All posts by Tracey Dowdy

Introducing Interactive Books From Disney and Google Home

By Tracey Dowdy

Remember Little Golden Books? I had them when I was a child, and I loved reading them to my daughters when they were little. I have such fond memories of reading together every night at bedtime, even long after they were old enough and reading on their own. I did voices and sound effects, and it was so much fun.

My husband, on the other hand, though he graduated summa cum laude, is dreadful at reading aloud. He hates it, and our girls dreaded if dad was putting them to bed and would be the one reading. The one upside is that they fell asleep quickly, either from sheer boredom or to escape from the situation.

But, with a stroke of genius, the Disney arm of Little Golden Books has announced a collaboration with Google Home that allows readers to listen to music and sound effects as the books are read aloud.

Disney’s partnership with Little Golden Books dates back to the 1940s, in fact, Disney Studio artists illustrated some of the most popular Little Golden Books to bring in income during World War II.

There are several titles to choose from including classics like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan as well as newer stories like Moana, Coco, and Toy Story 3. They’ve promised to continue adding titles throughout the year. To activate the feature, you’ll need two things: a compatible Disney’s Little Golden Book and a Google Home device. To enable, say, “OK Google, let’s read along with Disney,” and your device will respond with “Okay, what book are we going to read?”

Once you begin reading, the music and sound effects will follow the text and bonus! If you skip ahead – you know you’ve done it, we all have – your Google Home will skip ahead with you and pick up where you’re reading. Plus, if your little one wants to talk about why the puppy is so Poky or talk about his desire to be a Lost Boy and live in Neverland, your Google Home will play ambient music in the background until you’re ready to pick up where you left off reading.

Reading aloud to children has been proven to increase language skills, develops positive attitudes toward reading and learning, builds a foundation for academic success, and increases the bond between you and your child. This collaboration enhances your experience and makes it even more fun.

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.

Beware these Common Scams

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, fake charities and scams related to relief efforts are a real threat to legitimate relief agencies. Sadly, the headlines will include stories of price-gouging and consumers who unwittingly gave cash or emergency supplies to fraudsters and hoaxes.

Scams are as common as a cold but far more serious. The Federal Trade Commission, collected over 1.4 million fraud reports last year, with consumers reporting that they lost money to scammers in 25% of those reports. Respondents reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year – an increase of 38% over 2017’s numbers.

So what do these scams look like? Here’s a few of the most common and how to avoid them.

Your Utility Company Doesn’t Need Immediate Payment or Access to Your Home

Over the past several years, power companies have begun installing meters that allow consumers to monitor their energy use. Fraudsters have seized the opportunity to scam unwitting victims out of both money and personal information. How? They either show up at the front door, often with convincing “uniforms” and I.D., or they call you directly, asking for a “deposit” for the meter, or personal information to confirm you are the registered user.

Good Housekeeping reports that Law enforcement, utility companies, and consumer protection agencies have issued warnings in states as widespread as ConnecticutHawaiiNew YorkNorth CarolinaWest Virginia, and Wisconsin about new tactics that have fooled thousands of people across the country.

“These scammers take tens of thousands of dollars a year from our customers by sounding sincere while they lie,” Jim Duggan of Con Edison said in a statement. “We want our customers to be able to recognize signs that someone is a professional criminal trying to steal from them.”

Other power-related scams include offers to restore power quickly after a large storm in return for payment or a “reconnection fee,” a demand for a separate payment to replace or install a meter, and

requests to inspect equipment or conduct an “audit” in order to gain access to your home.

What do you do? Remember, your utility company would not shut off the power without warning nor will they demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. If you think the demand for immediate payment or access to your home is legitimate, call the number on your bill or the provider’s website.

Suspension of your Social Security number

This is how the scam usually goes: You’ll get a call and the caller will inform you that because of “suspicious activity,” your SSN has been “suspended.” In order to reactivate it, you either need to pay a small fee or “confirm” your SSN by dictating it over the phone. Both are scams – one to steal your money, the other to steal your identity. Remember, your social security card isn’t a gym membership or an airline miles card – it can’t be suspended. Its value for fraudsters is immense because it opens so many doors for hackers.

If they’re really convincing and you think the caller may be legitimate, call the SSA yourself using the number posted on their official website.

DNA Donations.

