Digital Parenting: Battle of the Gadgets

digital parenting

The Digital Parenting Divide

Technology helps us in many ways, but it can also hurt us. Ask a parent what they think of their toddler’s–or fast forward, their teen’s–use of cell phones or tablets and you’re sure to spark a controversial debate. Are these devices helping our children learn faster or are they limiting their social skills? Or both? As with most things in life, our home has found a balance.

Before I explain more about how we manage our toddler’s tech time, let’s acknowledge that computers will be part of every child’s schoolwork and career. Many private (and public) schools provide an iPad or computer in the first grade—or not long after. Computers and other mobile devices come with a responsibility, which is great to instill at a young age!

toddler tech

Asher’s recent 3-year-old portraits featured our iPad.

I try to take advantage of every positive opportunity our smartphones and computers have available for young minds. We have an ABC subscription and easily access phonics videos on YouTube.

Our ‘digital parenting’ style is not overly rigid, but some things must be enforced. For a bit of balance, we’ve established no-tech times while we have the parental control over our toddler’s access to devices:

  • No devices between lunchtime and naptime
  • No digital after dinner

Our son probably gets about one cumulative hour of tech time per day. With the exception of an occasional Disney movie or live surfing contest in the evening with Mom and Dad. By limiting our toddler’s screen time, we hope he gets the educational benefit and the cognitive development of ‘old school’ flash cards and other activities, like playing with stickers or a Polaroid camera. Check out our earlier post on creative non-digital gifts for toddlers. Plus, for birthdays and holidays, I encourage him to handwrite thank you and holiday cards.

Although it seems like parents will eventually surrender to the Gadget Battle, for now we try to use it as a bargaining chip. It is much easier to offer five minutes on an iPad and avoid a 30-minute meltdown. (Don’t let our little one know this!)

Curious how you answer a question that is still a few years off for us: How old will your child be when they get a mobile phone?

Modern Working Mom

work at home mom

Parents today have more digital shortcuts and tools than ever before, but do you really need to rely on your smartphone? Modern working mothers, like myself, have our own routines and support systems. Whether you work from home or your job offers a flexible schedule out of the home, balancing professional and familial responsibilities is an art.

work life balance

How do you juggle priorities, keep little ones happy and healthy, plus take care of yourself? I’m one of those individuals who feels guilty for pleasure reading. I always feel like I should be productive and contributing to my home and work. Here are a few (mostly low-tech) ways I’ve been able to make days more fluid, less stressful, and manage to get it all done:

  1. Handwritten lists. Yes, there are plenty of apps for organizing tasks, but I prefer to rely on handwritten lists. Reminders and tasks with pen and paper are familiar to me, and they also keep me away from further distractions on digital devices. How many times have you gone to your phone for one thing and found yourself scrolling and replying to emails 20 minutes later? As a last resort, if I don’t have any hard copy note-taking supplies with me I will text myself a note. I’ll be sure to see it later in the day since I clear out all my personal texts daily!
  2. Routine for all. Although common and simple, picking out our clothes the night before helps the next day run smoothly. My toddler has an outfit for the day, one for naptime, and others dependent upon his activities. Having those lined up and ready when we need them moves the day along. Many parents are overwhelmed with keeping a clean house and get distracted by straightening up. Now that my son is three, he’s much more independent and his nap times are shrinking. As he has grown responsible enough to clean up his toys, I use that time to start dinner or basic household clean up. While he finishes his meal, we wipe down the kitchen counters and load the dishwasher. Together we do laundry and he learns color sorting and basic measuring. No big cleaning time is taken away from our day when we piecemeal it throughout our normal routine and the bonus is the learning included along the way!
  3. Autopilot. Of course, the trick is to stay with your routine! I do rely on technology in this way. Our neighborhood grocery store Harris Teeter offers online shopping. This allows me to shop from my phone or computer and set a pickup time. I can pick up the groceries after a meeting and not have to make two separate trips—plus avoid food shopping with a toddler, which could eat up a lot of time! I also love Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save and newest addition, Pantry. Their subscription service offers reduced prices and lets me set dates when our items are automatically re-ordered and dropped at our doorstep. Huge help and it is often much less expensive then me walking into any large retailer…with or without a list!

Alternative & Creative Halloween Décor & Treats

Halloween is just around the corner. How prepared are you for trick-or-treating?

If the season has gotten away from you lately, there’s no need to rush for go-to plain pumpkins or classic Halloween sugary treats.

halloween treats

For your pumpkins and décor, instead of entrusting your toddler with a carving knife, painting your pumpkins can give them a unique look that can accentuate your existing decorations. If you’re looking to glam up your porch this season, try covering your pumpkins and other gourds in shades of black, gold, silver, or glitter spray paint. You can even accent them with reflective pushpins or specialty designs such as a chevron pattern, by using different colored paints with masking tape.

pumpkin decorations

Forget the mess of pumpkin carving and paint instead.

