Animal Webcams to Entertain Kids During Quarantine

By Tracey Dowdy 

At a time when going on family adventures or even just getting outside to enjoy nature is a challenge, zoos and aquariums around the country are trying to fill the void with home safaris, virtual tours, and webcams of their most popular – and in one case usually hidden animal exhibits.

Kids can “visit” The Dallas Zoo through behind-the-scenes footage and educational videos on social media. Look for the hashtag #BringTheZooToYou.

Take your family whale watching at the Georgia Aquarium. Zookeepers have set up a webcam on their beluga whales so that kids can watch these magnificent and graceful animals. 

Check out what those cheeky penguins at The Shedd Aquarium are up to. Keepers have allowed the penguins out of their enclosure while the aquarium is closed and have shared footage of the penguins’ explorations on social media. The penguins so inspired the Field Museum of Chicago, they let SUE the T-Rex out to explore

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is live-streaming a home safari on its Facebook page each weekday at 3 p.m. Past live streams (archived on their page) include the poison dart frog, Zulu the lady ross turaco, Eurasian eagle owls, and even watching Chinese alligators being fed their lunch.

The San Diego Zoo has ten live webcams featuring the zoo’s koalas, penguins, tigers, and other animals as well as archival footage of giant pandas that were returned to China.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has webcams set up on jellyfish, penguins, and sharks and even peek at the birds and sea mammals — like harbor seals and sea otters — that find refuge in Monterey Bay. Plus, for the first time, kids can watch the aquarium’s sea otter exhibit via webcam to see rescued sea otter pups interacting with their foster moms. Under normal circumstances, guests aren’t able to watch the pups learn and explore because they aren’t supposed to get comfortable around humans. 

The Aquarium of the Pacific has seven different live streams, including two separate penguin live streams – one that shows what’s going on above the water; the other what’s going on below. Kids can also watch a jellyfish exhibit, or explore a shark lagoon webcam with several species of shark. There’s a mesmerizing live tropical reef live cam at the Blue Corner Reef off the corner of Palau, considered one of the most beautiful Coral Reefs in the world.  

As a bonus, The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, has fifteen live stream cameras on their resident koalas. Kids can watch the Young Koala Tracker, the Koala Forest, where most of the female koalas live, or the Koala Train, where they snuggle together. There’s one camera that is devoted to where they sleep, which – because koalas sleep 18 to 20 hours a day – is where they spend most of the time. As a bonus for those of us on the opposite side of the world, the cameras switch to night vision when the sun goes down so you can see what the koalas are up to In the dark. They also have live streams of bearded dragons, birds, dingoes, and the perentie, the fourth largest monitor lizard in the world.

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.

Best Antennas for Cord Cutters

By Tracey Dowdy

Have you pulled the plug and cut the cord? You’re not alone. Millions of Americans have dropped cable, opting instead to catch their favorite programming on streaming services like Netflix, YouTube TV, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Sling. 

According to Variety, “This year, the number of cord-cutters in the U.S. — consumers who have ever canceled traditional pay-TV service and do not resubscribe — will climb 32.8%, to 33.0 million adults, according to new estimates from research firm eMarketer. That’s compared with a total of 24.9 million cord-cutters as of the end of 2017, which was up 43.6% year over year (and an upward revision from eMarketer’s previous 22 million estimate).”

Why? Well, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Digital Media Trends survey, roughly 70% of pay-TV subscribers feel they get too little value for their money. If you’re one of those people, these antennas can make the switch so painless you’ll never look back. 

Channel Master Flatenna 35/Duo is only $10 (plus $7.50 shipping) from Channel Master‘s website or $19 on Amazon (free shipping for Prime Members). It’s flexible, paper-thin and designed for indoor use so there’s no climbing on the roof or angling to just the right degree to get the best reception. With a range of 35 to 50 miles and the option of displaying either the black or white side,  it’s easy to blend into the aesthetic of your home.  You’ll have access to live digital TV networks including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, The CW, Univision, Telemundo and many more. 

The Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse flatenna comes with 12ft of high performance detachable coaxial cable, sticky tabs to attach it to your window, and it works with a $20 amplifier if you’re further from towers or surrounded by tall trees or buildings that interfere with the signal.  

Amazon has its own “flatenna,” the AmazonBasics Indoor Flat TV Antenna. With a 35-mile range, reversible with black or white sides, and easy indoor installation, it’s very similar to the Channel Master Flatenna, including its removable coax. It’s priced at $21.12 with free shipping for Prime members. 

