Oct 31

Organise your family with Online, Shareable Google Calendars

Do you have older kids with active social lives? More active than yours maybe? Even with all the technology they have, our kids tend can be a little….lax…. at letting us know what is going on! When they need to be picked up, what day that early-departure excursion is or when they agreed to go to a friends house to study… A shared online calendar can help get organised and avoid the last minute rush.

I know many of us will have the traditional paper calendar. They work great. Up until your child begins setting their own activities – around Grade 6 in my experience.

Then they have to be physically in front of the paper calendar if they want to mark in an event. If they aren’t, well, they just forget to tell us. Usually, until about 30 minutes before they need to be somewhere.

Great. Thanks for the warning. There goes my evening…..!

So for the past 5 years we’ve used Google Calendar with the four of us (me, my husband and my 2 step-sons). Although they do still need reminders to put some things in the calendar, life is much easier now. If it’s not in the calendar – with 24 hours notice – then, sorry we can’t get you there.

A bit of accountability is a good thing – especially as we prepare to become productive, independent adults (hopefully!) :0)

So here’s how it works.

  1. Get a gmail account – if you don’t have one.
  2. Go to Google Calendar  – https://www.google.com/calendar
  3. Sign in.

You get free access to shared, online calendars with your gmail account. This is one of many reasons I usually suggest Google for email and online tools. Good, secure free stuff!

  • First you should see this screen:

Set up Google Calendar for family use


See that list on the left hand side? That’s all the different calendars you can create. You can see one I’ve created for our family called “Roberts Family”. (And you can see the things we often forget like the rubbish bins collection and when I’m working at my uni desk or heading off to a rehearsal for our community theatre group!!)

So that’s what it looks like but you need to create yours first. You get one automatically created that just belongs to you but my suggestion is to make a calendar specifically for your family – just to make things nice and clear.

  • Where it says “MY CALENDARS”, click the drop down box and choose “CREATE NEW CALENDAR”

Set up Google Calendar for family use



So far, so easy, right?

  • Now we need to add in the details of our calendar, in these 4 spots:


Google Cal Setup 3


Number 1 – Give it a recognisable name that lets the family know this is their calendar

Number 2 – Choose your time zone so you’re all on the same time…or, ‘synchronise watches, Mr Bond’.

Number 3 – Here’s where you add in your partner’s and kid’s gmail addresses, yes they need a gmail address to have personalised access (***read more about this below)

Number 4 – Choose the kind of access people should have. If your kids are old enough, give them permission to MAKE CHANGES TO EVENTS. (They don’t need to be able to share the calendar though…) ‘Making changes’ means they can move events around as timings change – v. useful. Then click SAVE CHANGES at the bottom of the page. An email gets sent automatically to the people you shared the calendar with. It has instructions on how they can use the calendar – really straight-forward :0)

Shared google calendar for the family


*** So, kids and email accounts. This one fires up some parents. But I have to say that if they are 12 years or older and you deny your child an email address, they will be communicating online somewhere with SnapChat, MSN Messenger, Facebook messaging, Twitter, Skype… Or they will create their own, without you knowing and may expose themselves to all manner of nasties by giving out too much personal info.  There are a ton of ways that kids communicate without email – and some recent research is suggesting that our kids prefer not to use email anyway – too ‘old-fashioned’ apparently. Crap, we are getting old if emails “out-of-date”!!! ***

My suggestion if you really, really want to avoid email addresses with kids is to sign them in to the Family Calendar with your own gmail account. This means you see what they see. But – only use that gmail account for your calendar – get another one for email.

  • The only thing left to do now is to get your kids on to the Calendar with whatever device they have. So using the Internet browser on their laptop or the Calendar App on their mobile device. On the Internet – get them to set the calendar as their homepage or a Favourite that’s easy to get to.

Setting up calendars on Apple devices is easy – just set up the email address in Settings-Email,Contacts,Calendars and select “CALENDARS” when prompted. It can take a few minutes to load the calendar data.



