Archive for March, 2014

Blogger Spotlight: Melissa Taylor

Monday, March 24th, 2014

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Today we are excited to feature avid blogger and literacy advocate Melissa Taylor for the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight! She runs one of our favorite parenting blogs- Imagination Soup- and is also the author of Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from  Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader. See what she has to say about the importance of reading, book apps, and more below.

Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you first create Imagination Soup? What was the inspiration behind it?

Melissa Taylor (MT): People used to ask me how I came up with such creative ideas to do with my kids. I thought, why not share what I do with other people who don’t have my background in education. So, I started blogging. At first, I did it just for fun while working as a freelance writer for magazines but it really has grown into a passion and a business.

OM: How did you come up with the name Imagination Soup?

MT: My husband thought up that name. We spent one evening brainstorming words and concepts for the blog – and would check if the URL was available. Kudos to him – I love the name!

OM: What is the mission or goal of your site?

MT: To share information with parents so they can make learning fun and part of everyday life.

OM: How has your site evolved throughout the years, and as your daughters grow older?

MT: Good question! Since I don’t have preschoolers anymore so I have to borrow friends’ kids to do some of my blogging ideas. Also, every year I’ve grown as a writer and storyteller.

OM: As the author of Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader, why do you think it is important for children to love reading?

MT: Reading is everything! It’s the way we learn new information, find we’re not alone in the world, and experience life from a new perspective. I wish the goal of early elementary was getting kids to love stories and books.

OM: How do you think book apps help inspire a love of reading for kids?

MT: Book apps give children another way to love stories. Technology is an enticing medium and so often motivates those kids who may not want to sit down with a paperback book. I’m a big fan of book apps!

OM: What piece of technology can you not live without?

MT: Oh, wow. Hard question. First, Google. Second, my Mac. I am a writer after all! :)

OM: What resources do you use to find out about the best apps for kids?

MT: I read a lot of reviews and buy a lot of apps that I find by searching key words in the app store. But it always comes down to what my kids and I actually enjoy.

OM: What children’s books do your daughters love right now?

MT: My 12-year old is really into Wendy Mass books – like 11 Birthdays. My 9-year old is devouring The Chronicles of Narnia.

OM: Who is your favorite Dr. Seuss character?

MT: This is so hard! I love the animals in Apples Up On Top because they’re so silly and lovable Horton, who dares to follow his convictions of kindness toward others.

Thank you so much to Melissa Taylor for participating in the blogger spotlight! Stay tuned for more. :)

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Blogger Spotlight: Apps Playground

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

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Apps Playground is a phenomenal children’s app review site, headed by one of the most esteemed journalists in the industry, Stuart Dredge. We are very excited to pick his brain about predictions for the app industry, running an app review site, and being a parent in the technology age for the next edition of the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight!

Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you first launch Apps Playground? How has it evolved since the beginning?

Stuart Dredge (SD): My wife Alice and I launched it in September 2010 as a side-project from our regular jobs (both freelance: I’m a journalist and she’s a market researcher).

The motivation was partly because we wanted to work on something together, and partly because we had two small children – three and one at the time – and had spotted a growing number of apps for kids on smartphones and tablets.

I bodged together a WordPress theme and away we went! But I’d say it became a serious thing at the start of 2013, when we started devoting more time to writing several posts a day. Later that year, we got it professionally redesigned.

We’re currently attracting 60,000+ unique visitors a month, and earlier this year launched our first e-book on Apple’s iBooks store, as an experimental spin-off.

OM: Do you remember the first app you ever downloaded?

SD: In my day job I’ve been writing about phones and apps for a LONG time – back in the days of downloadable Java games on the first colour-screen mobiles in the early 2000s. I think it might have been Jamdat Bowling.

In modern apps times – if you think of the launch of Apple’s App Store as the start of that – I was covering that launch for a mobile games site in 2008, so it would have been Super Monkey Ball most likely.

