sustainable seafood; avoiding conflict minerals (raw materials sourced from conflict zone countries where the materials are sold to finance the fighting groups, e.g. “blood diamonds”); protecting animal welfare involving on-farm living conditions and slaughter methods; and working towards 100% sustainable palm oil products. Costco has a charitable giving program open to many not-for-profit organizations such as The United Way, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the Red Cross, but they aren’t transparent on their website about how much they give. Costco provides returning veterans with work with competitive wages and benefits, with either full-time or part-time positions available for those using the G.I. Bill to attend school.
Best Buy – Best Buy has an average hourly wage of $10.36, a Glassdoor rating of 4.0, and a 100 CEI ranking. I think Best Buy is one of the best places for Black Friday shopping. It always has one of the best deals and I think it is one of the most socially responsible companies of the Black Friday leaders.
Minted Holiday Cards – Minted’s community of independent artists and designers are located in 48 states and 43 countries. Their core competencies are mobilizing and activating creative people, and enabling them to monetize their art by identifying the industries and products where their art is most interesting to consumers. Minted produces and sells winning designs, paying the designer a commission on every sale. In addition, winning artists and designers have stores on Minted. They can launch any of their creations into their stores, utilizing Minted’s manufacturing, fulfillment, and customer service capabilities to run their businesses.
There are many other companies that pride themselves on being conscious companies. I tried to include items that were economical and beautiful. I believe that conscious consumerism can be economical and conscious business practices can also be profitable. I tried to provide a balance between conscious choice and practical choices. I hope this helps families take the next step toward conscious consumerism and happier holidays.
I believe that the universe is friendly. And I believed that alone made Trump’s victory impossible. Trump’s election caused me to stay awake at night not out of fear (although it was there) but because it made me question whether I believe the universe, or this nation, is friendly. It caused me to question my faith that everything will turn out for our highest and best in “the end” (whenever that is). It caused me to question whether sharing yoga and trying to elevate consciousness through spiritual practices and supporting organizations that raise consciousness was a futile and frivolous goal. Because, as Einstein stated, “[I]f we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly.” If the world is an unfriendly place, why have children? Why do art?
As the days went on, I moved on from questioning whether the universe (and this country) is a friendly place and started asking: What is the best for our nation? How can I be of service? How can I be a conduit of God’s love in this current political situation? How can I stay consciously engaged rather than withdrawing to avoid discomfort? How can I use my education to make this world a better place?
I came to the conclusion that the election was not “the end.” Instead, this election was my catalyst for spiritual, conscious, and optimistic social action. As our100.org stated, “Our work did not start, and has not ended, with this election.” I realized I need to stop looking to politicians to make our world better because we all have the power to create change. The only limitations are what we believe we can do and what we are willing to do. It was silly of me to think that Trump’s victory has anything to do with whether we live in a friendly Universe because as Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [women and] men to do nothing.”
Trump’s election made me realize that being a good mom is not just about raising good children. It’s also about making the world a better place. There are many out there who are quietly working to evolve the consciousness of themselves and others. But, there are few who are spiritually grounded and take action to effect change in the physical world. Prior to this election, I believed that prayer, meditation, and holding the vision of peace is the good work that must be done to change this world. I interpreted Gandhi’s message to “be the change you want to see in the world” to mean that I must be loving to make the world a better place. While that is true, I must also take action, as he did. Simply praying and meditating on election day does not help unregistered voters vote. It does not help change the hearts and minds of those that choose not to vote because they think it doesn’t matter or things will never change for them. As the Dalai Lama stated after the attacks on Paris, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers.” I must take action in the world.
As parents, we understand how to love our children yet correct and direct their behavior. When our child acts out, we discuss the underlying issues and give them appropriate guidance to help them do better. Maybe if I can respond to those on the other side of political issues with the same loving guidance, candid discussions and conscious action, I can be the change I wish to see in the world. Just as it is my duty to tell my son, “No, you cannot run through the mall wielding a ninja sword.” I have a duty to tell Trump or anyone who doesn’t already know, “No, you cannot take away women’s autonomy over their bodies because women are powerful bearers of life and only we can decide whether we choose to bear the burden of motherhood.”
