Jun 02

How digital books can help your child to read!

There are lots of great apps for iPads but the ones I love the most are the interactive ones. A favourite series of apps is called Big Cat Stories. Just like a book series, there are several apps, each focused on a different story.
The one I’ve used most recently with kids from ages 4-6 is called Farmers’ Lunch ;0)
Big Cat Stories Interactive books

Collins Big Cat Stories

I love these apps as they offer a few different ways of ‘reading’. Your kids can read traditionally, or hear the text read out to them or even record their own voice to listen back to. It means that kids tend to engage more in what they are reading – and maybe pay attention a bit more too.
how digital books can help your child to read
Many of these interactive book apps also offer games and activities that help our kids read more closely or think more about what they are reading. Games like re-ordering the sentences to tell the story or adding in extra ‘scenes’ are activities we use at school all the time. We know it helps kids focus on understanding (not just ‘barking at text’) – and that’s what reading’s all about right?
how digital books can help your child to read
But don’t forget these apps are designed to be fun and engaging too. With a love of reading you can learn – pretty much – anything! Astronaut, zoo keeper, neurologist, journalist…for every job there is something that can be learned from reading, so let’s get our kids excited to read with multimedia books that let them create, learn and have FUN!
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Oct 16

3 Simple Tips to Protect your Kid’s iPad

I’ve been asked lots lately about iPads and our kids. Mainly about how you stop kids dropping, throwing and breaking them!!!! Protecting kids’ iPads so they can use them as long as possible for learning is really important. I have a couple of (easy) tips for you!
First though, let me say that I actually don’t mind when kids are using iPads without kid gloves. To me, if they are tossing it (gently!) onto a table or chucking it on the couch then I think it’s actually become one of their tools in their learning toolkit, not something fancy or just for playing games on.
Of course I’m not saying I want them to damage it or break the screen. I just mean that when I first saw laptops in classrooms, kids (and teachers) were so conscious of using them ‘carefully’ that they weren’t used to full advantage. One teacher I saw had the laptops sitting on plastic bags and gave out hand wipes to clean the screen/keyboard after each lesson. I applaud her thoroughness (and shear ability to care that much) – but really???
iPads are everyday tools now. They should be used whenever necessary (just like pens and paper). I really think a bit of dirt on a screen or a scuff from where it’s been pulled in and out of its case is ok. More than ok. It’s doing it’s job as a learning tool.
BUT…
Of course we don’t want to waste all that money on iPads or laptops. We want these tools to be used and be useful – for as long as possible!
So my 3 Tips for Protecting Kids’ iPads…
  • Buy a case that protects the corners of the iPad.

When you get a cracked screen, it’s usually due to impact from the corner. If you drop an iPad flat, it’s really hard to break the screen, although you will get a scratch or two  (ah hem…I may know this from experience). So the corners need protection. Those beautiful, slimline cases that just cover the front of the iPad and flip back into a stand are lovely. But not tough enough for our kids. Get one with corner protection.
  • Insist that the iPad is always carried in a bag.

So much of the damage I see is from kids walking around, to or from school. They are chatting with their mates, pull out their iPad to show some video on youTube and bang. They get knocked and the iPad’s smashed on the floor. Put.It.In.Your.Bag. is my new mantra.
  • Check the iPad often.

Your kids can go months without telling you about breakages. I saw one iPad that had a broken screen and home button – it was practically unusable – but the child didn’t tell their teacher or parent for weeks….Now the teacher should have noticed probably but the kid did a good job of hiding it! Screens can be fixed, so can buttons. If we know there’s a breakage or damage then we can get it fixed. The longer the kids use the iPad when it’s damaged the more things can go wrong. And I really believe it also means they are less likely to take good care of it. If we get these things fixed, then it shows that their iPad is important and valuable still!! There are shops in every mall these days with screen repair places. My advice is to get a quote from a couple to check you get the best deal – prices can vary greatly!
So that’s it. Get a case, use a bag, get it repaired when you need to. Not too hard. This high-end technology for children is a whole new world – and unique to our generation of parents.
It pays to remember that iPads have only been around for 5 years and this year is the first time I’ve heard schools start to talk about how their iPads are ‘old’ and need replacing. That’s a really good sign. Laptops only ever last 3 years in schools (even if schools hold on to them for longer, honestly, 3 years is about your max). So it looks like we are getting a few more years of learning for our money! Time to check what condition your kids’ iPad’s in – and to check they are looking after it :0)

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Mar 27

Tech-Tip Friday – How to shop safely online…

Do you shop online? Or use social media? If so, you need to know how to check if a website is secure. There are lots of computer hackers that attempt to access your information as it get’s transmitted online so it pays to know how to check if you, and your credit card, are safe online.

