Kids learn music and coding through gameplay with Osmo

Coding Jam is the latest gameplay system that teaches kids to code while they play

The other day my son commanded Google Home to play a custom playlist he had created on a Pandora. Two things occurred to me about this. First, wow. The digitally connected future vision of the The Jetsons was coming true; and then, my more mundane thought was, “That music is awful. My 10-year-old child could write better arrangements,” and thanks to Osmo, he can.

Like many other kids who love video games, my son craves leveling up and learning how to improve his skills, and Osmo has harnessed this excitement in a new technology experience, Coding Jam, that allows kids to create music through basic coding. Using colored building blocks and a system that interacts with an iPad or iPhone, kids can arrange and play musical notes in strings and sequences to write their own tunes.

The coding system, designed for kids 5-12, was created by former Google techs as the next generation of award-winning Osmo STEAM-fueled hand-on gameplay that helps children learn valuable coding skills that they can build upon to understand more complex coding, i.e., become the next genius engineers to save the world, or at least they can have fun and create some cool music.

The system works by helping kids learn music fundamentals such as chord progressions, leading into patterns and sequences. As they get to know coding’s creative side, they develop an ear for rhythm, melody and harmony. And more good news for parents: new research finds that high-school students who studied music appreciation scored 61 points better on their verbal SATs and 42 points better on their math SATs.

Once their arrangements are composed, kids can safely share their jammer mixes with family and friends. As they build the system with more blocks, they can create literally millions of combinations and programming options.

Here’s a short glimpse at what the experience is like: https://youtu.be/E9eAMARTnAk.

Osmo system are available at Amazon, Target, ToysRUs and online at the Osmo store.

 

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Serius heated gloves are seriously warm, and smart

DSC_1377Serius thermal gloves are the first gloves for which I’ve had to read a instruction manual. That said, the instructions were pretty simple. Charge the batteries for about three hours, insert the batteries into the wrist cuff and press the button to the desired heat level. Oh yeah, and don’t forget, you can swipe away on your smart phone screen while wearing these gloves.

Within 30 seconds, the gloves were toasty inside, and on cold mountain tops these are a hand saver. After all, cold hands is a major reason that I have to head back to the lodge earlier than I wanted to.

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The gloves are attractive, and of course they will work with or without the batteries to stay warm, but the battery-powered system is what makes these gloves truly unique.

The gloves come with an interior liner, which could work alone and may be an option for less frigid days. When you truly need the extra warmth, the liner gloves slip into the exterior glove, which has a metallic like lining inside.

When put together, it is rather snug fit, and you must be careful when tucking in the cables that are used to charge the batteries and to connect them to the heating mechanism with in the glove, because if the cables are not tucked in correctly on the outer side of the battery, you will feel the hard plastic connectors, about the size of a small AC adapter connector, pressing into your wrist, which could be uncomfortable.

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One other design issue is that once the temperature selection is made on the inner glove, and the outer glove is slipped on over it, it’s possible if you’re not careful to hit the button on the outside and change the setting unintentionally. Also, because once the outer glove is on you cannot see the setting, you would have to remove the outer glove to check it.

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Lastly, the care and laundering of these gloves is a bit different from others, whereas you can toss most gloves into the dryer you cannot do that with these, which should be wiped off if dirty and let dry naturally if wet. If you have any other questions, there’s always the manual, which you can access on your smartphone, wearing your gloves of course.

Unplug and look around, March 3

teens-cellphonesParents of teens and even elementary school age kids are often complaining of them being addicted to their smartphones and social media, and the sad reality is that these habits start early and follow them into adulthood.  In fact, many of them are modeling the behavior of their phone-addicted parents.

March 3 is a day to unplug and look around at all else the world has to offer, off of our phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. For many, it will be a day of reckoning, when they realize just how often they turn to their phones instead of human interaction.

According to a NationalToday.com survey, 77% of women and 68% of men spend 3 hours or more per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. Half of women and 41% of men spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen.

