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Putting Smartphones to Bed – in Another Room


838-02484870tWhen I was in middle school, I remember being in my bed, sneaking a late-night phone call to my boyfriend, long after the rest of my family had turned in. My mom, who obviously had heard me talking, came in and told me to wrap it up and go to sleep.

That was back in the pre-smartphone days. Now, of course, texting, Snapchatting, Tweeting and other forms of communication rule the earth. But my mom would have been just as ticked-off about those, too. And (once again) she would have been right to be concerned.

Young girl textingAccording to a new study published in the February 2015 issue of Pediatrics, smartphones in a child’s bedroom can lead to “insufficient rest” and later bedtimes – which can lead to more serious problems.

A Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Study conducted in 2012 and 2013 targeted more than 2,000 fourth and seventh graders. Researchers found that 54% of the kids said they slept near a smartphone or some other form of “small screen” – a cell phone, iPod touch or something else. And those kids got almost 21 minutes less sleep than those who didn’t have a small screen device nearby. The screen kids also went to bed 37 minutes, on average, later than those without the gadgets in their rooms.

Part of the problem is the notifications being emitted from the phones. If you’re constantly waiting for that next bit of information, you’re obviously not sleeping. A smartphone or tablet demands a lot of attention. The numbers are even worse than for kids who sleep in the same room as a TV, which is already known to be a no-no. Those children get 18 fewer minutes of sleep and have a 31-minute delayed bedtime.

83115983_yawning-kid_inside Inadequate sleep lead can lead to many problems, ranging from poor school performance to risk-taking behaviors to obesity, notes the study, which goes on to caution strongly against “unfettered access to screen-based media” in kids’ rooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends age-based limits with the overall proviso that kids spend no more than one to two hours a day on recreational screen time.

Jennifer Falbe, a public health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley and the study’s lead author, told CNN, “Set realistic but firm rules. For example, you can make sure electronic devices are off at least one hour before bedtime.”

One suggestion: Tell you child that it’s time to charge the phone. Put it in another room and leave it until morning. And parents, that’s not a bad suggestion for you, too.





School, Bored



“I’m Bored;” the phrase that causes parents to tremble.

The statement comes with the implication that kids need to be entertained, and that we the parents are the entertainers. That’s a notion we need to dispel. Sometimes it’s good for our kids to be bored. It’s a simple problem solving exercise and gives them the opportunity to learn and discover play and activities by themselves. However, there is a time when parents really need to step it up and that is when your child says that she’s bored in school.

TEENS-HIGH-SCHOOL-BORED-960x540At some point, your child may either be ahead or behind everyone in her class. And whichever it is, boredom, disinterest and even an aversion to going to school can result.

If you notice your child isn’t liking school as much as he once did, it is important to find out why as soon as possible. Asking direct questions may not work, so try to catch your child off guard and ask less specific questions: Where you busy at school today? Did you have fun at recess? What was your favorite part of school that day? What was the least? Why?

If you discern that a bullying problem is behind your child’s sudden dislike of school, alert the school right away. But if it’s a case of indefinable ennui, it can be a little harder to diagnose. If your child isn’t keeping up academically, chances are you will know by her grades and from parent teacher conferences. Tutoring, after school clubs and some extra time with homework will help.

However, if your child isn’t challenged by the work, it may be harder to tell. They may have slipping grades or may be acting up. Take a look at any homework brought home. If it is done quickly, or the teacher mentions that work is done sloppily, take careful notice.

Set up a time to meet with the teachers and administrators. Your child may need to be more physically active, especially if they no longer have recess in middle school. Explore clubs and after school activities that offer enriching stimulation such as the chess or geography club. Talk with teachers and counselors and see if there is an advanced class that your child can move into. They may even be tested, but be sure that your child is on board for the challenge.

If an advanced class isn’t available, parents can enhance quickly finished homework with fun but educational products like BrainPop, Brainetics or Top Secret. These materials merge game-like fun with cool learning opportunities. Local museums and history centers may offer after school programs for kids that emphasize art, music or history or archeology. More than anything, you don’t want kids to think of school as too easy. It sets a standard for bad study habits, low expectations and possible poor performance when they are really challenged in high school and college. Boredom can be good for kids in our stressed out world, but school is the one place you don’t want that to happen.