If you’re in the market for an environmentally friendly option, the Mohu ReLeaf is made of recycled materials and 100% renewable electricity and chlorine-free post-consumer colors. Installation and usage instructions are printed directly onto the shipping box to further reduce waste. It has a 30-mile range, is 080 HD | 4K Ultra HD ready, and comes with 10ft of coaxial cable. The downside is that because it’s made of paper, it’s very fragile and tears easily. Also, at $34.99 plus shipping, it’s one of the more expensive options in this feature range. 

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.


Thursday, April 30: Looking Forward to Mother’s Day

Looking Forward to Mother’s Day

When: Thursday, April 30, 2020
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Join host Pam Rossi (@Always5Star) and the team at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) on Thursday, April 30 as we look forward to Mother’s Day!
Mother’s Day is just around the corner! Although celebrating can be quite challenging in these unprecedented times, please join us for a #GivingMore Twitter chat, as we highlight what makes our moms so special and share ways we can celebrate her big day! 
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win one of
TWO $250 Amazon Gift Cards!
(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)
ALSO, Verizon is rewarding 12 deserving moms with a $500 cash card and a $500 Verizon shopping spree at or their nearest Verizon store.
Visit our #GivingMore Nomination Form to find out more!
  1. Email (subject line: GivingMore) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed:
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#GivingMore) on Thursday, April 30 between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the chat! 

Working From Home? Here’s How to Improve Your Wi-Fi

By Tracey Dowdy

Aside from acting as a nanny, nurse, teacher, supervisor, principal, janitor, lunch lady, CEO, and intern of your homeschool/office, how’s working from home going? 

Between online learning, video conferences, and – let’s be honest, extra screen time for the kids so you can finally get some work done – but slow wi-fi may be making all of that more difficult. 

There’s a lot of reasons your wi-fi connection is lagging. There may be too many devices connecting to one channel, users engaging in bandwidth-heavy activities like streaming videos or gaming, outdated hardware and drivers, or even the way your router is positioned. 

If it’s any consolation, internet and cell plan-tracking site, Whistle Out surveyed hundreds of consumers who had recently transitioned to working or studying from home. Their results uncovered that more than a third of consumers reported that a weak or nonexistent internet connection had interfered with getting work done.

If you want to Scooby-Doo the reasons behind your internet issues, start with a speed test. There are plenty of options available with varying degrees of accuracy. CNET recommends the Ookla Speedtest, and Lifewire has a list of reliable options as well. 

The test will tell show your current upload and download speeds for the device you’re running the speed test on. It will also tell you the ping, which is a latency measurement determining how long it takes data to travel back and forth to the server you’re testing with. Move around the house and run the test a few more times to get an idea of the average speed. 

If the download speeds are less than half of the internet plan you’re paying for, or if the upload speeds are much lower than your download speeds, you’ve pinpointed what needs improvement. I live in an older home with solid construction, and my husband’s home office is far from our router, on another floor. To remedy his slower speeds, we bought an inexpensive plug-in range extender that boosts the internet signal. CNET has a great resource to help you decide which is best for you. 

Latency isn’t an issue unless you’ve got a lot of devices running on your network, or you’re sharing bandwidth with family members. Try running speed tests while your kids are playing a game online, or your partner is in a video chat with their office. If that ping number seems to be erratic, there are steps you can take, but your best option is to separate their activity from yours. To learn how, follow the steps outlined here.

It may be as simple as repositioning your router. Make sure it’s up off the floor, with nothing obstructing it – on a shelf or bookshelf is ideal. Try repositioning the antenna to see if that impacts your speed. If none of that helps, you may need to upgrade your router or buy a range extender.  

Before you buy anything, try changing your router’s channel. CNET’s Ry Crist says, “The 2.4 and 5GHz frequency bands that your router uses to send its signals are each divided into multiple channels, just like the TV channels that you can pick up with an antenna. Your router uses a single channel at a time, and if you’re using the same one as a neighbor, for instance, then that interference might slow your connection. To change that channel, navigate to your router’s settings on your computer. The best options are channels 1, 6 and 11, which don’t overlap with one another, but your router might also have an “auto” setting that can determine the best channel for your situation.” 

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.

Indoor Activities for Quarantined Families

By Tracey Dowdy

Does the thought of one more game of Go Fish physically hurt? Would you rather clean the bathroom rather than sit through Frozen one more time? Never fear, there are a million things to do, you just need a little inspiration. 