To conduct the NationalToday.com Day of Unplugging Survey, conducted Feb. 14, 2017, the pollsters at National Today [www.nationaltoday.com]—an online destination dedicated to quirky and fun holidays—asked 1,000 Americans to dish on their digital dependence.

TOP 3 MOST INTERESTING INSIGHTS ABOUT OUR DEVICES
#1: When I have down time, I spend it on my phone, computer, or tablet (35%)
#2: I spend more time interacting with people online than I do in person (13%)
#3: I feel like I’m addicted to my phone (13%)

MOST AMERICANS SPEND 3+ HOURS A DAY ON THEIR DEVICES
75% of Americans spend 3+ hours per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. 48% spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen, while 13% spend 10 hours or more.

TOP 5 PLACES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME LOOKING AT THEIR PHONES
#1: When I wake up (32%)
#2: When I’m in bed going to sleep (26%)
#3: On work breaks (20%)
#4: In the bathroom (10%)
#5: On my morning commute (4%)

BED ISN’T JUST FOR SLEEPING ANYMORE
For 58% of Americans, bed is the most popular place to check their phone, be it when waking up (32%) or when going to sleep (26%).

RANKING OF THE TOP 3 DEVICES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME ON
#1: Smartphone (76%)
#2: Computer (17%)
#3: Tablet (7%)

MEN CARE SLIGHTLY MORE THAN WOMEN ABOUT THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE
5% of women say they closely monitor how many “likes” they get on social media, compared to 7% of men who say the same.

If you are looking for ways to unplug in life and stop and smell the real versus virtual roses, check out a great book that really made a difference in my life, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!

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And have a happy National Day of Unplugging!

The portable battery that helps you face your dying phone with a smile

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If you or your kids’ phones run out of juice at the end of the day, this little fella will come to the rescue in style.  The Cheero FLOWERS Power Plus portable battery almost makes a low battery fun.

The brightly colored 10050 mAh mobile battery has a unique design of a cartoon face, with two round circles for eyes, and a triangle nose. Available in seven flower inspired colors, Cheero is ready to charge Apple and Android phones and tablets. The battery features two ports so it can charge more than one device at a time, and it is equipped with an AUTO-IC function, allowing the external battery to automatically recognize if a device is connected. The external battery optimizes the supplied power best suited for each device.

The most obvious appeal of this battery is its cute design is attractive to children and those who like cutesy things. It may encourage children to take a long their battery packs, so there’s no excuse for their phone dying when mom and dad are trying to call them coordinate a pick up at school.

Another advantage of its different look is that you won’t get it confused with everyone else’s black square of a battery pack, unless of course they also have Cheero.

The battery comes with a cute canvas carry bag, so you can keep the little fellow from getting scratched. It also comes with a short micro-USB to USB cable. Cheero is available at select Nordstrom and at Amazon Prime for $39.99 at Amazon.com.

Charge ahead with the myCharge HubPlus

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If you are out and about, running errands, picking up the kids, taking them to activities, getting the family shopping done, commuting to work, and trying to keep up with your social life, chances are your phone is not lasting as long as you are in a day.  Nothing is worse than seeing that sliver of red is all that’s left of your battery life, and you are only half way through your day, and you don’t have time to plug in and wait to recharge.

With the dismal battery life of iPhones these days, and fear sparked into the hearts of smartphone owners everywhere by the Samsung 7 battery explosions debacle, portable battery chargers have been the answer, at least temporarily, to stave off dead phone woes.

But not all phone chargers are alike, and before you buy one you should check out some important features that might make a difference in your charger being a lifesaver or a dud.

The myCharge HubPlus portable charger ($79.99) is one of the better chargers I have used, for many reasons. One feature that is rare in portable chargers is that it features a USB port, in addition to a built-in lightning and micro USB cables. The built-in USB and lightning cables can be sleekly tucked away on the side of the hub, so that they don’t tangle up with other items in your bag.