In a way, I feel like this one doesn’t need to be said, but here we are. Don’t give your DNA to fake scientists who approach you on the street. According to Bloomberg, authorities in several states are warning people that scammers may be using DNA testing to defraud Medicare and steal their identity.

It’s a new twist on the old game of tricking people into sharing personal identification like social security or banking information. Reports of “scientists” working out of vans – what did your mother tell you about talking to people in vans? – who then offer individuals $20 in exchange a few medical details and a DNA sample for “research purposes.”

Seems legit – who doesn’t want free money in exchange for no work and a little saliva? The risk here isn’t so much the DNA as the info you hand over with it that can then be used to open credit cards, file false insurance claims, and a million other nefarious schemes that end up costing victims millions every year.

What do you do if you’re approached? Run away just like your mama told you.

The Single Ring Call

While it may sound like an intriguing new movie or a mating behavior in a nature documentary, this is the scam where your phone rings once then the caller hangs up. Do NOT return the call. The “one-ring call back scam” is one of the most clever calls out there. It works on the premise that if someone is repeatedly calling and then the call is dropped, it could be someone in danger. The problem is, the call is likely from a premium-rate toll number based on the other side of the world. You likely won’t know until you get your bill next month, but you’ve been slammed with an array of expensive charges, and the caller has walked away with a healthy share of the profits.

What do you do if you’re approached? Simple, don’t answer the phone and don’t call back.

No one has Hacked your Porn Habits.

Well, this is an awkward one that plays on people’s fear of exposure and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in sexploitation scams. Targets get an email saying their online porn habits have been tracked and unless you pay up in a certain number of days, everyone from your kids to your boss will know what you’ve been up to. The scam is effective because who cares if it’s true or not – no one wants that kind of accusation out there.

What do you do if you receive one of these emails? Delete it. The end. The email is designed to play on fear, and everyone knows the best way to deal with fear is to ignore it. Well, at least in this situation it is.

 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.

 

 

 

 

Be Cellphone Ready in an Emergency

By Tracey Dowdy

Just a few weeks ago here in Northern Virginia, torrential rains swept through the area. Suddenly and with little warning, flash floods swept through low lying areas, leaving many motorists stranded and in desperate need of rescue. Fortunately, the storms weren’t severe enough to impact cell phone towers, so first responders were able to respond quickly, and there were no fatalities.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when storms like Hurricane Dorian pummel areas with high winds, flying debris, and storm surge. Residents in storm-prone areas – whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or other natural disasters – should remember that these conditions impact cellphone service, so they should only be a part of your emergency survival kit. Depending on conditions, it may be days or even weeks before roads are passable or relief workers and supplies are accessible. Having a waterproof plastic tote packed with emergency supplies may be the difference between life and death.

There are, however, several ways to make the most of your phone in the event of a disaster. These recommendations can help you in nearly every type of emergency situation.

First, before you lose power, ensure your phone is fully charged as are any back-up power sources like battery packs and solar generators. There are many reliable and affordable options available for Android and iPhone and many weigh less than a pound. Remember, even if you’re not using the phone, leave it powered on while awaiting rescue as emergency services can triangulate your location through nearby cellular towers but only if your phone has battery life.

If you live in an area like Tornado Alley or along the coast where hurricanes do their damage, it’s a good idea to invest in a portable power station. Approximately the size of a small speaker, you can tuck them on a shelf or under your desk, and when disaster strikes you can use them to power your devices or a small fridge to protect medications like insulin that must be kept cold.

One thing to consider is that it doesn’t matter how much back up power you have if your phone isn’t waterproof but gets wet. The latest Samsung Galaxy models and iPhones are water-resistant, but that’s not the same as waterproof. Consider purchasing a waterproof case, or at the very least, a supply of sturdy ziplock bags to protect your device. Most mobile phone plans do not cover water damage, though you may be able to claim it on your homeowners or renters flood insurance.

If during an emergency you discover you’re in an area where you don’t have coverage, or you don’t have an active cell plan, you can still reach 9-1-1 from your mobile phone. You can also text 9-1-1if you’re unable to talk or need to be silent, but you must first have registered for the 9-1-1 service with your cellphone provider. And don’t forget, you can use apps like Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Skype, or Viber to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi – even if there’s no cell service.

