Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

August 12, 2015

Learn to Sew!

Happy Sewing Machine Day!  Start one of these simple sewing projects with your kiddos to help strengthen their fine motor skills and encourage creativity.  No sewing machine necessary!  Get Sewing!

 

March 10, 2011

Zoodles makes the Top 25 Android Apps for Moms list!

Babble's Top 25 Android App Badge

In an effort to kickstart this blog back to life, we thought we’d share some great news.  We’ve been recognized by Babble as one of the top 25 Android Apps for Moms!  Reaching over 6 million moms a month, Babble is a parenting site for “a new generation of parents.”  Their editorial crew sifted through tons of apps and highlighted our Kid Mode app as the #2 app for “Best Family Fun.”  Awesome!

kid-mode

Here’s what they said about us:

When that 10-minute restaurant wait turns into 20 and the coloring book that you brought along just isn’t up to the task, what’s a mom to do? Hand your kid your Android phone, of course. But before your toddler starts e-mailing your boss or updating your Facebook status, be sure to install the Kid Mode app that protects your phone by locking the Home button and then provides your kids (ages 2 through 8) with a selection of fun, educational games and videos geared specifically to each child’s age.  See the full article.

Check out the other winning apps at http://www.babble.com/products/mom-products/25-best-android-apps-for-moms/

Big thanks to Babble for highlighting our hard work and putting us in some great company!  To all of our Zoodles families, we just can’t say it enough.  Thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement – we would not be here without you!

October 27, 2010

Connecting Kids and Family Members through Video Mail and Storybooks

Mark Williamson, CEO & Co-Founder of Zoodles

Mark Williamson CEO & Co-Founder

One of the challenges that parents face is ensuring their kids build meaningful relationships with their aunts, uncles, grandparents and other family members.  This can be especially hard for families that are spread across the country like mine is.  While we live in California my daughters have aunts & uncles in Denver, Columbus OH, and Bethlehem PA while their grandparents are in Seattle and Columbus OH.  This means that they only get to see some of these family members once a year and with time zone differences it is close to impossible to Skype with them.

Since we build software that puts computers into Kid Mode, we thought we could improve the lives of families by enabling kids to connect with distant relatives.  Today we are announcing two new features that do exactly this:

Video Mail:

Finally, the most common activity online for adults – communications, is available to kids of all ages.  Zoodles Video Mail enables kids and family members to easily record and exchange video messages.  After a parent invites a family member to connect with their kids, that family member can record a message using a webcam, and that message is delivered directly to the child inside of the Zoodles computer app.  When a child clicks on their Mail tab, their new messages will immediately start to play as the picture below shows.

video_mail

A child can easily reply to any video message and it is so easy that my soon-to-be 3 year old daughter can do it too.

sam_vm

Storybooks:

This feature was inspired by a conversation with a grandma in Texas who recorded herself reading books on mini-cassettes and mailed them to her grandchildren in California.  She was looking for a way for her grandchildren to hear her voice before bed so they could stay connected.  With Zoodles Storybooks she can now select one of the Zoodles classic storybooks to record for her grandchildren and they will automatically receive the recording in the Books tab inside the Zoodles computer app.  As the picture below shows, the experience is really compelling for kids:

storybook

We hope that Zoodles can play a meaningful role in connecting families across the country, and we can’t wait to see how families use these new features.

Mark Williamson
CEO & co-founder

August 10, 2010

What Every Parent Should Know About Video Gaming

Guest Blog by Susan Long

Child playing video game

Child playing video game

Way back in that other life, the one before kids, I’d spend long evenings building Roman cities or searching for treasure while my husband shot zombies and eluded the police. We were dedicated gamers and with no kids, we had plenty of time to indulge our hobby. Now that we have kids, we’re constantly surprised about how little quality information is available for parents. Like drugs and sex, parents are being told that the only safe way is to tell them “no way”. It’s true that there are risks you may not have considered but if you are armed with accurate information and educate yourself and your child, there are some definite benefits too!

Gaming – It’s Not All Bad….

