Are There Too Many Streaming Services?

By Tracey Dowdy

With Disney’s recent announcement of a November launch date for Disney Plus, have we hit peak streaming service or, at the very least, are we at risk of streaming service overload?

For years, we dreamed of an a la carte approach to programming – a great “unbundling” of movies and TV shows – but with the Disney juggernaut entering an increasingly crowded field of streaming services, the cost of accessing all your favorite programming is creeping steadily closer to being at par with the cable services so many of us have dropped.

To be fair, Disney Plus – at least for now – is just $6.99 a month, or for a discounted annual fee of $69.99. The service will offer programming and original content from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic, and will include content from Fox, including all 30 seasons of fan favorite, The Simpsons.

Once upon a time, cord cutters had two choices – Hulu or Netflix. Today, when deciding what subscription service best meets their needs, consumers have to wade through content libraries on Sling TV, Amazon Video, HBO Now, PlayStation VueFubo TV, Apple’s recent addition to the list, Apple TV+, and countless more. Once you’ve drilled down past what content is available, you’ll need to determine if they offer live TV, how long after airing on network or cable TV is content added to the streaming service, is there quality original content, and if they allow extra third-party streaming content. It’s enough to make your head spin, and your wallet groan.

My family currently subscribes to Hulu ($12 a month), Netflix (just jumped to $15.99 a month), and Amazon Video ($10 a month as part of my Prime Membership), and HBO Now ($15 a month). Adding it all up, even without the cost of Sling TV (another $25) which we’ll need to watch hockey and football, we’re up to $78 a month – tell me again how cutting the cord is saving me so much money?

The issue is exclusivity – where we once paid a cable or satellite provider like Verizon, Comcast, or Direct TV one price to access all our favorite shows across networks and movie studios, with the rise in streaming services, content has been restricted to specific providers. For example, Disney has pulled all its movies from Netflix, as well as content from Marvel and Nat Geo/National Geographic Channel.

Who knew so many streaming options would have us longing for the halcyon days of cable TV?

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

First Looks at Disney Plus

By Tracey Dowdy

Back in December 2017, Disney announced plans to launch their own streaming service, one that would rival the content library of the current industry leader, Netflix.

Disney has steadily pulled its content from Netflix and with their March 20, 1019 merger with 21st Century Fox, as well as their recent acquisition of a controlling stake in Hulu (a 60% share), they’ve become a streaming service behemoth which will no doubt have a significant impact on Netflix’ bottom line.

On April 11, 2019, Disney gave us our first look at what’s subscribers can look forward to as well as pricing information.

With Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney, and National Geographic the service’s marquee properties,

Disney promises a significant library of content for subscribers who can expect 7,500 television shows, 500 films — including 100 recent movies (“recent” means has yet to be defined) and 400 titles from their archive — as well 25 original series by the end of its first year. Then, by the time year five rolls around, Disney has promised at least 50 original series, 10,000 past TV episodes, and 120 recent films.

One of the most significant announcements – possible through its acquisition of Fox – is that they’ll stream all 30 seasons of The Simspons. Family-friendly Fox content will stream on Disney Plus, while content directed at adult audiences will likely be funneled to Hulu.

All of the Star Wars movies will be available on Disney Plus by the end of the first year, as well as eighteen Pixar movies including all of the studio’s animated shorts. The rest of Pixar’s content library will be available down the road. Disney has promised Toy Story 4 shorts and a Monsters Inc. series is in development.

The Disney Plus app will be available on PlayStation 4 and Roku devices, but Disney hopes to have it available across platforms including smart TVs and mobile devices by the time they launch in November, or shortly after that.

As for cost, Disney Plus will cost $6.99 a month (or a discounted rate of $69 for an annual package) for North American subscriptions. Europe and the Asia-Pacific market will get it in Disney’s second 2020 financial quarter. As an incentive for potential subscribers, Disney is considering a special bundle of three of Disney’s streaming services — Hulu, ESPN Plus, and Disney Plus — into a single package.

