5 Tips For Using Apps For Summer Learning

Hi folks! It’s our midsummer break for App Friday and our newsletter editor will be back next week (July 21st) with more family-friendly apps. Meanwhile, we thought we’d use the time to share tips about using apps for summer learning to help kids get ready for back to school. If you have more tips, feel free to share them in comments. Happy summer!

1. Organize apps on your device by educational category

Whether you subcategorize apps into folders, or dedicate screens for certain types of apps (i.e., math, science, language arts and creative expression), getting organized is a great way to take inventory of your educational content. How many apps do you have for math versus puzzles? Do you have old apps that kids have outgrown that can be deleted to make space for new apps? Take a few minutes to press, hold and shuffle those app icons into clear educational resources at your fingertips.

2. Set a consistent learning time routine

Set up a regular time for summer learning. Consistency and predictability helps ensure a smooth implementation for screen time because kids know what to expect and when to put down the device. What amount of app learning time sounds right for your family? Refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines or Common Sense Media for recommendations on screen time limits according to age.

3. Have kids show and tell what they’ve learned

Interaction and coplay are helpful to keep kids talking, expressive and engaged. Let kids demo the apps they are about to play. How does it work? Can I try it too? Have them show you how they solve the problems, or what they create. Or, hold a family contest for completing the “apptivity” – whatever it may be. Learning can be fun when families take an active role to be involved.

4. Use App Friday to find new apps

There are plenty of creatively themed educational apps to boost summer learning. Low on ideas for what to download? Browse the App Friday archives (our past blog posts and newsletters) for a variety of suggestions. Prefer email? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to view a new list of apps each week.

5. Request a promo code (to try an app for free) from the developers

Want to try an app and test it out before you purchase it? Approach the developer for a promo code. Let them know you’ll tell your friends or leave an iTunes review if you like the app. If they are a small company, they may really appreciate your word of mouth marketing. Most app makers have a contact email on their website, in their app store description, or can be reached through social media accounts. Get in touch – it never hurts to ask!

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


Decode Teen Text Lingo with the Digital Glossary by Common Sense Media

New content guiding parents in the digital world is published on Common Sense Media at a rapid rate. Recently I spied the Digital Glossary, which is a reference guide for teen text lingo, apps, and popular online communication terms. For a parent with teens, this is especially handy!

The Common Sense Media Digital Glossary

Access the Digital Glossary at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-glossary. The Digital Glossary is organized by alphabetical tabs. Each tab jumps to a section of terms and explanations. If you want to know what “on fleek” means, search by clicking the MNO tab. If you want to know what “bae” means, click the ABC tab.

teen text lingo

Fun family questions about teen text lingo

  1. To make the Digital Glossary an interactive family tool, try asking teens if the definitions are correct. How would they change a definition? Which definitions are missing, old, or most popular?
  2. If teens created their own Digital Glossary, how would it work? Would they create an app? Would they vote up the most popular term? How could new terms be entered?
  3. What would YOUR new text term be? Have everyone in the family invent their own acronym, phrase, or even an emoji. Get creative. As we always say around here, the more conversations, the better.

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

Photo credit [Flickr creative commons]

Talking with Teens about Snapchat Groups

Snapchat announced a new group chat feature just in time for the holidays. Groups allows up to 16 friends to communicate on a chat. Separate, 1 on 1 chats can occur simultaneously by tapping a group member’s name on the bottom of a group chat. Returning to Groups is as simple as a swipe.

I’m not an avid Snapchat user, and nor is my daughter, but many of her friends are on Snapchat. In case she gets called into group chats with the release of this new feature, I want to have a conversation about how it works.

Conversations about new technology can provide interesting ways to keep up with the trends. This way, my daughter knows I’m aware of the new feature, and we have an open communication channel for learning how to use it best.

Here are some topic ideas for talking with teens about Snapchat Groups:

  • Can you show me how to use this new feature?
  • What do you like about it?
  • Do you have any concerns about group chat?
  • Do you communicate the same thing to a group that you would in a 1 on 1 conversation?
  • What would happen if you thought you were talking 1 on 1, but the message instead went to the whole group?
  • How can you navigate carefully to make sure you know where your message is being sent?
  • Even if the group chat is deleted after 24 hours, how many people might have saved a portion of it? How is this possible?
  • How many times per day or week do you check Snapchat? Do you think Groups will impact this frequency, either more or less?

These are merely some ideas for starting points. It’s not always possible for every parent to know every feature of every app on a consistent basis. What is possible, is to care consistently about how are kids are managing themselves online – and then talk about it!

Read the Snapchat app review from Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media has a thorough Snapchat review covering how Snapchat works, potential parental concerns, user reviews, and more talking points for families. Dig in at Common Sense Media, or watch the video if you’d prefer a visual summary.