The list of unacceptable actions is too long. But, to me, it’s also irrelevant because my focus is not on the other side. My focus remains on the light . I choose love, not fear, as my motivation. My love is not passive. I will fight for love. I will stand for peace. I will be an optimistic activist. I see a world that works for everyone and with that vision I act in this world to make this spiritual truth not just present in my consciousness but manifest in this world. Trump’s election has caused the Centers for Spiritual Living’s Global Vision to resonate with me even more, especially these lines:
“We envision a world where personal responsibility joins with social conscience in every area of the political, corporate, academic, and social sectors, providing sustainable structures to further the emerging global consciousness.”
I have spent a good amount of the last few years sharpening my spiritual tools and now is the time to use them for conscious social action. Just as being a mother changed my spiritual practice and made me evolve through action, this election has caused me to want to take actions to make the spiritual truth of oneness and peace manifest in this world. Trump’s election was a call for me to reach higher, dream bigger and step into leadership. I felt completely ill-equipped to do anything that would make a difference beyond protesting on Facebook, signing online petitions and making contributions to organizations. The revolution requires getting up and showing up in a way that is foreign to me. It requires becoming active in politics and non-profits, protesting and contacting politicians to express my opinions. And, it requires me taking steps in the right direction, even if I need to stop and ask for directions along the way.
I have always loved math, brain busters, puzzles and board games. I think it is because they encourage you to break out of your normal thinking patterns and use your brain in a new and interesting way. They encourage you to play with your brain in the same way you play with your body in sports. I think it is also because my father introduced me to math through a bonding experience using playing cards. It was not introduced as cold information to force into my brain. It was introduced as a tool for fun. As I went through school, my best and worst educational experiences were a direct result of how much I was able to explore, discover and think critically, maybe even creatively. That is what made school fun. The most important things I learned were how to think, not what to think. Teaching your children to enjoy learning and thinking in new ways is a great way to bond and give them a love for learning that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Children as young as 4 1/2 begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills. Even if I didn’t think higher-level thinking was inherently fun and interesting, I would still make a point of teaching my son thinking skills because he will be able to use them throughout his life, especially for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs of the future. Katharine Stevens, the founder of Teachers for Tomorrow and an expert in early childhood education states the key to children’s long-term success is developing a range of higher-level thinking skills like reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving. Further, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations and STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. According to John Hopkins’ Science Learning Institute, one of the most important skills you can teach a kid to help them excel in STEM is spacial reasoning — how to analyze space and how things move. Studies have found critical thinking, spacial reasoning and other higher-order thinking skills are teachable skills that can be improved.
Spacial reasoning, critical thinking and other higher-level thinking skills can be effectively taught using apps. Research has shown that technology, especially touchscreens, helps kids learn spatial reasoning. In fact, studies have shown computers can help young children develop many higher-order thinking skills like making choices, altering their strategies and using drawings to solve problems. The reason technology is a great way to teach kids thinking skills is because it allows kids to interact and play with complex concepts with minimal instruction and supervision. They get to use their thinking skills to solve and explore a problem themselves, rather than having an adult tell them what to do. And, they get to do it in a way that teaches them that learning and overcoming problems is fun, not a chore.
Many apps market themselves as educational, but they do not all help kids learn equally effectively. Below is a list of apps that challenge kids’ brains (maybe even adult brains). While they are entertaining, they are still consistent with the general guidelines for choosing apps for preschoolers that I discussed in my previous post. Be sure to monitor the amount of time you allow children to use media and make sure they are using the app in the intended way. While I don’t think you need or should stand over a child’s shoulder as they work with these apps, you should be in the same room and discuss the skills used after the app. This is no challenge for me, since my son loves to share his creations and accomplishments with me. Get ready to hear, “Look what I made!” and “Watch this!” with these apps. This stuff is cool.
1. Puzzle Explorer by Nat Geo (FREE)
Solving mazes helps build spatial reasoning, problem solving and logic skills but the learning doesn’t stop there. Children don’t just solve mazes, they create mazes, too. Creating mazes helps their planning, sequencing and strategy skills. They learn terms like “dynamic obstacles” and how to use them. The best part of this app is when my son creates a maze for me to try to solve. It always starts out impossible. He generously removes obstacles to allow me to complete the maze and congratulates me on my hard work. This app was already wonderful without the added benefit of teaching kids about people, places, plants and animals around the world. The app provides a free version, which is entertaining for young kids for quite a while. Once interest wains, you can extend the fun by purchasing the full app. If your kid likes mazes, ThinkRoll is another maze app she might joy. But, Puzzle Explorer stands out because of the ability to create your own maze and learn about the world.