OM: Which apps would you say are essential for every parent to have on their iPad?

SD: Weirdly, I find it hard to answer this: it’s such a personal thing based on how old your children are, what their interests are, and which apps they respond to. It’s difficult to say ‘every parent and child will love THIS app…’

In general terms, though, a good mix of stuff is important I think – some creative apps, some stories, some educational apps and some just for playing. We’ve tended to plonk lots of apps from all genres on our iPad and let our children figure out which ones they like best – admittedly a benefit of having access to lots of promo codes.

OM: What are your kids’ favorite storybook apps?

SD: They love the Nosy Crow fairytales, and our six year-old is currently going through a wildlife phase, so anything with animals. They’ve enjoyed the Me Books app too: the option to re-record the dialogue as a family has been particularly fun. As two young boys, they’re also delighted by anything that references bums, poo, farts and so on! But they’ll also happily follow a Dr Seuss storybook for cleaner fare…

OM: What are the most important features that you look for in children’s apps?

SD: A spark – of creativity, of design, of storytelling… Something that stands out from the crowd. As a nerdy journalist who literally does scan an RSS feed every morning of new releases in the major App Store categories, a lot of rubbish passes my eyes, but the good stuff still leaps out.

SD: For educational apps, I’m keen to see if there’s a solid basis for the learning – how is it rooted in the curriculum, who are the advisers etc. And as both journalist and parent, I’m quite sharp on checking out how in-app purchases work when they’re used: finding a game whose virtual items go up to £69.99 is always disheartening.

OM: Complete the sentence: My favorite thing about being a parent in the technology age is ____.

SD: My favourite thing about being a parent in the technology age is the flurry of creativity and experimentation going into apps – every day there are two or three new things worth further investigation.

OM: What predictions do you have for the app industry in the next year?

SD: I hope some of the talented developers we’ve been writing about find it a bit easier to make money: all too often we’ve raved about a marvellous app only to hear later that it made peanuts from sales. If there’s a prediction here, it’s that more parents will realise the merits of paying for apps, and that Apple, Google, Amazon and others will continue working hard on helping them discover the best ones.

We’re seeing an upswing of releases for Android devices in response to the growing number in parents’ (and children’s) hands. Here in the UK, for example, supermarket Tesco sold hundreds of thousands of its Hudl tablets last year, a lot of them to parents. There’s a growing audience out there for Android apps, so I think more developers will target them.

I think the concerns about in-app purchases (IAP) will gradually ease as parents get more savvy about how IAP works and set the necessary restrictions; and as developers who’ve sailed close to the wind either clean up their acts or get scuppered by a combination of app store crackdowns and bad word-of-mouth.

OM: What is your favorite thing about reviewing and writing about apps?

SD: It’s fun: I’m a geek! And it feels like it’s a useful thing to be doing for parents – not just us, obviously, but the peers that we’re inspired by.

It can sometimes feel overwhelming when there are hundreds of apps we could write about, and only so many hours of writing in the week. My least favourite thing is the awareness that we often struggle to reply to every developer who emails us, let alone write about every app we’d like to. We’re going to try to improve on both in the coming months.

OM: What app can you not live without?

SD: Impossible to pick one! Mailbox for trying to swipe my inbox into shape; Twitter for work and personal communication alike; Feedly for working my way through those RSS feeds; and Spotify for keeping the music playing throughout the day.

OM: If you were stranded on a desert island, which piece of technology would you want to have with you?

SD: An ocean-liner ;o)

Thank you so much to Stuart Dredge for participating in the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight! Stay tuned for more features from our favorite bloggers.

More Blogger Spotlights


Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Awards

Friday, March 14th, 2014

If you want to take the guess work out of picking the best apps for your kids, look no further than the Children’s Technology Review.