Happy chatting, and happy holidays!

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

Social Media Etiquette For All Ages

On Thursday November 3rd cyberbullying became a campaign headline. Melania Trump acknowledged the good and bad sides of social media culture in her Pennsylvania speech, along with the intention to address youth cyberbullying as a national conversation. As the wife of a man who is known for his Twitter outbursts, the irony of this point was pounced upon over the Internet and Melania herself quickly became a subject for the nation’s cyberbullies.

As sarcasm exploded through the #MelaniaTrump hashtag, I wondered about social media etiquette for all ages, adults included. As a Bay Area resident who lives within miles of city with a major high school suicide problem, I believe that teen anxiety and depression may be due in part to information overload accessible through social media.

Social media is a powerful tool that can celebrate and sting at the same time. For kids, it’s especially powerful because the world is watching, which is much different when just the playground was watching. Increased audiences bring increased pressures and vulnerabilities. Children need safe space to grow their confidence and self-esteem, but when social media metrics assess every action, this safe space is at risk of disintegrating.

If we get to a point when youth is more concerned about building their audience than about building their character, we have a problem.

If we get to a point when adults are poor role models for children because they are displaying disrespectful behavior online, we have another problem.

We’ll have fewer problems if people of all ages have the tools, inclination and capacity to demonstrate respectful and productive social etiquette online. With the right examples, maybe it’s possible to turn a negative culture into a positive and encouraging culture.

Let’s start with a few tools for social media etiquette

1. Understand the definition of cyberbullying

Let’s be realistic with the risks of going online by fully understanding the definition of cyberbullying. If you know what to look for, you’ll have the tools to protect yourself. Common Sense Media has a guide for parents called Cyberbullying, Haters and Trolls. It includes answers to popular questions about how to recognize cyberbullying, what to do if kids are bullied, and how to teach safe online behavior.

2. Follow great people

With one look at the Instagram grid view for any online profile, you can quickly assess whether images are appropriate or inappropriate for a particular age group. For my young teens, we opt to follow role models in their area of interest. This includes, for example, social media accounts for sports, art, or dance. Finding positive role models amidst the vast landscape of shocking celebrity profiles can take some time but it’s worth the due diligence. In addition, we make sure plenty of close friends and family members are also linked to our children’s online networks.

3. Use platform features to create safe boundaries

Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all have privacy settings. Accounts can be customized to be private, blocked, or unfollowed. If harassment is on the rise, ignore, block, delete or report those people or posts. These tools are available and easy to use, and can be effective in setting up smaller, safer spaces online.

What ideas do you have about social media etiquette for all ages? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments so we can continue the learning process.

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

Photo credit: Creative Commons Image

Media Calculator Helps Families Plan Screen Time

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics about children’s media use were released in October 2016. These recommendations include tools like the Media Calculator to help families plan their screen time.

Media Calculator from the American Academy of Pediatrics

The Media Calculator has color codes for categories including sleep, school, sports, meals and other everyday activities. These categories are distributed across a 24 hour day, and can be can be customized to match specific schedules.

While creating a schedule, users can visualize how their time is spent. If an average schedule includes sleeping, eating, finishing homework and after school activities, any leftover time for media use is scarce. Working with this dynamic visual diagram can help people understand the tradeoffs and plan time wisely.

media calculator

Family Media Plan

If you like the Media Calculator, you may also appreciate their Family Media Plan. The media plan tool covers house rules for screen time, digital citizenship and online privacy. Each topic helps families think about their definition of healthy media use for the household.

Media planning can also be done with a written agreement or contract. I particularly like the example from Common Sense Media which covers a range of ages along with prompts for family discussion.

Evolving Definition of Screen Time

Be sure to reference the Common Sense Media Screen Time Q & A. This resource is a helpful reminder that screen time has multiple purposes and evolving definitions. For example, limiting screen time to 30 minutes a day for a student who has two hours of homework may not be possible when classroom homework moves online. A middle or high school student may need several hours of screen time just to complete their homework.

Recognizing the difference between recreational screen time and essential screen time is necessary for mapping out realistic and successful media plans.

What is your family’s plan for screen time? Do you think these tools can make a difference? Let’s connect in the comments!

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

Photo credit: Flickr

Family Media Agreement by Common Sense Media

As kids become active on social media, setting expectations upfront about respectful media use can help deter future problems. My kids and I wrote a family media agreement before they received their first phones. For example, one of our primary household media rules is to have all devices turned off overnight to ensure a smooth and restful bedtime. That rule is still effective.

Revisit family media agreements because kids and technology are often changing!

But revisiting media agreements on a regular basis is probably wise as kids evolve through technology and peer groups. So when my daughter’s school sent out a link to Common Sense Media’s Family Media Agreement, I took notice. The agreement was easy to read, customizable, age-appropriate, and respectful to both kids and parents.

