Category Archives: advice and tips

Back To School Tech: Do Your Kids Really Need It?

Gone are the days of Pee Chee folders and rad book covers of our youth, my friends.  Our kids need back to school tech.  And you do too. Now that we have that question answered, let’s talk about the why what and how much with a little help from Verizon, my brand partner for this post. 

I can clearly remember the first year that tech became part of our back-to-school shopping list. That year I had kids in high school, middle school, elementary and preschool. Looking back, I’m sort of surprised I made it through that year. The pickup lines alone should have done me in.  

It started with cell phones for the older kids. Soon though the middle h showed a penchant for art and a teacher told us we should consider a digital sketchpad.  We made that purchase and never regretted it. As the kids started to travel, find their love of reading, started to become explorers, tech came along for the ride. 

This summer Verizon asked me to join them at their Baltimore destination store to host a discussion for parents that focused on back-to-school tech.  The best part? I got to talk about the products I love most of all and how they help us manage school, sports, travel and family time. 

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I’d share my top four picks and why I love them so. 

Top 5 Picks for  Back To School Tech 

Google Home (mini)

If you’ve ever gone hoarse from hollering at your kids to get to the dinner table, found them playing a game rather than doing research on the laptop, or had family arguments about the atomic weight of slime, this is the gadget you need. It’s sort of an all-in-one family helper. 

Kids can google topics without jumping on a device that may distract them from the work that needs to be done. It works as an intercom system and media player in your home. And, if you were the type of parent who might want to just drop in on the sly to see what they’re up to in their room, you can do that too. Not that I do… nope, not me.  

Samsung Gear VR 

I. Am. Obsessed. With. This. It started out as my own personal Netflix home theater. Then it became a fun way to laugh at people as they tried to play AR games that had zombies chasing them. Then things changed. 

The youngest came home with an assignment on the galaxy. After having to paint foam balls to look like planets, three times before her, I just couldn’t get excited about doing this again. We were fiddling around with our VR and found an app that allowed you to play around in space. This changed everything! The assignment went from boring and repetitive, to immersive and engaging. 

Since then, we’ve taken a ride through the human body to see how platelets and antibodies work. Done a report on glaciers after zooming across, around and THROUGH one. I honestly feel like AR is the future of learning and these types of gadgets will soon become back to school tech must-haves. 

Nest Home Camera

Our oldest is a Marine and traverses about the planet doing hero stuff. The next one down is 19 and a continent away at college. But, we still have two at home, even when we aren’t home with them. The Nest Home Camera gives me so much peace of mind and lets me almost be there, even when I can’t. 

The Nest is more than a nanny cam. It is a two-way communicator. When the kids get home they walk up to the Nest, setting off an alert on my phone. I can then pop in and ask them how their day was. We chat, they show me their classwork or the dog. They like to put the dog up to the Nest and see him look around frantically trying to figure out how mom got in that tiny box. 

Nest does double duty as a home safety device too. Oh, and I can also drop in to see what they are doing when they aren’t looking for. Not that I do that either… nope, not me. 

ASUS ZenPad Z8s 

They want an iPad, you want to pay the mortgage. The ASUS ZenPad tablet is the compromise. It has what they need, fast processing, great connectivity, a plethora of available apps. Paying less than $300 for it will make you feel like you got the gold star. 

Verizon Smart Family

Smart tech can be the tool that helps bring your family closer together. In a time where we are worried about how healthy it is to be too connected when we face the argument of how much screen time is too much, Verizon Smart Family can be that tool for you. 

I love it because;

  • I can set up different content filters for each person in our family
  • Setting turn-off times for the wifi means I don’t have to keep changing (and forgetting) the password to be sure that the kids aren’t on their devices past bedtime
  • I always know where my kids’ devices are with location tracking… find the device you typically find the kid, right? 

Though I must confess I miss some of the simplicity of my back to school days, I’m also really into all the cool ways technology is transforming the learning experience of my kids. That said… 

Also… Pee Chee folders forever! 

 

SAT Stress: Are You Causing it?

SAT stress is a thing. You may even remember being stressed out about taking the test back-in-the-day – I do. In this final installment of my series partnered with The College Board, we’ll explore SAT stress.  

Test-related stress was nearly debilitating for my oldest daughter. She was an excellent student and a hard worker who enjoyed learning. When it came to taking tests though, her high school years were rough.

