Tag Archives: apps

Apps to Get Your Family Outdoors

By Tracey Dowdy

Using a smartphone or tablet doesn’t have to mean screen time or inactive play. Use these apps and websites to have real world adventures with your kids this summer and become amateur bird watchers, citizen scientists, and amateur astronomers.

Audubon Bird Guide

audubonThe Audubon Bird Guide has a catalog identifying over 800 birds with information on their appearance, habitat, behavior and migration patterns. Take the app outdoors and find Birds with eBird, a “free online program that allows birders to track their sightings, while other birders watch and search in real-time.” Amateur birders track their location, each bird they saw, how many of each species, where and how long they were outdoors, and then jump to the eBird website and click “Submit Observations” to upload their information. There’s even an un-official eBird challenge to submit at least one list a day for one year, even if you only bird watch for a few minutes.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Night Sky

night skyNight Sky takes the expanse of the night sky and puts it in your child’s hands. Just point your phone’s camera at the heavens and using geo-tracking, Night Sky will identify the stars and planets above your head. Use Stargazing Conditions to identify the best night to look for constellations and planets or combine Stargazing Conditions with World Traveler to see the conditions in an area you’re traveling to. The app includes music, sound effects, 3D Earth Mode, satellite tracking and you can connect with other star gazers through the Night Sky™ Community.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Meet the Insects

meet the insectsDid you know the animal with the most species on earth is insects? Well now you do! Meet the Insects is crammed with facts about every species you can think of, from butterflies to beetles. Choose Forest, Village and Water, or Grass editions to identify bugs in your backyard, on a camping trip or anywhere else you come across creepy-crawlies. Kids can learn more about each species through videos and photos, create a journal to keep track of what they’ve seen, or take a quiz to see how much they’ve learned.

Cost: $4.99 per edition
Availability: iTunes

Nature’s Notebook

natures notebookNature’s Notebook makes kids citizen scientists by having them create an account at usanpn.org and start logging their observations of the natural world around them. Kids choose an environment like a park or their backyard and then become amateur naturalists by recording the plants and animals they see as well as changes in behaviors and seasons. All their observations are logged in the Nature’s Notebook database which then helps scientists track climate change and animal behaviors around the globe.

Cost: Free
Availability:  iTunes, Google Play


leafsnapThe Smithsonian Institution, University of Maryland and Columbia University have combined forces to create Leafsnap. Users take photos of leaves and through visual recognition software, Leafsnap identifies the tree species. The app has beautiful, high quality images of leaves, flowers, fruits, petioles, seeds, and bark found in the Northeastern United States and Canada.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes

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.



Apps to Download Before a Family Flight

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s a great debate at my house. As far as I’m concerned, vacation starts the minute I turn on my auto-reply and walk out of my office. For my husband, vacation starts once we’re at our destination and bags are unpacked. That’s probably because he does most of the driving if it’s a road trip, or arranges the tickets if we’re flying. That naturally makes me chief baby wrangler and child entertainer, no small task depending on the length of the trip.

Flying can be especially challenging with little ones, as the anticipation of the trip coupled with long wait times at ticketing, security, the gate, and then the flight itself – all while surrounded by strangers – can be overwhelming.

These apps can keep your kids entertained or distract them when they’re getting restless, so no matter when you think vacation starts, it gets off on the right foot.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

caterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar app bundle (ages 2+) gives kids the opportunity to interact with Eric Carle’s classic – and very hungry – caterpillar. The bundle includes four apps that allow kids to create their very own hungry caterpillar, feed him, learn about colors, shapes and counting, and learn to recognize simple words, plus many other fun adventures all through non-competitive, imaginative play.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows
Price: $6.99

Tiny Airport

airportTiny Airport (ages 3-6) takes kids through three different scenes starting with their arrival by taxi and check-in through boarding and getting to fly the plane themselves. With over 100 separate animations, kids will sort bags, go through a check list and start the plane and discover what a dog is doing on the runway. Tiny Airport includes some timed activities and challenges for older kids.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99