Double the use of your masking or painters’ tape by letting your little ones create faces with the tape on their own pumpkins. They’ll get the satisfaction of creating their own designs. You can even paint them like their favorite characters, such as the minions from Despicable Me.

If your kids really want to put their mark on your house this season, give them a way to do so that won’t leave you with a big mess to clean up on November 1st. Let your little ones show their Halloween spirit by using sidewalk chalk to create some spooky designs. They’ll get the satisfaction of participating and you’ll be happy knowing the cleanup will be a breeze.

For treats and giveaways, you don’t have to pass out full-sized candy bars to be the favorite house in the neighborhood. There are some treats that can be just as welcomed, and help lower the neighborhood sugar intake!

Halloween-inspired temporary tattoos can be a welcomed break among the high-caloric treats of the evening, as well as fun gifts like glowsticks or mini bubble toys.

Of course treat-or-treating in itself can be stressful if you’re traveling with a toddler. As an alternative, you could look for a “trunk-or-treating” get-together in your area. They’re frequently held by community organizations as a substitute for the traditional door-to-door option.

For a more personalized experience, you can even host a scavenger hunt get together with neighbors and friends that have children of similar ages. You’ll have a chance to socialize with other parents, and the kids will have fun searching for their favorite treats.

Upcycle Your Halloween

eco-friendly Halloween

Being creative with Halloween costumes can be eco-friendly.

There aren’t too many kids these days who would be thrilled with a ghost costume made by cutting two holes out of an old bed sheet. Not to worry, there are still plenty of simple things you can do to give your kids a unique costume for Halloween this year. Whether your little ones want to make people scream or giggle, the choice to upcycle and repurpose materials this Halloween is sure to be wallet-friendly.

Not only are repurposed costumes and recycled materials good for your wallet, it’s also great for the earth. According to Hearts.com, over 41 million pounds of waste is created on Halloween alone every year. Halloween is also a great time to teach your kids about the environmental impact and significance of their actions.

How to make your Halloween greener than your Frankenstein décor?

Of course the best option is to make your children’s costumes from scratch using materials you already own. However, this isn’t always possible:

Twist on Traditional. You might think that it’s counterproductive to buy the main part of your child’s upcycled costume from a store, but unless you’re secretly a master seamstress, buying simple costume like a plain witch dress or wizard’s robe will save you a lot of time, and allow you to customize the outfit to your child’s specific needs. Make creative props and accessories to change the theme of a traditional costume. Princess costume? Upcycle one of your pumpkins with a few wheels and your princess is now Cinderella!

upcycled halloween costumes

Your pumpkin can enjoy new life as a costume prop.

Children’s Department. An even better option is getting them something from a traditional clothing section, which likely will not have the same price increase as the seasonal Halloween products. With a few extra accessories and stitching, and a little help with some added details (an activity your kids could get involved in) your little ones could end up with a memorable costume. See a formal girl’s gown on clearance? Take an old deck of cards and paste them on for an Alice in Wonderland Queen costume.

Costume Swap. Where’s your little one’s costume from last year? If it is collecting dust, take it out and let another child enjoy it for Halloween. Hosting a party at home this fall? Ask guests to bring an old costume. Let them swap it for another, or simply donate leftover outfits to GoodWill. Did you find a skeleton costume in the swap? Upcycle it by dying white parts green, create “bloody” hanging “flesh” with painted paper towels, and the skeleton costume is now a zombie!

You can even have your kids save some of the candy wrappers that they (and you!) will go through this season, and give them to TerraCycle, an organization that recycles specialty items that your local government organizations might consider trash, such as candy wrappers or snack pouches. At a time where kids (and let’s be honest, adults too) are ingesting more processed, sugary treats than ever, it’s nice to know that there’s some part of the holiday that you can still feel good about!

Here’s wishing you all a happy, safe, and eco-friendly Halloween that you and your loved ones will remember for years to come!

Summer Re-Cap Part 1: Tampa, Naples, Key West, Birthdays and More

naples beaches

Myself, Asher & Jake in Naples.

Why have posts been infrequent? In addition to managing the first stages of my new fashion line, I spent much of the summer and early fall away from home.