Disney Plus will launch on November 12, 2019.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

The Great Homework Debate

By Tracey Dowdy

Michelle’s eleventh grader has at least three hours of homework a day, seven days a week, while Jacki’s daughter, also in eleventh grade but at a different school, hardly ever has homework, and if she does, gets it done on her own. Sunny’s fourth graders attend a no-homework school, but they’re expected to read at home and to study for tests and Virginia’s Standards of Learning (standardized testing), while Jacqueline’s 4th grade son gets what his teacher refers to as “unhomework,” and students can choose whether or not to do it. Stephanie, a teacher herself, says, “My 3rd grader has had the exact same homework assignment every single night for the entire school year. He’s bored out of his mind. It used to take him about 15 minutes and now he can easily spend an hour on it, not because it’s long or difficult…just because it’s that boring. Homework should be used for students to practice what they learn in class, not just as something to do.”

Homework has once again come under fire as studies have shown the extra work outside the classroom may not be as effective as we’ve been told. A hundred years ago, educators and critics determined that homework made students “unduly stressed,” and so many school districts banned it for students under seventh grade. But, when the Cold War came along with its fear of American kids falling behind their Soviet counterparts, homework saw a resurgence, only to fall out of fashion once again during the progressive 1960s and 1970s when critics lamented that it was stifling student creativity and expression. Attitudes flip-flopped again in April of 1983 when then-President Ronald Reagan encouraged the press to publicize a government report warning of “a rising tide of mediocrity” eroding the American educational system.

For years, the “10-minute rule” has been the standard for assigning homework, meaning a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So, third graders should have no more than 30 minutes of homework a night, while seniors in high school can expect about two hours of homework each night. Both the National PTA and the National Education Association support this standard. However, according to research by Pew, every day, American teenagers are averaging twice as much time spent on homework as their predecessors did back in the 1990s. It’s not just high schoolers. A 2015 study by  The American Journal of Family Therapy discovered that despite expert’s recommendations that Kindergarteners have zero homework assignments, many were spending up to 25 minutes a night on it.

Joy Ashford, a teacher with over 18 years of experience in the classroom and leadership roles in education, says, “Homework is completely unnecessary before Jr. High/Sr. High. In elementary, it’s helpful to have parents read with their child(ren) but, when that is given as essential homework, you are creating a divide between kids who don’t have that supportive network in their home. I’ve taught all three levels of school – elementary, middle, (and) high school. In elementary, I only asked kids to read at home and I made sure I had time to read with them during the day so no one was left out. (For) Junior/Senior high, I feel the value of homework is to create work habits and skills. Never to cover new material and never a punishment. I think it’s so much more important to “play”… Homework for the sake of homework is not the hill I’m willing to die on.”

School districts and educators are becoming more conscious of Ashford’s point that homework often creates a divide between the haves and the have nots. Not all students have a parent or caregiver able to assist with difficult concepts, access to the internet, and a quiet or safe space in which to study, meaning students without such support are at risk of falling behind their peers based solely on access to resources, not ability. In a 2016 report, “The Condition of Education,” the National Center for Education Statistics found that children living in poverty were likely to experience lower levels of academic performance “beginning in kindergarten and extending through elementary and high school.”

A 2006 study by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper found that high school students who did homework performed better in school overall. However, the correlation was stronger for students grades seven through twelve—for students in elementary school, there was a weak relationship between homework and performance. Cooper’s report demonstrated that while homework improves study habits, attitudes toward school, develops self-discipline, curiosity, and independent problem-solving skills, some research showed that homework could lead to both physical and emotional fatigue, lead to negative attitudes about learning, and interfere with recreation and play time for children. After all his research, Cooper recommended that further study of the potential effects of homework is necessary.

Stephanie, a former high school teacher, now teaching at the college level, says, “At some point, students do need to get used to homework/projects/essays/studying at home if they are enrolled in college prep classes because they need to be prepared for college… One of the biggest concerns at the college level is that students are not coming in with study skills because a lot of high schools have eliminated homework and many are providing outlines/notes for their students instead of requiring them to be able to take their own notes. About 80% of the students at the college I work at are classified as underprepared (however we’re an open admission institution which will always be higher, but that gives you an idea of how well high schools are preparing their students for higher education).”

Perhaps the best answer is from a note Holly found in her sons’ room entitled “Declaration of Independence,” that I think sums up the attitude of more than just 4th-grade boys like himself. “We should start war wiht teachers. Stop homework…we will teach teachers not to be so rude to us. Homework is wrong.” Holly says, “You’ll note that the penmanship and spelling could use some attention, so I’ll say not all of the homework is a total waste of time.”