Gaming can actually assist children with developmental stages. Depending on the game, children develop problem solving techniques, analytical thought and logic skills as well as developing better hand-eye coordination.  It’s a relatively safe, fun activity that allows awkward teens to “fit in” without exposing themselves to risky behavior. It’s also a fairly affordable source of entertainment for long school vacation periods.

The Real Hidden Danger…. Literally!

Most parents are unaware of “Easter Eggs”, “Cheat Codes” and “User Generated Expansions”. These are the real dangers to look out for and there is surprisingly little information out there for parents. Games that seem perfectly acceptable on the surface can contain unseen dangers!

Easter Eggs

Like the chocolate treat, gaming Easter Eggs are something the child must hunt for, it is hidden from sight and often missed by a parent testing out the game. In G and PG rated games, it may be something like a familiar cartoon character that goes unnoticed until the game has been played many times or a little feature that can only be seen after clicking certain background objects.

As the ratings move into M, R and AO, the Easter Eggs can get a little more adult. The most famous example of this is in the AO rated Grand Theft Auto modification where a series of codes unlocks graphic sex scenes.

Arguably, the first ever software Easter Egg may have been in a less exciting program. In an early version of Microsoft Word, spell checking the phrase “I’d like” came back with the suggestion “I’d like to see Bill Gate’s head on a plate” proving that it’s not just the cool game programmers that like to express themselves!

Cheats

A cheat code is a command that kids can type into the game to “unlock” advantages. Perhaps typing a line of code will give them unlimited money or allow them to skip to the next level. Usually these are pretty harmless but it’s worth investigating them before choosing a game for your child.

A good example is the EA Games best seller “The Sims”. Although it carries an M rating, it’s about raising families, buying nice clothes and pets, getting good grades at school and building a lucrative career. It can make game play feel like you are “virtually” playing dolls, and it is a favorite with 8-15 year old girls. Most parents are happy enough to allow their girls to play The Sims even though there are “implied” sex scenes. However, the built in game cheat “Censor Grid” allows the player to see the characters in a “mock” nude state and to kill the characters in strange and bizarre ways.

User Generated Expansions

Online Sims fan sites allow kids to download expansions for the game – letting them perform tasks or buy objects that are not condoned by EA Games. Unfortunately, some of this user generated content contains sexually explicit scenes and objects and anatomically correct skins. In other games, children can commit especially violent acts and engage in other activities with adult themes attached. This is especially common for PC games (it’s much harder for console games) so it is vital that parents thoroughly search fan sites, forums and any other game related site that their child visits. It may be possible also to block downloads from these sites using some parental lock software packages.

Physical Safety

Most parents are now aware of the physical downside to gaming. The rising childhood obesity rate is partly blamed on “screen time” and more and more kids are suffering back pain from sitting still at a desk or in a lounge chair for long periods. Like anyone sitting at a PC, it is important to make sure that the desk is ergonomically correct for your child. If they are playing on your computer, you may wish to purchase an adjustable desk and chair.

While the Wii Console is a bit of a revolution in gaming, it appears to be the main offender for gaming related injuries. Before you think about putting the Wii up on Ebay, you might want to re-assess how you think about it. If your children are playing active games on their Wii, treat it as a low level sport. Make sure they warm up a little first, that they don’t overdo it, that the playing area is free from dangerous obstacles, ensure they take plenty of breaks and that overall, it plays a healthy role in their lives (don’t let school results or social interactions be dictated by it). If your child starts to show signs of RSI, see your doctor immediately.

Although the experts don’t yet agree on how hard, too much screen time is definitely hard on little eyes. If your child shows any symptoms of eye strain, speak to your doctor or optometrist.

Online Gaming

With any online activity, children are at a small risk of being approached by inappropriate people. The same rules apply to online gaming as any other online activity:

  • Mom must approve all new friends
  • Mom must have all passwords
  • Mom must monitor any conversations with people the child doesn’t know
  • The child may not friend any adults, even ones they know well
  • Mom must be able to monitor any “chats”

Most parents have the “stranger danger” talk with their children at quite a young age. As kids become interested in online activities, it’s time to have that talk again.

As with any game your child wishes to play, you should thoroughly investigate the online game to ensure it is age appropriate and that it does not allow user generated content. Popular online games like Second Life are not appropriate for young children for this reason.