Of course, with the size and power needed to accommodate a USB port, the myChare HubPlus is a bit larger and heavier than many chargers; it would have to be, until the technology improves, to provide the juice needed to power up larger devices.

This means it’s a little less portable, and a little more weight and bulk in your pocket or bag. The flipside is that this device will keep your smaller devices running longer, lasting up to four times your device’s battery.

This extra power can come in handy on the subway, on a camping trip, or other places where you can’t plug-in for hours. Also an added feature of the HubPlus is it has a built-in wall prong for plugging directly into an electrical outlet. This is convenient because you don’t have to carry along a charger cord and charging block to re-charge your portable charger.

The bummer is that in this day and age, most household electrical outlets are spoken for, so often you will have to unplug something in order to accommodate it.

The charger features four lights on the side which show when the battery is charged up and ready to go. It also features a safe cell technology to limit the charge to give you the highest level of charge without overdoing it. It also has smart sense technology which ensures device compatibility.

Overall this is an excellent power bank for emergencies and peace of mind, if you don’t mind toying around a little extra heft.

Creating a habitable and cozy basement living space

Most basements are underutilized real estate, often used for storage, home gyms or kids’ recreation rooms. By warming up these subterranean spaces with a few creature comforts, you can create an inviting apartment, perfect for grown children living at home, house guests or home-sharing.

Bedding buy

Let the sunshine in your basement boudoir with blooming florals from bluebellgray, the flirty and fashionable bedding that Lena Dunham slept pretty on in HBO’s Girls. Add uptown style to your downstairs space with the collection’s assortment of bold and bright or subtle and elegant patterns of duvet covers ($270, with closeout styles priced as low as $37), sheet sets ($75-$165) and decorative pillows ($85-$100) to create the look and mood you want. Available at Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

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Get FLOR’d

Polished concrete floors of unfinished basements is a vogue look, but it can be cold and hard on feet. Warm up the space and add a splash of style with FLOR carpet tiles. The brands innovated design concept allows you to mix and match tiles to create a unique look, and the tiles are easily replaceable and washable. The materials are also low VOCs, so there are no toxic fumes as with many other carpeting textiles. The floor DIY tiles are designed to hug the floor, and they come with adhesive dots that hold the tiles together, so there is no need for nails, tax or glue, or even additional padding.

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Warm and fuzzy

Stay cozy in your basement space with plenty of warm blankets, like the snuggly Heat Holders Thermal Oversized Throw/Blanket ($29.99), available in seven fashion colors to fit in with your decor.  The super soft fur fleece, called HeatWeaver, was developed to be efficient at retaining heat, which is why it has an official TOG rating of 1.4, making the material measurably warmer to the touch.

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Dry time

Basements don’t have to be damp.  Invest in a good dehumidifier. This will not only make the environment more comfortable to live in, less humid in the summer and less cold in the winter. It will help eliminate that musty smell of furniture, clothes and other items stored in the basement. The Frigidaire FFAD5033R1 Energy Star 50-pint unit ($279, Best Buy, Sears, Home Depot) will effectively dry up a large basement, and it has a stylish design so that it won’t be an eyesore in the room. This type of unit has an option to drain into a tank, which has an alarm and it automatically shuts off if the bucket gets too full; or you can use a hose and it can automatically flow into a drain. With an effective dehumidifier, odors from mold and mildew caused by excess moisture can be eliminated, along with airborne bacteria that can make breathing difficult and irritate allergies.

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The smart basement

Keep your basement space and entire home comfortable year-round with a thermostat that you can regulate from anywhere – at home or outside the home.  Cool off or warm up the basement before you get home with the programmable  Honeywell Lyric WiFi Thermostat ($199, Home Depot)  This Wi-Fi thermostat is Apple HomeKit and Amazon Echo compatible, so you can control your HVAC system with Siri or Alexa voice commands and through your smartphone.