 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teach Your Children Media Literacy

By Tracey Dowdy

At least once a day, I see something shared by one of my social media connections – Facebook friends, an Instagram account I follow – that is clearly fake news, fake science, or pure parody they’ve taken seriously. In a time when widespread misinformation is a real concern, one would think adults would be more media savvy, but alas, satirical sites like The Onion, Babylon Bee, and The National Report have links to their content reposted as though it were real news, not parody at its finest.

But media literacy is more than being able to spot fake news. True media literacy means evaluating what you see online and understanding that everything needs to be filtered through the lens of what we know to be true. We need to teach our children to ask insightful questions like, “Who said this? Why would they say this? What do they stand to gain?’ With virtually the limitless information available with just a few keystrokes and clicks, teaching critical thinking skills and media literacy is essential.

Back in 1988, when the internet was new, before Google and Snopes let us fact check anything we cared to, author John Naisbitt, cautioned us, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”  Could there be a better description of what litters our online experience today?

Teaching media literacy enables our kids to be discerning consumers of media, able to establish values based on facts and information – not feelings, opinions, and perceptions.

It takes more than a single lesson. It’s an ongoing conversation from the time they’re old enough to sit through a YouTube ad while they wait to watch an episode of Shaun the Sheep. Common Sense Media suggests asking these questions when teaching media literacy:

  • Who created this?Was it a company? Was it an individual? (If so, who?) Was it a comedian? Was it an artist? Was it an anonymous source? Why do you think that?
  • Why did they make it? Was it to inform you of something that happened in the world (for example, a news story)? Was it to change your mind or behavior (an opinion essay or a how-to)? Was it to make you laugh (a funny meme)? Was it to get you to buy something (an ad)? Why do you think that?
  • Who is the message for? Is it for kids? Grown-ups? Girls? Boys? People who share a particular interest? Why do you think that?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable?Does it have statistics from a reputable source? Does it contain quotes from a subject expert? Does it have an authoritative-sounding voice-over? Is there direct evidence of the assertions it’s making? Why do you think that?
  • What details were left out, and why? Is the information balanced with different views — or does it present only one side? Do you need more information to fully understand the message? Why do you think that?
  • How did the message make you feel? Do you think others might feel the same way? Would everyone feel the same, or would certain people disagree with you? Why do you think that?

By starting the conversation when they’re young, your children will develop lifelong habits based on the key concepts of media literacy, so they’re able to all evaluate all media through the filter of fable or fact.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Protect Your Kids from Fortnite Scams

By Tracey Dowdy

Say Fortnite is popular is like saying the ocean is wet. It’s the hottest game to hit the market in years, with more than 125 million players worldwide more than 40 million people logging in to play Fortnite each month. One 14-year-old boy, Griffin Spikoski, who spends eight hours a day playing, has literally gone pro with his Fortnite skills, earning $200G playing the game and uploading clips of himself playing to his YouTube channel.

Aside from the game’s epic popularity, the possibility of earning big money by becoming a top player makes some players are more susceptible to online scammers. A recent report from security firm ZeroFox has exposed just how broadly these scams have burgeoned across social media, YouTube, and countless domains. “Over a one month period from early September to early October, the ZeroFOX team has generated over 53,000 alerts related to Fortnite scams. Of those alerts, an overwhelming majority, 86%, were generated from social media, with 11% coming from web domains and a little over 2% coming from Youtube.”

Though the game itself is a free download, like many games, there are in-app purchases available. “V-Bucks,” the in-game currency – allows players to buy items and “skins” which is Fortnite lingo for how the players look in the game. Individual purchases cost only a few dollars, but with millions of players worldwide, it’s no surprise Fortnite is earning $300 million a month or that scammers are eager to get in on the action.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • V-Bucks generators are probably the biggest online Fortnite scam. Players are promised “points” for watching or clicking on ads, with the promise that the points can be traded in for free V-Bucks within Fortnite. Epic Games – Fortnite’s developer – warns these websites have no affiliation with the game, and that often, these sites are phishing for the player’s Fortnite username and password or they push them to take surveys where they submit personal data to prove they’re not a bot. These fake sites often mimic Epic Games’ and Fortnite’s style, colors, and fonts and often include “Fortnite” in the URL.
  • Of course, social media is another popular venue for scammers. Fake Facebook pages, YouTube Channels, and V-Bucks generators encourage players to share their links to earn more points, which spreads the scam to a bigger audience. Often, they direct unsuspecting users to unsafe apps and malware that also target players personal information.
  • Because Fortnite is not offered in the Android app in the Google Play Store, it wasn’t long before fake versions of the apps appeared. These too are malware sites mining for personal data.