It all started in May with Marissa’s graduation from the University of Tampa. We spent an extended weekend in Tampa followed by three weeks in our beloved Naples. Enjoying time with family and friends was priceless and offered many great memories…boating, fishing, beach time, and swimming in the backyard pools of our vacation rental homes. Shopping and dining out on the world renowned 5th Avenue and Historic 3rd Street were some of our highlights.

florida fishing

Jake enjoyed some great Florida fishing.

We rented a golf cart to cruise around town…some called it “The Banana” as it was an extended, yellow 8-seater! We loved it! We also re-considered a more permanent move to Naples and enjoyed a few outings with our very patient broker. It was eye opening to see what our money could buy as Naples is bustling and the real estate market is very healthy…up almost 27% year over year! It’s great to see the market so healthy, but we feel we may have ‘missed the boat’ so to speak. Our perfect Naples property may need to wait just a bit longer. The time will come.

naples family vacation

Getting ready for another ride in “The Banana”!

Our first trip of the summer to Florida offered a great place to get away and enjoy some fun in the sun with those closest to us.

naples family trip

A family ‘selfie’ in Naples.

Here are some of our highlights and ‘must sees’ if you plan a trip to Naples soon…

Campiello on 3rd Street – Great food and awesome staff. They treated us like family and we must have shared a handful of dinners and lunches with them while we were in town.

Sea Salt on 3rd Street – One of Jake’s favorites for amazingly fresh seafood and great indoor/outdoor ambiance.

Tommy Bahamas on 3rd Street – Great cocktails and live music weekly.

Jane’s on Third – Amazing breakfasts – every omelet you can think of.

Cafe Lurecat on 5th Avenue – Great al fresco dining (Please recall, I have a thing for eating outside…check out some outdoor dining in Raleigh.)

Bice on 5th Avenue – Great al fresco dining and people watching right on the western most corner of the main shopping district.

The Cafe (on 5th Ave) – Great stop for breakfast and fresh juiced drinks…our favorite stop to bring “The Banana” with our friends and family.

In July, Jake took a trip to The Maldives to surf and enjoy some time with the guys. (More to follow on that as it’s definitely worth chronicling with some images…amazing trip for him!) I certainly didn’t want to be left behind with a toddler, so I decided to go back to Naples to spend The 4th, my birthday and some more time with extended family…almost another 3 weeks!

naples beaches

More time at the beautiful Naples beaches.

Jake’s plan was to meet us just after he returned to the states to enjoy some more fun in the sun. The trip started out great, with an amazing 4th of July with family, dinner and cocktails out and fireworks on the beach. However, the trip didn’t continue so seamlessly. I woke up on my birthday feeling ill. A not-happy birthday surprise. Perhaps with all of those good meals out with friends I ate something not so friendly.

By the time Jake arrived, I had recovered mostly and we were able to enjoy some more salty air with our son. This time we rented a house further north of our normal stomping ground in an area called The Moorings. It’s a bit more residential and quiet, but offered a great place to retire at the end of the day.

While the neighbors were very gracious and the beaches beautiful, we decided we must be located in Olde Naples when we decide to eventually build our home. Closer to shopping, walkable to dining and everything in between. Olde Naples stole our heart years ago. In fact, it’s where I attended Elementary school in the 80’s. 😉 St. Ann’s Catholic School. We used to walk to the beach with our Girl Scouts troop to pick up trash as our community service project. A really “tough” place to grow up! I certainly don’t take it for granted!

key west vacation

Back to Florida for child-free time with friends in Key West!

After returning home for a couple of weeks, Florida was back on the agenda. We went to Key West to celebrate our good friend’s surprise birthday the first weekend in August. This was a five-day “parents only” trip! It was hot and muggy, but we couldn’t have had a better time with such a great group of people and dear friends. We stayed in an amazing VRBO rental called Cloud 9. It was perfectly located just steps from Duval Street and all the hustle, but it felt like we were in a different world—a secret garden behind a wall and iron gates. Absolutely stunning and a real vacation FIND.

key west trip

5 days with great people.

We spent two days fishing and snorkeling. Some of the guys went diving, including Jake! We had some great dinners out and enjoyed a night of dancing. Great fun and just a well-deserved and long overdue “parents only” trip. While hard to leave my little one behind, he was well taken care of by Nana and Papa and enjoyed quite the social calendar while we were away.

Get Back-to-School-Ready

back to school

Rules don’t apply as much in the summer. The days are longer, kids stay up later, and the strict school routine you were once obliged to keep no longer applies. But while you are busy soaking in the summer sun the school year can sneak up pretty fast. If you’re not prepared, you could end up desperately searching your home the night before the first day of school to fulfill required school supplies.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to avoid having to crawl through dust bunnies and bypass the stress the first day of school can bring.