In other words, I liked it so much I wrote the team at Common Sense Media to request permission to share it here on the blog. Let’s take a look!

family media agreement


Elementary, middle and high School

Scrolling through the pages, you will see how the contract covers a wide age range: elementary school through high school. Whether your kids are young or old, media has an important impact on their daily lives. It’s never too early to start thinking thoughtfully about how families use technology.

Stay balanced

I especially like Common Sense Media’s point about staying balanced:

I will be mindful of how much time I spend in front of screens, and I will continue to enjoy the other activities – and people – in my life.

Have a conversation

Page four of the agreement has some excellent conversation topics to cover as a family. How long should media be used each day? What happens if a device gets lost or stolen? What does it mean to be respectful online?

Make your own

The last page of the agreement has fields to fill out based on the conversation above. I like how Common Sense Media  realizes that all families may have different needs, and allows enough space for kids and parents to come to their own sense of understanding.

If you like it, please share!


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

10 Discussion Questions for Kids Who Play Pokémon GO

Commentary about Pokémon GO has turned into a national conversation, and opinions about real life gaming have been prolific on tech and parenting blogs. As a blogger myself, I’ve been reading about the advantages and disadvantages of being able to catch Pokémon with an iPhone. But one comment that really caught my attention simply stated the importance of discussion during the gaming experience, which is a helpful reminder worth sharing more broadly.

In the August 2016 issue of Children’s Technology Review, Warren Buckleitner published his thoughts on Pokémon GO:

“The game is loaded with local history facts, which are tied to earning the Pokéballs needed to catch Pokémon. But without discussion they’re only facts. Ask your child to share and discuss what they find.”

When reading Warren’s comment, it felt relevant not only for gaming, but also for parenting. Having discussions with my kids helped me progress through 13 years of parenting. A consistent back and forth exchange of ideas enabled me connect with them to reach agreement and understanding.

In that light, Pokémon GO can be a great source of conversation starters for families.

Here are 10 Pokémon GO discussion questions for kids

  1. Can you show me how to play Pokémon GO?
  2. What are Pokéstops?
  3. How do you catch a Pokémon?
  4. Who are your favorite Pokémon? Why? How many have you collected?
  5. Where have you found the most Pokémon? Why do you think they like that location?
  6. I keep hearing about Pokémon game terms, like gyms, eggs and leveling up. Can you explain those terms to me? What do they mean?
  7. Have you ever been in a Pokémon battle?
  8. What is your Trainer name? Why did you choose it?
  9. What are some ideas you have to stay safe and sensible while playing the game?
  10. When would be a good time to turn the game off? Or on?

Next time you find yourself in the virtual reality of Pokémon GO, remember to ask a child these Pokémon GO discussion questions to start a conversation about what they think!

For more information about Children’s Technology Review, visit www.childrenstech.com or follow them on Twitter or Instagram at @childtech. Don’t miss CTREX, their massive online database of over 12,000 academic reviews of children’s interactive media products. CTREX is an ideal search tool for teachers, librarians and parents who are constructing their digital learning initiatives for the new school year.

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

Photo credit Flickr

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]

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]

Screenagers Movie Review

Screenagers Movie About Teens Behind Screens


I recently saw the movie Screenagers – Growing Up In The Digital Age. This documentary analyzes the behavior of teens behind screens, specifically addressing addiction, attention span, and the appeal of social networks. As a parent, I found value in the movie’s ability to show how extreme situations can sometimes happen in regular families. By shining a spotlight on screentime addiction, viewers gain a frame of reference for evaluating their own habits.

Three Real Life Situations That Catch Your Attention

There are three storylines in Screenagers that caught my attention most. One was about a college freshman who avoided academic pressure by constantly playing video games, eventually dropping out of college. Another was about young teenagers who are obsessed with posting selfies and generating likes, to the point where they discuss fake likes. Then there was a grandmother whose efforts to intervene in her grandson’s gaming resulted in angst and friction for both of them.

These extremes all generated from well intentioned families who got caught in out of control situations. By sharing these stories, other parents have context to gauge where their own families fall in the range of extremities.

Benefits of After School Activities

I also noticed when the movie talked about after school activities as a counterbalance to screen time. As a parent I think it’s a constant effort to get the right balance between downtime and scheduled activities. Hearing about the benefits of scheduled activities was somewhat refreshing after noticing so much backlash over the years about over scheduled kids. 

Find a Screening Near You

To view a trailer or find a screening of Screenagers, visit the ScreenagersMovie.com website. Whether you have teenagers or just toddlers, understanding the pros and cons of digital media and its progression in our daily lives can be increasingly helpful to parents.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Garry Knight]