If You Give a Monkey a Passport….

niagara falls

This little monkey named Marlin has been with my daughter since she was born – 11 years.

He’s traveled on road trips up New England and through the Midwest, to Mexico, Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, overnight camp, France, Italy, Disneyland (where he actually rode on rides tucked safely in my daughter’s jacket), and Disney World, and a few weeks ago to Canada where he enjoyed Niagara Falls.

It’s strange how a little stuffed animal can become a member of the family.  But, there he is, stuffing sagging, a bit deflated, his fur matted down and his sewn-on mouth long gone.  And yet no family journey would be complete without him.

Using Virtual Piggy to Raise Money Smart Kids

virtual piggy logo

My girls are now officially tweens.  Along with the usual angst about middle school and friends there seems to be a new obsession – fashion.  One of my girls has morphed into a walking fashion encyclopedia over the last year, pouring over Lucky, Elle, Vogue and any other fashion mags she can get.

And then she goes online.

My daughter can build a Back to School wardrobe wish list that would shame the editors of Teen Vogue in about 10 minutes.  But, just because she can build it doesn’t mean the money to buy will follow.  And that’s where teaching her about value and need vs. want come in.  My daughters have generous grandparents and they have built up a nice little piggy bank of cash, but online shopping is something else.  It doesn’t have that sting of handing over carefully saved paper bills, and it requires mom and dad’s credit cards.  And I’m not alone – almost all parents surveyed have made an online purchase for their child, and over 70% of 6-15 year olds have asked their parents to make an online purchase for them, according to a PlayScience Survey.  Not exactly the best scenario for teaching the value of money.  That’s where Virtual Piggy comes in.

Last month KidzVuz co-hosted a brunch to introduce a group of select bloggers to Virtual Piggy, a site dedicated to teaching kids how to be financially literate – and give their parents the tools to help them achieve that goal. (Full Disclosure: we were compensated for co-hosting the brunch) I first met the Virtual Piggy team at the Digital Kids Summit last spring and was really intrigued with the idea that parents could have a site that would allow their kids to save, plan and purchase online, while learning about what it really means to be an active consumer.  I have found that teaching my own daughters the value of money when it’s just a simple click of a button is harder than ever.  So, I was genuinely interested in seeing how Virtual Piggy could make the now ethereal reality of online money seems real to kids.

This video explains Virtual Piggy and how it works:

And here’s the quick run down:

  1. Set up a Virtual Piggy account, with a payment source and mailing address.
  2. Add a profile for each child, setting a monthly allowance and spending controls.
  3. Your child can now checkout with Virtual Piggy at approved stores, using only their username and password.
  4. You get final approval on purchases, and can monitor their spending, requests and wish list.

So, for my daughters Claire’s is a HUGELY popular store.  And for my fashionista daughter accessories have become a go-to option to change-up outfits instead of purchasing more clothes.  I am constantly channeling Tim Gunn in the morning and telling her to “Make it Work!” instead of giving in to her request for another shirt or skirt or pair of shoes that would make her life complete.  Claire’s is one of the approved vendors for Virtual Piggy.  YAY!

CLAIRES

So, after setting up my daughter’s Virtual Piggy account – having her hand over her cold hard cash to me in return for my funding her VP account on my credit card – she can then shop at Claire’s within the limit we’ve agreed on.  She has freedom to shop and feel grown-up and responsible for her spending, and I don’t get nagged.  Even more importantly, now that it’s her own money she’s spending online she is MUCH more discriminating about what she buys.  Suddenly all of the things that she needed are mere wants after all.  And we’ve had many conversations about if something is worth it, if she should wait for a sale, or if maybe she and her sister will go in together and share items to make their money go farther.  There’s a sense of empowerment there that Virtual Piggy has given them and that’s been very freeing for me.

Having the money talk for many parents can be hard.  But, it’s better to have the talk in conjunction with tangible financial accounting and practice than to keep having it in the context of “no, you can’t have that” without explanation.  Virtual Piggy has some great tools to talk to your kids about money, and for kids to explore on their own.  I especially love the money quizzes for kids:  Money Tips.

Check out Virtual Piggy and let me know what you think!   And if you have any parenting money dilemmas or tips for raising money smart kids I’d love to hear them!

KidzVuz in the News – on E! News, Fox NY and going viral!

fox ny set

What makes a video go viral?

My husband described it as lightening in a bottle – and I think that’s true to a degree.  It is rare, and it has an element of impossibility.  This past week we watched our first honest to goodness viral video happen at KidzVuz.