Remind your kids of basic online safety protocols:

  • Tell them to always check with you before filling out forms, quizzes, registration pages, on websites or apps including Facebook. Many times it’s data-mining masquerading as fun.
  • They should also be reminded that PlayStation, Xbox, Epic Games’ official website, and the official Fortnite app are the only places to buy V-Bucks. If they see another option that seems too good to be true – it’s a scam.
  • Finally, teach them to pay attention to secure websites and check the URL of any site they visit. Scammers are smart and make domain names and URLs look very similar to the real site, often with only one letter or symbol different from the original, so they need to pay attention.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Use Alexa in the Garden

By Tracey Dowdy

 Based on the amount of rain beating down outside my window, I think it’s safe to say Spring is on its way. And, thoughts of Spring mean gardening is on my mind, and I’m planning out what will go in my little backyard plot.

Along with the usual gardening spades, shovels, and other supplies, I’ve added Alexa to my toolbox. You may be surprised at how useful it can be.

As the song says, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Alexa’s “Beginners Gardening” skill is free and takes you step by step through planting your own garden. Even if you have never grown anything before, Alexa can walk you through everything from preparing the soil to what plants will thrive in your geographic area. In the words of one reviewer, “For those of us who are totally clueless about gardening this is a great skill to start with. It gives basics and walks you through step by step. Lots of information here.”

It may be obvious, but Alexa’s weather skill will come in very handy once your seeds or plants are in the ground. Living in Northern Virginia, it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in a week, especially throughout the Spring. I use Big Sky to keep track of unexpected frost or a particularly hot day, outside normal weather patterns. Premium users can schedule weather alerts, and Alexa will notify you of events like temperatures above 90F, below freezing, heavy winds.

Speaking of alerts, as someone whose system of benign neglect works wonders with my succulents, having Alexa remind me to water my plants is quite useful, particularly throughout the hot and dry summer months. You can be as specific as you like. Just say something like, “Alexa, set a reminder to water the lettuce at 6 a.m.” At 6 a.m. the next day, Alexa will light up with a notification, and you’ll receive a push notification on your phone reminding you to water your lettuce.  If you’ve planted a variety of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you can create a calendar to monitor each plant and then link it to Alexa. That way, when you ask for a Flash Briefing or say, “Alexa, my schedule,” Alexa let you know if it’s time to water any of your plants.

Or, you could skip the reminder and connect Alexa to a smart home sprinkler system like the Rachio 3 WiFi Smart Lawn Sprinkler Controller,  or RainMachine Touch. Both integrate seamlessly with Alexa and allow you to control the sprinklers with a voice command. You can be as specific as you like – “Alexa, turn on all the sprinklers,” or, “Alexa, turn on the sprinklers in Zone 1 for six minutes.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Reuse or Recycle Your Android or iOS Device

By Tracey Dowdy

The first iPhone shipped to customers back in June of 2007 – less than 12 years ago, but somehow, it feels like smartphones have been around forever.

In those 12 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes and updated features for our smartphones and tablets, which encouraged us to upgrade, and upgrade again, and again…to the point there’s a good chance you have an old phone or outdated tablet sitting in a drawer or taking up space on a shelf. But instead of hanging on to digital clutter, consider these options to put your old devices to new use.

Smart Home Center – With devices like Google Assistant, Alexa, Nest, Hue, Smart TV’s, and Amazon’s Fire Stick becoming more common and accessible, it makes sense to repurpose your old phone or tablet as a dedicated hub for your smart home enabled tech. You can even use them to set up a media streaming center. The simplest way is to clear unused apps and free up as much data as possible. Download the streaming apps you need, along with any tools you’re using — Google HomeAmazon Fire TV RemoteNest, Hue, etc. – connect to the same network as the devices, and you’re good to go!