First of all, check the URL (the website address). Does it begin with ‘https‘ – that ‘s‘ stands for secure. You’ll usually see this on a website that requires a username or password or if it offers items for purchase. For example, on Facebook, once you’ve logged in, you’ll see that the website address (URL) is https://www.facebook.com/

Checking the url isn’t foolproof but it is a good place to start in checking if a website is using some security.

I use a Mac computer, so here’s what that looks like on my computer:

secure website identification

See that padlock? If I click on it, I will find more information about what security this website is using.

HTTPS means that the information you put into the website will be encrypted (turned into code) when it is transmitted. This is to stop ‘middle men’ intercepting your personal information or credit card details as it travels through the Internet to the website’s servers.

Secure websites have to have a ‘certificate’ to make this work. This is a bit of computer code that they set up that then encrypts all the data, and makes it readable again at the other end. It’s usually managed by a third party company that we can find more about by clicking on the padlock.

This is the same process on a Windows computer – the padlock is in the web address bar, but on the other end, towards the right side.

IE security on a website

Here’s what you might see on a Mac when you click on the padlock:

certificate details maccertificate details mac

You can read about the kind of encryption they use and check that the certificate (the security coding) is still current- and if you want to know more about the certificate you can also Google the terms to get an idea of how

My advice is to check the URL and the certificate before you put any personal details into a website.  If you can, you might like to use PayPal, which is a good alternative to typing in your credit card details into every website you come across – the more times you enter your data online, obviously increases the chances for problems to arise. PayPal is a third party company that stores your details on very secure website and then pass your payment on to whichever commercial website you’d like them to.

Make a note to check out the websites you use as you shop online. Found any bargains lately? Do share!

 

Mar 06

Tech-Tip Friday – How to find your lost iPad

So we are halfway through Term 1 (in Oz at least). And there are thousands of new iPad users in our schools, hopefully they are all learning lots with it and loving how they get to make choices about their learning.

Hopefully, they are also looking after their new toys/learning tools ;0)

But what about when they don’t?

And they don’t always, just like they loose their bags and footy boots and lunch boxes. And some kids are more prone to that than others – and I can hear some mums nodding as I type that!

Some kids just lose focus and move on (in my experience it’s usually footy/cricket playing that distracts them!) and leave behind whatever they were just playing with…

I have found that with tech they don’t leave iPads or netbooks lying around that much, no really. They don’t. But occasionally I’ll find an iPad lying in a hallway, or a lonely netbook in the library.

So here’s a quick way to set up your (or your kid’s) iPad so you can track where it has wandered off to.

If it gets misplaced, you can open an website online or an app on your iPhone and GPS locate it easily.

  • Search for the Find My iPhone App in the app store
  • Install it on your iPad and on another idevice if you have one (if not you can also log in on any computer to iCloud)
  • Open up the app on your iPhone (or online) and log in with the same account that you use on the iPad your trying to track down.

What can you do once you set up Find My iPhone?

You’ll be able to set it to LOST MODE. This means you can lock the iPad with a passcode and display a message on the iPad, maybe saying who it belongs to and then Apple begin tracking your iPad.

  • If your iPad isn’t on wifi when you do this, it will do all these things the next time it does connect – stopping a thief using it.

You can also make the iPad beep – so it makes a sound. This is useful for finding it when you know it’s at home somewhere but you can’t remember quite where…

Finally, you can also erase everything on your iPad, so if you can’t find it (if its been stolen perhaps) you can be sure no one else has access to your iPad’s contents.

It’s a good idea to set this up now, before you have any trouble with lost or missing iPads. You can’t set this up after the fact – so take 10 mins tonight and download the app :0)

Maybe show your kids how it works and how you can track it when it’s lost too – saves their panic when they realise they’ve left their precious iPad on the bus…

Any tricks to share about getting your kids to NOT lose things? I’d love to hear them, really, give me advice people! :0)

 
 
 
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Dec 22

10 Top Tips to take great pics of your kids on your iPhone this Christmas Morning

It’s nearly Christmas! And I bet there are some precious moments you’d like to take photos of this holiday season – kids, family, meals, events. So many fun things going on!  Today’s post will help you take capture those memories using the camera most of us have on hand all the time – your mobile phone!

