Resources for Home and Virtual Schooling

By Tracey Dowdy

Many parents, perhaps unwillingly adding “Homeschooling Teacher” to their resume, are scrambling for resources so our children can learn more this Fall than “Mom hides her ‘sanity chocolate’ in an empty bag of frozen peas.

These resources will become your go-to as you support your student and help them navigate everything from the parts of speech to solving a math problem using Common Core math. 

Khan Academy will show up in every search you do for “homeschooling resources” or “homework” help. The site is curated by experts and one of the most comprehensive learning resources available – and it’s free! Content covers everything from K-12 and some college prep. Their primary focus is on math and science. 

BrainPOP takes a fun approach to learning. They cover a broad spectrum of subjects using kid-friendly videos, written content, quizzes, and games. Kids can even make their own movies by compiling images, animations, and other elements. BrainPOP is offering schools free access while closed, so you might be able to access through your school district. Home users get a free month trial. After that, it’s $25 per month. 

Beanstalk is offering online classes in art, science, and more for preschoolers up to age 6 for free during the COVID-19 crisis. Their teachers are handpicked early childhood development experts, and there are countless classes to choose from.  

Scholastic Learn at Home digs into Scholastic’s extensive library to create engaging educational information to supplement online learning. Though not as academic as other resources on this list, each day has dedicated selections for PreK/Kindergarten, Grades 1-2, Grades 3-5, and Grades 6-9. Kids will love learning how emojis are designed, whether esports should be considered a sport, and how zoos are evolving with the times.

Even if you know all the tricks to write a paper in APA format or how to do long division, teaching French, Spanish, or any other foreign language may be outside your purview. That’s where Duolingo and Rosetta Stone come in. Depending on the language and how intensive the lessons need to be (and your budget), both programs offer easy to follow tutorials and coaching to help build your student’s skills. (Duolingo – Free; Rosetta Stone – plans start at $6.99/month) 

For a comprehensive list of online learning support and resources, the team over at staff at NewSchools Venture Fund, a philanthropic nonprofit organization, has developed a list of online learning resources with over 40 options across educational content and curricula, teaching tools and guides.

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.

Children’s Books to Help with Back to School Anxiety 

By Tracey Dowdy 

Since this will be a school year like no other for many families, some are facing back to school jitters like never before. Even students who anticipated a return to routine and their friends with a side of education are anxious about how the 2020-21 year will unfold. 

One of the keys is to remember your children are listening and observing you, and they often pick up on more than we realize. Don’t feel as though you need to hide your concerns or worry if they see you are disappointed and a little anxious too – this normalizes their fear. Instead, take a “We’ll get through this together,” approach. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, but you’re going to support them every step of the way. 

Just as you would in a traditional school year, ease back into your routine in the weeks before school starts and take the time to address your child’s questions and concerns. Reading together is an invaluable tool in uncovering what’s bothering them in a non-confrontational way. These books can help start those conversations and allay some of their fears. 

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes (Pre-K–2)  Wemberly is a mouse who worries about everything like shrinking in the bathtub or spilling her juice, but her biggest fear is the first day of school. Your little one will relate to Wemberly’s fears and learn with her as she overcomes them.

The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr (Pre-K–2)  Parr’s signature style of humor and heart shine in this little book that addresses common childhood fears while helping kids find a solution. The examples cover everything from dogs to the monsters under the bed,  and family conflict. “Sometimes I’m scared when my family argues. I’m not scared when we hug and say ‘I’m sorry.’” 

Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz (Pre-K–2)  Like Parr, the authors address common childhood fears with humor and imagination. Through over the top hypothetical situations, the book teaches kids to find perspective and utilize creative problem-solving. 

When My Worries Get Too Big: A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety by Kari Dunn Buron (K–3)  Though it was written to help children on the autism spectrum identify and manage their emotions, every child can benefit from its self-calming strategies. 

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner (Grades 1-6)  What to Do When You Worry Too Much employs the cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT) most often used to treat anxiety. The book is practical, encouraging, easy to read, and will give your child the skills they need to manage their anxiety.

What to Do When You’re Scared and Worried: A Guide for Kids by James J. Crist (Grades 4–7)  Divided into two parts – “Getting to Know your Fears and Worries,” and “Getting Help for Hard to Handle Problems,” the book address a spectrum of fears from spiders to panic attacks. Crist helps children identify what’s behind their anxiety, practice Fear Chasers and Worry Erasers, and encourages them to ask for help if the fear is bigger than they can manage on their own. 