A couple of last tips –

  1. Put extra info in the ‘notes’ box when you are adding in Events – just to make it really clear what the event is and who it involves!
  2. If necessary – and your kids are old enough – use the INVITATIONS feature to see if the family wants to come to an event – good for making quick decisions!
  3. Make sure you show your kids how to use the calendar and what you expect. It will take some practice for them to use it. But once they missed out on something that wasn’t in the calendar they don’t often forget! 

Give the online calendar a try and see how you go – has made our lives sooooo much easier! The Calendar syncs in the background. If you make a change it goes to everyone who has access straight away. No more waiting to get home to check the wall calendar to see if you can book in that appointment :0)

Do you have similar problems with your kids’ social lives being busier than yours??? Price of having kids or lack-of-planning-ahead in our children? Let us know what you think :0)


Oct 29

Googl-ing with Kids!

How’s it going where you are today? Hope you have better weather than here in Melbourne :0(

Do you Google? That’s a question none of us thought we’d be asked 15 years ago! But it’s true of the world today that most of us do Google – they even made it a verb! Here are my 5 ways to help our kids use Google to get the best search results they can -without spending hours and hours down the Google rabbit-hole!

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Use KEY WORDS. Specific words. And use more than one word. The Internet is a big place – 3 to 4 key words is best.



number 2


Add in a location if it’s a specific term. If you were searching for native birds – add in the country! Simple but effective!



number 3


Use quotation marks if you are looking for a specific person, term or place. So “Queensland Beaches” not Queensland Beaches. Quotation marks mean only websites with those exact words in that exact order will be shown. Narrows the search down nice and quick!


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Avoid words that sound like dodgy words. Not so easy – but think ahead!  Don’t Google “Pussy Cat”…you can imagine why. Cats with black fur or Cats in Africa will be less likely to   serve up porn!



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Little kids so under about 10 shouldn’t really be left to Google to their heart’s content! The Internet is such a big place – they need guidance and help to keep safe and to keep on track! If they are under 10 they should be using a computer in a family space anyway – make sure you can see the screen!



There are a lot of ‘advanced’ Google search tricks – we’ll look at those another time :0)

For now though – what other tips do you have to make online searching quicker and easier?



Oct 27

Quick Tips for Managing Your Computers at Home

Just a quick post today – to share 3 tips I often give to parents about using technology at home. These work for both kids and us parents too and help draw us a line between screen time and ‘real people’ time!

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No computers at meals. This means putting away the phone, iPad or laptop at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Not only are computers during meals anti-social, but they really encourage poor posture. Eat slowly, talk with your family and leave those screens on the kitchen bench!



number 2

When you first get home at the end of the day, put the computers out on the bench straight away. I see a lot of damage to technology because bags were kicked, tripped over or trodden on. Take out the expensive technology – yes even that iPhone – and put it in sight and out of harms way. For our kids, this also means we know when they are using their computers – good for managing computer use and helping keep them safe.



number 3

At night, as you go to bed, plug in the computers to charge – and the kids tech too – and make this part of your routine. Have a ‘charging station’ set up in a public space (kitchen or family room) and check that all the technology is accounted for. So no phones or iPads in bedrooms at night. This way you know that their computers are ready for learning at school in the morning and that there is a line between online time and at-home time. I have heard a number of not-so-great stories of online behaviour that happened in the early hours of the morning. Sending nasty or inappropriate messages from bedrooms when there are no adults around to help make good decisions… Keep the tech out of bedrooms!


So there are my three quick tips to keep your children happy and healthy (with tech) at home! We need to set boundaries for our children and enforce them too. Don’t worry it’s just about setting up a routine, and once you do this stuff becomes second nature :0)

How do you manage technology for your kids at home? Any other suggestions to share with us?

Oct 24

Cyber-Safety: 3 Things To Know To Keep Your Kids Safe

Online safety is the number one fear we parents have when our kids are online. Our kids need to know how to keep their personal information safe online and how to deal with anything unpleasant that happens too. Just like in the real, physical world, our kids are sometimes exposed to things we’d rather they weren’t – nasty comments, being left out, maybe called a mean name. We teach our kids to deal with these things. We don’t say – that’s it, no more talking to anyone for you! And it’s the same with technology, we have to teach them how be safe, rather than just remove the technology.