Since 1993, the Children’s Technology Review has been one of the most trustworthy publications related to products and trends in children’s interactive media. Their goal is to help parents, teachers and children’s librarians navigate the ever-changing tech landscape by providing objective, rubric-driven reviews based on child development theory. Because of their thorough and objective nature, we value the Children’s Technology Review’s feedback of our apps immensely and are always honored when their staff rates our titles highly. Ratings are based on ease of use for children, educational value, entertainment value, design features and overall product value.

The prestigious Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Awards are given to only the highest quality children’s products in the interactive media category. These products are considered to be “no fail”, worthy of their cost, and able to keep children engaged for days at a time. We are thrilled to have received several Editor’s Choice Awards throughout the years for the following apps:

Miles and Miles of Reptiles (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
ctr_editorschoice-2014The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friends
If I Ran the Horse Show (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
Alphabet of Dinosaurs
Oh, the Pets You Can Get! (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – Dr. Seuss
Just Going to the Dentist – Little Critter
Dr. Seuss Band
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories – Dr. Seuss
Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur? (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
Trick or Treat – Picture Me®
Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping
Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! – Dr. Seuss
There’s No Place Like Space! (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
Once Upon a Potty: Boy
Once Upon a Potty: Girl
The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle
The Cat In The Hat – Dr. Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham – Dr. Seuss
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – Dr. Seuss
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish – Dr. Seuss
Up With A Fish!

Want to tap into the Children’s Technology Review’s insightful app reviews? Subscribe to their monthly newsletter or learn more here.


Fighting Hunger with Feeding America San Diego

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

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In October, the Oceanhouse Media team celebrated the end of our third quarter with a team-building challenge at the UCSD Ropes Course in La Jolla, CA. We unanimously walked away from the experience feeling happy, inspired, and most importantly, trusting of one another as a unified team. For the end of quarter four, we opted to celebrate by giving back to our community and making a difference in the lives of others. Healthy and nutritious food is important to all of us at Oceanhouse Media, so we decided to volunteer as a team at Feeding America San Diego (FASD), the largest hunger-relief organization in the county.

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We arrived at the FASD distribution center- a 50,000 square foot warehouse in Sorrento Valley- in the morning where we were greeted by our very friendly and enthusiastic volunteer coordinator Theresa, who was fittingly wearing a t-shirt that said “I believe in helping others”. Before getting started, she shared some striking statistics with us that helped put the day’s work into perspective:

-15% of the people in San Diego County are food insecure, meaning they do not always know where their next meal will come from.
-1 in 4 children in San Diego are at risk of hunger.
-Nearly half the people served by FASD are under the age of 18.
-FASD feeds 73,000 children, families and seniors in need each week.

FASD seeks to alleviate hunger in the county by distributing nutritious food items directly into the hands of local students and their families. Because families with a limited budget are often forced to buy cheap, unhealthy food that increases their chances of developing long-term health problems (diabetes, obesity and heart disease), FASD is committed to providing fresh, healthy food by partnering with more than 160 local grocery stores and retailers to claim an average of 800,000 pounds of food each month- this also helps eliminate food waste because 60% of food that would have been thrown away is still edible, nutritious, and delicious!

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We helped out with the School Pantry program, which provides nutritious food for low-income students and their families to take home. This program alone serves more than 1,500 children and families in San Diego each month! Our task was to glean (a fancy word for “sort”) through massive boxes of fruits and vegetables to discard any items  at the end of their shelf life. After Theresa explained the process, we split into two groups and got to work!

“It is staggering to know that 1 in 4 children in San Diego are not sure where their next meal will come from. Volunteering at Feeding America was simple, easy and very rewarding.” – Greg U.

The “lucky” group started by gleaning a box of oranges, followed by fresh, organic broccoli that looked quite appetizing. The “not-so-lucky” group got to sort through slightly suspicious potato boxes- proving that it is possible to bond while elbow-deep in taters!

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For the next few hours we worked in our teams to glean 4,000 pounds of fresh produce for distribution to students through the School Pantry program. The best part was we had a blast doing it!

“It was great to work as a team with OM members! I always enjoy offering my time to help those in need, but working together to do so felt even more rewarding.” – Haley O.