Next, consider that while your phone’s GPS will work even if there’s no cell service, you’ll need to have downloaded maps ahead of time to take advantage of Google’s offline feature. Follow these directions to download Google’s own maps, or download maps from  an app like Navmii to access directions offline. Keep in mind a lack of cell service means you won’t get real time updates on situations like traffic and accuracy may be affected since cell phones used GPS-A (assisted) technology to communicate with satellites, and physical factors like tunnels, mountains, or tall buildings may cause interference.

It’s also a good idea to download emergency preparedness apps before disaster strikes. The Red Cross has several excellent apps, including a Shelter Finder app, First Aid, Hurricane app, Earthquake, Wildfire, as well as First Aid for pets as well as people. Each of the apps includes checklists, advice, and instructions on what to do when disaster strikes. Their all-inclusive Emergency app allows users to monitor over 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also has an app that sends real-time alerts for natural disasters in your area plus four additional locations, provides emergency tips for over twenty different situations, identifies nearby emergency shelters and disaster recovery centers where you can speak with FEMA personnel face to face.

 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.

Beware Charity Scams in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

By Tracey Dowdy

When natural disasters strike, ordinary people often step up and become heroes, risking their personal property and safety, and sometimes sacrificing themselves for others. Unfortunately, not only is it a time when we see the best of people, we sometimes see the worst.

With Hurricane Dorian battering the Carolinas after leaving a trail of devastation stretching to the Bahamas, authorities are warning about scams that are likely to appear in the wake of the storm. These scams come in a variety of guises, from robocalls and fake charities to price-gouging at the pump, grocery, and hotels along evacuation routes.

The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance warns, “After a terrible and very public tragedy such as a mass shooting, wildfire or other natural disaster, or an accident, people want to help in any way possible, and that often means contributing to fundraisers to help the survivors and the families of the victims. Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.”

To avoid becoming the victim of one of these scams, following these guidelines:

  • Go to org or Charity Navigator to check the charity’s rating and verify if it meets BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability. It only takes a few minutes and can ensure you’re donating to an ethical organization who will use your gift to help victims.
  • Check the phone number. One quick and easy way to check the validity of an organization is to check the phone number you’ve been directed to against the phone number on the charity’s website. This is especially important in the social media posts that pop up post-disaster and tell you to text a certain number for direct donation.
  • Beware look-alikes. In the wake of tragedy or disasters, it’s not uncommon for scammers to set up fake donation pages with names intentionally similar to trusted sites. For example, they’ll take the web address for the Red Cross and change redcross.org to redcross.com or red.cross.org. If you’re not careful, you may not notice the difference and end up donating to a scam. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, in text messages, or an email.
  • Beware crowdfunding. Not all crowdfunding sites vet the individuals who set up a donation page for victims. Back in 2017, when Robert Godwin Sr. in a video posted to Facebook, within hours there were 35 fake GoFundMe pages set up, all without the Godwin family’s consent. Any page set up in the name of the victim or their family must have their permission. To avoid these fake pages, verify pages using these tools.
  • Check for registration. Most US states require charities to be registered with a government agency, usually under the State Attorney General’s Office, and Canadian charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. If the charity you’re considering isn’t registered, you may want to choose another. The Federal Trade Commission warns they cannot guarantee you’ll get your money back from a scammer.
  • Where’s the money going? If the appeal or page isn’t clear about where the money or goods donated will be going, that’s a big ol’ red flag. There should be a clear plan for the transportation and distribution of goods and a specific recipient – individual or organization – receiving any financial contributions.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, or any other disaster, check out https://www.usa.gov/, the official website of the federal government for a list of resources, services, and information including consumer issues and disaster relief.

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 Kids Digital Safety With Google’s ‘Be Internet Awesome’ Program

By Tracey Dowdy

 As parents, one of our most significant challenges is teaching our children how to navigate the wild and wonderful web. Part of the problem is simply keeping up with both rapidly changing technology and but understanding the apps and software that seems to come so easily to our kids. Let’s face it, they’re digital natives, so it’s not uncommon for them to be one step ahead of us.

That’s where Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” tools come in. Be Internet Awesome “teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.”

The tools are separated into several categories with resources for families, educators, digital safety, slide presentations, and Interland, an online game that teaches internet safety and teaches appropriate online behavior.

