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.

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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]

How One Mother Ended The Battle Over Screen Time

This guest post is written by Carisa Kluver, founder of the popular website Digital Storytime, and writer at Digital Media Diet. Carisa combines her background in research, education, parenting and mobile apps to create a home-based solution for balancing media in family life. 

Do you have a media-obsessed child? It can be a kiddo who loves to play video games, watch YouTube or even movies. These kids often beg for tablet time, screen time or media (as we call it in our home). These kids also talk obsessively about their online experiences when asked about their day, their interests or sometimes any question at all.

My confession is that I’m parenting a child just like this, right now, in real time (IRL). I don’t have the luxury of studies and expert advice to guide me. But being a researcher, I looked into every solution that might not only bring balance to my child’s life today but more importantly, teach him how to manage this media himself as he grows older.

Over five years ago I started a website reviewing children’s digital books with my husband and son helping along the way. This family ‘business’ was a labor of love, but sometimes kept me busy for 12-18 hours a day. The fact that my young son could preview books, give his expert opinions as the target audiences while enjoying time together was a huge plus. The process also helped me hone my writing skills, bringing several opportunities to be published. I even helped design & implement a training for librarians about digital storytimes that has been used nationally in the U.S.

My son is nine, but his obsession with screens began before he could even talk. Initially, his father was building an app for preschoolers and our child became the best beta tester ever born. He helped with my app reviews. But he also watched his parents. But what were we modeling? A lot of screen time for sure, even if it was for ‘work’ purposes.

These work opportunities were transformative for me, personally, but what was I modeling with all this media obsession showing up in my young child? The experience gave me pause. I was a former social worker with lots of training in how to set up systems to ease family tension and reduce child misbehavior. Perhaps I should try my own medicine?

Among the best systems I recommended for families with parent-child power-struggles, were star-charts and positive reward systems. At school my child was exposed to systems where teachers give students behavioral points (bucks, dollars, etc.) to cash in for prizes, which gave me an inspiration. What if we set up a ‘buck’ system at home? It could teach balance for media and good habits for managing money in general.

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This was the start of my search. First I wondered if I wanted the tracking system to include more than just screen time balance with other activities. Then I had to decide if I wanted to track our system with physical bucks to exchange or a digital alternative. And should my child get an allowance of media time, mirroring the recommendation for no more than two hours a day? These were big questions and I was literally guessing all along the way.

Ultimately I decided to make our system all-encompassing for chores, homework, reading, targeted educational apps and other positive behaviors we wanted to instill in our child. The rewards would also be broad, including trips to get ice cream, toys and other favorite activities, but the main focus would be on screen time. Our buck system includes a lot of interesting ‘prizes’ but by far the most frequently chosen reward is to have ‘media’ time. My child gets an allowance each week equal to 30 min. screen time a day with the option to earn more ‘bucks’ by doing homework, reading books and chores. This amounts to an average of screen time that is under 2 hours a day on average, the recommendation by the AAP (https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx).

Before implementing this system, we had daily power struggles over how much media our child consumed. He wanted unlimited amounts, creating a constant tension in our home. A year into this ‘buck’ experiment I can truly say we have peace in our home and a more mature child who plans his screen time around other healthy activities like playing outside, reading for pleasure, play dates with friends and more.

What does my child think of this system? I asked him to sum it up and he was rather articulate, saying “It’s more efficient to give me bucks and let me decide myself how to spend my time.” He added that “it also is more enjoyable to play my video games because I know I’ve earned them.”

As parents we see a huge change using this system, too. For me, the battles over screen time are essentially over. I still decide when it’s appropriate to ‘cash in’ bucks for media time, so sometimes I do still have to say no. Most of the time, however, the question isn’t for me but for my son’s wallet. Can he afford to spend his last few bucks or is he saving up for something? If media has been ‘out of balance’ I also have a great way to limit it by letting my child run out of bucks. He can earn more by reading, chores, homework or educational apps (right now we’re emphasizing multiplication and keyboarding skills) but even that has a ceiling. Screen time was never unlimited in our house, but now it’s beautifully self-limited in a natural equilibrium with other activities.

Ultimately I never worry anymore about too much screen time. Since implementing the system, my child is not only happier with his media time but also getting significantly less of it. I also don’t have to battle over media when I’m in a bad mood or possibly a good mood that can be taken advantage of easily by an only-child. Eliminating these parent-child struggles is one of the goals of a positive reward system that any social worker might help a family implement, and I can testify that it makes for a much more peaceful home environment!

You can follow Carisa on Twitter at @iPad_storytime.

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

Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:

School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Car rides

Car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.

Meals

This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.