Interested in reading more? Try “How to Deal with a Smart Disruptive School Kid” or “Smart and Bored.”



Free Range


free-range-kids-have-become-a-thing-of-the-past_v3In the news recently is the story of parents in trouble for letting their young kids, ages ten and six, walk to school and to the park, unsupervised. The parents subscribe to a parenting style called Free Range Kids. These particular parents, however, were cited by local authorities as neglectful and may face charges. It is an interesting, hotly-debated issue played out all over social media. On one hand, we read articles criticizing parents for coddling their kids and creating “Displaced Royalty Syndrome.” Any number of accounts hold that parents who do everything for their child only hamper their child’s possibilities later in life. Yet, there are plenty of stories of real neglect, as well as child abduction. Does that mean if you see two young kids, not in distress, walking by themselves, you would call the police? Where is the middle ground here?

I was raised as more “cage-free” rather than “Free Range.” My mother would send us all outside, but we weren’t to leave the block and had to stay in a few pre-approved yards. We didn’t get called back inside until dinner.  In the evenings, we were back outside playing Flashlight Beam (a game of tag with flashlights after dark) or catching lightning bugs (our name for fireflies). I was about twelve when I was finally allowed to walk to the shopping center with a friend.

As a parent, I’m not immune to worry or fear. I’m sure that’s also true of parents who subscribe to Free-Range Parenting. But there has to be a balance between rational concerns for safety and giving our children some independence. From my perspective, it has to do with knowing your children well. How responsible are they? How aware are they of their surroundings? Are they ready for small challenges? I probably wouldn’t let a six year old walk alone, but with a group of older kids close to home—maybe. It is not a case of ignoring kids or being lazy parents, but rather consciously (and sometimes painfully) letting them take baby steps towards independence. It’s a lot to ponder and maybe, in a year, as I anxiously wait for my daughter to call home from college, I will have a different perspective.




The PlayAbility Scale™


PAS_Logo_New DomainThe PlayAbility Scale.

Expanding the scope of the internationally recognized and respected Parents’ Choice Awards® program, Parents’ Choice Foundation has developed the The PlayAbility Scale ™ – a rating system rooted in a scientifically based methodology – that measures a toy’s or game’s skill-building properties, and reports the outcomes in a uniform and user-friendly way.

Under the leadership of Karena Rush, Ph.D., Parents’ Choice Foundation’s expert panels distilled the properties measured into six major domains – umbrella categories that describe the skills addressed and fostered by playing with the toy or game. The six domains of the PlayAbility Scale are: Cognitive, Academic, Creativity/Imagination, Communication, Social/Emotional and Motor. Additionally, within each domain, there are up to seven even more specific properties measured by the PlayAbility Scale.

The Power of Play Decoded

When shopping for toys and games, have you noticed that packages highlight developmental benefits in different ways? Some with symbols, some with words, some with both. But what do the symbols mean? What does this mean for my child? If there are no standard practices used to measure and/or report, how can consumers make good decisions?

Designed to address the inconsistencies in rating the benefits as well as labeling the benefits on packaging, the PlayAbility Scale uniformly measures and reports the skill-building properties children’s toys and games have to offer.

Think of the PlayAbility Scale like the nutrition label, but for toys and games. Just as not all foods or beverages contain fat, not all toys or games develop gross motor skills. If your child knows how to read, but can’t sit still to finish a page, look for toys or games that help build attention and persistence. If your child is more active with numbers than with friends, look for toys and games that encourage social interaction, communication and cooperative play.

Here’s a sampling of which skills each PlayAbility Scale domain measures and reports:

Cognitive Skills include attention and persistence, memory, processing speed, reasoning and more. Academic Skills include school readiness and early literacy skills for preschoolers and literacy/reading skills for those in the early elementary years. Creativity/Imagination Skills include, but aren’t limited to dramatic and imaginary play. Communication Skills spans following directions to labelling and describing objects, to conversation skills. Social/Emotional Skills refer to interpersonal skills, cooperating with others and understanding other people’s perspectives. And the Motor domain encompasses skills of the eyes, hands, feet – individually and when used in combination.