My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael A. Tompkins and Katherine Martinez (Grades 7 and up)  Tompkins and Martinez show teens how to take control of their anxiety through proven cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), empowering them to manage and work through their emotions. They include chapters focusing on the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, and even addresses the possible need for medication. 

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.



Take the Stress Out of Virtual Schooling

By Tracey Dowdy

As summer draws to close and more school districts are opting for online over in-person learning for the Fall, parents once again face the challenge of virtual homeschooling. As last Spring’s school closure taught us, finding a balance between work, home, and school to make distance learning work for your family requires patience and flexibility. The juggling act becomes even more challenging if one or both parents work outside the home. 

So as we head into the 2020-2021 school year, keep these principles in mind as you prepare your family for their new normal. 

Take a minute for yourself before you start your day. As Dr. Robert Puff says, “The first word in “alarm clock” says it all.” Instead of rushing headlong into the day, set aside a few minutes for self-care before you tackle caring for everyone else. Read something inspirational, pray or meditate, savor that first cup of tea or coffee of the day, and determine that no matter what the day brings, tomorrow is a fresh start. 

A second key is to plan your child’s learning schedule around your work schedule. It may seem obvious – and sometimes not feasible – but whenever possible, try to keep your schedule flexible for times they will most need your attention and schedule your work calls or tasks around their independent reading or subjects that are less demanding for your child. No one accomplishes much with constant interruptions, and both of you will end up frustrated and annoyed.

Give clear instructions. Whether it’s a clearly defined list of tasks or a detailed schedule of their day, most children will need structure to stay on task and accomplish their goals. Let your child know you’ll be checking to see if their work is complete to determine if they are hitting their milestones. 

Be rigidly flexible. Most children thrive on structure to move through their day yet others struggle to stay on task for long periods. Work with your child’s teacher to understand how they supported your child during in-class instruction and adapt those principles to at-home learning. Even the most academically gifted students will struggle with an assignment from time to time, so be flexible about when the task has to be completed. We all benefit from taking a break throughout the day, so consider whether this is a task best tackled later in the day when you both have the freedom to work on it with fresh eyes and a better mindset. 

Take advantage of teacher and peer support. Just because they aren’t face to face doesn’t mean your child’s teacher isn’t equally invested in your child’s success. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s school for suggestions on tutoring, discussion boards, and a myriad of other resources. Be patient – remember that 100% online instruction is probably new for your child’s teacher, and they are doing their best to give your child the support they need. Just like you’re juggling your work/life balance, so too is your child’s teacher. A little kindness goes a long way these days. 

Parents, remember to be kind to yourself. These are uncertain times with demands on your family beyond what any of us could have anticipated. Everyone is struggling to some extent, and comparing how your family is coping against what you see online – especially on social media – is a shortcut to frustration for both you and your children. This is only a season, and like all seasons, it will pass. 

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 Masks for Exercising

By Tracey Dowdy

While some still debate the efficacy of wearing masks, the fact remains that we are required to wear them in retail stores, offices, hospitals, and other public venues, and will be for the foreseeable future. 

As the states move through phases of opening, some gyms are beginning to re-open. As challenging as it can feel to wear a mask under normal conditions, working out while wearing a face-covering may seem out of the question, especially when health authorities don’t agree on best practices. The CDC recommends “that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” On the other hand, the World Health Organization disagrees, saying that wearing a mask while exercising is not a good idea because it can make it difficult to breathe, primarily because the face-covering gets wet from sweat and deep breathing can cause viral particles to accumulate on the outside of the mask. 

What’s a fitness-focused fella to do? Frankly, For your safety and the safety of others, it’s better to be safe than sorry and wear a mask indoors when exercising around people you don’t know. If you’re unable to wear a mask for medical or mental health reasons, it’s best to exercise at home or outdoors.

The good news is that companies like Under Armor and Adidas have developed masks specifically designed for working out. When choosing, you need to consider three things: fit, fabric, and antimicrobial properties. 

  • Fit – A properly fitted mask is your first line of defense. Remember, if you’re wearing an ill-fitting mask to work out, there’s a good chance it will move around, and you’ll have to stop to fix it, likely touching your face, something that should be avoided at all cost. Choose a mask that comfortably covers your mouth and nose with stretchy straps that loop around your ears as these tend to fit more snugly that the style that ties behind your head. 
  • Fabric – A cotton mask is great for a quick grocery store run or to pick up take out, but cotton soaks up moisture so your mask will become damp very quickly if you’re wearing it to work out. This can make it harder to breathe and can potentially promote bacterial growth. A better choice is a mask made of the same moisture-resistant fabric ou work out in like lycra or spandex. 
  • As I mentioned, sweat and moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so choose a mask with a filter or antimicrobial coating if possible. While the filter or coating may not be 100% effective in killing a virus particle, the extra protection is still a good idea. 