Toca Vacation

vacationToca Vacation is part of the Toca Life series of apps designed with free and imaginative play in mind. Kids can interact with a host of characters as they decide where to vacation, where to stay and what to do when they arrive. Options are exactly what kids would enjoy in real life – jumping on the hotel bed, digging for shells and buried treasure at the beach, or enjoying an ice cream with their friends.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99

Eli Explorer

eliEli Explorer (ages 5 and under) teaches kids age appropriate words and short phrases in 10 different languages, spoken by native speakers. Kids join Eli as he travels the world, exploring caves, jungles, forests and mountaintops. Order a glass of milk at a monkey tree bar, or dive into an undersea cave and listen to a monster band. The animation is simple yet engaging and very user friendly as kids need only tap and drag to interact with the game.

Platform: iOS
Price: $1.99

Plum’s Creaturizer

creaturizerPlum’s Creaturizer (ages 4+) is based on the PBS KIDS web-original PLUM LANDING, a show dedicated to helping kids develop a love for and an appreciation of nature. The app allows kids to create their own wild creature by choosing from over 100 body parts and then take their creature outdoors and “photobomb” them into a scene. Kids can complete missions for their creature, answer questions about its life, diet and habitat, or watch a slideshow capturing “a day in the life” of their creation. All their creatures are saved in your device’s camera roll and to the in-app gallery.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, Nook
Price: Free

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.

‘I’ll Take That To Go’: Rating the Top Fast Food Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

Because we live in a world where a Drive Thru is no longer fast enough, fast food restaurants have taken things to the next level, introducing apps to get you in and out more quickly without compromising customer satisfaction. It’s all about creating and maintaining that customer base, so alongside offering healthier food options and rewards programs, they’ve developed apps designed to save time and money and keep you coming back for more.

But not all apps are created equal. Depending on your priorities and preferences, some are definitely better than others.

burger kingThe Burger King app is straightforward and user friendly with easy to find to find locations, nutrition information and plenty of coupons. Mobile payment is an option via PayPal, BK® Crown Card, or a Virtual Card, so you can order, prepay and pick up your order fuss-free. The downside to the app is that prices are not listed and Value Menu items are scattered throughout their respective categories, so eating on a budget or trying to stay under a specific dollar amount can be tricky.

mcdonaldsThe McDonald’s app lets you view the menu but lacks the option to order online. The biggest draw is the number of coupons. Once you’ve created an account and chosen your local “home base” restaurant, the app will send you offers like BOGO’s or dollar-off coupons which is convenient considering the app doesn’t list prices and, like Burger King, value menu items don’t have their own listing. Because you can’t order online, the app primarily functions as a handheld menu and coupon resource.

taco bellTaco Bell may not be everyone’s top choice but their app is one of the better options in the fast food game. Menu items are presented with prices and with photos, because really who can remember the difference between a gordita and a chalupa? Pre-payment is available via credit or gift cards and nutrition information is easily accessible. Perhaps the best feature is that once you check out, the app asks if you’re picking up in-store or via drive-thru. Once you’re within a specific distance of the location, check in and they then prepare your order. Walk in, wait for your name to be called, and voila! fast fast food.

wendys1Unlike some of the other fast food burger options, Wendy’s doesn’t ask you to create an account or choose a “home base” location but brings up menu options and nutrition information right away. The “Right Size” value menu is easy to find, another option McDonalds and BK fail to offer. One unique feature is the option to donate to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption from within the app. The biggest drawback with the Wendy’s app is that mobile ordering is limited to Phoenix, Portland, Austin and Columbus municipal areas only and mobile payment is limited to those participating locations.

dominoes1Dominoes hands down has the best fast food app out there. Create an account at Dominoes.com and complete your profile with details like your favorite pizza, pick up or delivery, address and credit card information. This information creates your “Easy Order,” which is accessible from whatever digital platform you choose to order from, and that’s an extensive list. Users can order on their smartphone via SMS or by tweeting the pizza emoji to #Easyorder or to @Dominos and then confirming the order by Twitter direct message.

Users also have the option to order through Samsung Smart TVs, Ford Sync, Apple Wear, Android Wear or Pebble smartwatches, and Dominos own native mobile app. The app offers both national and local coupons and payment options include cash, credit, debit or Domino’s gift card.