2. Dragon Shapes (FREE)
Tangrams are an ancient Chinese puzzle that consists of 7 flat shapes, which are put together to form shapes. Tangrams are one of the classic tools used by researchers to teach spatial reasoning. In addition to spatial reasoning, tangrams promote early geometry and problem-solving skills. I’ve purchased physical tangrams for my son but he never showed interest in them. I have tried downloading a basic tangram app that did not catch his interest either. This app, however, was immediately fun and engaging. The game begins with a story and each level continues to develop the story. In addition, kids don’t just learn what shapes look like; the app points out qualities of the shapes like the number of sides. Kids also learn about right angles and parallel and perpendicular sides. The app is free to try but you will need to purchase it to enjoy the full version.
3. 3-D Builder (FREE)
This PBS app is made by a company that I trust. I love this particular app because it helps develop spatial reasoning skills and my son is a fan of Cyberchase. Kids will learn how 2-D shapes are folded to make 3-D shapes and visually determine which flat 2-D shapes will make the desired 3-D, shape. That is spacial reasoning at its best. The app goes further by requiring kids to rotate the shapes to the side that looks like the picture in the upper right corner. This teaches kids’ eyes to find matches and helps them prepare for seeing a visual diagram and creating it in the physical world. This app just might help your kid build their little brother or sister’s Ikea crib. Or, maybe not. But, it is definitely educational. The game includes 70 flat 2-D shapes that transform into 40 3-D structures. Cyberchase has another fun app that helps with spacial learning called ShapeQuest. It is fun and teaches kids about angles. But, the 3-D shape building skills in this game make it a slightly more challenging and a more relevant tool for teaching spatial reasoning skills.
4. Code-a-pillar (FREE)
Code-a-pillar is an accessible way to teach preschoolers about coding. Kids must drop arrows and other codes onto the path to guide the caterpillar on the route to its destination. My son and I have had so much fun dancing with this app. I was amazed to see his little mind pick up the concept of coding so quickly. The hardest part for him was to learn which way to turn. The game is really fun because the path gets progressively harder and the game keeps introducing new tricks for the caterpillar to perform. I have not seen or tried the actual code-a-pillar that Fisher Price sells but I look forward to trying it out one day soon. Coding is a skill of the future. Even more, the process of planning and sequencing helps kids learn to plan to reach a goal and exercise problem-solving skills to get there. There were many times when my son did not get it on the first try but he simply reworked the problem and tried again. Fostering that kind of perseverance is reason enough to love this app.
5. Inventioneers (FREE)
Inventioneers is an amazing engineering game to encouraging little tinkerers. It teaches strategic-thinking and problem-solving skills. My son is a natural tinkerer–building things with household items and furniture. This app was the next natural step to complement trips to the Lego Store and Home Depot. I was amazed that he could figure out how to complete these tasks. These challenges take time, but he tries, fails and tries again. He enjoys the challenge and the mystery. The actual goals and tools are cute and often make him giggle. Although the app is made for older kids, my son enjoys it and doesn’t get frustrated by the complexity because the process itself is fun to him. The initial app is free and includes 14 inventions but the full version is $2.99. The free version will entertain younger kids for quite a while. The developer of this app also has a similar app called Pettson’s Inventions and Peg+Cat’s Tree Problem app is also a similar engineering app. This is the most challenging and entertaining of the three.
6. Where’s My Perry ($2.99)
In addition to problem-solving skills, this app teaches about the states of water and the physics of water. Kids must transform water into solid, liquid and gas to solve the puzzle. I played this app before I even saw Phineas and Ferb. Once I saw the show, I loved it. A similar app is called “Sprinkle,” but once my son saw the show associated with this app, this one became his favorite. This is a challenge because it is more than a maze, it is a puzzle.
7. Brain Jump ($2.99)
Brain Jump uses kid-friendly stories and games to teach children the powerful idea that our brains can grow and get stronger if we take on challenges. The app was designed by teachers and neuro-scientists to give children confidence and improved concentration when learning new things. The thing I love most about Brain Jump is that it actually teaches kids about thinking. Meta-cognition is a great thing to teach kids early so they can become aware of how they are using their brains. The game helps build memory and concentration, which are age-appropriate skills for preschoolers and kindergartners. When kids make a mistake, they take one step back and then try again. Although the games are fun and challenging, this is the most explicit learning app. Kids know they are exercising their brains, not just playing a game.