Around test time, this bright child would suffer from worry, even dread. While I knew she’d do great, she often was convinced she’d fail, and that caused me to stress, too. It became an endless loop of anxiety for us both.

Her stress was more extreme than most, falling into a category that qualified as test-related anxiety.

She isn’t alone in this. Some estimates suggest that nearly twenty percent of students will suffer from this type of hyper-stressed state. The good news is that we learned some great techniques for managing test stress that might help both you and your teen, avoid some SAT stress, too.

Relax

Okay, I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but in all honesty, it can be tough to do. Both my daughter and I (and her three siblings) found meditation helpful. Before you think I’ve gone ’round the twist into a cloud of patchouli oil, go check out HeadSpace.

HeadSpace is an app that guides you through 10-minute meditation sessions, no oils required. Also, no chimes, chanting, or bells. These simple meditations feel more like a modern adaptation of age-old, proven techniques.

Get Out!

Sometimes you can study too darn much. Getting out and leave the test materials behind. Nature can work wonders on stress of just about any kind.

Laugh

Not only is laughter great medicine, but it is kryptonite to stress. A good giggle decreases cortisol, a hormone your body produces as a buffer against stress. It also increases immune cells and antibodies that fight infections. That is great news for SAT takers because who wants to take the test sick, right?  

Own What You Know

I think that sometimes the biggest stress around taking the SAT is that it just may seem overwhelming to prepare for at first. Maybe studying smarter, not harder is the way to go?

The College Board offers free prep with Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy.  Your teen can link their College Board and Khan Academy accounts to get personalized SAT practice to help your student identify the areas and skills they need to strengthen. That can allow them to own what they know and focus on what they need to sharpen.

Insider Tip: Now that the SAT no longer penalizes students for guessing, they didn’t stress about that anymore.

Be Prepared

Know what you can and can’t take along with you, and be sure you have everything you need. When I first took the SAT, I forgot pencils. Yes, the one thing you 100% need, I forgot. Talk about stress-inducing.

Put together an SAT go-bag with everything your student will need to have with them at their testing site. Sort of like we did back when they started school.

Insider Tip: the registration deadline for the March 2018 SAT is looming! Register February 9th through the 28th, 2018. 

If you’re schedule-challenged like me (seriously, I’d forget my kids’ birthdays if they weren’t in my phone) be sure to note the deadlines for SAT registration, your test location, date and time. I suggested custom wallpaper or at least a sticky note on the fridge.  

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

I’ll admit it’s been a minute since I took the SAT.  If I recall correctly, taking the SAT was nearly as stressful as figuring out the proper hair-to-aquanet ratio.  Things hadn’t gotten much better by the time my two oldest kids were ready for the test.  The good news for today’s college-bound kids is that things are changing. Changing in big ways.  I’ve partnered with the College Board on a series of sponsored content geared toward helping students and their parents navigate today’s SAT. 

5 Myths About Taking The SAT

questions and answers on taking the SAT

Myth 1: Taking the SAT later in the year means getting harder questions.

Truth: The College Board ensures that every version of the test is equally weighted in difficulty. 

Myth 2: Leave a question blank if you aren’t sure of the answer. 

Truth: Taking your best guess is the best practice. The SAT no longer deducts points for guessing. 

Seems my Dad’s old theory of always choosing “C” if you didn’t know the answer, holds some water now. When in doubt… Charlie out!  

Myth 3: You only take the SAT if you’re hoping to go to an East Coast college. 

Truth: The SAT is accepted by all College entrance exams. In fact, colleges and universities don’t have a preference for other tests over the SAT. 

Myth 4: SAT prep classes are very expensive.

Truth: The College Board has partnered with the Khan Academy to offer Free, personalized Offical SAT Practice. 

Myth 5: Don’t take the SAT twice. 

Truth: 2 out of 3 students actually improve their scores when taking the SAT more than once. 

five myths about taking the sat

How many of those myths did you think were truths? These days it’s not your Mama’s SAT, folks. Have questions? Email me or tweet them using #ChoosetheSAT.  

In the next installment in the series, we’ll explore ways to help students with SAT study and prep. You may be surprised by what is not on the test anymore, I sure was.  