On the flip side, online gaming is an especially good outlet for shy children and children who struggle to connect with friends. Children participating in multi-player online role playing games work with other kids to achieve quests and goals. This can be a wonderful exercise in building self esteem and social skills through feeling accepted.

This social aspect is however, one of the main reasons that online gaming is also the major growth area for “video game addiction”.

Video Game Addiction

It’s a controversial new topic but more and more, the experts are agreeing that video gaming can become an addiction. It is now listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders so is at least technically, an official mental illness. Kids get the same release of endorphins as they would gambling or taking drugs and any parent of a serious gamer will tell you that it can impact on their social, family and academic lives.

However, the addicted behavior is far less risky than more extreme examples like drug taking so it is probably more similar to the notion of television addiction than heroin addiction. The word “addict” has a tendency to create panic and over reaction in parents.

With any activity, it is vital to set boundaries and teach proper behavior early. Allowing children to explore gaming from a young age also allows parents to educate them about dangers and risks so that they can make informed decisions through to those especially difficult teen years.

If you feel that your child has a serious gaming problem, and talking, negotiating and setting boundaries have all failed, there are now support groups and psychological help available.

Video games are not all evil! Electronic entertainment is a phenomenon so great that it is definitely here to stay so, like anything in life, the best you can do is provide guidance and protection while they explore the big cyber world out there!

Author Byline

Susan Long is a mother of two mad gamers and one gamer of the future, when she finally has access to her computer, she writes about happy family holidays and Car Rental.

August 3, 2010

Tweens, Teens, and Technology Overload?

Guest blog by Traci S. Campbell

Tween Texting

Tween Texting

Gone are the days of a cell phone being used “only in an emergency”, as my mother used to tell me. So long are the days when the only access to a computer was in the school computer lab or library. And when checking email was usually done at work or in the evenings at home, now it’s as commonplace throughout the day as grabbing a bottled water to drink (and for many, email and text takes more priority than taking time to hydrate their body).

Don’t get me wrong, the advent of the current technology trends – social media and texting in particular – have greatly changed the landscape of communication and information transfer. Overall, this is a positive phenomenon. However, for our tweens and teens, this phenomenon is much more than a better way to gather and transfer world news or current events. The current technology trends are shaping their social lives and how they communicate in general. For this reason, it is a very good idea to have a true grasp on just how widespread this impact is on their young lives. Could it be that our next generation is already the victim of technology overload?

According to research compiled and reported by sources such as the LA Times and the Kaiser Family Report, the following statistics give us a clear picture of how dependent our young people have become on modern technology:

  • Texting is the second common use of cell phones after checking the time.
  • Sixty-five percent of high school students use cell phones in school.
  • One-quarter of text messages sent by teens are sent during class.
  • Text messages connect kids instantly and privately.
  • Images and messages can be spread virally or uploaded.
  • Teens with phones averaged nearly 2,900 texts a month — a 566% increase in two years.

It is also important to note that the average amount of computer usage time those between 8-18 years of age has tripled in the last 10 years, from 27 minutes in 1999 to 1 hour and 30 mins in 2009.

So what does all of this data tell us? It is clear that we are seeing a generation that is more involved in less “human-related” activities than their counterparts from previous generations. This generation has more dependencies on technology than any generation before it. Gone are the days of coming home from school, dropping your books, and venturing outside to get in an hour or two of playtime before dinner.When I look back on those days, not only was I more physically active than my nieces and nephews are today, but I was also mentally “happier” and less stressed.

It is wise to encourage young people to find a healthy balance between the “old-fashioned” ways of recreation and communication and the current ones. Technology is great and is indeed the wave of the future. However, let’s also be mindful to encourage this generation to find time to walk away from technology and enjoy their youth with others – family and friends – in the flesh and not only through a computer screen or cell phone. Their minds and bodies will thank them – and you as a parent – for it in the long run.

Author Byline

Traci Campbell

Traci S. Campbell

Traci S. Campbell – author, family advocate, executive producer of “The C.H.A.M.P. Experiment”.