All the fast food apps listed above are available for iPhone and Android.

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.

App Review: Highlights Every Day

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, there was a LOT I didn’t know. Sometimes asking other parents was simple enough depending on the opportunity and I was constantly looking for recommendations on great books to read to her and with her.

When my daughter moved into 1st grade her amazing teacher, Mrs. Arone, introduced us to Highlights Magazine, which served the dual purpose of suggesting great books for kids her age while also donating some for use in the classroom. We loved getting the magazine and picking more than a dozen books from the list for us to read at home. It felt very much like a curated list of great reads, which saved us time for more nighttime reading before sleep.

Now, fast-forward a few years, and yes, there is an app for that! Highlights Every Day can be downloaded on your iPhone or Android device and it has been reimagined as an all-new digital experience. It features hundreds of fun facts, puzzles, jokes, quizzes, videos, stories and a lot more.

If you have kids between the ages of 6 and 12 they can learn about the world around them and enjoy hundreds of activities with a new issue delivered EVERY DAY!


Specific features include:

  • Exclusive videos, including joke reels, animated learning clips and Ask Highlights Kids shorts
  • Engaging stories, poems and reading activities
  • Skill-building Hidden Pictures® puzzles, mazes, word clues and more
  • Fascinating interactive quizzes
  • Hundreds of activities — there’s always something new to play

The app is available for phone and tablet and it is a great way to keep kids entertained with content that is safe and also educational in a fun way.


  • Monthly subscription: $7.99/month (or just 23¢ per day for 5 new daily activities)
  • Free 30-day trial

Download on iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1Tcg7sy

Download on the Android Play Store here: http://apple.co/1XsWsEV

What are some of your favorite resources for young children?

The Online Mom received a promotional fee for participating in the Highlights Every Day program

How To Extend the Battery Life of an iPhone or iPad

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s few things that strike fear in my heart more than the dreaded “10% Battery Remaining” notification popping up on my iPhone. Despite the fact I work from home most days and spent the first 30 years of my life without a cell phone, that message gives my heart a little flutter.

Every time Apple releases an iOS update they tweak usage a little, so it’s a good idea to review your settings to make sure you’re getting the most out of your battery. There are a few simple fixes you can make from your Home Screen: disabling Bluetooth and Air Drop, lowering the brightness of your display, turning off Wi-Fi or switching to Airplane mode if you’re travelling. Your phone’s antenna is constantly looking for Wi-Fi service and switching to flight mode can save significant battery power.

Here are few other tips to get the most life out of your iPhone and iPad battery charge.

Switch to Low Power Mode. When your phone reaches 20% power you automatically get a pop up giving you the option to switch to Low Power Mode. Apple says it will provide up to 3 hours of additional battery life. When it’s active you don’t have access to Hey Siri, Mail fetch, background refresh, automatic downloads and some visual effects but you can easily switch in and out of Low Power Mode if you need any of those features. You can switch to Low Power Mode even if your battery isn’t at 20% or lower if you know it will be a while before you can charge again.

Delete the Facebook app. Facebook got into some hot water last year when it was reported they had apps running in the background even when the app wasn’t in use or Background Refresh had been disabled. They reportedly fixed what they called a “glitch” but there still seems to be issues. A report in The Guardian states that deleting the app and accessing Facebook through Safari can add 15% to your battery life. To see how much power it uses, go to Settings>Battery and check the Battery Usage. The app used a whopping 38% of my battery in the past 24 hours. That’s a big number.

Review Your Notifications. Every time your phone gets a Notification it wakes your phone for 5-10 seconds. That can add up if you have Notifications enabled for a lot of your apps or even one or two apps that send frequent Notifications. Go to Settings>Notifications and then select which apps you want Notifications from.

Turn Off Location Services. Many apps use location services and while it makes sense for Maps to know where I am, it doesn’t make sense for IMDB. Go to Settings>Privacy>Location Services and toggle off for each app that doesn’t need to know where you are.