The following are PlayAbility Scale™ ratings for four games for children ages 3 to 8+:

Seuss CharadesDr. Seuss Charades Game (ages 3+, $9.99, Wonderforge)

This fun-filled game rated high on the PlayAbility Scale in the Cognitive, Academic, Creativity, Communication and Social/Emotional domains. With ratings of 80% or higher, the PlayAbility Scale identifies that the Dr. Seuss Charades game addresses and improves thinking skills of problem solving, attention and memory, as well as the ability to process and act on information quickly. The game helps with school readiness skills, dramatic and imaginary play skills, language skills (understanding others, expressing oneself, conversational skills and understanding nonverbal cues and behavior) and on the social/emotional skills of interacting and working cooperatively with others.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children who need to improve both how they communicate as well as how well they understand what others are saying. Additionally, the game will help focus a child’s attention and use problem solving skills to understand, process and answer the charade challenge at hand.


Frida's FruitFrida’s Fruit Fiesta Game: (ages 4+, $21.99, Educational Insights)

This fun and creative letter matching game has players manipulate three spinners and choose one matching letter from the colorful game board/box. With ratings of 80% or higher, the game rated high in the Cognitive, Academic and Motor domains. The thinking skills addressed in the Cognitive domain include attention and persistence, classification, categorization and pattern recognition. Ratings in the Academic domain scored high for school readiness (early literacy skills), and in the Motor domain ratings were high for eye/hand coordination, object manipulation and bilateral integration (being able to use both sides of your body in a coordinated way).

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children to work on identifying letters as they prepare for kindergarten and for early elementary school students to build on the literacy skills they are using at school. Additionally, using Frida’s beak (tongs) to manipulate the game pieces helps children build fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.


ZingoZingo! (ages 4+, $21.99, ThinkFun)

The line of Zingo! games brings fast-paced fun and learning to the classic game of Bingo. All Zingo games use a sliding mechanism (Zinger) to reveal picture/number/word tiles, as players work to make matches to fill the Zingo card to win. All Zingo games rated 80% or higher in the Cognitive and Academic domains, addressing thinking skills including problem solving, attention, memory, categorization, as well as helping players improve their ability to understand the challenge and work quickly to solve it.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for preschool and early elementary school children in enhancing early academic skills such as sight word recognition (Zingo Word Builder, Sight Words or Original Zingo), number recognition (Zingo 1-2-3), telling time (Zingo-Telling Time), or learning a new language (Bilingual Zingo- Spanish).


SwishSwish (ages 8+, $12.99, ThinkFun)

In this easy-to-learn fast-paced card game, players challenge their spatial intelligence as they work to visualize solutions in their “mind’s eye.” Sixteen transparent cards make up the playing area where players mentally manipulate two or more cards so that each “ball” swishes into a “hoop” of the same color. Swish scored very high (85% or more) in all five Cognitive subscales, making this an excellent choice to address and improve focus and attention, persistence, pattern recognition, all while quickly and accurately processing and acting on information.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children who need to work on the ability to sustain attention and problem solve, while learning to visually discriminate among objects that look very similar. Additionally, the game will help build players’ abilities and confidence to work quickly under pressure.


The PlayAbility Scale initiative is designed to help children of all abilities and learning styles. We hope you’ll agree.


Downton Arthur


dowton arthurThe Dowager D.W.? Lord Binky? The popularity of “Downton Abbey” has reached a new level with a fun send up courtesy of Arthur and PBS Kids to debut on Monday, January 26.(check local listings)

Muffy Crosswire, excited to get the results of an ancestry study, assumes she is descended from royalty when she finds a picture of a relative in front of the elaborate Fountain Abbey. After all, Muffy already has the tiara and the attitude. Turns out, it’s better to research facts than to make assumptions. When Francine and Muffy, with the help of Binky, read an old diary, they learn there’s a bigger story behind every picture—and it’s not always what it seems.

In addition to being a cute spoof on a show that grownups love, the episode poses some good questions to its viewers. What is a legacy? How do you want people to remember you? What do you know about your ancestors? It’s a great way to get kids asking and thinking about their family and the generations that came before them—in a thoughtful and constructive way. The show also touches on managing expectations, handling embarrassment and researching history in a personal way. Arthur has been known to spoof pop culture before with nods to Edgar Allen Poe stories and  “The Wizard of Oz,” but seeing Arthur as Mr. Carlson and Francine as O’Brien is worth all the tea and crumpets in Fountain—or Downton—Abbey.