Note to parents: If your child hopes to take the March 2018 SAT, the deadline for registration if February 9th, 2018. I know getting those dates right and not missing deadlines was an issue in our house. Get more info on registration here.  

5 Ways to Stay Productive When Snowed In

5 ways to stay productive when snowed in

It’s happening again, my friends. Weather Prognosticators are all aflutter with “news” of impending doom in the coming days. Could we be in for another snowmageddon? Maybe a reprisal of snowpocalypse? Shall snowzilla himself rise once again from his frozen lair to reek havoc? 

In anticipation of yet another storm system of epic proportions, I’ve revived this post as a public service. Here are my tried and true; 5 ways to stay productive when snowed in.  

5 ways to stay productive when snowed in

 

1. Stick to a Schedule

Hold yourself accountable for how time is spent. You may find that getting things done isn’t quite as hard as you thought.

Getting out of bed at 11 am is perfectly acceptable. You’ll still have time to binge-watch Netflix and finish off an entire bag of Cheetos. If you schedule smartly, wine time will come even sooner than you’d hoped.

2. Let Yourself be Creative

Feel like you’re always rushing through the work that needs to be done and just have zero time for any creative outlet? Use this time to allow some reconnection with your creative side. This sort of cathartic activity can help boost productivity.

Whipping up voodoo dolls in disturbing likenesses to friends who live in Arizona and find it humorous to point out that 71°  is their typical winter day is not only creative but therapeutic. As you stab pins into the little sucker remember that summer is coming.

3. Stay on Top of Small Tasks

The volume of laundry that needs to be done when there are 30 inches of snow on the ground can be staggering. Tossing those soggy items into the wash right away will keep them from piling up and sucking valuable time from your day.

Alternately, if they do happen to pile up just toss a clean, dry blanket on top of them. Climb into your Snuggy {we both know you have one, no judgment here} and nap. Repeat items in step one to maximize effectiveness.

4. Exercise

Even a short workout can help you focus, stay on task and get things done. Not to mention it is good for your all total sense of wellbeing when stuck indoors for several days. 

Might I suggest a power walk from the sofa to the fridge and back?

5. Take Time to Organize

Countless studies have proven the beneficial impact that organization can have on your health, productivity and overall happiness. Use some of this time you’ll be stuck at home to organize your workspace, clear out your email, cull the clutter and tackle the organizational tasks you just don’t usually have time for.

An organized bar and/or wine cellar will help you ensure that you never find yourself short on stock… you know, in case the blizzard of the freaking century hits!

 

 

 

Don’t Buy Gifts That Suck

As of the writing of this post (in mid-October), it has been holiday shopping season since roughly three months ago.  One may think that the propensity of retailers to start the gift buying frenzy off earlier and earlier would result in fastidiously chosen alms of holiday joy. Yeah, not-so-much. This year I implore you, use your time wisely… don’t buy gifts that suck

True story, three years ago I received exactly eleven scented candles as holiday gifts. Either I really need to step up my housekeeping game or these people needed to stop phoning it in. So, in the spirit of actually wanting to unwrap gifts received, I have agreed to write this post that is sponsored by uncommongoods. (disclosure: I am only accepting their money because I can actually use it to buy the things from them that I had already planned on purchasing – don’t tell Ri she’s getting that F-Bomb paperweight.) 

I started buying gifts from uncommongoods a few years back when Marc asked for rocks for his scotch. Yeah, actual rocks not ice. Turns out there are soapstone rocks out there that chill your scotch without diluting it. Well, now it turns out pretty much everyone knows that but a few years back it was just my man and uncommongoods. Turns out they have like 425 (or a few less) versions available online and in their catalog.  This year I may have to get him a hand-painted Bocce Ball set because he is Italian and I don’t by gifts that suck. 

 

Two years ago I stopped stuffing stockings. Why? Because, nobody stuffed mine, dammit! I mean the kids are now old enough to know that there isn’t a jolly elf out there paying mom and dad’s credit card bills. This should lead one to conclude that when the stockings of everyone but mom are brimming with goodies, it is time to step up to the plate. 

This year I’ll make it easy. I demand wine soap, coasters made from old LPs (and used on my good table!), Yoga Joes and a Moscow Mule Carry-On Kit for all my long-haul flight needs be stuffed in my stocking.  See, it really is not that hard to find something cool. So say it with me people… don’t by gifts that suck!