We’ve had videos get tens of thousands of views, we have one video that consistently gets 1000+ views a week and we have no idea why – but this week GlitterGirl, one of our KidzVuz star reporters, interviewed Ryan Reynolds on the red carpet of the Turbo premiere, and this video had the secret sauce.

People Magazine, Pop Sugar, ABC News, and E!online were among the 25 news outlets that picked up the video.  Then E! News played it on air as one  their best of the weekend videos.

Here’s the E! News clip of the video:

She’s adorable.  He’s got fatherhood talk swirling around him.  The question was different and adorable.  Is that what made it a viral video hit?  I don’t know.  And anyone that tells you they can make a guaranteed viral video is lying.

But I can tell you that what makes this, and all of our KidzVuz videos special is that they are the definition of authenticity. And that can make all the difference.

GlitterGirl joined me on Fox NY Good Day Street Talk last week too.  We talked about internet safety, parenting and how she ended up on the red carpet!

(and no, she is NOT my daughter!)

Twitter is NOT for 1st Graders – and other things teachers should know

no twitter allowedToday I read an article in Education Week summarizing some of the “mind-blowing” professional development tips given to elementary school principals at The National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference.  These lessons in how to integrate and open up their classrooms to tech were dished out from a professional developer named Alan November of November Learning.  One nugget of tech advice that made my head spin was this gem:

There are so many things wrong with this that I had to read on to see if this was actually what he was suggesting to principals.  And, yes, it was.

First and foremost what is upsetting about his advice – being given under the auspices of a tech “expert” – is that kids under 13 are not LEGALLY allowed to have Twitter accounts.  Or Facebook accounts.  Or Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat – the list goes on. Why can’t they?  Because there is a privacy law, which I’ve talked about endlessly on this blog and elsewhere, called COPPA.  That law is meant to protect kids, their personal information and their data.  (I don’t even know if I could possibly write about it more than I already do!)

To not let that little fact be known to principals who are now going to go back to their teachers – their employees – and say,

“Hey, we should be using Twitter, it’s a great (free) tool!  Now we’re using tech in the classroom, woohoo!”

is malpractice.

I don’t know what the full agenda was at this conference, but ANY conversation with principals and teachers looking to integrate tech into their school has to begin with a discussion about privacy.  Just as parents need to understand it, so do teachers.  You cannot introduce apps and websites into a classroom without knowing what kind of data is being collected and why.  You most certainly cannot introduce children – 1st graders! – to a website that specifically bans them as users!  Maybe they should learn to mix cocktails as a science project – that would be some good real world job skill training!

He also told principals they should use Khan Academy to teach math.  Just this past year I did just that with my daughters when we were preparing for a middle school exam based on math one grade level above their own.  It was truly awful.  AWFUL.  And my daughters are crazy smart math girls.  But watching Khan Academy math videos and then trying to fully grasp the concepts and then execute them on their own?  That was a huge waste of time that made us all frustrated.

I’m sure some people have had success using the online math tutorials, but the majority of stories I’ve heard have been similar to my own.  I can’t imagine if a bunch of kids had to watch on math on a screen every day.

Young kids need to be hands on – with math, with writing, with creating.  They also need to learn how to be safe online since that is where a good part of their life will be lived.

There are so many wonderful tech tools, apps and sites that can engage and excite kids in interesting and new ways.  We have many wonderful teachers using KidzVuz in the classroom as a tool for getting kids to write and produce video book reviews – but our site is built FOR KIDS!  Just using tech because it’s novel is a waste of time and money – and that slapdash approach won’t help a teacher with their ultimate goal – producing true thinkers and innovators, and kids who want to learn.

I hope this article was just a snippet of what was presented to those principals.  And I really hope that NONE of them go back to their schools and get their 1st graders on Twitter.  Most of all, I hope the people in charge of teaching the teachers do a responsible job.  There’s a lot of money being tossed around to so-called experts, but I’m not sure who is truly vetting them.

Easy Tips for Parents to Keep Kids Safe Online

On July 1st the new regulations for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect.  But, COPPA really only concerns the collection of information from a child under 13.  It does not care about content, about moderation, about bullying, about many of things that actually concern parents when they think about their kids online.

Last week I was on the CBS show The Couch talking about what parents can look for to keep their kids safe online:

We were very ready for these changes at KidzVuz.com.  In fact, we’ve always required parental consent for kids to make videos on KidzVuz.  Now we have taken that a step further and implemented new methods of verifiable parental consent, starting with an easy to fill out form for parents, and some of which will be rolled out later this month.

