Video Games: An Opportunity to Connect With Your Kids

By: Monica Vila
Co-founder of TheOnlineMom.com

Ratings_boxI’ve always found video games to be an incredible connecter of parents and children. And when it comes to kids’ entertainment choices, video games are sure to be near the top of the list. However, when a new and popular game title is released, some parents may be unsure if it is appropriate for their child to play. But rest assured, even if you don’t know a lot about video games, a simple way to determine a games’ appropriateness is to check the rating. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is responsible for those familiar and trusted video game rating icons, and they are great for quickly accessing information about a game’s age appropriateness.

In fact, the ESRB is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. For two decades this organization has been helping educate parents about the content of console video games and mobile apps.  In celebration of their anniversary, here are a few of my favorite tips:

Check for Age Appropriate Ratings – E (Everyone), E10+ (Everyone 10+), T (Teen) & More

esrb-symbols225Shopping for the perfect video game is made infinitely easier by tapping into the ratings and content descriptors published on the game package itself or pulling up the ratings information for a game using the ESRB mobile app.  On the front of every game box, ESRB provides easy-to-understand ratings that range from EC (Early Childhood) to AO (Adults Only for ages 18+) prominently displayed on the front of the box.

Review the Content Descriptors – The “Why” of Ratings

Turn the box over, and you’ll find content descriptors indicating content that may have triggered a particular rating or may be of interest or concern.  This can include Language, Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes, and more. This added detail helps parents make informed decisions on what’s right for their child based on their own personal family values and their child’s maturity.  For example, some games are assigned a T (Teen) rating with content descriptors for Violence and Language, while another might earn the same rating with content descriptors for Suggestive Themes and Crude Humor.

Understand Interactive Elements – Shares Info, Shares Location, Users Interact

Like many other aspect of our life – games, too, have become increasingly mobile.  Many mobile and other digitally delivered games allow or encourage players to interact and share information, and while these features add a whole new and exciting dimension to game play, they can also be used to collect or share personal information about the user.  For this reason, ESRB now includes Interactive Elements as part of the rating information for mobile games and apps.  There are three interactive element descriptors:

  • esrb-shares200Shares Info, which indicates that personal information provided by the user (e.g., e-mail address, phone number, credit card info, etc.) is shared with third parties;
  • Shares Location, which includes the ability to display the user’s location to other users of the app;
  • Users Interact, which indicates possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content Including user-to-user communications and media sharing via social media and networks.

Rating Summaries – A More Detailed Description of Game Content

For parents who would like to know even more about the content of a game, ESRB created rating summaries.  Rating summaries are a supplementary source of information that give you a detailed yet brief description of exactly the kind of content you would want to know about when choosing a game for your child. Most packaged video games have a rating summary, which can be accessed via ESRB.org and ESRB’s mobile app.

Follow ESRB’s Motto – Ok to Play

While ESRB ratings are a great starting point for any game purchase, the magic happens when you pick-up a controller to play with your child. Sure – you might learn a few new dance moves or maybe even discover how to use the elusive “X” button.  However, chances are, you’ll find that playing together is a great connector – an opportunity to push the pause button on life and just have some fun.  So remember parents: it’s ok to play!

Monica Vila is founder of The Online Mom Network – a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a child’s life. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.

Hands-On with the All-New Microsoft Retail Experience

By Monica Vila

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Microsoft store at the Time Warner Center in New York City. I was there with a team of bloggers who were specifically invited to experience first-hand Microsoft’s new approach to retailing.

From day one, visiting a Microsoft store has always been great way to get hands-on with Xbox, as well as PCs and laptops from third party manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Acer and Lenovo. But they have now been joined by a growing array of mobile devices, including Windows Phones and the ground-breaking family of Surface tablets.

Microsoft stores have always encouraged relaxed browsing, backed up by a courteous and knowledgeable staff that is always on hand when you need a little help. One of the strengths of the app-driven, touchscreen world that we now live in is the opportunity to experiment and get an instant feel for how responsive and user-friendly each device can be. This immersive approach is at the heart of the new Microsoft retail experience.