Use these guidelines to choose a mask that offers a balance of comfort and protection for your indoor workout. 

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.

Getting Teens to Take Coronavirus Seriously

Many of us have accepted that summer 2020 will look a lot different from summer’s past. While no one is happy about that – ask Blake Mac Lennan – perhaps no group is more let down than our teenagers and college students. Summer is party season, and with COVID-19 restrictions in place around the country, finding ways to socialize in person safely has been met with varying degrees of compliance. 

Officials in Alabama warned of “COVID-19 parties”, where students who have tested positive for the virus are invited to infect others intentionally. While it may seem hard to comprehend why they’re so dismissive of the risks and potentially deadly consequences, Cameron Caswell (Dr. Cam) notes that most adolescents see themselves as invincible with limited ability to comprehend long-term effects. “They see bad things happen to other people, but never think those bad things could happen to them. So, no matter how many people get sick, it’s difficult for them to comprehend that they could get sick. And, even if they did, what would it matter? They’re young and healthy, so they’re not going to die from it, right?”

National Academy of Sciences psychologist and executive director of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers at UCLA Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D. says, “Teens and college-aged kids live in the moment and are still developing self-regulation skills,” Uhls explained. “Their brains are still developing and their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them think ahead, is not fully developed. They respond to risk and reward differently than adults and children, making them more likely to believe the risks don’t apply to them.”

So what’s a parent to do? How do we effectively communicate the gravity of the situation without causing them unnecessary distress? 

Start with a simple conversation to understand where they’re coming from. With social media being their go-to source for information, there’s a good chance, some of what they believe to be true isn’t. Before you address the behavior, you need to understand their beliefs. Use what they’ve heard on social media like the COVID party stories in the news as a teaching tool, but don’t be heavy-handed and use it as a scare tactic. Uhls cautions Don’t overdo the fear, or they will discount your caution, but be matter of fact and honest.” Remember, tone is everything. Young adults need to feel heard and validated – a lecture is far less effective than a conversation. 

Offer perspective. Teens and young adults tend to be the center of their universe, so it’s important to help them understand the big picture. Remind them, “This isn’t all about you.” The virus crosses age, gender, ethnicity, and every other boundary known and unknown. While young adults may not be high risk, grandparents, infants, and immunocompromised people depend on us to do our part and protect them. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. Make it your family mantra.  

One of the most effective tools in parenting is to model the behavior you want to see. The old cliche “Actions speak louder than words,” rings true. Your children are unlikely to follow the guidelines and protocols if they see you dismiss or disregard them yourself. 

Finally, don’t give up. Pediatrician Dr. Hela Barhoush says, “Conversations about coronavirus should be had at least once a week in every home, and these discussions should be kept simple, direct and reassuring. You want this information to come from you and not from outside sources where you can’t control what information is being fed them.” Wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing has become the new normal. 

Thursday, July 16: The 5G Workshop

Everything You Need To know About 5G

When: Thursday, July 16, 2020
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Thanks to the roll-out of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, the future is finally here! Still, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around the way this ground-breaking technology is poised to transform our lives – now!
Join host Marv Dorner (@BeBizzy) and the #5GBuiltRight team as they share Everything You Need to Know About 5G in this super-informative Workshop and Twitter chat. We will be exploring this exciting next-generation technology and how it is already impacting the way we work, live and play!
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.)

  1. Email (subject line: 5GBuiltRight) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed:
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#5GBuiltRight) on Thursday, July 16 between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the chat! 

Host Movie Night with Amazon Prime’s Watch Party

By Tracey Dowdy

I have to say few things make me happier than watching major corporations battle for my attention and my patronage. Netflix stepped up in the early days of quarantine with Netflix Party, an extension that allowed users to synchronize video playback and added a group chat to Netflix movies and TV shows. 

Never one to slack off, Amazon Prime has stepped up with its own Video Watch Party that allows members to watch heaps of movies and shows from Amazon’s catalog and simultaneously chat with up to one hundred friends with no plugin or download required. It’s available on most desktop browsers, with the notable, but the not surprising exception of Apple’s Safari. At this juncture, Smart TVs, game consoles, mobile phones, and tablets aren’t supported. 

With movie theatres in most states still closed, the virtual watch parties that have kept us connected to friends and family and entertain us during the quarantine seem to be the new norm for the foreseeable future. 

Setting up a watch party is simple, though it does require a Prime Video account. ($9 a month for a standalone subscription or access through your $119 annual Prime membership. You have to be in the US to use the service).