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Never worry again if you leave on the heat or AC after you have left the house, and with Lyric WiFi Water Leak and Freeze Detector ($79.99, Home Depot) you can track for mold, water damage and pipe leaks from your phone, for added peace of mind when you are away from home. Check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=yKKrFaJbRy8

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Heat it up

It is a fact of thermodynamics that hot air rises, cold air sinks, so it’s not surprising the basement is often the chilliest place in the house. In order for basement dwellers to keep warm, often the furnace has to be turned up so high that the upstairs occupants are boiling hot. Avoid this upstairs downstairs feud with a cost efficient space heater. Honeywell, one of the most trusted names and heating and air conditioning, makes a number of reliable and safe room heaters. Their latest digital 360 surround heater ($39.99), one of their bestsellers, delivers 25% warmer heat output and 20% faster room heat up compared to prior models.

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It also features an automatic shut off if it is tipped over and an automatic shut off if the unit gets too hot. Also has a four-hour programmable thermostat and timer and a handy remote control you can place on a bed stand, so you don’t have to get up to adjust it during the night. The Honeywell Digital display ceramic tower heater ($39.99-$69.99) with a remote control is a tall stylish design that oscillates to give you full room heat. This style is perfect for rooms where floor space is at a premium, and it features tip over and over heat protection or piece of mine, and it’s great if you have small children or pets, because it features a safeguard motion sensor that shuts off of any object gets too close.  Available at www.honeywellpluggedin.com, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon.

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Be alarmed

It’s an unpleasant thing to think about, but carbon monoxide leaks from furnaces can kill, and most furnaces are located in basements. Make sure you safeguard yourself with a CO alarm. Kidde makes some of the best-rated CO alarms in the industry, including their single screw easy install combination smoke and CO alarm ($53) that is always on and features a sealed lithium battery that lasts for 10 years and has a hush button too quickly silence false alerts. It also has a voice alarm that states “Fire!” and an 85 decibel alarm if carbon monoxide or smoke is detected. Kidde also makes a plug-in CO detector ($67) unit perfect for hallways that doubles as a night light that even works when the power goes out.

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Note:  The companies featured in this article provided sample products for review, but the opinions stated belong to the author.

10 creative and engaging gifts for kids

Kids of all ages get excited about the latest electronics, and tech-savvy parents know that sharing in their kid’s enthusiasm and wonder for technology is an excellent way to bond. When kids have reached their screen time limit, it’s time to get real with physical games and toys that engage them the old-fashioned way. For every child on your list, here are 10 great gifts that help kids grow in their understanding of technology, develop their creative skills and encourage connection with others.

Two hit wonder

For those of us of a certain age who remember the rock-em-sock-em toy robots, whose heads popped off with a firm jab to the jaw, there’s a new heavyweight in the ring. Big Robot Data Rate and Tenderizer Remote Control Fighting Robots are eight-inch fighting machines with Innovative Motion Control Technology so that each user can steer, maneuver and punch using a handheld nun-chuck controller. The trash talking robots also feature quote damage tracking LEDs and other effects to keep the match fun and exciting. Ages 4 and up. $59.99 each or $99 for two-pack. Available at Toys R Us.

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The sky (and imagination) is the limit

Portal masters can take their creativity to the outer limits with Skylanders Imaginators, the latest iteration of the popular Skylanders video console game franchise with new capabilities that empower players to unleash their imaginations and bring their creations to life in an all-new adventure with puzzles, battles, a compelling storyline and new lineup of heroes and villains. Take the fun to another dimension with the Skylanders free Creator mobile app which allows kids to design and print out their own unique playable 3D printed figure. Ages 8 and up. Skylanders Imaginators Starter pack includes two Sensei characters, one Creation Crystal, Portal of Power and game disc available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 1, Xbox 360 and WiiU. The Starter Pack is available for $39.99 at Toys R US, Target, Wal-Mart and all major retailers. Custom 3D printed figure available for $49.99.