  • For little ones, the best action is a distraction, preferably one with some movement to help burn off that restless energy, channeling aggression, and spark a little creativity. Actually, that’s a pretty good formula for all of us.  Two great games for little ones are the Copycat Game and the Spider Game. The Copycat Game is basically Simon Says without the competition. Give yourself and your crew plenty of room to move around, especially if you’re going to go wild with those actions. Ask, “Who wants to play the Copy Cat Game? I bet you can’t do what I’m doing!” Start small – touch the top of your head, blink your eyes, do a somersault – whatever comes to mind. Depending on the age of your children, you can take turns being the leader. There’s no winner or loser, so no chance of hurt feelings. The Spider Game is brilliant if your children have far more energy left than you do, but you’re still on the clock. Get a small blanket or towel, and take a seat in a chair or on the floor. The “spider” holds the blanket like a bullfighter. The other player – the “fly”- runs in a pattern around the spider who then tries to catch them by throwing the blanket, their “spider silk.” If it touches the fly, they are considered caught and the game begins again. It’s easy for parents and kids to take turns for either role, and children or parents who have limited mobility can still engage in play. 
  • There’s never been a better time to break out your inner Beyonce than now. Treat – or torment your family with your version of “It’s Raining Men,” “Toxic,” or “Uptown Funk.” Let your little ones choose their favorites and be prepared to be entertained for hours. There are several apps to choose from, both free and subscription-based options. Check out StarMaker, The Voice, Smule, and Karaoke for Kids (iOS) or Karaoké Kids (Android) to name a few.
  • Teach a cooking class. I know, I know, you’re already trying to manage to homeschooling, but teaching your kids how to cook pays off in delicious dividends. Make it fun – pretend you’re hosting your own cooking show, and have your kids act as your assistants. Check out these cooking sites for parents and kids, with recipes using ingredients you probably have in your house. If you’re short on ingredients, My Fridge Food and Supercook let you search for recipes by ingredients. 
  • This may sound like an obvious one, but if you can safely maintain social distance boundaries, go outside for free, unstructured playtime. Spring has sprung in many parts of the country, so this is also a great time to do some hands-on nature studies. These apps can teach your kids about everything from fish to constellations and everything in between. 
  • This is also a great time to teach your children compassion. Though your little ones may be driving you a little batty, there are others who are struggling with loneliness while they’re in isolation, away from human contact. Have them write letters, cards, or even an encouraging email. There are lots of free video chat platforms available, and there are no doubt plenty of family and friends who would love to see your smiling 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.

Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health 

By Tracey Dowdy

Parents trying to work from home, teach their children, referee disputes, and keep everyone fed aren’t the only ones stressed out during this quarantined season. 

Common Sense Media and Survey Monkey polled over 800 U.S. teens, trying to get a sense of how they’re coping with the multitude of ways the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and how they’re staying connected. The results aren’t surprising – tweens and teens are stressed out and relying heavily on social media and texting to try to fill the gap that social distancing is having on us all. 

According to their poll: 

  • Ninety-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have had their classes canceled, 41% have had no school at all, and more than a quarter say it’s hard to find a place to study at home.
  • Teens not only fear that a loved one will become infected, but they also worry about the family’s finances, particularly Black and Latinx teens.
  • Roughly 40% feel “more lonely than usual” and bout the same number say they feel “about as lonely as usual” during this season. Parents may be surprised to hear these same teens say that social media and texting can’t replace close association and face to face interaction with friends.
  • One significant shift is that when compared to pre-pandemic times, more teens are going directly to news organizations for information rather than getting it second hand through family and friends. 
  • Unsurprisingly, tweens also report feeling stressed about school, family and friend’s wellbeing, and understanding what’s happening. 
  • Individuals who struggle with mental health report that their negative feelings are particularly heightened right now. 

So what’s a weary parent to do? Don’t despair – there are ways that you can support your child’s mental health that will provide them with the tools they need today, and that will equip them for challenges they face as they mature and become independent. 