Cameras in phones have become a selling point for big companies like Apple and Samsung – and for good reason. The phones we have in our hands every day are really quite good! I still love my DSLR and the flexibility of being able to take photos in darker light, different settings and of course a good zoom lens can’t be beat! But I do use my iPhone camera a lot – follow me on Instagram to see what I mean 🙂

I’ve played around with a number of apps and phone cameras and here are my 10 tips for getting better pictures of your kids come Christmas morning!

Number 1 – Get an app for editing

I’ve tried lots but I love Instagram to share photos best. Easy, can link to other social media and the basic editing features usually serve me well. If you are looking for more options to make your photos look gorgeous – try Little Moments app. This one is part of Fat Mum Slim’s photo a day competition and lets you take a photo, edit it and then open it straight in Instagram for sharing. You can add text, make it look funky with filters and stickers or just tweak the pic slightly.

photography at christmas little moments app

Number 2 – Hold that camera still!

Yep, simple but important to avoid blurry photos.

Did you know that when professional photographers click the button they usually hold their breath? You don’t need to go that far but try anchoring yourself against something. So lean on a wall or door frame. Or that’s not possible, hold your elbows in tight to your sides as you push the button. (PS. this is how we get Prep kids to take non-blurry shots – keep those elbows in kids!)

 

Number 3 – Use a real button

To follow on from holding still to avoid the blurry image problem is to use the volume buttons on your phone to take the photo. It’s easier to click a button and hold still than it is to tap the screen with one hand while holding the phone with the other. Not all phones have this feature but check to see if yours does :0). If it does – make sure you use it! It’s an easy way to improve your photos really quickly.

 

Number 4 – Think about lighting. 

Bigger and better cameras cope well in darker rooms or at night. Your camera phone likely doesn’t and will produce quite ‘grainy’ photos as things get darker. If possible move your subject to a window. Window light rules! Natural, indirect light is best for people too – makes their skin look lovely and glow-y (not a word? oh well…). If you have a porch or deck, position your subject under the roofline for lovely clear photos.

Of course, if it’s night time that’s not an option, in that case look at the artificial lighting in your room – make sure it’s not growing out of your subjects head! If possible, have them lit from the side rather than below or above – unless you are going for a Halloween/ghoulish look!

Photography literally means ‘painting with light’ – look for the light first and then set up your shot.

think about lighting

so much light in this shot – but at least it’s indirect and his face is well lit…

Number 5 – Get down low and go, go, go…

Bend down. Get to eye level. Hold the camera up high or out to one side. Look for different angles to change up your composition and to make your photos more interesting.

If you are like me and a little ‘vertically-challenged’, I have to hold my camera up high when photographing people taller than me. If I took photos of a 6′ 3″ guy from my eye level he would look very distorted – wider in the middle and with a little head. No-one will thank you for that photo! Aim for shoulder to eye level ideally to make people seem in proportion.

If you are taking a photo of a group, have a look at the tallest and shortest person and shoot the photo from the top third of that range. So not dead centre and not too high. That way you do the best job for everyone!

getting down low here meant we could look with him at the view…

Number 6 – Look for details

We all put so much effort in to Christmas day with food, gifts, decorations… Take 10 minutes before you sit down to eat and take some photos of what you’ve achieved! Be proud! Count your blessings this Christmas by looking not just as gifts and people but at the little moments around you. The 3 year old checking out the nativity scene or Dad’s socks that have been taken off and dumped in a corner. You’ll appreciate these shots just as much as the traditional family photo – trust me  :0)

detail from a family christmas – how happy does he look!

capturing the details photography christmas iphone

gorgeous door detail reminds me of a lovely family Christmas…

Number 7 – Plan ahead

Think about charging your phone ahead of time and taking your charger with your if you are (lucky enough to be ) spending the day at some one else’s house.

Plan also for who you want a photo of. I know I like to get a group photo of my step-sons and my brother who lives in England but visits each Christmas. Think about who and where you’d like these kinds of photos.

Number 8 – Take lots of shots of the same thing

As I mentioned earlier, your camera phone isn’t a professional camera and does have it’s limits. It likely won’t capture low light photos brilliantly and it’s usually not fantastic with moving targets (toddlers on scooters, bigger kids on bikes or even pulling the Christmas cracker!).

My suggestion in this digital age is to take lots of photos! You can delete later but recreating a moment is impossible. My iPhone has a ‘burst’ mode. This means you hold down the button and it will take lots (and lots) of shots very quickly. Then you choose the one (or ones) you like best. Great for capturing that expression or moment in time.