I love storybook apps because they make stories come to life and encourage a life-long love for reading. In the pre- and early-reading stages, kids can’t sit down with a good book and read it on their own. The animation, sounds, and highlighted text of storybook apps take reading to the next level and provide an educational yet entertaining way for children to experience stories and books for themselves. While apps are not a replacement for storytime with mom and dad or letting them flip through pictures independently, it is a nice supplement that allows them to control the reading experience. As any parent knows, kids feel empowered and confident when they do things themselves. My son enjoys reading storybook apps with me, independently and to me.
I have generally discussed the appropriate use of apps with preschoolers in my previous post, but I must note that I introduced my son to reading with traditional books. My son loves storytime and sitting with picture books and graphic novels alone. I would recommend starting with reading before bed and going to storytime at your local library. I would also recommend waiting to introduce storybook apps after your child has developed a strong love for reading or you have discovered you’re child just won’t sit still long enough to finish a book. I think these apps can be used to draw and hold the attention of kids who don’t have the attention span for books. I think, however, they can be detrimental to kids who would have enjoyed reading regular books but start with a storybook app and get addicted to the interactive or animated nature of the book. Also, reading to your kid isn’t just about learning, it is also about bonding. So don’t skip that bedtime story. Storybook apps are still screentime, not storytime or independent “reading” time.My list includes choose-your-own-adventure, books the incorporate educational games and books that are down-right fun. Before I dive into my 7 favorite storybook apps, let me tell you a little more about why I love the apps on my list.
Animation Sparks Memory
While you are probably hesitant about too many bells and whistles in apps for your wee ones, animated illustrations are one worry you can scratch off your list. Although animation on TV probably does nothing for your child’s literacy, they sure do know exactly what happens in their shows. The same is true in animated books. In fact, two scholarly articles reviewing a wide range of research studies about e-books, one published by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the other by Developmental Review, found that animated illustrations that are linked to the storyline and text of the book can help your child better comprehend the story. This is because simultaneously processing information verbally and visually, helps children learn and retain information better. Don’t get too relaxed though, unrelated animation that is purely for entertainment without having direct relevance to the progression of the story, is a distraction. So, I look for storybook apps with animation that are well-integrated and consistent with the core message of the story.
Background Sounds Provide ContextTwo more surprising items you can scratch off your list are sound effects and background music. Studies have shown that background sound – the sound of knocking on a door, birds whistling, or an engine running – are also processed in the visual/pictorial channel, not as sound. Therefore, like animated illustrations, they enrich the story and make it more memorable. In addition, research suggests that nonverbal music also helps with reading comprehension because it helps the child understand the character’s feelings.
Highlighted Text Focuses on LiteracyIt is no surprise that highlighted text is a great tool in storybook apps. Studies demonstrate that such features improve print knowledge such as word recognition and letter-reading skills. My little emerging reader is always trying to follow-along with books and the highlighted text makes it easy for him to see the words as they are read on the page.So, with these three key elements in mind. Let me present the 7 best storybook apps for kids:
1. The Monster at the End of This Book ($4.99)This classic book is wonderful in physical form and so fun to read. But, the app takes the book to the next level. Your child gets to tap on the chains and bricks to knock down the walls and hurdles Grover built to stop him from turning the pages. It’s its kind of like story time with Grover in your own home, which is AWESOME. The app is fun and the words are highlighted and even pointed out in the beginning. I love how the words themselves are interesting with different fonts and colors. I especially enjoy how the words actually appearing as they are read, rather than merely being highlighted. The animation in this book focuses on what matters, the words and the storyline. My son has enjoyed this app for a while. Parents have trusted Sesame Street for a long time and it is no surprise that Common Sense gave it 5-Stars. This is one of the first apps I purchased for my son and it entertained him for a good 2 years. Now, he seems to be a little tired of it, which happens with books sometimes. However, there is a sequel to this book, which is a great way to extend the fun when interest wains.