If we take the technology away from our children permanently then they will usually just find another way to get online – at playdates, the walk home from school, McDonalds free wifi, even mum or dad’s iPhone. For many of our kids, especially when they hit around 10 years old**, their social life is to some degree online. Take away the tool and we take away their tool to engage with their peers – not too mention the lost learning opportunities for their education.

***NOTE: Some parents won’t agree with me here. That’s fine. But what I would say is that if you do just unplug the computer or hide the iPad or turn off the wifi, your child will one day be online with less understanding and less experience in dealing with what are usually smaller issues. How do they then learn to cope with bigger problems like nasty emails at work or unwanted photos shared online that they may well encounter as adults?

The first thing to do with your child is make sure they know how to deal a tricky situation (there’s more tips here and here).

Basically, turn off the screen -NOT the computer – and tell a trusted adult.

Then the adult helps them report the nastiness (through the website if possible), saves copies if it’s ongoing and takes it to the next level if necessary. The ‘next level’ might mean talking to the school, to other parents involved or to the police.

I want to put a caveat there though – if you speak to another parent about their child’s behaviour, please, please remember that the vast majority of us are parenting the best we can. Be polite, listen to them and be open to hearing another side the story….that’s it, rant over, as you were…

When it comes to personal info, you need to remember (and remind your child) of the 3 Things Rule.

To steal your identity, do damage to your reputation, to try and hack an online account, or do other scary things to your computer or online accounts Nasty Internet Folks only need 3 things – 3 pieces of information.

cyber-safety and our kids

These can be any three pieces of information.

So, your first name, your last name and your address, or your school, or your football team or your street name or your car registration. You get the picture.

And pictures are the key. Be aware of what you are taking photos of…

That photo of your child’s football team with their team name on the jersey? That’s one piece of info. What else have you shared? Make sure you keep it under three.

That gorgeous pic of your child’s first day of school, is it showing the house or street number? That’s one (or two) things right there…and if they are in uniform and the school name is on their t-shirt….

The Internet is an amazing, growing, learning, developing, sharing tool that is just amazing for our kids to learn through. But precisely because it’s so open to opportunity means it’s also open to anyone and anything. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water – so we need to think and educate our kids (and ourselves) around these challenges.

So teach your kids the ‘3 Things Rule’ and make sure you follow it yourself. It’s fairly straight forward once you get going :0)

A question for today – If you have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, what personal info are YOU sharing? Would you let your kids share that much? Let us know how you are going with sharing your info online? Hard or easy?

**There’s research on that from the ACMA: 10-12 year olds are jumping into social media at this age in huge numbers according to the recent Australian census.

***Please note I’m talking about ‘removing technology permanently‘. I have no issue with the removal of technology as a consequence for poor behaviour choices – just like grounding our kids or removing privileges, it’s a way they learn about expectations of behaviour. However, I don’t think keeping them off tech forever is appropriate or helps them learn…

Oct 21

Help your kids write…with mindmapping software

Us primary school teachers know how important it is that your kids know how to write clearly and accurately. They need to be able to write lists, instructions, letters, emails and be persuasive, friendly or formal. All depending on the audience for their writing. That’s why we focus so much on story writing – all that creativity in writing stands them in good stead for any kind of writing. If you can create a narrative with story line, characters and setting, use paragraphs, adjectives and adverbs, you will not only better understand the stories you read but you can transfer those skills to writing a request letter, a good resume or a clear account of an event.

Supporting our kids to write

But how do we support our kids to write? Whether its fiction writing or not, all good writers begin with a plan. They map out what they want to say and then create a detailed structure for their writing.

We seem to see more boys than girls that tend to struggle to get started with their story. “I don’t know what to write” is a fave phrase in many a primary school classroom :0)

Mind Mapping

So, we can use Mind Mapping to make sense of their ideas and thoughts. Properly done, Mind Mapping is a thinking tool that uses the brain to its best ability, it’s based on neuroscience research and was developed by a guy called  Tony Buzan. (He has a great website here). But for today’s post, we just need a quick beginner’s guide:

How to Mind Map

  • Write your topic or idea in the centre of the page
  • Make sure your paper is blank – no lines or grids allowed
  • Take one colour and draw an ‘arm’ off of then central idea.
    Write ON the arm -NOT at the end of it (that’s a concept map, a good place to start with young kids but not mind mapping)
  • Now draw an arm off of that one – in the same colour – and add another thought.
  • Keep going!
  • Go back , with a different colour, and add another ‘arm’ – this one should be focused on another idea…

So Mind Mapping works by getting kids to think around a framework of ideas. They work because our brains really, really don’t like empty ‘arms’ on this kind of thing. So, we write ON the lines so the end is open – this makes our brains want to add more, and we tap into our imaginations and ideas. Clever, hey?