On KidzVuz we watch and moderate every video and comment before it goes up – not just for lewd content, but for a kid wearing the name of their school on their shirt, saying their address or cell phone number, giving out their location, and more.  However, that’s not true of many sites – and certainly not true of YouTube and Instagram, two of the most popular places for kids to virtually hang out.  And, trust me, we see kids trying to give out this information all the time.

It’s important that kids under 13 do NOT lie about their age and open accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Vine.  It’s illegal, and it’s also dangerous because they are naive and earnest enough to really, really want to connect and get feedback from strangers.  From anyone.

Here are the Online Safety Tips for parents and kids we recommend from KidzVuz.com

Don’t Share Personal Information 
That means making sure your kids know what personal information is. Tell your kids never to share their phone number, email, full name, address or school name (even if it’s just a logo on the shirt they’re wearing in a picture) on any site, text, or app — even if they think the site is “safe” or “private.”

Treat your kid’s smart phone like the computer it is
Smart phones are basically powerful computers in the palm of your hand. So whatever safety precautions you take on your child’s computer should apply to his or her phone. (And don’t forget about geo-location – turn it off on your kids’ phone.

Have a Game Plan 
Your kids can’t protect themselves from what they don’t know: talk to your kids about what they might see on the internet — and what to do when and if they do see something they shouldn’t., or if someone contacts them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Having a game plan will make your kids more likely to respond in a healthy way to unsafe situation.

Keep up on the latest apps and sites
You can’t protect your kids from what you don’t know. Your kids should know that you’re aware of the newest sites and apps they’re on, and ready to intervene should something go wrong.

Repeat yourself 
Parents need to have the Digital Safety talk with their kids early and often. Tell your kids about what they might see. Remind them about passwords and privacy. Let them know you mean it!

Read the Fine Print!
Read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of the sites your child is joining (and your own!). It isn’t fun, we know. But at least the new law has made it mandatory that sites make all that legal mumbo-jumbo easier to understand.

Opt Out
Many sites offer “opt out” provisions for being tracked on the web. Sometimes you have to dig tor them, but if you care about behavioral tracking this is key for you and your kids.

Set a Google Alert for your kids’ names
It’s an easy way to keep track of new content being posted or created by or about your child.

and finally –

JOIN!

It’s not cool to be a Luddite when you’re a parent.  Get in there.  If your kids are on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube 0r even Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters you should be too.  You don’t have to live there – but you need to know the rules and your kid needs to know you care enough to want to know ALL their friends, virtual or real.

 

Why I’m Going to BlogHer – Again

going to BlogHer '13Every year around April and May in the mom blogging community a common refrain starts popping up on Facebook and twitter – “Are you going to BlogHer?”

I was on the fence this year.  It’s in Chicago so it means paying for travel and hotel.  To be honest, even though I technically went to the conference last year (it was in NYC) I didn’t even attend any sessions – they were too beginner level and didn’t really apply to me anymore.  People generally complain that it’s too big, too much about swag and just not a great place to really network anymore.

And, more and more over the past two years as my focus has been solely on building KidzVuz, I have blogged less often and been less active in the blogosphere.  So why would I go to the largest women’s blogging conference of the year?

Well, I felt the pull.  And I tried to understand why NOT going seemed kind of well, strange.

Here’s the thing about the BlogHer Conference – it’s like a family reunion, and so many of these women are my online extended family spread across the country that I rarely get to see in real life.

It’s hard to explain the mom blogging community to outsiders.  Perhaps they’ve read some of the disparaging or silly articles written in the past year.  Or they only see the free product bonanzas and giveaways, hear about the swag-fests and exclusive events, or even worse the petty infighting or bullying that occassionally happens online.

But, for most of us, particularly those of us who have been doing this since before the term “mommy blogger” was coined, there is a connection that is not quite definable.  A feeling that we’ve been in it together, built something together, watched each other grow and try new endeavors, helped define the space and sometimes even supported each other through loss and grief.

And, at it’s core, even though it’s become gigantic and slightly insane, BlogHer is still a celebration of that community – and all of the women blogging community, no matter what they write about, whom they write for or where they write from.

I’m fortunate I am able to go to Chicago this summer for BlogHer, and even more fortunate to reconnect and see so many women in person that I usually only see as a little avatar on my screen, and hopefully meet a bunch of new women whose blogs I can discover and who I will be able to add to my not so virtual circle of women I am proud to call friends – not “friends.”