Bedtime

Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Time with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

 Photo credit Flickr [Lon Martin]

3 Lessons I Learned About Online Privacy When My Teen Googled Her Name

When my daughter Googled her name following a conversation with friends about who is on the Internet, I turned out to be her biggest online privacy problem. The results of the name search displayed several photos from my personal blog that we thought were labeled anonymously. Uh oh.

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“Mom, why is my sports photo showing up on an Internet search?”, she asked.

Good question, I thought. I should know better.

And so began a series of steps to understand our digital footprint before she enters the world of social media on her own terms. I learned more from this experience than any privacy workshop, and would like to share how we are addressing and correcting the problem.

Lesson 1: Evolving as a parent

As a parent, I needed to realize that my daughter is not a toddler anymore. She has opinions about how she is (or is not) presented online, and my job is to completely respect those opinions. My old default was to be proud of some milestone and shout it out, just like I did when they started walking, talking or playing. My new default is to chill out. If they have something to share, they will soon be able to share it themselves. For the past two years, my Facebook feed dropped off from family sharing, specifically for this reason.

Lesson 2: Even if I think I’m sharing anonymously, Google still has a way of figuring things out!

I never shared their first and last name combinations on a post, but Google still linked the last name from my profile with her first name, displaying her data on a name search. In instances where I thought she was totally anonymous, Google Plus circumvented the anonymity by linking text from a friend’s comment. Ugh! Should I have been using code names from day one? Or, should I have opted out completely from the online sharing universe?

Lesson 3: Third parties that seem innocuous, like sports leagues, have their own set of issues.

Another photo that popped up was from an old team roster. This sports league required photo IDs for every player, and getting the IDs printed required uploading the photo to their database. Did their database have a delete function for players? No. Were these rosters searchable over the internet? Yes. Do I wish I would have known that in advance? Yes! Lesson learned.

Attempted Fixes

After running a name search on my personal blog, I substituted every first name reference to a generic “my daughter” or “my oldest” or “my youngest”. I did the same thing on Facebook by searching for my daughters’ names and adjusting or deleting any named posts. This seemed to fix the search listings on both platforms. Unfortunately, Google Plus is less cooperative. Even after deleting a post, the search results are still displaying the image. Next, I contacted the sports league director to request player privacy. They responded right away, but it’s taking awhile for the new privacy settings to take effect.

Moving Forward

If I had to repeat the last decade, what would I do differently? Blogging is an incredibly satisfying part of my life. I enjoy sharing stories, forming opinions, and connecting with others online. I also enjoy parenting. Luckily, I have great kids who learn along with me. I asked if they wanted to make the blog private or take anything down, and they said no. They enjoy looking back on our journeys and experiences together, even moreso now that they are becoming digital citizens themselves.

Today, I try to use more discretion before posting, keeping photos generally scenic or symbolic. When a photo is identifiable to mark a special moment, I ask permission first. What started as my personal blog is becoming a shared family archive that we enjoy. As new social platforms emerge, like Instagram, I show them my account and let them scroll through, so we experience (and learn) together how it works.

This strategy seems to be working just fine, for now…until the next episode comes along!

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Road Trip Tips: Use The Apps Already On Your Device

Your device already has great features for road trips. Try them!

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The great thing about devices today is that they come pre-loaded with great apps. While you are on the road, consider encouraging your kids to use what the device already offers.

Not sure what we mean? Case in point: the device’s camera and note-taking features.

Encouraging your kids to keep a diary of your road trip is a great way to keep them engaged. It is also a good conversation starter to find out what they thought was most exciting and particularly fun.

Combining the use of your device’s camera and note-taking tool allows your kid to be creative and to learn more about writing. One way we’ve done this is by encouraging the kids to take three pictures a day: One of themselves, one from their place in the car, and one at a stop we make.

Older kids can be encouraged to write about why they took each picture in the notes app (or you can make notes for smaller ones). When you get home, you and your kids can go through and either make a scrapbook yourself, or use an app that allows you to design and print a scrapbook.

When you hand the kids a device, you are giving them a tool with which they can create a memento of your trip easily and creatively.

Encouraging your kids to record your trip will keep them excited (especially after hour five on I-90) and will help them to stay involved in the entire process, including picking out stops. You will be amazed at what they’ll want to record and see!

Sara & Alexandra @actonline

Road Tripping with Kids? Find the Perfect Kinds of Apps for the Trip!

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In honor of all things summer, Moms With Apps is happy to bring you tips on including technology in your family summer road trips.  Road trips are a fun, time-honored summer vacation pastime for families. They can, however, also bring challenges.  To make life easier for you and more fun for the kids, we found some road travel facts, some great app download ideas, interesting ways to use your device, and some fun stops you can make that use technology in cool ways. We’ll feature these throughout the week on our Twitter feed and on our Facebook page.