July 21, 2010

How to make your iPhone kid friendly

Contributed By Ginny Haynies Zoodles Marketing Team

Contributed By Ginny Haynies Zoodles Marketing Team

According to reports, there are an estimated 40 million plus iPhones in circulation and 4.8 million Android devices activated per quarter. In addition, more than 3 million iPads were sold before July 1st. The sales only continue to grow and as the numbers increase so do the number of children with easy access to the Internet. With these devices comes the introduction of mobile applications for our children. As of September 2009, iPhone and Android users were downloading an average of 10 apps per month and iPod Touch owners at 18 apps per month. (http://blog.7touchgroup.com/tag/how-many-apps-sold-per-user/) A quick count of my own iPhone reveals 50+ applications with a large percentage of them being games, both fun and educational for my children.

According to Education.com there are currently over 3,400 education apps available for download at the iTunes store, with a large number of them targeted for children between the ages of two and five. They note that the top selling iPhone education app continues to be Wheels on the Bus and that “13 of the 20 top paid apps in this area are clearly child-directed.” (http://www.education.com/magazine/article/smartphones-kids) A quick search of the Android marketplace reveals the same trend occurring there. The preschool and young child market is clearly a hot topic and a market that is being heavily targeted.

Two great parent resources for finding great Smart Phone applications for your children are theiphonemom.com and momswithapps.com. While the iphonemom focuses more on iPhone/iPad applications, momswithapps also features Android applications. Their reviews and suggestions often lead you to some fantastic applications. While using discretion in selecting which mobile applications you choose to install on your device, you might also implement the 3 C’s approach to evaluating media for children as suggested by Lisa Guernsey, Director at the Early Education Initiative:

* Content – What is the basic premise of the app? How is it designed? Is it research based? Is it age appropriate? Does it come from a trusted source such as Sesame Workshop? There are a few great resources to help parents evaluate content, such as Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review.

* Context – Who is interacting with the child? How do parents talk about what’s on the screen? Is the child learning through a game, then applying that in another activity? Is the child telling stories about what he or she has experienced?

* Child – How much stimulation can this child take? What types of media trigger the most curious questions, playful reenactments, engagement and joy? What is she missing out on by spending time on the device – is she still exercising, socializing, and doing her schoolwork?

Apple reports that more than 1.7 million iPhone 4 phones were sold in the first week and that more than 75% of the devices sold were upgrades for existing customers. Which leads one to wonder: what is being done with the old phones? While many may be donated or resold, another use is to modify a few settings on your older model iPhone and let them function as an iPod Touch. Many of the current application offerings rival those of other popular hand held gaming systems and are quickly becoming more popular among elementary age children.

These same settings and suggestions are also easily applied to your own iPhone, iTouch, or iPad and will allow for some added security and protection if you choose to allow your child to play with your phone or device. These are all located under Settings -> General -> Restrictions.

photo 1photo 2

The first step is to apply a passcode that you will remember, but your child does not know so that you can keep the restrictions in place.

photo 3

Then you will see a list of choices of things you can either disable or set limitations to restrict. If you choose to use an alternate web browser application such as Mobicip or SafeEyes on your mobile device you will want to disable Safari so that you children will not get an unfiltered web browser. I also suggest you turn off YouTube. This will take away the button for YouTube, however, you would still be able to watch videos you have direct links to and through child safe video filters. This will keep little hands from navigating into Lady Gaga’s most recent music video accidentally. I also highly suggest you turn off In-App purchases. This will prevent your child from accidentally upgrading an application or purchasing something from within an application that they did not understand. Also located under settings are options for Music, Movie, App, and Podcast age ratings. Obviously the level that you choose to put these settings at would depend on if the device is being used by you primarily or if you are turning it into a dedicated child safe device.

photo 4photo 4

photo 5photo 2

As always the best advice is to closely watch your little one, but these precautions and settings can help to make your iProduct a bit more child-safe.

April 8, 2010

Zoodles Recommends: 3 Fun iPad Apps for Kids (+ Adults!)