If your child is Grade 3 or older try Freemind  – an online free mindmapping software tool. Really easy to use and just works.

Here’s an example…

freemind mindmapping buzan school education use of mind mapping


Starting Small…

But our kids in primary school, are often not quite ready for full on mindmapping – so we start small and focus on building their skills in brainstorming first.

To do that there’s a really great, free website called Popplet that you should go have a look at. Here’s an example from a Grade 1 student who was planning a story the other week:

monster story popplet

Great isn’t it? There’s his story structure – introduction, problem, solution – and there are his characters and the story setting. This child went on to write a great story that he didn’t know he could produce :0) Win all round.

These ‘Popplets’ are great for non-fiction writing too. Next time your child has a project or story to write and they are complaining about having no ideas – try Popplet.

It’s an app on your iPad too and it really easy to use. Share them by printing them or saving a screenshot :0)

This one tool can make a huge difference to your child’s learning – and can give them a step up in what they can achieve :0) Always nice to be able to offer our kids a tool that is so useful in so many ways.

Does your child struggle with writing? What have you tried to get them going? I’d love to hear your thoughts :0)

Oct 17

Tech-Know Lingo – Re-Imaging a Computer…

No – you didn’t read that wrong and I didn’t spell imagining incorrectly. This is a key term for parents to understand when their kids begin with a computer program at school. Technicians do seem to talk another language sometimes. But ‘imaging’ is a new-ish verb that is used a lot in the schools I work in!

To make it easy – re- imaging means to take off all the data on a computer device and replace with a fresh set of data (called an ‘image). So Wiping It Clean ! Hence the image at the top of the post :0)

That data usually includes:

  • The operating system ( e.g. Windows or OSX on a Mac)
  • The software the school owns and has the licensing rights to give you
  • Settings to connect the computer to the wireless network at school
  • Settings to let the computer access the printers
  • Default settings like what the desktop picture is and what size/colour the cursor is
  • Other hidden settings to get your computer working efficiently at school

In schools we often have  a large number of laptops and computers to look after. So when a kid plays around  – and does something like rotate the entire screen so it’s  upside down or change the cursor into a barking dog (these have both happened to me many times!)  – it can be a long job to get the settings back to normal – try accessing anything on a computer with a cursor that just flashes and barks at you!!

So we usually do a full “re-image” of the computer – so we take everything off, including the messed-up settings, and reinstall the schools ‘image’ of software including the correct settings.

What this means is that – sometimes – kids lose any documents or files they might have on the computer.

Your kids need to understand backing up their own data, just as you do now you’ve read this post ;0)

What do you need to do?

Ask your kids if they have backed up their data on a regular basis – at most schools they have a school server they can store the data to and their teachers should help them do that.

So – now you know!

Re-imaging a computer means  re-installing a big package of software, settings and permissions onto a computer!

Oct 15

Backup Your Precious Photos and Data – one tool that makes it simple

Today’s post is more for you than your kids (although it might be useful for both). But first, a question: When was the last time you backed up your computer, your photos or your iPad or smartphone?

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your computer blew up (maybe from a power surge) or your house was burgled (really hope not) and your computer destroyed?

Backing up your computer at home. would it survive

If you are like most of us, your precious family photos are on your computer. Or there’s a decade’s worth of documents, spreadsheets or email that you’ve got sitting on your computer. Sure you could live without this info but I’m sure you’d rather not!

It used to be that you had to have a physical hard drive to back up your computer. Or maybe even a USB.  But not any more. We all create so much ‘stuff’ on our computers, it’s just not practical to backup everything ever time you make a change.