To start the week off, we have pored over the different categories of apps and have identified a few types that are perfect for road trips.  These apps will keep your kids learning, busy, and mess-free!

Type 1: Apps About Maps

You may be driving through cities or states that are brand new to your kids.  Map apps are a great way for kids to learn about where you are driving, and how each state fits into the whole U.S. of A! The map can also answer the question “Are we there yet?” with a precise answer. Map apps that combine U.S. geography and games are our favorite.

Type 2: Art Apps

Sure, giving kids paper and crayons can be easy and mostly mess-free. But instead, why not give your kids an app that allows them to create anything they want? Many creative apps make it easy for kids to find inspiration, especially when the app has some suggested ideas or templates. These apps also allow their drawings to stay in one place until you get home. With an art app, you don’t have to worry about running out of crayons or coloring pages. And best of all, you won’t find crayons wedged into strange places in your car!

Type 3: Storybook Apps

These apps are a great option for a number of reasons. First, you can load up one device with lots of books, making travel lighter for everybody. Your child can pick up a storybook app and read along with the narrator while animations show what is happening in the book. Also, if you are the driver and your child needs help reading, there are a lot of book apps that have guides.  Your child can read aloud to you, and when they struggle over a word, the app itself can help them figure it out, keeping your eyes on the road. Finally, many storybook apps are interactive and keep kids interested for longer periods.  Encouraging kids to read more is always a good thing.

Type 4: Photo Apps

With these fun apps, your kids can snap photos of what is outside the window, what the back of your head looks like, and that great shot of sister drooling!

Type 5: Video Apps

These apps are especially great for kids who have trouble focusing on one movie for a long time.  These curated apps have kid-friendly videos that are mostly 30 minutes or less and give your child endless entertainment while keeping their privacy, and your wallet, safe within the app.

Type 6: Games (For everyone)

Part of being on a road trip is family togetherness.  Many apps encourage the whole family to participate, keeping everybody entertained.  Word games, trivia games, and question games are our favorites!

Sara & Alexandra @actonline

Clash of Clans: A Family-Friendly Point of View

When my 5th grade daughter came home from school, mentioning that many boys in her class often talk about Clash of Clans, we decided to investigate why the app was so popular. Even though I’m hesitant about addictive games, I do feel it is important she has enough literacy to contribute to hot topics of conversation. So together, along with her younger sister, we discussed the pros and cons of video games, and brainstormed how we could incorporate Clash of Clans without disrupting our family’s priorities.

With our boundaries and expectations set, we sat together on the couch and downloaded the app. It’s been about three weeks since that day, and so far I have to say: WE LIKE IT!

In summary, the game is set in a medieval village that you control. In your village, there are resources to earn like elixir and gold. Gems are the virtual currency. There are also defenses to build around your village like walls, canons, and archer towers. Troops power your offensive strategy, to be used when attacking another village. ‘Clans’ are when villages band together and share resources, which seems to be a key social element for higher level players. Overall, the decision making opportunities are fantastic for thinking through trade-offs. Also, the graphics are not very realistic (thankfully), so “gore” doesn’t seem to be an issue from what I can tell at the early stages.

Here is a snapshot of our village at week 3, and some observations about what I’ve learned so far:

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Download Clash of Clans together, so parents can pay attention to any notices or disclosures about how the app works.

When Clash of Clans first opened on my iPad, there was a notification about In App Purchases in the app. The notification suggested that preferences can be adjusted in Settings to turn off IAP. I was thankful for this reminder, and I adjusted my settings immediately before proceeding into game play.

Play in a public place (i.e., the living room) and talk out loud about decisions.

I did not want the kids to take the device and retreat away from the family. Rather, I wanted us all to participate and learn together. During the first few orientation screens, the children read the instructions aloud. When we make decisions about how to proceed in the game, it’s a discussion, and we assign roles. I am the “collector” which means I check in during the day to collect the gold and elixir, and execute any of their instructions. My eldest is the “chief strategist” and leads our thought process about what to do next. My youngest is our “advisor” and chimes in with a “yay” or “nay” regarding our decisions.

Have patience.

While it’s true a lot that can be purchased in the app, we’ve been able to participate in everything just by waiting through the time allotment. For example, let’s say you’ve collected your gold and elixir, and now you want to train a Barbarian. You can wait a few minutes for the troop to be trained, or you can “pay” a gem to finish off the process immediately. There are longer wait times for more intense activities, like upgrading your Town Hall. If the kids start playing by making a few decisions each day, and then waiting until the next day to make more decisions, they’ve just learned a lesson in patience AND frugality!