While I was at the Time Warner Center, I had the opportunity to check out Surface Pro 3, which combines the power and performance of a laptop with the convenience and portability of a classic tablet. One criticism of tablets is that they are not good devices for traditional work tasks but Surface Pro 3 comes with Windows 8.1 Pro, which means you can install all your favorite desktop software, including the full Microsoft Office Suite.

Of course a visit to a Microsoft store wouldn’t be complete without a few minutes in front of an Xbox One. At the Time Warner Center, I was able to experience the uncanny realism of Forza Horizon 2 and Madden NFL 15 – just two of the hundreds of single and multiplayer games that are available for this latest generation console.

Microsoft has about 100 retail experience outlets in North America, including about 70 walk-in stores. These will joined next year by a flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. As well as browsing the latest desktop and mobile devices, customers can schedule a Personal Training session or meet one-on-one with an Answer Desk expert to get solutions to specific problems.

If you haven’t been to a Microsoft store yet, be sure to check it out. Whether you are a die-hard techie or you’re just looking for a little advice, you won’t be disappointed!

I received a fee for participating in a promotional program for Microsoft. All opinions are my own.

Apps that Make Math Accessible and Fun

By Tracey Dowdy

I’ve never been great at Math – ask Mrs. Mac Eachern, my fourth grade teacher, who labored harder teaching me fractions than giving birth to her children; or Mr. Mac Isaac, my high school algebra teacher, who once gave me a 10 on an algebra test, largely for penmanship. Any app that makes math both accessible and fun for students is a hit with me!

The following apps are kid and parent tested and cover a range of ages, skill levels, and math principles.

Dexteria Dots – Get in Touch with Math

dexteria-dotsTNDexteria Dots is presented in a simple, engaging format that challenges and builds on kids’ addition and subtraction skills. Dots are assigned values and users combine or separate the dots to find a specific value. There are three options for game play and each level has four options. Each challenge is timed and rewards are given for each success. The app reinforces thinking and reasoning skills, and because each level adapts to become more challenging, it will appeal to multiple skill levels.

Age: 5+
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Cost: $2.99


Dinorama

dinoramaTNDinorama allows kids to become young entrepreneurs and run their very own dinosaur theme park. Kids will develop management skills as they buy food for the dinosaurs, clean their cages, purchase features like cafés or a photo booth and deal with rainy days. So along with math, kids are learning social studies and time management skills. The game can be saved each time kids stop play, so picking up where they left off is easy. The purchase price includes all the features users can add to their park, so there are no additional in-app purchases.

Age: 7+
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Cost: $1.99


Motion Math: Zoom

motion-mathTNMotion Math: Zoom allows kids to practice using the number line. The first twelve levels are included or parents can upgrade with an in-app purchase for the full 24 levels. Making frogs leap or bugs creep along the number line, kids learn how numbers relate to each other, addition and subtraction principles, decimals, and negative numbers.

Age: 7+
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Cost: $2.99, plus optional in-app purchase of $2.99


Numbers League

numbers-leagueTNNumbers League uses a comic book style where students use basic math skills to build a superhero in order to defeat villains. There are five levels of play, hints are offered, and users have the option to discard and try again if they get stuck. Along with basic math skills, players are challenged to use logic. They can only have up to seven superheroes in play at a time, so players must determine which heroes to keep in order to overcome the villain.

Age: 7+
Platform: iPad
Cost: $3.99


Slice Fractions

slice-fractionsTNSlice Fractions challenges kids to divide chunks of ice or lava into appropriate numbers of pieces to help a woolly mammoth navigate across the landscape. There are three stages of play, each more challenging and incorporating additional fraction concepts to challenge users. Kids earn silly hats for the mammoth and badges for achieving different levels of play.