2. Story Maker (Free)My son loves this create-your-own-adventure book. I loved these as a kid, too. As we all know, preschoolers love to be in control and this book allows them to do just that. They get to choose the main character, the location of the story, and what they find. It also helps expand their vocabulary by defining words throughout the story. The story your child has created is stored on their virtual bookshelf where they can read it again and again. The great thing about this app is that there is variety. There are a lot of great stories out there but when you have to think about storage space, you can’t have 20 storybooks saved on the iPad. Further, even the best story can get old. So, I love this book for the variety, control of the story line and the vocabulary building tools. There are no in-app purchases, upgrades or advertisements.
3. The Cat in the Hat (3.99)This is another classic book that was beautifully adapted into an app. Each page has many items that will animate when tapped and there is a quiz incorporated into the app. It’s fun, educational and interactive. The Cat in the Hat was mention in the International Reading Academy’s article, stating it is an example of how hotspots in e-books can be especially effective in helping children understand books. My son loved this book for a while but lost interest after a reading it a gazillion times. Its a great app but it doesn’t have longevity because it doesn’t have a lot of variety.
4. The Witch with No Name (3.99)Little Cricket has done a great job of making interactive books. I have the Witch with No Name on the list but I think any of their books would be fun. They are all stories that require the reader to solve educational puzzles and games to help the main character move along in the story. It draws the reader into the story and makes reading even more fun. In addition, the activities in this book develop children’s visual and motor capabilities without sacrificing their understanding of the story. Research has shown that embedding games in storybooks makes them more interested but puts them in a frantic, “game mode” rather than a contemplative, “reading mode.” I’m breaking the rules on this one because I believe the games in this app is designed in such a way to encourage comprehension. These are not random games with the characters, these are tasks that are required to help the main character accomplish her goal of finding her name. The integration of the games into the story is similar to a e-book entitled The Birthday by Sylvia van Ommen. In that story, the children had to drag the letter to a friend or the letterbox of a friend the child to continue the the story. Researchers found that the activity did not place the children at risk for cognitive overload and did not diminish reading comprehension. I think the same is true here. This is a fund and interactive adventure. Little Cricket has several other stories with the same characters and format, which can help extend the fun once interest in this book wains.
5. Book Builder (Free)This is a choose-your-own-adventure book, which my husband and I both loved as kids. The first time my son played with this app, he systematically went through ever option of the book and enjoyed them all. The story is positive and inspiring. The options keep my son engaged and the graphics and animation are entertaining yet soothing. There are no in-app purchase, upgrades or advertisements. Not only, does this book encourage reading, it makes children aware of choice. Should the main character build his own rocket or go become a space cadet? Both of those options are fun and awesome and allowing your child to experience both helps them understand there are many paths to success.
6. The Magic School Bus: Dinosaurs ($3.99)My son has loved the Magic School Bus for a long time. He loves science generally and dinosaurs, space and anatomy are his favorite science topics. Therefore, this book was a no-brainer. If you are familiar with Magic School Bus books, even the books are a bit much for me. They packed with information in stories, illustrations, and student notes . With so much to see, there is no wonder they kept my son’s attention. The app is no different. There are videos, interactive games, and student reports linked to the topic discussed on the page. Despite all the different ways to explore, it is not frantic or fast-paced. The book is soothing and more of a trip the science museum. There are so many ways to explore. Although the book is obviously designed for older kids, my son loves it. None of the interactivity is frivolous, it is all educational. There is also a Magic School Bus storybook about the ocean but my son is much more interested in this book.
7. K’s Machine (2.99)
I love how this book is simple yet engaging. The animation that is relevant to the storyline and so much fun. The fact that it incorporates a child’s drawing of a machine helps encourage creativity and engineering. The cats in the book are silly and keep my son entertained.
This is not an exhaustive list of every book out there; its just my favorites. There are a lot of other great books like The Jungle Book and A Parcel of Courage but I have to draw the line somewhere to make room for other areas of interest like writing, art, science, math, engineering and technology. However, I specifically excluded Moo Baa La La La because it was a real disappointment. My son loved the regular book and it seemed like it was going to be educational. Unfortunately, it turned into an annoying sound machine because all he wanted to do was make the animals make noises and move them around. He had zero interest in the story on the app. So, that was money down the drain for me but an important lesson to anyone reading this. You have to pay attention to how your child uses the app. I tested the app before I gave it to him but (silly me) I did not anticipate the crazy, frantic way in which my 4-year old would interact with the app. Kids will be kids and apps are unpredictable. So, make sure you read these books with your kids and enjoy the way they interact with them.