Your Child’s First Device – If you’ve ever handed off a $500 phone or tablet to a toddler, you know the gut-felt fear usually only seen in horror movies. But, handing off a phone or tablet that’s been sitting in a drawer or is being replaced with an updated version is a great idea. You’ll want to be sure to lock down any features you don’t want them to access through Parental Controls, and invest in a sturdy case as any device in the hands of a toddler is likely to take a fair amount of punishment.

 Digital Photo Frame – Remember the first digital photo frames? They were the hottest Christmas present of the year when they were first introduced, but the image quality wasn’t great, and they weren’t really reliable. But, your old Android tablet or iPad can make an excellent scrolling photo display, rolling through hundreds of photos an hour. How To Geek has a simple, easy to follow tutorial on how to make it happen on your Android tablet, and CNET has instructions for your iPad. Besides the vast improvement in image quality, both are WiFi connected, so you can set it up to automatically update to new images.

Security Camera/Baby Monitor – There are plenty of options for home security systems available, but remember, security cameras are simply network connected video cameras. Even the older versions of phones and tablets have network connectivity, so they’re perfect for use as home security cameras, baby or even pet monitors. There are many options available for both iOS and Android devices, but one that receives consistently positive reviews from experts is Alfred. The app allows any Wi-Fi connected phone to broadcast its camera feed to any other phone attached to the same account with no limit on the number of cameras you can connect to a single account.

Dedicated eBook Reader – I will always prefer an actual physical book to an eReader, but there are times when they come in handy. Using your old iPad or tablet as a dedicated reader, particularly for cookbooks, spares your cookbooks and primary device from the inevitable mess that comes from cooking and baking.

Help Scientific Research – Did you know you can take part in important scientific research with apps like BOINC for Android and DreamLab?  Both apps use your device’s processing power to run calculations for a variety of research projects – BOINC focuses on research on diseases, global warming, and space, while DreamLab focuses on finding a cure for cancer.

Recycle, Sell, or Donate – If none of these options are viable for you, you can always recycle, sell, or donate your old phones and tablets. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of locations where you can take your unwanted tech and have it safely disposed of.  Many retailers like Target and Best Buy offer trade-in options, and the website Gazelle offers consumers cash for working or broken devices, and offers deals on refurbs, providing less expensive options when upgrading.

Lifewire has a list reviewing trade-in programs, including the good and the bad about trade-ins with Amazon, Flypsy, and YouRenew.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Facebook to Monitor Anti-Vax Content

By Tracey Dowdy

According to reports published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children in the US who received no vaccine doses as well as the number of parents who have requested exemptions for their children continues to rise. While coverage for a certain vaccines “remained high and stable overall,” the number of unvaccinated kids under the age of two rose from 0.9% for those born in 2011 to 1.3% for those born in 2015. The report doesn’t address the reasons for the increase but suggests it may be due to caregivers not knowing where to access free vaccines and the shortage of pediatricians and other health care providers in many rural areas.

Another more subtle and pervasive reason may be the volume of misinformation surrounding vaccines and their – debunked – ties to autism. Two platforms at the center of the problem – Facebook and YouTube – have recently announced they will crack down on anti-vax misinformation content on their platforms. On Facebook, anti-vaccination sites promoting fake science and conspiracy theories related to vaccines appear at the top of searches when parents search for information about vaccinations. Also featured prominently is Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor behind the bogus science linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

Unlike Google, which filters out anti-vax sites to promote information from the World Health Organization, Facebook searches appear to be based on the most popular and active sites regardless of whether or not the information presented is based on fact or fiction. The changes will also impact Instagram, owned by Facebook.

“The consequences of publishing misleading information is a genuine risk to the public’s health – you only have to look at the widespread panic and confusion that was caused by unfounded claims [by Dr. Wakefield] linking the MMR vaccine to autism in the 1990s,” says Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs in the UK. Stokes-Lampard says she finds it “deeply concerning” that Facebook allowed posts that promoted “false and frankly dangerous ideas” about not only the MMR vaccine but other vaccination programs as well.

Ethan Lindenberger, who testified before Congress on March 5, 2019, stated that he had not been fully vaccinated because at the time he was due to be inoculated, his mother’s believed that vaccines are dangerous and could result in autism. Lindberger, who has since been vaccinated against his mother’s wishes, stated at the hearing, “For my mother, her love and affection and care as a parent was used to push an agenda to create a false distress. And these sources, which spread misinformation, should be the primary concern of the American people…My mother would turn to social media groups and not to factual sources like the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. It is with love and respect that I disagree with my mom.”