Age: 7+
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android
Cost: $2.99


Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Friday, December 5: Choosing the Right Data Plan

VERIZON INSIDER TWITTER PARTY

#VZWBuzz

When: TODAY, Friday, December 5, 2014
12:00-1:00 pm PT
3:00-4:00 pm ET

‘Choosing the Right Data Plan’

Join @theonlinemom @RobynsWorld @geekbabe and @thetechdad TODAY at 12 noon PT (3 pm ET) as we chat about How To Choose the Right Data Plan!
With more people switching to plans with unlimited voice and text, it’s now all about selecting the right amount of data. We examine the different ways that our smartphones and tablets consume data, and identify the tools that can help us find a plan that is perfect for our needs!
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win Beats Solo 2 headphones or a Moto X by Motorola smartphone!
And join the Video Recap right after the chat for yet another chance to win a Moto X smartphone!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/D2luh     
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) today between 12 – 1 pm PT
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)

#LifeOnFiOS Halloween Photo/Video Contest

Give us your best spook!!!

Catch the Spirit of Halloween and win a Samsung GALAXY Camera

This is the season of witches and goblins and scary movies and we want you to be a part of it! We are looking for your most creative Halloween videos or images on Instagram.

Use your artistic eye to capture scary images and or create your super creepy Halloween video (channeling your inner Wes Craven or John Carpenter) and you could win a brand new Samsung GALAXY Camera!

Here’s how you enter:

1) Take pictures or video on your mobile device or camera and share them on Instagram and Twitter using the #LifeOnFiOS hash tag and the device you used.
2) Share as many photos or videos as you want but every share must include #LifeOnFiOS.
4) The contest will end at 12 midnight ET on November 1st.
5) A panel of judges including Ann Tran and Monica Vila from the OM Media team will select the winning entries and post them on Twitter no later than Wednesday, November 5.

The grand prize of a Samsung GALAXY Camera will be awarded for the best #LifeOnFiOS Halloween image or video captured by YOU as determined by our judges. Second and third place winners will get branded swag from your favorite TV shows!

Best of luck and Give Us Your Best Spook!

*Contest is for US residents only. Void where prohibited by law. Winners selected by panel of judges on The Online Mom team whose decisions are final.

Wednesday, October 22: A Special Twitter Event

A SPECIAL FORD DRIVE SAFE TWITTER EVENT
  Ford_Drive_Safe_1

When: TODAY, Wednesday, October 22, 2014
9:00 – 10:00 pm ET
6:00 – 7:00 pm PT

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fatalities among American teenagers, claiming nearly 3,000 lives a year.*
Join @TheOnlineMom and friends TODAY at 9 pm ET as we examine what parents can do to combat these alarming statistics. We will learn about new technology that allows parents to restrict certain features in a teen driver’s vehicle and explore the Driving Skills for Life program, which helps teens learn to drive more safely.
RSVP and attend the Twitter event for a chance to win a Mini JAMBOX Bluetooth speaker or Plantronics Backbeat FIT headphones!

*National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: FordDriveSafe) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/CVG4d
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#FordDriveSafe) today between 9 – 10 pm ET
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Ford Motor Company.)

6 Classic Games You Can Play on Your Smartphone

By Robyn Wright

While we love finding new games to play, there is still something to be said for the classics we grew up with. Many of the games we played as children continue to be popular, mostly because they are fun to play and we usually learn a little something in the process.

While you can still find many of these classic games in their original formats, they are also now available as downloadable apps for our smartphones and tablets. Here are a few of the classics reinvented for the mobile age.

Monopoly

monopolyTNYou probably spent hours playing the Monopoly board game when you were a child. Now you can play this family favorite on-the-go via your mobile device. Roll the dice, take a ride on the Reading Railroad, put hotels on Boardwalk, and try and avoid going to jail. The classic Monopoly game tokens are also included.

iOS – $0.99
Android – $1.99
Windows Phone – $2.99


Mad Libs

mad-libsTNA hysterically funny game and great for learning correct grammar, as you need to know nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. You can also add your own photos and images, use voice recognition to enter your words, and even share your stories on your favorite social networks.

iOS – free with in-app purchases


The Game of Life

the-game-of-lifeTNThis is the same classic game brought to life in an app. Collect achievements, spin the wheel, get married – all like the original Game of Life. Make it to the end to retire in luxury. Pass around and play with up to 3 friends at once.