Filed under: Family Activities,Technology in the Home — Erin @ 5:58 pm

Apple iPadThe iPad has arrived, and we here at Zoodles have been happily fiddling with our “family Pad” all week.  Are you as excited as we are?  Touch interfaces may be sexy for adults, but they are an insane game changer in the world of kids and education.  Until now, a lot of the motor skill constraints that toddlers face have kept them from benefiting from the great education technology already out there.  Apple’s iPad breaks that barrier, and it enables content developers to build unique experiences for kids that don’t require a mouse or a keyboard.

We took it upon ourselves (and it wasn’t exactly torture) to play a few of the early apps out there with this kind of potential, and see what ones were fun for kids and adults alike.  Here’s what we found.

Toy Story

It’s free, and it’s pretty stinkin’ cool. Disney Digital’s Toy Story takes stunning visuals straight from the movie, and narrates the story as your child follows along with the highlighted words.  During the best scenes, short clips of the movie play. The coolest part is that parents can record themselves reading the story!  Now when kids beg “Again?” after their bedtime story, you can save your singing voice.

Smule makes us think that the future of music will never be the same. This app, Magic Piano, lets kids and adults create music without having to read notes or properly “hold” an instrument. With this $3.99 purchase, your family can unlock a bundle of instruments that sound and look something like a piano, but play more like a game.  Oh, the joy of music without the pain of practice. :-)

DrawThe name says it all, but Draw creates much more than a drawing experience for kids.  The extra goodness thrown in — Tic Tac Toe, Dots, and a Word game — make the classics feel young again, and make plain ol’ paper seem like a downgrade!  Once the scribbles are down, Draw lets you Tweet, email, or save them into perpetuity.  It’s the refrigerator door that never runs out of magnets!

Let us know if you discover any other cool apps, and stay tuned for our next batch of recs!

March 11, 2010

7 Stages of Computer Literacy for Toddlers

Filed under: Family Activities,Technology in the Home — Erin @ 7:10 pm

Coupled with developing motor skills, the thought of introducing your young one to a computer can be daunting.  Where do you start?  What are most kids able to do, and by what age?

In this post we thought we’d share our take on the stages you can expect your child to move through on their path to Computer Whizdom.  As with most things, their progress down this path will depend a lot on how much time they’re able to spend online playing, learning, and exploring.

1. Toys

baby-toyMost of the first toys your child handles are bulky, colorful, and safe.  As your child learns to grasp these objects, they also learn how to wrangle fun sights and sounds out of them.  In this early stage of motor skill development, your child is just starting to understand that what they do physically can make something else in the world behave a certain way.

2. Screens

Zippity_Learning_System-lifestyle_shotSoon after, your child will start to understand that screens – be they on the phone, TV, or computer – are places where things happen too.  Not only that, but they’ll quickly realize that they can make things happen there!  Depending on how developed their motor skills are, this is a great time to introduce toddlers to hand-banging keyboards like Fisher Price’s Laugh & Learn Keyboard Topper or full-body systems like the Wii or Leapster Zippity.

3. Touch

ipod_touch_gamesTouch is the third physical interaction usually mastered by tots.  Their little fingers do particularly well with touch screens, so the iPhone and iPad are great (though expensive!) interfaces for them to start with. With apps like My First Puzzles, the interaction between finger and screen can be so immediate that children can easily get caught thinking that the manipulatives on screen are real!

4. Pen

MagnadoodleAfter touch, the next interfaces to learn are ones that involve pens.  No need to run out and get a tablet – you just need something interactive that will continue to develop your child’s fine motor skills without losing the feedback and immediacy of touch interfaces.  Whether your child spends time with crayons, Magna-Doodles, or Tag Readers, learning to grasp and use a pen tool will pave the way for mouse success.

5. Keyboard

Picture 18The keyboard – mentioned previously in Screens – is a tool that can be mastered to varying degrees.  The first thing to learn is that banging on the keyboard causes things to happen on the screen.  That’s pretty much all your toddler needs to know to explore their powers on sites like Kneebouncers or Fisher-Price.  The next thing to learn is that different parts of the keyboard do different things, starting with the spacebar and arrow keys, and then the letter and number keys.  After the hunt and peck typing has begun, your child is well on their way towards 120 WPM typing!