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Crack the code

Dick Tracy decoder rings of yesteryear were child’s play. Today’s coding toys teach real world computer coding skills, such as Monster, an intelligent iPad game by Osmo that helps budding computer developers master AI technology and harness their creativity to animate physical drawings, with the help of Mo the Monster, who comes to life to interact with children’s drawings. The Osmo Monster Starter Kit includes an iPad stand, iPad camera reflector, and two sets of game pieces with alphabet letter tile sets and wood tangram shapes.

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Once kids get the hang of coding, they can expand their talents with additional Osmo learning tools, like the Coding game that uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character that kids use coding skills to direct on strawberry-munching adventure. Starter kit $74.99, Coding game $49. Ages 6 to 10. Available at www.playosmo.com.

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Little listeners

Sometimes kids don’t listen, and then sometimes they listen to much, by way of earphones with the volume turned up too loud, which can be especially harmful to hearing when using low-end earphones that come with electronic devices. Etymotic’s ETY•Kids Safe-Listening Earphones are engineered to protect young ears by sealing off ambient noise so kids are not tempted to crank up the volume to unsafe levels. The earphones’ s high quality, clear playback is safe for listening for up to eight hours (or four hours at the highest volume levels), so parents can rest easy, and kids can experience their music, games and movies as they were meant to be heard. $39.99, etymotic.com. Ages 5 and up.

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Smart and cool phone

When it’s time for that first phone, kids want the coolest bone, but parents don’t want to outlay a chunk of cash for a device that might get lost or broken. VeryKool smart phones fill the bill for kids who want a feature-filled phone of their very own – with a front- and rear-facing camera and lots of multitasking abilities, and parents will love its affordable price. The VeryKool Fusion SL4500 and the Jet SL5009 are available for $109.00, and the line includes several models under $75. No contracts are required, and the phones will work with every GSM carrier across the US including AT&T, T-Mobile, Tracfone, etc., (Note, VeryKool phones are not compatible CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint) Ages 10 and up. Available on Amazon.

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Glow phone

Once kids have their very own phone, they want to protect and individualize it with a cool case. Ballistic Case Company has launched a line of protective, sleek cases in limited edition colors that protect phones from dust, bumps and dings and will help kids distinguish their phone from their friends’ phones. The lightweight and durable Jewel Series, Spark and Neon editions offer reinforced silicone corners and is engineered with six-sided drop protection technology. The Neon collection boasts bright hues that even glow in the dark, so they are easy to find in a backpack. Ages 10 and up. .$20 to $30, available at www.goballisticcase.com.

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A ton of bricks

Kids love LEGOS, and now they can combine their favorite brick building activity with their affinity for video games with LEGO Dimensions. To begin the adventure, kids build the minifigure heroes and then assemble bricks into the LEGO Gateway, which they place onto the LEGO Toy Pad. The game expands as kids collect more mini figures, vehicles and gadgets and go to new levels with Expansion Packs, that call up the likes of Fantastic Beasts, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, making the game completely customizable and infinitely expandable. Ages 7-14. The Starter Pack is available for $79.99 at Target, Toys R Us, GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon. Additional expansion packs range from $11.99 – $49.99.

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Gem dandy

Light up the little ladies on your gift list with Gemmies the next evolution of 3D beading craft. With a click and connect process using elastic rings, kids can design crystal creations, from sparkling jewelry to flowers and tiny toy animals. The intuitive design templates use a repetitive pattern that lets kids develop their cognitive abilities and progress to designing their own creations. The kits come with a storage Design Studio with a light up pedestal to display creations. Ages 6 and up. $24.99. Available at Target or www.makegemmies.com.

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Puzzle me this

For families on the road, take a break from mobile video games for some real, tactile interaction with a travel puzzle that engages kids in creative play while helping them to build an inner sense of the relationships between forms and colors. Bella Luna’s Magnetic Tiles Indian Squares puzzle comes packaged in a handy 8×8 metal storage box that doubles as a play surface with 36 magnetitic birch wood pieces enclosed. All ages, from children to adults, will enjoy coming up with beautiful designs and geometric forms. $39.95, ages 3 and up. Available at www.Bellalunatoys.com.

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