iOS – $0.99
Android – $0.99
Windows Phone – $2.99


Yahtzee

yahtzeeTNThis classic dice game is fun for all ages. The app version of Yahtzee throws in some additional options, but you can still play the game just the way you did as a child. The perfect game for helping younger kids learn to count.

iOS – $0.99
Windows Phone – $2.99


 

MasterMind

mastermindTNThe MasterMind app is all the fun of the original without the chance of losing all those tiny colored pegs. Break the color code by using logic on each guess.

iOS – free
Android – free
Windows Phone – free


Checkers

checkersTNThis classic two-player strategy game is something everyone should learn to play. Even after playing for years you can still learn new intricacies of the game. The app version requires no flat surface to put a board on, no lost pieces, and you can start and stop as needed. King me!

iOS – free
Android – free
Windows Phone – free

Why Your Next Phone Should Be a Phablet

Now that Apple has decided that bigger really is better, there is a renewed focus on phablets, those oft-derided hybrids that attempt to combine the functionality and portability of a smartphone with the size and productivity of a tablet. That focus will only increase with this month’s release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the successor to the most widely-acclaimed phablet prior to the arrival of the iPhone 6 Plus.

Coupled with the increased dimensions of the regular iPhone 6, this move towards super-sized screens has left a lot of existing smartphone owners scratching their heads. After extolling the virtues of simplicity and convenience, are we now expected to return to the days of pocket-busting devices that feel more like oversized calculators than sleek state-of-the-art smartphones?

Surprisingly, the answer might well be ‘yes’ and there are a number of reasons why.

First though, what actually constitutes a phablet? While there is no hard and fast rule, we are probably talking about smartphones with screens bigger than 5.3 inches. So while the iPhone 6 Plus (5.5 inches) and the Galaxy Note 4 (5.7 inches) clearly fall into that category, the iPhone 6 (4.7 inches) and the Samsung Galaxy 5 (5.1 inches) do not.

While size is the main criteria, it’s not the only determining factor. As mentioned above, these mega devices are trying to mimic the functionality of a tablet and it’s really the additional apps and processing power that makes them so attractive.

In particular, the Galaxy Note 4 comes packed with useful work and productivity features that deliver on the promise of the mobile office. A more organized and color-coded home screen, split-screen multitasking, super-fast charging, and a completely redesigned S-Pen can quickly turn the Note 4 into an essential business tool.

But if you’re not looking for your smartphone to be an extension of your office, then the big screen media potential of a phablet will surely get your attention. The difference between viewing photos or watching a movie or TV show on a regular smartphone and a super-sized phablet is like night and day.

Five inch displays and 500+ ppi densities make for an incredibly sharp HD viewing experience, which is impossible to replicate on a smaller device. Add the improved sound quality and a series of innovative media apps and phablets are rapidly becoming the personal entertainment centers that we always dreamed of.

For some, the standard objections to larger devices are hard to overcome – they require two hands to operate; they are hard to carry – but for others a phablet means the best of both worlds and one less device to worry about. If you need to replace your current device, think about a phablet. When it comes to smartphones, good things don’t always come in small packages!

Friday, November 21: How To Shop for Technology

VERIZON INSIDER TWITTER PARTY

#VZWBuzz

When: TODAY, Friday, November 21, 2014
2:00 – 3:00 pm CT
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET

‘How To Shop for Technology’

Join @theonlinemom @RobynsWorld and @TheTechDad TODAY at 3 pm ET (12 noon PT) as we chat about How To Shop for Technology!
The VZWBuzz team are in Chicago to celebrate the opening of the Verizon Destination Store at 840 N. Michigan Ave. Help us kick off the Holiday season as we visit the Lifestyle Zones and experience the latest in mobile and home technology!
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win 10 (yes, 10!) Droid Turbo by Motorola smartphones and 10 Moto 360 smart watches! (5 Droid Turbo smartphones and 5 Moto 360s will be given away during the Twitter chat and 5 more Turbos and 5 Moto 360s during the Video Recap which follows at 4 pm ET.)

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/CGE7J     
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) today between 2 – 3 pm CT
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)