How Library Tech Helps Boost Summer Reading

Welcome to long summer days and relaxing summer nights. Kids are decompressing from the school year and easing into a new, low key routine. Summer reading is a fulfilling and mellow pastime for the whole family, and having plenty of books around is key to keeping it going. I’d love to share how we use technology to boost our access to new (and free!) reading materials all summer long.

Increase Book Selections with Summer Reading Lists

At the beginning of summer I print out reading lists for each daughter. My favorite grade-level lists are provided by the Houston Area Independent Schools Library Network (HAISLN). I like these lists because they are accessible online, and contain at least a paragraph to describe each book. The descriptions are important for helping kids preview and select books of choice.

Local libraries may also have their own reading lists. For example, the teen section for Redwood City Library provides reading recommendations for each area high school, which are all available online.

Find Incentives with Summer Reading Challenges

Search “summer reading challenge” in your web browser to find national challenges (like the one hosted by Scholastic) or regional challenges from libraries. For older readers, the GoodReads social network has an annual reading goal program that can be used during the summer months. With a quick search we found the summer reading challenge for our local library, and I’ll bet yours has one too!

Access Books Freely and Easily with the Library Hold System

Physically taking a book list to the library and trying to find all of the books by hand can take a lot of time. Sometimes, your branch may not have the book or it may be checked out. To streamline, we use our library’s online catalog to place a hold on each title. This way, we receive notifications once the books arrive to the hold shelf. Using the hold system is an awesome way to stock up on a bunch of recommended books, for free!

Would you rather access the library catalog on mobile? That should be easy enough. Just check if your local library has an app, or add the library’s webpage to your home screen.

Once our summer reading is underway, visiting the library (and the treasures waiting on the hold shelf) becomes a real treat. If you are motivated to keep kids current on keyboarding or digital literacy skills, have them log books onto a Google Doc. Let them build a table with title, author, and date completed. Before long, the book list will grow, and peaceful readers will fill the home.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Spirit-Fire]

Shark Week Educational Apps for Kids

I’ve been a fan of Shark Week since it was first created as a TV programming series in the late 1980s to dispel myths about sharks. Its success enabled viewers all over the world to appreciate these awesome creatures as way more than just predators circling divers in a cage.

Although Shark Week has recently slid into sensationalism (which has appalled the scientific community because of fictitious and non-factual shows), the result of having a dedicated week to be reminded about the ocean’s wonders can serve as a positive benefit for environmental awareness.

Let’s continue the awareness by considering educational apps that are fun for young summer learners during Shark Week.

shark week
“Murky Reef” (critical thinking activities for elementary students in 1st and 2nd grade)
shark week
“Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island” (interactive book app)
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“A to Sea” (alphabet app with sea creatures for early learners)
Shark Week
“A Shark Knocked on the Door” (animated storybook app in Spanish and English)

I curate apps by searching the Know What’s Inside App Discovery Center, reading Digital Storytime’s reviews, researching what’s new on the App Store, reading the App Friday newsletter, and from keeping in touch with the network of family-friendly app makers I’ve known throughout the years. If you have a favorite Shark Week app for kids, please let me know in comments, or tweet to me at @LorraineAkemann.

Happy Summer Learning!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Matt Kowalczyk]

Let’s Build Your Resume At BlogHer16

If you are thinking about your next career step, join me at #BlogHer16 on Friday August 5th for the Resume Building Open Lab.

BlogHer Open Labs are hands-on round table sessions where attendees share expertise on specific topics. I will be leading the Open Lab for Resume Building, and near me will be experts available for WordPress, Google Analytics, and Email Marketing. BlogHer Open Labs are a great place to get individual questions answered. Be sure to come and check them out!

For my lab, feel free to bring your latest resume or thoughts about career goals, and we can take it from there. Can’t make it to the Open Lab? No problem, just reach out on social media (@LorraineAkemann) and I’ll be happy to connect at another time. Here is a list of subjects we’ll be ready to address:

Resume Review

Let’s get into the nitty gritty and read your resume together. Having an objective person review your resume can help prioritize the most compelling content, scan for typos, and give the boost of confidence needed to get that resume out into circulation!

Resume Formatting

Dates, indentations, margins, grammar and headings: elements like these can be the reason why resume writing is such an overbearing process! Let’s face it together. I’ll have some reference books and samples on hand so we can make sensible decisions on whether that section needed a semicolon or a period!