One of the most common problems is getting your little ones back on a normal bedtime routine. If their bedtime hasn’t been consistent over the summer, for two to three nights leading up to the first day of school, progressively make bedtime a little earlier each night, and wake them up a little earlier in the morning. That way they will already be on a better sleeping schedule and wake up rested for their first day.

first day school

To make sure kids are prepared when you can’t be with them, record their need-to-know information such as their room number, teacher’s name, bus schedule, (locker combination for older kids) in a safe location. To ensure they don’t lose the info, write the information in permanent marker on a fabric patch, then stitch the patch to the inside of their backpack.

school

Like most kids, they probably had a lot more fun playing at the beach or pool this summer than reviewing last year’s lessons. So it’s possible that they might experience a little of what most people refer to as “summer brain drain.”

“Brain drain” isn’t as prevalent in children that go to year-round schools because the break between education periods is much shorter. However, if your child has been out of school for a few months, chances are they might need a little help getting back into the learning groove.

  1. Old-fashioned flash cards. The good news is that refreshing their memory can be as easy as going through some flashcards before dinner.
  2. Video games. There’s also a bevy of educational computer and tablet games you can utilize to bring kids back up to speed in a fun way. There are even games for mainstream consoles, such as Sesame Street: Ready Set Grover, and Reader Rabbit Preschool, available on the Nintendo Wii.
  3. Digital educational series. You can also explore some of the options that Leap Frog offers. They have their own line of educational toys and products specifically designed for ages 9 and below, including tablets designed specifically for children, interactive DVDs, and plenty of games. Your kids will be having fun and you will feel better knowing they are better prepared for their first day!
  4. Tutor. You may need one throughout the school year, and less frequent visits during the summer help keep kids fresh. Alternatively, simply schedule a back-to-school refresher or ‘what to expect’ session that can really help your child feel more confident as a student.
  5. Contact teachers. Once you receive information from the school about teacher assignments, contact them directly for a better idea of the curriculum ahead.

Of course, a good breakfast after a restful night’s sleep can do wonders for preparing your child for their first day of school, or first day back at school, depending on their age. Using a few of these tips, all you will need to worry about is having enough coffee for yourself in the morning!

Traveling on Planes With Toddlers Guest Post

family focus

Family Focus Blog is an award-winning blog featuring informative posts for parents on everything from recipes and decorating, to activities families can do together. Scarlet Paolicchi, the force behind Family Focus, was named the #3 Top Mom Blogger in the US earlier this year. We are fortunate and happy to be able to contribute to Scarlet’s blog with a post chronicling tips I have collected after flying with my toddler.

toddler airline travel

I’m including the beginning, then click the link to read the full post:

4 Tips for Toddlers on Airplanes

Traveling on planes can be cramped, you may miss a meal and be hungry, and without the right provisions a flight can be boring. Flights with your toddler in tow compound travel woes on another level. How can you keep your child comfortable too? With a few tips for toddlers on airplanes and innovative new product designs you and your little one will be flying high and happy.

1. Let early birds fly ahead.

Families with small children have the privilege of being part of the first-to-board party. Pass this privilege on to other travelers. Instead, wait until the very last minute to board the plane. Ask a partner or flight attendant to install your car seat before you board. If you have an active toddler like my son, it works wonders for in-flight behavior. There is no fidgeting or settling in…

Read the rest of “Toddlers Take Flight: Tips for Toddlers on Airplanes.”

Beach Trips With Toddlers Guest Post

beach tripsIf you are a mom or dad in North Carolina you have likely heard of or referenced Carolina Parent at some point. In addition to their beautiful glossy magazine, they run a fantastic parenting blog on every topic under the sun. I recently contributed to Carolina Parent‘s blog with a post on ways to simplify beach days with toddlers. After a busy summer at Florida beaches in Naples and Key West, we are back in Raleigh and happy to share insight from our experiences in the surf.

carolina parent

I’m including the beginning, then click the link to read the full post:

Family trips to the beach should be memorable for all the right reasons. The work to calm a cranky toddler who misses nap time is magnified at the beach. Sunscreen stings eyes, direct sun exposure exhausts little ones faster than adults, and picky eaters may not find something they like from concessions at the beach—if there even are any. North Carolina beaches are diverse. Some offer a variety of food services and modern conveniences, while others let you truly get away and you need to be self-sustained. With the right planning you can make a trip with a toddler to any beach more enjoyable.

Sun protection at the beach makes for a more comfortable experience, prevents your toddler from days or weeks of painful sunburn recovery, and avoids the permanent long-term damage a sunburn causes. Some toddlers do not care for sun block…

Read the rest of “How to Make Beach Trips With Toddlers Easy.”