6. Mouse

The mouse is a perplexing tool for kids.  The first thing they do – and easily too! – is start clicking away!  What you’ll quickly find is that clicking the mouse isn’t the hard part, it’s clicking the right thing on the screen that proves difficult.  To do this, your child has to understand conceptually that the small rounded device in their hand controls another small graphical image on the screen – the cursor.  Once they see that their hand and mouse movements map to the cursor’s movement, then they’re clicking really means something!   From there, they need to learn how to “click just one time,” do some clicking and dragging, and finally hit those double-clicks and right-clicks!

After watching lots of little ones struggle with their mouse at home or in our office, here are some recommendations:

Chester Mouse

Get a mouse they can grip. They’ve got tiny hands!

Get a mouse with one button. Left click vs. right click means nothing to them, and disaster to you!

Adjust the mouse speed. The cursor’s tiny as it is!  Why not slow down the speed, so they can actually watch it move!

7. Explore!

With these skills under their belt, your child will be well on their way to computer bliss and freedom.  As they explore, they’ll quickly pick up other important abilities like scrolling, searching, and navigation.

At that point, it’s not a question of “can they go,” but “where they go” that really matters.

3yo-ToyboxAnd that’s where Zoodles comes in.  With Zoodles, you can trust that your little keybanger will not only be contained, but engaged, and educated, all from within the safety of our browser.  Our interface protects your computer, and our content safeguards your kids.  We feature content providers who are passionate about designing games, activities, and videos specifically for young developing users.

Truth be told, your little one will probably move through these stages faster than you can say “antivirus,” and you won’t have to do a thing.   They just need time to explore.

With Zoodles, you can trust that your child’s road to computer literacy will be a smooth one.  So let them drive.  You just sit back and enjoy the ride.

January 20, 2010

Kids on the computer all day? Set time limits with Zoodles!

Filed under: Parental Controls,Technology in the Home,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 12:28 am

In an earlier post, we talked about all the ways that parents set screen time limits at home.  Whether they’re using the DVR to dole out episodes of Dora, or printing out sticker charts to make their kids play outside, different parents have different ways of handling their desire to limit the amount of media their children consume.

Introducing the Zoodles Play Timer!

That is why we’re pleased to present the Zoodles Play Timer,  a new feature that will help parents set the time limits they want, without the hassle of maintaining them or explaining and reexplaining them to their ever-desirous kids.

Picture 20With the Zoodles play timer, you can limit your child’s time online without having to constantly step in and feel like the bad guy.  Zoodles does all the negotiating for you – as soon as your child’s time on Zoodles runs out, a big blue clock will appear signaling their time is up.  The browser stays locked in full-screen mode, so your child can’t wander somewhere else online or click around on the computer.  After a minute or so, they’ll be brought back to the original family log-in screen, so the brother or sister who’s been patiently waiting in the wings can get a turn!

Of course, no kid likes to be cut off cold turkey, so we’ve built in some friendly purple reminders that time is winding down.   Picture 24With 10 minute, 5 minute, and 2 minute warnings, Zoodles eases your child off the computer and on to a new activity without the tantrum.  The wind-down process is important for every child to learn, and all parents know how painful this process can be if it’s not done artfully!

Picture 25You can set time limits in half hour increments anywhere from half an hour a day to 8 hours a day, and you can set them differently based on whether it’s a weekday, or a weekend.  What’s more, each of your children have their own unique play timer settings, so you can limit them differently based on their individual play patterns!

We hope that you’ll enjoy this new feature, and all the ways that it strives to make your life easier!  As always, please let us know what you think once you’ve gotten a chance to try it out!

January 14, 2010

Zoodles in Vegas!

Filed under: Technology in the Home,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 7:23 pm

KidsAtPlayI spent a large part of last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.  While I love gadgets and new technology, I was drawn to CES this year by the Kids@Play conference held at CES.  I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about internet safety for children and to demo Zoodles.  The panel and demo went very well, but the thing I came back from CES most excited about is all the enabling technologies that are going to improve the lives of children around the world!

Tablet computers, 3-D display technologies and touch screen interfaces are just a few of the technologies at the show that can be used to create compelling educational experiences.    I am looking forward to all the innovation that will come in the near future and excited to be part of a company that is trying to create those compelling experiences for children and parents.

Best,

Mark

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