  • One benefit that’s come from being quarantined is that teens report feeling more connected to family than ever. Read the hints they drop and invite them to watch a movie together, play a game, or play in the backyard. It doesn’t need to be structured or planned – look for spontaneous moments to connect. 
  • Right now, texting and social media are hyper-important to teens who’ve grown up with devices in the palm of their hands. If the need for discipline arises and reduced screen time was your go-to pre-quarantine, consider choosing another way to address the issue. With the level of isolation, your teen is already feeling, cutting off what social connection they have may exacerbate the problem.  
  • Because many of the teens report that social media and texting are a large part of their coping mechanism, consider allowing them to use your phone, tablet, or computer if the family is used to sharing. There are simple, secure, and effective ways to set parental controls, so you don’t need to worry about them changing settings or accessing private information. 
  • Create new routines to find your new normal. It’s unlikely that we’ll be back to normal soon, so build some structure into your days and nights. It can be as simple as setting up mealtimes, “packing” snacks for the day, scheduling FaceTime chats with grandparents, or determining “from nine to noon we do school work.” 
  • MyFridgeFood lets you plan a menu based on the foods you have on hand, so let your kids take over dinner one or two nights a week. If they’re little, allow them to look through the pantry and fridge for what’s available and help them search for a recipe. If they’re older, go one step further and have them cook. This isn’t just busy work – these are life skills that will take them far.
  • Anyone else celebrate a milestone during this quarantine? I had a birthday and my friend Leah had a baby. Students are missing their graduation, prom, recitals, and a myriad of other events. Reassure them you’ll celebrate once we get the all-clear – put a date on the calendar if that helps. Remind them this will end – countries who were impacted first are transitioning out of quarantine and someday soon-ish, we will too. 
  • Remind them of all the good that’s happening. Many people are recovering, charities are still being supported, and researchers around the world are working on a vaccine. Some of their favorite celebrities are doing what they can to encourage us. Some are reading bedtime stories on Instagram (@savewithstories), releasing new music, or just sending some positive vibes out there – check out Some Good News by John Krasinski, complete with a logo and background that was drawn by his daughters.

 The most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. You know your child better than anyone and recognize when a meltdown is coming. Validate their feelings of unease and frustration – we all feel that way sometimes. Be open, be compassionate, and let them vent. You don’t have to solve the problem – you need to ride out the storm alongside them and reassure them you’ll be there, supporting them in any way you can.   

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.

Thursday, April 16: Visible Acts of Kindness

Visible Acts of Kindness

When: TODAY, Thursday, April 16, 2020
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the very least a major disruption in our lives, it has also served to remind us that kindness is everywhere
In these trying times, it’s good to see brands standing for something bigger than the products they sell. That’s why @Visible is sponsoring a Twitter chat to highlight acts of kindness that are helping us get through these challenging times.
Join host Pam Rossi (@Always5Star) and the team for the #VisibleActsofKindness Twitter chat at 8 pm ET on Thursday, April 16, as we lift each other’s spirits by sharing and encouraging simple acts of kindness. Let’s get inspired by the multiple ways we can be kind to each other!
We’ll be giving away TWO $250 Amazon Gift Cards during the chat so be sure to RSVP here!

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

  1. Email (subject line: VisibleActsofKindness) and provide your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed:
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VisibleActsofKindness) on Thursday, April 16 between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
The $250 GIFT CARD WINNERS will be announced during the chat!

Helping Children with Online Learning

By Tracey Dowdy

If nothing else comes out of this pandemic, parents will at least have a greater appreciation for the myriad of skills it takes to teach a classroom full of children. Granted, most of the parents trying to teach from the kitchen table are also managing a household, working from home themselves, and hadn’t chosen teaching as their profession, making their job infinitely more complex. The prospect of accomplishing anything remotely resembling academics may seem overwhelming, but with a little preparation, clearly defined rules, and reasonable expectations, you can do it. 

Here’s how. 

Get set up. 

Determine which video conferencing platform they’ll be using and create the account together. By involving them in the process, you’re demonstrating that you are there for support but ultimately this is their responsibility. Do a practice run or a demo so your child knows how to answer a call, raise their hand, share their screen, record the lesson, mute the microphone, and how to exit the call. Many of the platforms allow you to save your settings, so while you can test the camera and mic on your system, make adjustments in the video-conferencing software you’ll be using. Gather earphones, an external camera and/or mic if there’s not one built into the computer, paper, pencils and any other necessary supplies (protractor, pencil sharpener, eraser) to take notes. Because video conferences use a lot of power, your battery will run down quickly. Make sure you have adequate battery life, or better still, plug in the device to avoid dropping the call. 

Don’t Hover

You may want to be within earshot the first time or two, but after that, take the time that they’re “in school” to work on whatever needs your attention, just like a regular school day. Of course, you’ve taken on the role of the teacher in some aspects, so if they’re goofing off and not paying attention, help them stay on track and focus on the lesson. If you have older kids, allow them some privacy so they can interact with their peers and teacher without worrying about you overhearing anything. You can check-in as needed, but don’t hover. 