The resources are based on five principles:

  • Be a positive presence online, just like IRL (in real life).
  • Think before you post.
  • Protect your secrets.
  • Donʼt assume that people online will see you the way you think theyʼll see you.
  • It’s always important to respect other people’s privacy choices, even if they aren’t the choices you’d make yourself.

The Be Internet Awesome Family Guide provides families with the tools and resources to learn about online safety and digital citizenship together. The lessons are simple, straightforward, and engaging, making it fun to learn how to incorporate positive digital habits into your child’s life. There’s even a pledge you can print off for everyone to sign as a commitment to putting into practice what they learn. There are also bilingual workshops for parents in partnership with the YMCA.

The resources for educators in the Be Internet Awesome curriculum provides the tools and methodology to teach basic digital safety ground rules. Google developed the program in partnership with iKeepSafe enabling educators to bring the most vital aspects of internet safety into the classroom. All elements of Be Internet Awesome are free, align with ISTE standards, require no personal information or login, and can be used across devices and operating systems.

Perhaps of greatest appeal to your child is Interland, an immersive digital world divided into four games, each teaching an aspect of online safety and etiquette. In Mindful Mountain, players learn the consequences of being an “oversharer” with warnings like, “Information travels at the speed of light.”  Kind Kingdom teaches children what to do about cyberbullying, and Tower of Treasure shows both the importance of and how to create a strong password. Reality River will teach your kids how to spot fake news, recognize the signs of a scam, and understand phishing. 

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.

Supporting Your Child’s Transition to College

By Tracey Dowdy

The transition from high school senior to college freshman is more complicated than string theory and can be more emotionally overwrought than a Nicholas Sparks novel. The joyful anticipation of being free to make one’s own decisions can quickly devolve into the overwhelming and stressful realization that freedom means responsibility and an expectation of independence. It can also leave students feeling lonely and isolated.

Emery Bergmann, a Cornell University freshman, has garnered national attention for a video she created on just how lonely and strange that transition from high school to college can be. “So I’m a brand spanking new freshman in college and like I guess I just assumed that once I was at school that like it was going to be like, I’ve got a million friends, I was going to party all the time, and it was going to be lit, but it’s just not really like that,” she says. “I really haven’t found anyone I’m close with, and I spend a lot of time in my dorm room, and all the people I talk to are like, ‘I swear to God you’re going to find your people,’ but like, where are they?”

Ironically, Bergman isn’t alone in her feelings. According to a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students by the American College Health Association, 64% of college students said they had felt “very lonely” in the previous 12 months, while only 19% reported they never felt lonely.

Bergman notes in her video that social media made her feelings of loneliness even worse. Even though she “knows it is fake,” those posts can often make it seem as if everyone else is living their best lives while you spend Friday night alone in your dorm room making ramen.

It’s no secret that social media has simultaneously brought us together while pushing us farther apart. Social psychologist Sherry Turkle describes it as being “alone, together.” Though students may be connected to hundreds or even of thousands of followers and friends online, in reality, they experience far fewer in-depth, meaningful, reliable, and long term emotional relationships.

The good news is more and more students are open about their feelings of loneliness and isolation, and there’s less stigma surrounding more serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

As a parent, it’s essential to stay engaged while keeping a healthy distance. In other words, check-in, but leave your helicopter on the pad. Every time you intervene and try to solve a challenge facing your student, you undermine their confidence and imply they’re incapable of taking care of themselves. That has long term consequences – a study by two Cal State University-Fresno professors found that over-parenting college students resulted in “lower maladaptive job search and work behavior.” Instead, encourage them to be resourceful and use the services offered by their school. Most offer tutoring, academic, health, and social services, usually at little or no cost.

As you navigate this new relationship and learn what your role is as the parent of an adult, keep the Goldilocks Rule in mind when you’re tempted to check-in. Are you checking in too much? Not enough? Are you too intrusive? Too distant? Ask your child for their input and respect their boundaries.

Keep in mind that just like Goldilock’s porridge, the frequency of contact from your student will run hot and cold, but you’ll eventually find what’s “just right” for both of you. Rest assured you’ll likely still be a constant source of support for your child. They’re exploring new experiences and relationships. If you’ve had a healthy relationship all along, there’s no reason for that to change. A survey by the Jed Foundation found that parents are the primary source of support for 63% of college students experiencing emotional distress. As long as you keep the lines of communication as open as you would if they were still living at home, that relationship will continue to grow and mature in healthy ways, just like your child.