And so we now have a range of easy to use tools that are ‘Cloud Based’. Want to know about ‘Cloud Computing’? See this post. But the shorthand is, you are storing your data on other people’s (or companies’) computers – all around the world.

Is this safe? Well, yes. As far as safety on the Internet goes. There are a range of different services and I have heard good things about many of them.

But, I was asked the other day which back-up system I use so I thought I’d share. I use Dropbox. This isn’t a promotion but just a recommendation from a fan!



It works this way:

  1. Sign up for an account on their website
  2. Download the Dropbox Folder to your computer (every computer you own & your tablets too)
  3. Sign in to Dropbox on your computer
  4. Add any files to this Dropbox folder and they automatically sync to the Dropbox website.
  5. Done.


So how safe is Dropbox?

Here’s what they say –

Dropbox uses modern encryption methods to both transfer and store your data.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and AES-256 bit encryption.

This may be gooble-dee-goock to you but what it means is that your documents/photos whatever are encrypted (turned in to code)  when they are sent to Dropbox. So quite safe. But…

The Internet is NEVER a place for personal info though – so credit card numbers, bank details or any private documents don’t belong in the cloud. You need to back those up separately!

You family photos and documents are part of your family’s history. It would be very sad to loose all of that because a power pole goes down and the power surge fries your computer.

Try a cloud back up system and you don’t need to think about it again!

Every time you are connected to the Internet, Dropbox will synchronise your files.

This also means you can access your documents or photos from anywhere. So you started that birthday invite on your laptop at home and want to finish it on the desktop at work?

Go to the Dropbox website and find the document – anywhere, from any Internet-connected computer 🙂

Let me know how you go! Do you use Dropbox or another similar service?



Oct 13

Kids and iPads – Learning from this mistake cost us $200

I lost $200 bucks at a school. It wasn’t a lot of money in the grand scheme of things but it was to us. And the thing is it was my fault and I should have known better. At home I hope you can learn from my mistakes and save some heartache and trouble.

The Story :0(

We were 3 months in to a brand new and shiny iPad program – giving iPads to Grade 2 kids to use at school. I wanted to see where they’d go and what they’d do as part of the trial so I let the kids manage the iPads. They could add apps, take photos, share things via email.

They could also spend our school’s hard-earned money using in-app purchases.

In-App Purchases are often seen in games but you also find them in ‘free’ apps that let you upgrade or add new features for a small fee.

We had given the kids the iTunes password so they could purchase, but they needed to ask for our permission before installing.The iPads were only used at school so it seemed ok…

The students were really, really responsible and would ask before downloading any app – even free ones. They were doing a fantastic job in choosing a mix of fun and educational apps. And we were (and are) really proud of the way they were working.

One day a student let us know they could no longer buy apps. There should have been a lot of money left in the account… But no it was all gone.

That’s when we discovered that the money had all been spent on “in-app purchases”

We hadn’t explained to the kids that they needed to ask before buying anything – even when they were in the middle of using an app and it popped up a message saying – do you want to upgrade?

So we lost $200 and couldn’t get it back. Luckily our trial was still a great success without that cash. BUt I’m really gratefull the money wasn’t mine but from a grant!!!

To avoid losing cash the way we did, remember these three things:

1.One thing we did RIGHT was to use iTunes vouchers in the iTunes account – instead of putting a credit card number in. Thank goodness we didn’t do that. I hate to think what would have happened (and how much they would have spent) if they had access to the entire credit card limit!

2.Talk to your kids about it being actual money – just like their pocket money – they are spending and the money has to come from somewhere. It might seem like play money but someone somewhere has to pay real money!

3.Turn off “In-App Purchases” if you’d like. The instructions are below!

So we did learn something here – sometimes it’s not the kids’ fault but ours! And $200 was spent on learning how to use in-app purchases!

Want to turn off In-App Purchases Right NOW?

turn-off in-app purchases

Oct 10

But won’t they just lose their laptop? 5 Tips for helping kids keep their tech safe

When we begin a computer or iPad program at a school, I’m often asked if the kids are responsible enough to look after it. Especially as us parents are often forking up the cash for the shiny new tool. I have to let you know that YES. They most certainly are. At one school we have over 400 laptops and 160 iPads – in 3 years we’ve had 1 laptop stolen in a home burglary and NO laptops lost by kids either at school or at home (or on the walk home!). But, to keep your kids tech safe there are a few important things you need to know however.