While one of the benefits of video conferencing is being able to do it from anywhere, consider whether your child’s bedroom is an appropriate place to have on camera. Remember, privacy is still very important, and screenshots are easily taken by anyone participating in the conference. Wherever you choose, tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera. Before the call starts, sit down, open your camera, and look at your background. If you want real anonymity, consider a virtual background that will take the place of your personal space.  Also, if your student is going to be sharing their screen or sending screenshots, make sure no other browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared. 

Encourage them to go to the bathroom before or wait until after class – NOT during. A video of a student bringing her laptop into the bathroom during class recently went viral, and no one wants that kind of attention. If they really can’t wait or there’s an emergency, remind them to make they temporarily disable the video and mute themselves, and then turn everything back on again when they return. 

Remind your students that you and the teachers expect the same level of respect and appropriate behavior as when they were face to face. If your student is using Zoom, caution them about Zoombombing, and remind them there are real-world consequences for online behavior. Again, any live video chat can be recorded and screenshots captured by participants so it’s important to always behave appropriately. 

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.

Tips for Video Conferencing from Home

By Tracey Dowdy

With most of us working from home thanks to COVID-19 protocols, chances are that at some point you too will be called into an online meeting.  And by now, we’ve all heard horror – or hilarious depending on your perspective – stories of individuals participating in a video conference with coworkers. Whether it’s the boss who accidentally turned on the potato filter and couldn’t figure out how to remove it or the woman who forgot her camera was on and took her laptop to the bathroom with her (#PoorJennifer), video conferencing is fraught with more peril than a game of Jumanji.  

Don’t despair my friend. Following these tips will ensure that your online meetings run as seamlessly as those in-person. 


  • Make sure that you have a dedicated space with everything you need – files, documents, chargers, coffee – within reach. 
  • Set your camera up at eye level so it appears you’re looking at whoever is speaking. Make sure your face is well lit, and your whole face is visible. 
  • Let your family, roommates, whoever else may be at home with you know you’re in a meeting and unavailable unless it’s an emergency, just like when you were in your office to avoid a repeat of everyone’s favorite meeting crasher.  
  • Tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera with you. Sit down, open your camera, and look at your background BEFORE the call starts. 
  • Pro tip: If you don’t have time to clean, consider a virtual background
  • Pro tip 2: If you’re going to be sharing your screen or sending screenshots, make sure you check what browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared. 


  • Sweats and yoga pants are de rigueur these days, but if your office usually calls for something more – unless you’re told differently – get dressed for work, at least from the waist up. 
  • Don’t worry about makeup if you don’t usually wear it, but make sure whatever the dress code, your appearance reflects that you’re at work, not that you just rolled out of bed and are headed back as soon as the call ends. 
  • Pro-tip – try to avoid stripes as they can “dance” on camera, and black or white shirts may cause your iris to auto-adjust and make it hard to see your face.


  • Get to the meeting a few minutes early to check your internet connection and that the link to the meeting is working for you. 
  • Watch your audio, not only to make sure you can be heard but that they can’t hear everything that’s happening on your end. Mute your mic when you’re not speaking as any background noise can be distracting for others on the call. 
  • Remember, you are more visible in a virtual meeting than in-person because other participants will be staring at your face throughout the call. Try to look into the camera when you’re speaking, not at a particular person. 
  • If you need to step away for any reason, or if you need to look up something in another window, communicate that clearly so participants understand what’s happening and don’t think you’ve left the meeting. 
  • Knowing when to speak during a video conference can be tricky as some participants may have slight delays in their audio. Most meeting platforms have a “raise hand” feature, but if yours doesn’t, agree as a team what the cue will be. 
  • Speak clearly, no need to shout, and take notes if you miss your opportunity to respond so you can add your input an appropriate time. 
  • Pro tip – Stay off your phone and don’t eat – remember – everyone sees what you’re doing and they definitely don’t want to watch you chow down on that massive sandwich or cram a too-big forkful of salad in your mouth. You don’t want to be the next viral video. 
  • Pro tip 2 – If one of your coworkers does make an embarrassing faux pas, don’t post it without their consent. It’s unlikely #PoorJennifer agreed to have her mistake posted online. Put yourself in your co-worker’s position – if it’s not funny for everyone, it’s not funny and doesn’t need to be shared. 

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.