Turn Off Auto-Updates. One handy new feature in iOS 7 was an auto-update so that your apps are always current when you open them. Again, this means your phone is pulling battery power for them even when those apps aren’t in use which means draining your power. Go to Settings> iTunes & App Store>Automatic Updates and select what needs auto-updating and which you prefer to update manually.

A final tip, Apple recommends draining the battery to zero every once in awhile such as every 4-6 weeks. Calibrating your battery allows the device to estimate its battery life more accurately and though it won’t make your charge last longer if you’re down to 5%, it will extend the lifespan of the battery.

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 Apps for Parents with Young Children

By Tracey Dowdy

A fellow mom recently introduced me to one of the greatest, most life-changing apps of all time. Behold Sit or Squat – the app that tells you where to go when you’ve got to go. If you’ve ever been out with a toddler who just has to go, then you know what a game changer this app could be.

Created by Charmin (of course it was!), the app uses your location services to find a clean restroom nearby. Content is user curated and users can search, rate and add bathrooms, so you’re never stuck again. (Free – iOS, Android)

The same mom introduced me to Trekaroo, an app that searches for kid friendly venues, like parks, playgrounds, museums and even restaurants and hotels. Again, content is user curated so you’re getting honest opinions from other parents. The app can tell you things like how friendly the wait staff really is; the availability and cleanliness of rest rooms; and the proximity to public transit. (Free – iOS)

Similarly, Playground Buddy searches for playgrounds and parks all over the world, something that comes in pretty handy if you’re away from home or staying with relatives or who don’t have kids and have no idea where kids can go to go run off that cabin fever. The app allows users to update information and add new playgrounds and parks as they are built or discovered. (Free – iOS, Android)

Kids Eat Free provides a list of places where, well, kids can eat for free, or at a deep discount. As with other apps on the list, the content is updated by users and its accurate and easy-to-use interface makes it very popular with parents. (Free – iOS, Android)

Kidscore suggests you think of it as Yelp for parents. The app goes beyond kid friendly restaurants and attractions to include recommendations on hotels, pediatricians and shopping. Users can search under the following headers: Food and Dining, Health and Medical, Retail Shopping, Activities and Attractions, and Hotels and Lodging. The app includes not only reviews but also photos do you can get a clearer idea of where you’re going and what to expect when you get there. (Free – iOS)

The founders of the next app noted that we “date on Match, have regrettable hook-ups on Tinder and find the best brunch places to cure our hangovers on Yelp. Then we have kids…. and then what?” Their answer is Yuggler, a “comprehensive community for family fun.” More than just a list of museums and parks, Yuggler provides information like parades, classes, festivals and other community based events all over the world. You can search by cost and by times like Today, Tomorrow, or Next Week to find events that fit your schedule and your budget. One of its best features is a direct link to Pinterest, so you can save your favorites, plus you can choose to get Push Notifications about upcoming events. (Free – iOS)

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.

7 Apps for New Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

I once had a friend compare being a new parent to his job as a firefighter. There are times when you’re sitting around and things are relatively peaceful but you know it won’t last; sooner or later the siren will go off and it’s complete chaos for the next few hours.

Fortunately, it’s not all chaos and disaster. These apps can help manage your time, track baby’s needs and milestones, and make every sure you capture every precious moment.

Eat Sleep: Simple Baby Tracking does exactly what it says: it tracks your baby’s sleep, eating, and diaper habits. Recommended by moms of multiples, the app is very straightforward with information entered by a single tap. There’s a handy Notes feature but no alarms, alerts or scheduling and the clean interface means you can access information at a glance. For an additional cost you can purchase BabySync, which allows you to backup information and share it with family ad friends. (iOS – Free)

Latchme was developed by doctors and lactation consultants and is loaded with valuable tips and videos. The app is community supported, so you can connect with other moms to ask questions and find resources in your area like nursing areas with clean facilities, comfortable chairs, change tables, sinks, and outlets. (iOS, Android – Free)

The Wonder Weeks is based on the book of the same name, backed by 35 years of experience and is designed to help you track your baby’s mental development for the first 20 months. The app lets you know when your baby is about to make a developmental leap, what they can comprehend and learn after this mental growth spurt, as well as behavioral differences to be aware of like interrupted sleep patterns and mood changes. (iOS, Android – $1.99)