Lindberger, along with other speakers including Washington state Secretary of Health John Weisman; Dr. Jonathan McCullers of the University of Tennessee; John Boyle, president of the Immune Deficiency Foundation; and Emory University epidemiologist Dr. Saad Omer, challenged the federal government to fund vaccine safety research and launch campaigns to counter anti-vaccine messages similar to past anti-Tobacco campaigns.

YouTube (owned by Google) is also taking action. In a letter responding to a challenge by US Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Karan Bhatia, Vice President Global Public Policy and Government Affairs said it has been blocking anti-vax videos from appearing in its recommendation engine and search results. “I agree with you that anything discouraging parents from vaccinating their children against vaccine-preventable diseases is concerning,” she wrote.

Both Facebook and YouTube intend to discourage people from accepting conspiracies about vaccinations at face value and going forward will attach anti-vaccine material with educational information from authoritative medical sources.

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of product policy and counterterrorism said, “We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic. We will have an update on this soon.” 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Role Models for Girls on TV

By Tracey Dowdy

TV and streaming services have come a long way in presenting programming for girls that isn’t solely focused on fashion and homemaking. While it’s important to show girls that exploring their creativity through fashion or being a mother and homemaker is no less worthy or empowering than being a lawyer or a doctor, for too long, those were about the only examples presented in media.

If you’re looking for programming with strong role models of girls and women challenging stereotypes and achieving their dreams, these shows are a great place to start.

Nella the Princess Knight turns the stereotypical damsel in distress on its head by having the princess solve her problems and rescue herself, plus, Nella herself is mixed race instead of the usual fair-haired maiden we usually see. Each episode begins with Nella as a princess, but as problems arise, Nella transforms into a knight and works together with her friends to find a solution. The show has an equally resourceful and positive role model in Sir Garrett, one of Nella’s friends. The stories are creative, and engaging using music, magic, and lots of imagination. (Ages 3+/Nickelodeon)

Dino Dana focuses on the adventures of a 9-year old girl who is given a Dino Field Guide, which not only teaches her about dinosaurs but gives her the ability to imagine dinosaurs into real life. The show combines live-action with CGI animation to bring the dinosaurs to life. Kids will learn the dinosaurs’ names, appearance, eating habits, defense mechanisms, plus see Dana use problem-solving skills to overcome the different situations she finds herself in. Dana’s family is blended and multicultural, and in one episode she says to her sister Saara, “Remember how my mom fell in love with your dad, and now we’re a family even though we look different?” (Ages 4+/Amazon Prime)

Project Mc2 brings together McKeyla, Adrienne, Bryden, and Camryn, four smart and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-skilled girls who have been recruited to join the spy organization, NOV8. The show promotes the premise that “Smart is the new cool,” includes projects that parents can do at home with their children. The cast is diverse, and the girls work together to save the world. (Ages 7+/Netflix)

When Calls the Heart is a faith-based drama series inspired by the Hallmark TV movie which itself is based on books by Janette Oke. The story focuses on Elizabeth Thatcher, a young school teacher from a wealthy family who migrates from the big city to teach school in a small coal mining town in western Canada. Elizabeth demonstrates courage, kindness, and perseverance through the hardships of frontier life, making her an excellent role model for girls. In addition, many of the other recurring characters are females, who face their struggles with determination and a positive attitude. (Ages 7+/Hallmark Channel)

A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the series of books of the same name, tells the tale of the Baudelaire children, whose life of privilege ends when their parents die in a mysterious fire. The children are sent to live with their closest living relative, the devious Count Olaf, who is clearly after their fortune. Over the series, the children, led by oldest sister Violet, thwart Olaf’s plans and work together to find their parents and persevere against the odds. Both the setting and the plot to many of the episodes are dark, so parents should be wary before allowing sensitive or young children to watch. (Ages 10+/Netflix)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt focuses on a woman, who along with three other women, is rescued from an underground bunker after 15 years as captives of a cult leader who told them that the world had ended. That’s a pretty heavy premise for a comedy, but Kimmy’s persistent cheer, character, and self-reliance, are reflected in her actions as she adapts to her new life in New York City. Parents should note there is some language and mild sexuality, so this is one for older kids. (Ages 12+/Netflix)

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.