Take lots – delete later – keep the ones you love!

burst mode photography christmas iphone

using my iPhone I can take lots of photos at once – milliseconds apart – and choose the best ones

 

Number 9 – Ask permission before sharing your photos

I know we all take photos of our families and friends –  and we love sharing them online. Do that! Spread the love! But first, ask if it’s ok to share on Facebook or Instagram. These are your memories first and foremost – they aren’t only for online sharing. If your great-aunt says no, respect that and share other photos. I’ve found most people are happy to have their photo online.

This is also a great chance to model to your kids that they have the right to give permission (or not) for their image to be published online. Ask them – they will likely say yes! But you’ve at least modelled that they get to choose and have the right to say no thanks, I don’t want that online!

Even with little kids – ask them and then ask their parents. It takes only a moment to say ‘hey, this is so cute, can I share it on Facebook?’

If they say no, that’s fine – you still have a photo you love. Better to have them say no upfront, than get an unpleasant after-Christmas phone call asking what you were thinking posting little Johnny’s Christmas day tantrum online!

Can I Share your photo online

just a quick question…

Number 10 – Get out from behind the camera.

Photography is great. I love it :0) But don’t forget that there’s a real, never-to-be-repeated world going on beyond your lens! If you really must take a million photos – delegate!!! Share photo taking duties with a family member and share around the photos after Christmas!

leave the tech alone this christmas

 

 

As a photography lover (and former wedding-photographer) these are my ‘get the great shot on my phone’ tips! Hope they are of use to you!

 

Do you have any other tips to offer? Share them below – I’d love to learn from you :0)

 

 

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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!

Untitled design

 

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!

 

Untitled design

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!

 

 

Untitled design (1)

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 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!

Dropbox

 

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

Sep 17

Googleable or Non-Googleable

How are you going today? It’s freezing here in Melbourne. We had sunshine this morning and now there’s hail banging on the roof. Four Seasons in One Day. Crazy weather.

Today we are talking about Google. Mainly because we use it all the time and our kids do too. But the problem is that they often spend a LOT of time messing about and falling down virtual rabbit holes – hours are lost to these distractions and diversions and often ultimately end up without what they were looking for….

Google Rabbit Hole

When was the last time you looked up something on Google?

I bet it wasn’t long ago. Maybe yesterday, today or even just an hour ago. Google isn’t the only Internet search engine of course. But I’ll also bet it’s a long time since you used something like Alta Vista…Am I right?

Google’s even a verb now. And our kids learn quickly that Google has the ‘answers’. (What we consider answers and they do varies of course!).

In the classroom I have kids telling me they “found it on Google” all the time. Of course, they didn’t find the information on Google – they only found the list of possible sources.  Google isn’t a source of information – it is ‘simply’** curating the Web for you.

So there are a few things I think about when I use Google with kids.

  • Firstly, get them to be specific. I say this a lot. They need to think about what they want to find before they can find it – not rocket science I know!! So, don’t type in cars. Type in blue cars near the beach to find the image you want or the content you’re seeking. The more specific you are, the better the search results will be. And the less time you or your child will spend searching and the more time they can spend using the info they find for their learning.

Searching Online

  • Ask the right questions. When you child is working on homework or looking up how to play/fix their favourite game, ask it as a question. This often brings up Forums in the search results, where you often can find other people with similar issues!

questions

 

  • Is it Googleable? So when your children come up with questions to ask Google, it’s likely that they’ll ask something fairly obscure. They need to understand that some things are Googleable and some just aren’t. Why did Australian first settlers live in Sydney? is quite a tricky one to find an answer to on Google. First settlers in Sydney will get more info and closer to an answer. Google can’t form opinions for them (at least it shouldn’t!!) – they have to find the info they need to inform their own point of view.
  • Think about key words and phrases. Google doesn’t keep words in the order you type them. So if you search for Chicken Recipe with Lemons, you get every page that has those words – lemonade recipe with chicken kebabs for example, or lemon squash drinking bottles for feeding chickens. This is important to understand.
  • Which brings me to – Use Inverted commas to get Google to search for entire phrases. So “Chicken recipe with Lemons” will only bring up those exact words. So lemon chicken recipes WON’T appear. Give it a go. Makes searching much quicker if you know exactly what you are after.

These quick tips are useful for you but they are invaluable for your kids. The Internet is a big place. They need strategies to navigate it quickly and easily!

Can you share this with someone today? Who could use this info to get them to what they are looking for asap?

Let me know what you do when searching online? Any other tips?

 

** Nothing about Google’s algorithm is simple. (Algorithm = how they decide what to show you when you put a word or two in the search box.) There are some ways to play the system a little – by using Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – but ultimately it’s a very complex, and well guarded secret formula that many guess at but no one really knows.