Baby Connect is a comprehensive app that can help you stay on top of everything, including feedings, diaper changes, sleep, baby’s mood, medications, and even photos. Information is easily shared making it especially valuable for parents and caregivers who share childcare responsibilities. (iOS, Android – $4.99)

Sprout Baby is another comprehensive app that allows you to track milestones, feedings, diaper changes and doctor appointments. Information is easily shared across devices and between caregivers as well as healthcare providers ensuring everyone is up to date on baby’s needs. The app can be purchased as a standalone or is available as part of a 3 app bundle. (iOS, Android – $4.99; or Sprout Fertility and Period Tracker, Sprout Pregnancy, and Sprout Baby for $9.99)

Cozi is consistently on lists of go-to apps for getting organized, something that may be more of a challenge with a newborn. Or a toddler. Or a Tween. Or Twins. You see where I’m going with this? More than just a way to track baby’s needs, it enables you to track and share doctor’s appointments, shopping lists, and much more for the whole family. (iOS, Android – Free)

WebMD Baby can be a lifesaver both literally and figuratively. The app provides easy to access and understand doctor approved medical information from birth to two years. It includes illness and emergency symptoms and weekly content that is specific to your baby’s age and developmental stage. (iOS, Android – Free)

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.

Apps to Connect You to a Good Cause

By Tracey Dowdy

The proliferation of social media and the ease of “Liking” or “Sharing” a post to spread awareness have led to a new term being added to our vocabulary – “slacktivism.” Also referred to as “armchair activism,” slacktivism refers to signing an online petition or joining an online group as a means to ease your conscience, rather than actually making an effort to to make a real difference.

That’s a pretty harsh view to take and implies we’re too lazy or self-absorbed to make a meaningful effort. In reality, based on data from philanthropy research organization Giving USA, Americans donated an estimated $358 billion to charities in 2014. We clearly do want to help, but perhaps aren’t always sure how.

These apps can help guide us, as they’re a legitimate means to do good, not just a path to instant conscience-easing gratification.

Share the Meal

share-the-meal-1Pairing the concept of crowdfunding with smartphone users who outnumber the hungry 20 to 1 globally, The United Nations World Food Programme Share the Meal allows users to donate as little as fifty cents a day to fight hunger. It’s as simple as a single tap on your screen.

Platform: iOS, Android, Amazon

Charity Miles

charity-milesOnce you download the app, Charity Miles tracks your movements. Each running-mile is worth 25 cents, each biked-mile earns10 cents. Users can select where the money is donated with a list of 30 charities to choose from including World Wildlife Fund and Habitat for Humanity. Note, Charity Miles keeps 50% of donations made to cover the shortfall when there are more individuals participating than corporate donations had been committed.

Platform: iOS, Android

One Today

one-todayOne Today was developed by Google and introduces you to a new charity every day by telling you the details for each charity, what they do, what your donation will fund, and providing you with an impact report. When you see a charity you like, simply tap the give button to donate $1. If you want to give more, the app connects you with the charity’s website.

Platform: iOS, Android

Donate a Photo

donate-a-photoIf ever there was a charity designed for our selfie and photo sharing era, it’s Donate a Photo. Simply download the app, choose a charity you want to help, choose a photo from your camera roll or take one through the app, share the photo via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and Johnson & Johnson will give $1 to your chosen cause. J&J curates a list of causes and once the charity’s goal is met, they’re replaced with a new cause. Images will never be used for commercial purposes and can be kept to a private list of viewers. Users can post one photo per day.

Platform: iOS, Android)


TangoTabTangoTab connects you with great deals at local restaurants. Simply check in when you arrive and the restaurant will pay a small fee to TangoTab. That money is then donated to a local food charity like a shelter or food bank to feed the hungry and homeless. Their tag is “When you eat, they eat.” The charity is currently available in limited cities but if you provide your email address, they’ll contact you when it comes to your city.

Platform: iOS, Android

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.