Do research.

So we learned about this guy, Jorge Yao, who topped the Clash of Clans charts for 6 months. This other guy named Flammy held a series of YouTube interviews with Jorge, along with a bunch of game playing tutorials, and videos of live attacks. Listening to this material is a supplementary way to learn about game playing strategy in advance of making your next move. How do the high level players build their walls? How do they deploy their troops? After watching one of Flammy’s tutorials, we understood certain aspects of the game that had been confusing. ALSO, you can learn by “visiting” other villages of top players on the leader board. Here is an example of an advanced village:

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Have fun.

It’s been so interesting to TALK to my kids about topics other than brushing teeth, checking homework, or  getting ready for soccer practice. By playing this game with them, we talk about what we’d like to do next in “our” village. The other day, they built a pretend campfire in the living room with pillows, and danced around it like Barbarians, Archers, and Goblins. “Play” has taken on many forms.

With a healthy media plan, and a lot of conversation, plenty of fun can transpire with a game like Clash of Clans. If you are playing with your kids – let me know! I’d love to talk about how it’s going.

@LorraineAkemann

Photo Credit Flickr [Ricardo Cabral]

Parental Controls in your iPad’s Settings Menu

Recently I visited the Settings app on my iPad to update the privacy settings on my device. I discovered a variety of options for parents who wish to adjust their devices for different ages and stages. Here are some details to note:

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From your home screen, find the Settings icon (above), and then go to General > Restrictions. To Enable Restrictions, you need to enter a 4-digit passcode. Once the passcode is entered, you can adjust a number of variables from Safari web browsing to the App Store. You can also filter media content by disabling access to explicit or adult material. Most notably, In App Purchases can be turned on or off on a device-wide basis.

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Scrolling farther down on the Restrictions menu is an area dedicated to “Privacy”. In this section, parents can set preferences for location services, contact lists, and social media services such as Facebook or Twitter.

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Given “Privacy” is such a hot topic these days, you can also access it directly from the Settings menu (Settings > Privacy) to view the controls:

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Finally, you can control internet access on the device through the wifi and airplane mode settings which are at the top of the Settings Menu. And don’t miss the Notification Center, which shows all of the apps that are set up to send you messages or alerts. Here, too, you can manage alerts according to your preferences.

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If you have recommendations for parents about making tablets kid-friendly, please leave a comment so we can continue the discussion. I want to be careful not to dissuade parents and children from browsing the internet together. Just because this post focuses on physical settings and boundaries, some of the best preparation we can do is browse together, pointing out appropriate and inappropriate sites throughout our browsing session. Teaching kids to discern different types of online content can our best tool yet. Thanks!

Using the iPad’s side switch settings to bring back the sound in your app

Our guest post this week is written by Maggie Sheldon of Learning Touch (creators of First Words Deluxe), in response to questions app developers often receive from customers about how sound works in their app. Thanks Maggie!

Did the sound stop working on your kid’s favorite iPad app? Are you just about ready to downgrade that 5-star rating to a 1 because it’s just clearly broken? Please don’t. Here’s why:

Your iPad is muted. No, I’m not joking, it really is muted. I know you’ve tried toggling the mute switch on the side and are sure that it’s in the off position. I know that your Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and Youtube apps all have sound and work just fine. But your iPad is most definitely muted. Here’s how to fix it:

Thanks to a design decision made by Apple, you can also use that side switch (formally the mute switch) as an orientation lock. Meaning you can lock the screen so it doesn’t change orientations when you turn the iPad on its side. Nifty, right?


Unfortunately, switching the side switch (say that five times fast) to control the screen orientation also disables its control over sound.

To make the side switch the sound overlord again follow these simple steps:

  • Navigate to Settings on your iPad.
  • Tap on General and scroll down to the “Use Side Switch to” box and select the mute option.
  • Toggle the side switch to the off position and presto! Your favorite kid’s app has sound once more.
  • To lock the rotation again, just go back to settings to switch what the side switch controls.

Are you wondering why your music and video apps still had sound when your kid’s favorite app didn’t? Apps that include media playback (such as videos, podcasts and music apps) override your mute button settings because their functionality is dependent on sound. Most kid’s apps respect the mute button setting (but yes, we agree, their functionality is dependent on sound, too).

Now that your iPad is sounding off appropriately, could you do me a favor and sound off about your favorite kid’s app? As an app developer, I rely on the recommendations of parents and educators like you to get the word out about my apps. Thanks!
Here is another resource on App-Sound-Troubleshooting from Natasha at @Reks, who outlines a similar method to Maggie along with additional possibilities and video tutorials for resolving unexpected silence.