There is no question that unmonitored technology and screen time can have a negative effect on our youngest children because fast music, flashing images, and violence can create kids that expect to be entertained all the time, develop poor social and behavior skills and have limited creativity. The question on every new parent’s mind is “How much is too much?” The American Academy of Pediatrics‘s answer to that question was originally no TV for kids under 2 and only 2 hours for older children. But, that recommendation was issued prior to the iPad and the plethora of apps aimed at wee ones. In fact, one of the authors of AAP guidelines restricting media use, updated his opinion in an article stating interactive media for children under 2 years is acceptable for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
In “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” the AAP provided further guidance to parents. Two of the main points to remember with apps is that media is just another environment and parenting has not changed. We need to monitor apps for violence, positive interactions and effective teaching techniques. I have read and applied the guidelines and created a curated list of apps for my son. I have decided to share them to help other parents on their journey to make good choices about media for their children as well. One of my goals is to help parents find interactive apps that stimulate learning, creativity and bonding. Dr. Ari Brown, the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ group investigating media use and children explained that passive shows and videos don’t stimulate the brain but interaction via video chat stimulates the child’s brain. Similarly, I feel select apps are the best screen time or form of technology because they are interactive and responsive. Even the most interactive show can’t correct your child and won’t stop and wait for your child to answer questions like an app. In fact, a large study at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom found that 5-year-olds who watched more than 3 hours per day of television were more likely to have worse conduct by the age 7, but the same stretch of video gaming had no effect on conduct. Further, an app can progress with your child’s development.
While parental curation is important, the way you use these apps is just as important. All of these apps are so fun to do with my son. We love learning and creating together and I encourage him to send his creations to his father and grandparents. It helps connect him to others and discuss what he has learned. It is also a great way to transition away from the iPad. Zero to Three, a nonprofit organisation focused on infants and toddlers, published a guide entitled “Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight,” which stated, “research also shows that when parents and other trusted adults make screen use an interactive, shared experience, it can become a tool for learning, and the potential negative effects can be reduced.” Dr. Rachel Barr, one of the author’s of the report, conducted research finding that 2 1/2 to 3-year-olds learn from magnet puzzles just as well as they learn touch screen puzzles in an app with their parent’s assistance. However, they have a hard time translating what they have learned to the real world. As stated in Zero to Three’s report, parents have vital role in learning through technology. A child can learn on an iPad but a parent needs to help the child with the app and help translate the experience into the real world. Therefore, it is essential that parents work with their kid the first time they use an app. Once I have helped my son learn how the app works, he is able to continue to build on skills independently.
I have chosen the apps I allow my son to use based on their content. I try to focus on the content of the app rather than the technology. So, when I read a story to him, I focus on the characters and the storyline, not the animation. I also try to find activities that link the activities in the app to real world. For example, I have used my son’s writing app to have him practice a letter on the app and then write the letter with a crayon on paper. I have used science and technology apps in connection with trips to our local science museum. The applications are endless but the idea is the same. The iPad can be a great springboard for learning in the real world. While I’m not constantly applying these activities to the real world, I believe making the concrete connection between the app the the real world once, helps him have a deeper understanding of the app and its real-life applications.
Choosing the right apps can be difficult. A helpful tool for curation is Common Sense Media, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing unbiased information and advice about media and technology as a positive force in kids’ lives. Even still, I have spent many late nights scouring iTunes, Common Sense, and the internet to select apps that I thought my son would like. Then, I tried those apps to make sure they didn’t have too many pop-up ads and were well developed. Finally, I tried the new apps with my son to see how he actually used them and whether they were developmentally appropriate for him and kept his interest without making him tune-out.
Over the next few posts I will provide a list of the apps my 4 1/2-year-old son and I love. All of these apps are teaching apps. None of these recommendations were sponsored. They are simply a little help for the next mother of a curious preschooler.
As with everything, I am sure my son will out grow these apps and I will have to go through this whole process all over again at the same time as buying new shoes and clothes. For that reason, I have tried to stick to free apps but sometimes you get what you pay for. I prefer apps that at least provide a free trial but if my son really liked them, I bought them and they were worth every penny. Your child may have different preferences and these free lite apps allow you to explore without risk. One great thing about apps is that they don’t take up room in your home.
I invite you to explore apps and have lots of fun (but not too much). As with everything, iPad apps should be used in moderation.