Also, I’m ridiculously excited to hear Gale Ann Hurd speak.  So, there’s that.

Tiger Eyes the Movie: Meeting Judy Blume, again, 30 years later

tiger eyes movie poster

Judy Blume is easily the first author I remember LOVING.  I was probably around seven when I read my first Judy Blume book. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and quickly headed to Barnes and Noble for more.  I had to read EVERYTHING she wrote.  Like most girls of my generation (that would be X) Judy Blume helped define our childhood and adolescence.

Deenie, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Blubber and of course, Forever.  These books taught you something about being a girl – what might happen, what may have happened, what you hope didn’t happen – all of it perfectly written in exactly the right voice.

When I was 10 I waited for two hours with one of my best friends at the original Barnes and Noble in Manhattan to meet Judy Blume and get the first copy of Tiger Eyes.  That autographed copy of Tiger Eyes is one of the very few books that has moved with me from home to home – surviving over 30 years and 5 moves.  Like many of Judy’s (she told me to call her that!) books Tiger Eyes is about a strong, young girl named Davey on the verge of womanhood.  In Tiger Eyes she is also displaced, confused, and recovering from the sudden, violent death of her father.  It’s a much more mature book – not quite Forever, but definitely more hardened and sad than Margaret.

The film is very loyal to book,  beautifully shot and the lead actress, Willa Holland, is extraordinary.  I highly recommend it not just for Gen X women who grew up with Judy Blume, but also for older tween and teen girls.  It’s amazing to see how much Twilight and The Hunger Games follow in the footsteps of the Judy Blume tradition of smart, capable – slightly wounded, girls like Davey in Tiger Eyes.  It’s not action packed or fully of vampires and love triangles, but it has at its core those paradoxical feelings of adolescent sadness/joy, fear/courage, ignorance/wisdom that universally resonate at that age – particularly with girls.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a screening of the new film version of Tiger Eyes – and Judy Blume was there to take questions and sign books!

judy blume and lawrence blume

I was thrilled to dig out my copy of  Tiger Eyes from 1982.  Judy was shocked and touched to see her autograph from way back then  – she called over everyone to see it, and then signed the book anew here in 2013.

It was an awesome moment.  And I can tell you that there were many, many women in attendance that day who brought their original copies of Forever, Tiger Eyes and the other faves – tattered, battered and well-loved – for Judy to sign as well.

You can check out the main Tiger Eyes page to see if the film is coming to a theater near you, but it is also On Demand, and online on the usual outlets.

Transformers The Ride- 3D Opens at Universal Studios Florida June 20th

After years of thrilling guests at Universal Studios Singapore and Hollywood, this Thursday Universal Studios Orlando officially opens it much-anticipated Transformers the Ride – 3D.   Working closely with Michael Bay, the award-winning director of the TRANSFORMERS film series and the ride’s creative consultant, the designers and engineers have created a high-tech, hyper-realistic experience that brings the non-stop action of the blockbuster films to life, placing guests in the middle of an intergalactic battle between Autobots and the Decepticons.

Like many of the Universal Studios 4D experience rides such as Harry Potter and Spiderman, Transformers The Ride – 3D transports the rider into the game universe through visual and motion effects that envelop and engross the rider.  According to Thierry Coup, Senior Vice President of the Universal Creative Studio, they built on their experience with previous rides and attractions and added the latest technology and effects to create the most “seamless, immersive environment for riders.”

While Transformers The Ride – 3D has been open in Universal Studios Singapore since 2011 and Universal Studios Hollywood since 2012, the Universal Studios Orlando ride utilizes the most advanced ride technology yet. Coup highlighted the cutting-edge technology employed in Transformers The Ride 3D such as the attraction’s 3-D imagery that uses life-like HD CGI media, the 60 foot, 4K high-definition resolution screens, full 3D surround sound and the latest motion simulator vehicles, which deliver a heart pounding experience.

The original script used for the ride introduces a new character named EVAC, created for Transformers The Ride – 3D.  Guests will move through an immersive and interactive queue experience that gives them the opportunity to prepare for battle in an intergalactic war against the Decepticons, who have come to Earth in search of the powerful energy source, the Allspark.   For those not familiar with the Transformers back story, videos throughout the queue experience recount the story of the alien robots leaving Cybertron, landing on Earth, and as part of the ride, recruiting riders to prepare for the battle ahead.