Creation Tools

Resume creation tools are becoming more dynamic and visual as our world continues to shift online. Although I prefer the easy accessibility of Google Docs (always simple to update), other options like Canva or Visual CV provide templates and tools for a graphically designed layout. The good news is that plenty of options exist to get your resume experiment started.

Building Blocks (with LinkedIn)

What content will you use for work experience and education when your life has been so diverse? My favorite tool for tracking experience over time has been LinkedIn. There are sections of LinkedIn that cover volunteer work, autonomous projects, certifications and awards. Even if you’ve taken a break from the formal workforce, LinkedIn still provides ways to keep your profile up to date.

File Management

Creating a resume is a process which involves several iterations. Adding a skill, tweaking an action verb, or adjusting the format can be an ongoing process. Keep your files organized to ensure version control. I create folders in Google Drive and save each iteration with the exact date in the filename.

Securing References

As job searches progress, past work references may be needed for potential employers. Do you have people in mind who can provide those references? Are they prepared to receive calls and inquiries to give testimonials about your work? Make sure these contacts are well prepared. A great way to do this is to specifically request a reference after every major project you complete, and then find a reason to keep in touch with that person every few months.

Networking

Planning for your next career move involves proactive steps to stay connected to others. This includes having a “yes” mindset (“you bet, let’s do lunch!”), securing references, endorsing others, and attending meetups, conferences or networking events. It’s not always easy to step out into the limelight, but keeping your network in motion is a huge part of uncovering new opportunities.

Luckily, we’ll be in the right place to jump start this type of networking. BlogHer is my number one resource for personal and professional development. Follow everyone you meet, tweet about sessions you find valuable, create new content for your blog, share and learn best practices, and meet new, mutually supportive people.

Going alone? Me too. Let’s meet up!

Lorraine Akemann Quote Card Code

Having worked in corporate America prior to having children, I firmly believe that women should have every opportunity to return to the workforce with confidence. Motherhood, entrepreneurship, blogging and community-building enabled me to find my own professional voice while building a diverse set of leadership skills. The more active I become, the more work opportunities I find.

Let’s lead the charge for workforce confidence at #BlogHer 16. I can’t wait to meet you!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr / Flazingo Photos

Best Apps For Hipsters

As a mom of teen girls, why should I care about the apps hipsters are using on their mobile phones? I guess I care because knowing what’s current gives me context while talking with my own kids.

So I started thinking about which apps are popular in contemporary culture and turned my notes into this list. From music and photography to money and transportation, let’s check out what’s deemed necessary by today’s modern youth.

Photography

Instagram, VSCO and Google Photos are three apps making an impact on how photos are taken, altered, shared and managed. I use Instagram and have enjoyed posting creative scenes since I opened the account. Using Instagram helps me notice unique moments I can archive in the handy grid view of a microblog.

VSCO seems to take mobile photography to a whole new level. It feels like a virtual photo gallery for the world’s creatives, and offers a wide number of editing tools that my daughter appreciated when I introduced the app to her.

Google Photos backs up all of the photos on your phone upon downloading and opening the app. Features like albums, collages, animations and movies are easily accessible and in some cases automated. As a person who likes to determine the exact file structure of my data, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with all of the automation just yet. But automation seems to be the way things are done nowadays, so I plan to give it a shot.

Music

I’ve heard references to SoundCloud and Hype Machine as apps for listening to music. SoundCloud is a free app to discover and share favorite tunes, and Hype Machine scans the blogsphere to fuel music listings. Both apps are social, enabling likes, favorites and connections. With only a limited amount of time spent on each app, I’ve already diversified my music interests and look forward to hearing more.

Social Media

Snapchat’s popularity continues to grow, and has surpassed Instagram as the most popular messaging app per a survey released in early 2016. Why is Snapchat so appealing? This video explains how its in-the-moment platform creates authenticity among users, and the absence of follower metrics actually decreases anxiety. After so many years of Facebook-like obsession, maybe Snapchat feels refreshing?

Mobile Payments

With apps like Venmo, physical cash wallets may become extinct! Payment apps let people split the bill with a simple swipe or tap. Sign up, add your bank account, pay and collect with friends.

The questions surrounding these seamless transactions involve security and privacy, and it sounds like the FTC may be investigating Venmo as we speak. But I doubt a single investigation will fend off the rapid adoption of digital payments. Too much convenience has been realized by leaving cash at home. Here is a summary of more apps for mobile payments, plus their pros and cons.