Our kids do understand the value of technology. Maybe not for the money that it costs but for the things they can do with it. They certainly don’t set out to lose it or break it.  A lot of schools are going with laptops or iPads these days. And primary school kids love to use and learn with them. Maybe your school is asking you to pay for the technology too – schools don’t do this lightly and they want to give your kids the best learning experiences they can, while not sending families bankrupt either.

We all want our kids to be responsible adults with their behavior and with their belongings. And Primary School is where this often starts.

Us teachers ask you kids to be ‘monitors’ or have jobs in the classroom. This isn’t just to get them working :0) but also to feel what it’s like to have a responsibility in their daily lives.

Our kids do lose stuff – I can’t deny that at school picking up lost or abandoned clothes or toys is a bit of a part time job.  They do lose things and it drives us mad.

I bet we all hear this a lot…

kids losing laptops and technology

However, we parents tend to think that if they can’t keep track of a simple piece of clothing, then how can they possibly care for an expensive piece of equipment.

And here’s my answer –


It’s not the same thing at all.

Their jumper (sweater) doesn’t let them play, learn, find out how to do things or collaborate with their friends.

Their sweater isn’t totally necessary to their day…their computer is.

So, Here are my top 5 tips for teaching your kids to take care of their new technology.


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Be very clear with your child about where the laptop/iPad gets stored at home and at school. If they go to after school care, find out where it will be stored. It should be locked away somewhere. They should always have somewhere secure to leave their laptop/iPad


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Go over the tech and talk about which bits are particularly fragile. On a laptop that’s the clips that keep the battery in, the ports (holes) in the side and the screen. On an iPad it’s the ports (holes) and the corners.


number 3


Make sure they have some kind of protective case and they ACTUALLY USE IT. Anytime the computer/iPad is moved it needs to be in a case – any. time.


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Talk to your kids about what to do if it does get lost or damaged. Tell an adult (teacher at school, you at home) and explain exactly where, when and how it might have gone missing. Sometimes kids don’t tell us these things cos they think they will get in trouble. We need to explain that it only makes it worse if they don’t tell us right away!


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Check in regularly to see that they actually have the laptop or iPad and that it’s in good condition. We are still responsible for teaching our kids how to look after things of course!


So, your child can handle looking after their technology tool. But just as with anything else, they need our help to learn how to do this.

They love their tech tools and want to have them in good working order. We just need to work with them we can be sure they are getting the most out of their learning tools.

Your turn – any stories to share or other tips to share?

Oct 08

Cyber-Safety – how old are you online?

I wanted to chat this week about social media. You know things like Facebook, MSN, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace (in fact nearly all social networks).

I feel like I need to give a bit of a Public Service Announcement. Cos this week I’ve been asked a few times about how to look after kids on Facebook.

The thing is, these kids were all in Primary School and are under the age of 13.

And most of these social networks have an 13 years or older policy. So you shouldn’t be on there if you are under 13.

Look, I get it. I know kids want to be online and want to do what their friends are doing and what their older siblings and cousins are doing.  And they have some kind of persistence gene that activates around age 8. Really, I’ve seen it. It’s not easy to combat.

But, unfortunately if your kids have access these sites before the age of 13 you open up them to the real possibility of being exposed to inappropriate advertising.

That’s because Facebook, Twitter and so on assume that you are the age that you say you are. And saying you are older is as easy as clicking a button when they sign up.

BUT – here’s the problem. Whatever age you sign as – you get the matching advertising for that age.

So if you are in Grade 5 or Grade 6 and you tell website that your are 17 or 18 years old,  imagine the content that advertisers will serve up to an 18 year old – we really don’t want that kind of content being shown to our primary-school-aged child.

So, have a chat with your child and see what they are up to online.  There’s plenty of time for Facebook and there are other alternatives (like Edmodo maybe) that kids can use to get online with their friends in a much safer way…

As always, for more cyber-safety information and strategies, please go to www.cybersmart.gov.au