If you’re concerned your student is struggling with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, talk to a suicide hotline or substance abuse center for professional advice. Phone calls are free, anonymous, and may save your child’s life.

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.

Search for Images Using Text in Google Photos

By Tracey Dowdy

Speaking as someone with 5,629 photos on her phone, a new feature in Google Photos allows users to search for an image that contains text. As an added feature, you can even copy and paste the text when you find it. Think of how much easier it will be to search for the WiFi password you took a snap of or the screenshot of a recipe that’s lost in the myriad of pictures stored on your device.

Google Photo’s search tool was already intuitive, allowing users to search for an image using keywords related to the image such as “dog,” ‘beach,” “food,” and so on. But, they’ve kicked it up a notch by using AI that reads text within an image allowing for an even more effective search tool. Not only can it read standard fonts, but it’s also effective at reading non-standard fonts that appear skewed or distorted.

The feature uses Google Lens, the same tool used in Google Translate to translate street signs, menus, or any other text from one language to another. The feature is currently rolling out in Google Photos for both Android and Apple devices, though it’s still early days and not yet available everywhere. If you can’t access it yet, make sure your software is up to date and keep checking back.

To use the Google Photos search tool, follow these steps:

  • Open Google Photos
  • Tap on the search bar and type what you’re looking for – e.g., if you took a screenshot of the hours of a Korean BBQ restaurant you want to check out, type the name of the restaurant or “Korean BBQ”
  • Google Photos will pull up the image – tap on it
  • Tap the Google Lens button at the bottom of the screen, and all text within the photo will then be highlighted
  • Tap on any words you want to copy – select “Copy Text”
  • Paste the text wherever you need it – your browser, messages, Messenger, etc.

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.

Helping Your Kids Back into their School Routine

Depending on your school district, your children are either back to school already or about to hit the ground running. Or staggering. Or moaning and dragging. Let’s face it, if your kiddos have enjoyed a lazy summer with late nights and even later mornings, getting back into a school-days routine can be slightly less tortuous than waterboarding.

If your child is feeling anxious about going back to school with a new teacher and classmates, don’t dismiss their feelings – validate them. Reassure them that facing new people and new situations can be stressful for adults too and reassure them you will do everything you can to support them and make their school year a success.

One of the biggest changes as you transition from summer to school is to your morning routine. Start by talking your kids through what the morning will look like and what your expectations for them will be. Get organized, especially if your child isn’t a morning person. Help them plan out what they’ll wear, pack their backpack, and prepare their lunch or snack the night before. The key is simplicity and clarity – make sure they know exactly what you expect from them. “Regular routines provide a kid’s developing brain with a template for how to organize and manage daily life. By gradually turning over the responsibility for self-management, we support the brain’s development and ensure that our kids learn how to manage themselves, ” says Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. 

If your children are young or struggle with staying on task, create a chart on your smartphone or tablet or with poster board and stickers to help them keep track.

List what they need to do, for example:

  • Wash your face
  • Brush your teeth
  • Brush your hair
  • Make your bed
  • Eat breakfast

Bedtime can be another tough transition. Just as with your morning routine, establishing a bedtime routine trains the brain that it’s time to slow down and go to sleep. If they’re used to staying up late watching a video or playing on their device, setting time limits and a countdown – 30 minutes til bed, 15 minutes til bed, and “here’s your five-minute warning” – can de-escalate tantrums and make the transition to bedtime less stressful or argumentative. Create a bedtime checklist as you did for the morning:

  • Pack your backpack
  • Put on your PJs
  • Brush your teeth
  • Go potty
  • Wash your hands
  • Get your last drink of water

Homework, the bane of parents and children everywhere, is another potential stressor for both parents and kids. Once again, the key is being organized. Check their backpack, Blackboard, or school website to keep track of upcoming projects. Use apps like Cozi to keep the family organized and myHomeworkMyStudyLife,  or Chalkboard to help manage assignments.

Remember, learning time management is an essential part of your child developing maturity. Creating a routine and setting boundaries helps them internalize structure and learn self-control. “Children who are taught basic routines grow into adults who are efficient and organized,” says Hartwell-Walker. “There’s a lot more to routines than simply getting everyone out the door in the morning and into bed on time at night. Establishing routines provides kids with important skills for life.”