Transportation

Need a lift? Touch a button and your ride awaits. The driver knows exactly where to find you based on the geolocated phone in your hand. Apps make this process so easy that using a human voice to call a cab feels like ancient history. Uber and Lyft are the tools of choice, and even employ drivers with free time to be the ride-givers. These companies have not only transformed how to get from point A to point B, they also uncovered crowdsourced economic options for suppliers. What a world!

I need to watch out before doing more research on hipsters or else I’ll feel like a college student again. The coolest apps seem to be the ones that help social situations flow smoothly. Let’s go out! (Uber). Let’s connect! (Snapchat). Let’s listen to cool stuff! (SoundCloud). Let’s post a great moment! (Instagram). Let’s engage with each other. Maybe interacting with a smartphone isn’t so anti-social after all.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Nuno Ribeiro]

The Number One Rule For My Daughter’s iPhone

We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. Now she is 13. For two years we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.

The Rule Is Simple

The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.

The Rule Involves The Whole Family

The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.

If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks out loud if the phone is put away. Asking out loud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.

The Rule Is Consistent And Habitual

Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into a rhythm of family life. For our family it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.

Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.

The Rule Was Stated Before The iPhone Became Available

I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.

But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for families. For example, if you ask me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.

The Rule Supports A Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.

The Rule Employs Trust

Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but a mouse sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky mice are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing any mice!

While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.

The Rule Helps The Morning Routine

In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes awhile? I love this tendency about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.

The Rule Is Contagious

To have any credibility with my family I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it’s setting for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.

Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty interesting to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”

As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Fagen]

Unicode 9.0 and New Emoji Candidates

I discovered Unicode.org after doing some research on emoji history, and became fascinated with the resources listed on their website. Unicode.org is the online home of the Unicode Consortium, the group who maintains universal standards for computer encoding. Their work ensures computers around the world process and interpret text in a standard way. 💻

Why is the Unicode Consortium becoming so popular?

The Unicode Consortium is reaching celebrity status because image-based emoji characters (which are part of Unicode) are highly popular forms of text communication. They are used in text messages, emails, and throughout social media. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji as “Word of the Year” in 2015. 😂

Whether or not you’re an emoji fan, their use and prevalence are indisputable. Personally, I think emoji are fun and creative. They spark bright conversations over text messaging with images to humanize the tone. 💡

Which emoji candidates are coming next?

I was curious about the list of emoji candidates on the Unicode website. So many cultural implications exist on this very page. For example, gender equality issues are represented with the addition of a prince, dancing man, and Mother Christmas (to match the existing princess, dancing woman 💃, and Santa Claus). Endangered species are portrayed with the inclusion of animals like the gorilla and rhino. Even healthy eating gets a boost with a superfood (avocado!) being added to the list.

emoji candidatesWhat a fascinating and potentially stressful job it would be to decide the next emoji. Did you know that anyone can make a proposal for a new emoji? The submission process is explained in detail on the Unicode website ==> http://www.unicode.org/emoji/selection.html

Which emoji is used the most?

Curious about which characters are used the most? Unicode.org links to a site called emojitracker.com, which displays the world’s most tweeted emoji characters in real-time. Looks like the crying happy face is still holding first place.

Stay tuned. From what the Unicode Consortium says, final decisions on candidates for Unicode 9.0 will be made in June 2016. At that point we shall see if Mrs. Claus makes the cut. 🎅

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr: Marc Di Luzio]

Artful Photography From Young Teens On Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

photography photography photography photography photography

These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit [Flickr | Axel Naud]

How We Manage Online Homework to Avoid Scope Creep

By seventh grade, 75% of my daughter’s daily homework moved online. Aside from a few math problems and group projects, most essays, quizzes and assignments are constructed and completed through Edmodo or Google Classroom. I noticed the difference about halfway through the year when less paper seemed to clutter the desk. Instead, the Chromebook and charging cord took center stage.

online homework

If you have a teen, it may come as no surprise that they don’t appreciate being micromanaged. My concern with computer-based homework are the inherent distractions present with multiple websites and constant classmate interactions. Those interactions take up time: time that can be better spent completing the actual homework assignment or hanging out with family after it’s done.

How could I encourage a focused approach to homework without being annoying? While it’s tough to solve the annoying part, we are making progress on managing computer-based homework so it does not overtake family life. Here is how:

Eat First

My kids eat before they start homework. An after school meal settles everyone in the household so they are relaxed and recharged for brainwork.