To ensure that the ride would resonate with Transformers super-fans, the game designers worked closely with Hasbro and Michael Bay to ensure the most accurate, detail-filled experience.  Riders will come face to face with Megatron, dodge explosions and attacks by the Decepticons, fight to save mankind alongside Optimus Prime and the Autobots. The Universal team even worked with the original voice actors from the films to maintain authenticity in the ride experience.  According to Coup, “It’s the ultimate 3-D battle between the forces of good and evil, where you help save the world.”

Transformers the Ride – 3D officially opens on June 20, 2013 at Universal Orlando.

Raising Broadway Babies – and A Totally TONYs Partnership (pinch me!)

b_totallytonysI grew up going to the theater, performing in musicals, doing ballet.  Living in Brooklyn meant going to a Broadway theater was an event.  We planned ahead, tickets were bought in advance, reservations made, more often than not a special occasion was involved.  I didn’t really care what I saw – I just loved going.  And the truth is, when you’re a kid, if there’s singing and dancing and a big velvet curtain it’s all magic.  If you also got Tommy Tune, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin or Patti LuPone – well then that magic elevated to a level of serious wizardry.

When I’m being totally honest with myself I will admit that I miss being a part of the theater.  For most of my childhood and early 20’s it is where I assumed I would be.  And it does not surprise me that when I look at most of my closest friends many, many of them are theater geeks too – with their own drama stories and a bit of wistful regret.  I never doubted that I would raise my daughters as theater goers.  They do not have quite the performing bug I had – they participate, but that love of the stage is not deep in their bones like mine. They are more attracted to singer/songwriters, not all out musical theater.  However, they love to go.  Even when they were little – when they hated movies, were terrified to watch previews or sit in a movie theater, they loved watching live theater.

Nothing can replace that feeling of being in the audience and watch real people, feeling real emotions, working through relationships, love, loss, and joy right in front of you.  Theater is almost a basic human need – going back centuries – the desire to connect, relate, tell a story, entertain, educate.  And you don’t need much to put on a show right in your own basement, backyard, school auditorium, or neighborhood park.  It’s enough to inspire Broadway dreams in kids across the country.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that KidzVuz is partnering with The Tony Awards this year to promote the June 9th telecast of the Tony Awards hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (woot!).  We are holding a contest for kids all over the country to tell us about their favorite show, or sing a bit of their favorite Broadway show tune.  And the response has already been amazing.  Here’s one of my favorite video entries so far:

If you’ve got a Broadway Baby in your life make sure to let them know about this contest – they can win a giant bag of Broadway Show swag with hats, T-shirts, soundtracks, autographed Playbills and more.  AND they could be featured on the Tony Awards website!

The kids have taken over Broadway this year in Matilda, Newsies, Kinky Boots, Annie, Motown, Annie and more.  There’s never been more family friendly fare on the Great White Way – so if you’re in NYC be sure to see a show.  And make sure to check out the regional theaters near where you live.  Support your local theater since that’s where so many kids’ dreams begin.

And in the meantime, they can enter the Totally Tonys video contest by clicking HERE!

Brave’s Merida – Redefining the Word Princess

There was a lot of uproar about Disney “sexing” up Merida in their lead up to her official induction into the Disney Princess Pantheon.  But, at the Disney coronation ceremony last week, which I attended as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, she was exactly as you would imagine – wild haired, bold, in her everyday velvet dress and riding a horse.

photo courtesy of Disney
photo courtesy of Disney

My daughters never went through a princess phase, but Merida they relate to.  Archery is one of their favorite sports – and my daughter could easily give Merida a run for her money in the biggest, curly hair category.

archerygirls

The word princess is weighed down with years and years of anti-feminist meaning – damsel in distress, pampered and spoiled, helpless and silly.  And if you’re also Jewish – well that just adds a whole other level of stereotype.   Thanks, Bravo.

But, I will be the first to admit I was all in for Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty when I was growing up.  Just like a was all in for Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia – not to mention Sandy in Grease.   The “princesses,” didn’t differ in my mind from any other title and lead female character – they were all important enough to have the story revolve around them, or be key characters that drove the story.  And in the end, that is the most empowering message – you drive the story of your life.

So, I love this new I am a Princess Campaign from Disney.  I’ve written before about the power of owning a word that was used to put you down.  Girls defining what it means to be a princess now, to them, for them – that has the potential to be truly powerful.  Watch the video and tell me what you think.

 

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