 

 

 

 

Ride Share Apps for Minors

According to HopSkipDrive, the logistics and the number of hours caregivers spend transporting children to and from activities is the equivalent to a part-time job. The hassle of working out which parent or caregiver will do drop off or pick up, who’s turn it is for driving the carpool is a stressor in many homes.

Two out of three parents say having to drive their kids somewhere interrupts their work regularly. Over 41% say it’s a daily or at least weekly struggle, a whopping 51% say they spend up to five hours a week driving their kids to activities, and a third of those parents spend over 10 hours.

It was just a matter of time before rideshare options for minors became an alternative. If the thought of telling your child to hop into a stranger’s car goes against everything you’ve ever taught them and makes your heart stop, congratulations, you’re a good parent! However, apps like HopSkipRide, Kango, and Zum are a safe, reliable option for those days you just can’t get away from the office or are double-booked with another commitment.

Each has safeguards in place and caters exclusively to children, something Lyft and Uber do not offer. In fact, both prohibit drivers from accepting requests or transporting unaccompanied minors.

If you’re considering using one of these kid-friendly rideshare apps, here’s what you need to know.

  • Start by reviewing the company’s terms of service to ensure you understand its limitations and disclaimers of liability. This is not the time to tick the “I have read and agree” box without actually reading it.
  • Go online and read the customer reviews, so you have an idea of their track record and what other users’ say about their experience.
  • Investigate how they respond to inevitable issues like late pickups/drop-offs, last-minute driver cancellations, accidents, traffic, or other incidents that may occur while transporting your child.
  • When you book the ride, include a secret password that the driver must tell your child before they get in the car. Make sure you use an app like “Find My Friends” (iOS, Android) so you have a way to track your child independently from the rideshare service you are using.
  • If you’ve had a positive experience with a particular driver, ask for them each time you use the service. Most apps will try to accommodate you since a happy customer is a returning customer. Also, be sure to leave a tip and positive review.
  • On the other hand, if you have a negative experience, be sure to report it immediately. That includes things like a late pickup, careless driving, and bad language.
  • Teach your children to be observant while in the car and to text you immediately if there are any concerns.

HopSkipDrive Service area: Northern and Southern California, Colorado’s Front Range, and the Washington DC/Virginia area

HopSkipRide was founded by three working moms frustrated with the struggle of t trying to get their kids to and from school and their activities. Every driver is thoroughly vetted, and parents can schedule rides up to eight hours in advance or schedule recurring trips. Rates are similar to what you’d pay for Uber or Lyft, but they also offer a carpool option for up to four families.

Autter  Service area: Atlanta

Founded by moms, Autter offers their services at $1 per mile and $0.50 per minute, or you can purchase multiple rides for a discount.

Kango Service area: Bay Area of San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles

Kango started as a peer to peer rideshare app but switched to rideshare in 2015. Like the others in this list, Kango thoroughly vets their drivers – their background checks go back 18 years – but goes one step further by fingerprinting them. Drivers must pass an in-person interview as well as attend an in-person training program, and require childcare experience. They also provide childcare services. For details on cost, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Zūm Service area:  California, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, and Florida

Like the others in this list, Zūm has an exhaustive three-step vetting process for drivers with only one in five applicants accepted. Along with passing the standard criminal and driving-record background checks, anyone who wants to drive for Zūm must be certified by TrustLine, a database of nannies and babysitters who have cleared criminal background checks. Over 2,000 schools and districts have contracted with Zūm.  Zūm offers a fare estimator on their site — prices start at $8 per kid for carpool rides and $16 for a single trip. For individuals who need extra time, Zūm drivers can be booked for childcare for up to two hours at $6 every 15 minutes.

goKid Service area:

goKid uses the peer to peer model formerly used by Kango and enables caregivers to create GoKid carpools by-invitation-only: you are paired up with other parents whose kids are going to and from the same events and locations like soccer practice or ballet class. Just enter the school name and team name and through integrating SportsEngine and TeamSnap, the needed details such as times and locations will usually be filled in automatically. The only cost is for the app itself – $4.99 a month or $49.99 per year. A free version is available with that has all the essential components necessary, dropping in-app notes, carpool history, and Google calendar synchronization. Be aware that goKid does not vet drivers, nor do they screen drivers – the app is more a facilitator than screening service – it’s up to you to screen the driver.

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.