Analog Before Digital

We review the homework that needs to be done for the day, and they choose the discrete analog homework first. This way, online distractions are delayed by starting with paper-based homework.

Time Estimate

I ask for a time estimate on the total amount of homework before they begin. Do they have an hour or three hours of homework? Then we calculate what time they should be finished. Now, they are accountable for finishing on time.

Check In

Whatever the time estimate, I make a note to check in a couple of times to see if the end time needs to be adjusted. These check-ins can be bothersome if it disrupts their focus or stresses them out, so I try to keep check-ins to no more than once per hour.

Bedtime

I used to think a regular bedtime was especially important for toddlers and young children. Now I feel it’s even more important for teens in a modern world to take bedtime seriously. We have a consistent bedtime every night, and the goal is to keep homework from interfering with sleep.

By next year my girls will be older and no doubt we’ll need to adjust as technology changes. But for now, this plan is working so we’re sticking to it. If you have any experience to share, especially as kids get into high school, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr]

Let’s Take A Closer Look At Pretend Play

I’m hearing lots of buzz from the annual Toy Fair in New York City, a time for showing the latest in gear and gadgets for kids. As my children grow, I keep wondering when they will start asking for connected gadgets and gizmos. Have I kept them in the dark for too long? Am I an old-school dinosaur disguised as a Bay Area Mom? Maybe so, maybe so. But when my girls have days like this, just playing with their dolls…well, I’m just not going to fix what isn’t broken.

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The images above represent a “school day” for the dolls. It started with making and painting doll food out of clay, continued with a schoolhouse and homework, and ended with a smoothie bar complete with granola bars and snacks. If these dolls were connected (for example, smart toys associated with an app or online portal) my concern is that ideas from toy designers would trump organically grown ideas from kids.

If pressed about digital equivalents for this type of pretend play, apps that let children set up scenes and do the talking come first to mind. My favorite has always been My PlayHome, but I would also add Toca City Life or even Dr. PetPlay to that recommendation. All of these apps offer open-ended scenarios for children to explore, and try to let kids dictate the outcomes. I also think it’s encouraging to see companies like Toca Boca advocate for creativity through efforts like “Take a Stand for Play”, which is a campaign to highlight the importance of unstructured downtime.

It is truly amazing to see what happens on a regular day at home with a real-life playmate, a few dolls, and some materials for pretend play. May all families delight in this youthful ingenuity, and make the time and space for it where possible.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How High School Students Are Solving The World’s Problems

This month I was invited to be a judge for the Congressional App Challenge. The App Challenge is a coding competition for high school students put in place to help support STEM education. Our district (the 18th Congressional District) received ten entries to be evaluated on parameters such as creativity, innovation, technical expertise and app design.

app-challenge-logo-horiz

What I thought would be a simple review of app demos turned into an inspiring connection with today’s talented youth. As a parent myself, I sometimes worry about what high school will be like for my own children. The App Challenge eased some of those concerns by introducing me to students who are thriving and succeeding at real world problem solving.

Let’s read, for example, the topics they addressed:

Food waste

Equal access for college preparatory testing

Safe and undistracted driving

Political education through interactive competition

Food nutrition

Tools for helping after a car accident

Community service

Volunteer work

Teacher/student communication

Student empowerment

Feel free to read the list again to become even more inspired. All ten entries focused squarely on important issues and social betterment. These apps are designed to help make us safer, healthier, better educated, and more socially conscious. After watching the presentations and reading details about how the apps were constructed, I began to envision the entrants not just as students but as teams of skilled entrepreneurs.

The high school app makers demonstrated a range of technical expertise by coding in a variety of languages including Apple’s Swift 2.0. They also exhibited marketing savvy with cool app names and well designed app icons (which make a big difference in how professional the app looks in app stores). Innovations in app design came through with sleek user interfaces, database integration, and the use of application programming interfaces to perform specific functions.

A public reception to announce the winner will be held on Monday February 22nd at Palo Alto City Hall. The entries can be viewed here https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/congressional-app-challenge-ca-18-rep-eshoo/, and the winning app will be displayed in our nation’s Capitol Building for a year.

Although the nature of competition is to measure one idea against another, I consider this entire group of submissions as winners because of their positive influence on others. May they all be successful in future app endeavors!

With encouragement,

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr [Luftphilia]