If someone without a membership wants to join you, you have two options. One, you can share your account with one other person for two simultaneous streams or take advantage of a 30 Day free trial. The trick is to remember to cancel the subscription before the trial ends to avoid being charged for the next month. 

To start the party, all participants need to log into their account on their desktop browser. 

Then, choose the video you want to watch. You can choose from Amazon Prime’s full catalog including their original series, blockbuster movies, and a fair number of not so blockbuster films notable for their cringe-worthiness like Circus Island and Hawkeye, aka Karate Cops.

Once you’ve made your selection, tap the Watch Party icon under the title. A box will pop up that says, “Let’s Start a Watch Party.” Enter the username you want to use while chatting.

When you choose “Create Watch Party,” a pop-up box will appear that says “Invite Friends” and a personalized link to share with your guests.

Only the host can play, pause, or seek for the group, unlike Netflix Party’s extension that allows anyone in the group to control the screen. 

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.

New Features Coming in iOS 14

By Tracey Dowdy

Hey kids, Apple’s doing it again. iOS 14, slated to be released this fall, comes with a whack of fun new features that will make you love your phone even more, and make Android users smile. More on that later. 

For me, one of the most exciting new features allows users to pin a conversation to the top of messages. If you don’t get a lot of texts in the run of a day, this may not seem important, but at a time when many of us are still at some level of quarantine and several states are rolling back re-opening plans, keeping in touch via text is more essential than it’s ever been. For me, having my family group text pinned to the top saves me scrolling through multiple texts from coworkers and friends. To pin a contact or conversation, swipe to the right across any thread. 

Not only can you pin a conversation, but you’ll also be able to tag someone in a conversation when you want to get their attention. This will transform the way we communicate in group texts and be a relief to everyone who hates group texts but doesn’t know how to escape without being rude or missing out on the occasional piece of useful information. You’ll also be able to reply directly to a message to create a sub-thread within the conversation to avoid blowing up everyone’s phones in the group. Although we’ve always had the option to start a separate message, this keeps it all within the same thread. To tag an individual, use the @ symbol just like you do on other platforms.

Not that most of us will be traveling abroad any time soon, but iOS 14 has a translation app built-in. Instead of using Google’s Translate app on your iPhone, a native app will convert text or hold conversations with someone who speaks a different language. Current languages include English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian. 

Users have two options. Type the word or phrase you want to be translated, or tap on the microphone on the bottom of the screen to use voice-to-text. Once you’ve finished typing or speaking, the app will translate it to your selected language. I wish I’d had this in France when my Uber driver and I were on opposite sides of a busy street and couldn’t find each other. Though the word “ibis” is spelled the same in French and English, trust me, it’s pronounced quite differently. 

If you need more than the pronunciation of a word or to have a sentence translated quickly, turn the phone to landscape mode and tap on the mic icon. You don’t need to press and hold – the phone will continue to translate the conversation. 

iOS14 will finally allow users to add widgets to their home screen, a feature Android users have had since 2008. Widgets contain more information and are more functional than app icons, so Apple is pretty late to the party on this one. Instead of swiping to the left of the home screen, you can add them directly to your display. You’ll be able to choose from multiple sizes, and the intuitive Smart Stack widget will show you information from numerous apps when it thinks you need it. For example, it will bring up your calendar, the weather app, and drive time for your commute when you wake up. You can choose to continue to view widgets in Today View off to the left side of your main home screen, or, drag and drop a widget from the Today View onto your home screen.

A second “Android’s had that for years” feature is an app drawer that Apple calls App Library. The feature will auto-sort all your apps into folders, making it easier to find all the apps installed on your phone. To access, swipe left on your home screen, and choose one of three ways to find the app you’re looking for: 

  • Check in one of two folders at the top of the screen: Suggestions (recently used) and Recently Added (newly installed apps). Both will automatically update to adjust which apps are in either folder.
  • Search for your app by name in the search field at the top of the screen.
  • Tap to see an alphabetical list of your apps.

Bonus – App Library pairs with another new home screen feature allowing you to hide pages of rarely used apps.  

Finally, iPad’s popular video in picture-in-picture that creates a thumbnail image of a video that continues to play even when you’re on another app or screen is coming to your iPhone. The feature allows you to switch to a different part of your phone, without pausing or stopping your video. You can drag PiP around your screen, adjust the size of the video by pinching and zooming or even temporarily hide it off the edge of your screen. To exit PiP, tap the X to close. It works with FaceTime video calls and Apple TV, podcasts, Safari, FaceTime, iTunes, Home, and any third-party app that supports PiP on iPad. 

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.