The volume of food the FASD sorts and distributes on a daily basis is mind-boggling- they even had 1,400 pound box of carrots (that’s A LOT of carrots)! FASD depends solely on philanthropic and community support for its mission, so volunteers are essential in making sure those in need have access to quality food. We especially enjoyed sharing the warehouse with a group of young school children who were oh-so carefully bagging sweet potatoes near our station!

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“Feeding America has created a great opportunity for community members to get involved and help people receive vital fruits and vegetables. As a member of the Oceanhouse team, I am glad we all got a chance to contribute to their high demand of food packaging needs.” – Cyrus K.

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Working together in a new environment allowed us to hone our communication skills and come together as a group- especially for fellow employees who do not work with each other regularly in the office. Stepping away from the office and doing something for the greater good in our community was an easy, uplifting way to raise all our spirits. Overall, volunteering at FASD was an incredible experience and many of us plan to return soon!

“I found our volunteer time with Feeding America to be a rewarding and educational experience. We had the opportunity to learn just how staggering a problem hunger is in San Diego and how many families and children are unsure as to where there next meal is coming from. Taking the time to give back with the team really feels good and I would love to volunteer with Feeding America again in the future.” – John C.

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Feeing America is the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief and charity, and it is easy for you to join their fight to end hunger. Here’s how you can help:

-Volunteer: Get your family, school or office together for a fun and rewarding experience that benefits your local community. Find a list of Feeding America volunteer opportunities near you here.

-Donate Funds: Monthly donations, meal donations, virtual food drives and more- there are so many ways for you to donate your funds so that others don’t go hungry. Every dollar you donate helps provide 8 meals to families in need! Learn more here.

-Donate Food: Large and small food donations from companies can make a significant impact. Reach out to your local Feeding America representative to find out how you can donate food or even organize a food drive.

-Advocate: Raise awareness of hunger in your community and spread the word of the available resources and solutions. You can also get involved with public policy to promote supporting legislative change. Learn more here.

-Educate: Teach your kids about hunger in your community and encourage them to help those in need. It’s never too early to teach your kids how to give, and to show them that helping others can be fun!


7 Ways to Encourage Kids to Read

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Cute little girl and boy reading a bedtime story

In celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, we put together this list of 7 tips to promote a love of reading today and for the rest of the year!

1) Set a good example
Modeling good reading habits is essential to helping your kids understand the importance of reading. Let your kids see you reading, and how much you enjoy it. If your kids are older, share what you read and what you have gained from reading a good book. Keep lots of reading material- books, magazines, colorful catalogs, etc- around the house and in reach.

2) Read with your kids, every night
Set aside a special time every day to read with your kids. Read for at least 30 minutes, and try to introduce them to as many new stories and concepts as possible. Don’t stop at just reading the book- talk about the pictures, characters, storylines or anything else to keep them thinking and engaged. Sharing this enjoyment with your kids will help inspire a love of reading at an early age.

3) Visit the library once a week
Get your kids their own library card and get in the habit of visiting the library once a week. Spend some time reading books together at the library and let them pick out their own books to take home. Make your library visits special and something everyone looks forward to each week.

4) Give the gift of reading17891448_xxl
Does your kid have a birthday or any other gift-giving occasion coming up? Give them books- or ask others to give them books- as a gift! Books received as a gift will be cherished more, especially if they come from an important person in your kids’ lives. You could also allow them to pick out a few digital book apps to download as a gift!

5) Look for books your kids will love
Kids are far more likely to enjoy reading if they read about something that sparks their interest. Find out what captivates your kids and pick titles that will keep their attention. If your kids are into dinosaurs, build a collection of dinosaur books. As your kids get older, let them select books they are excited about, or find a series they love and want to continue reading. Subscribe to children’s magazines that are fun and interesting for your kids to read.

6) Read digital book apps
Do you have a reluctant reader who loves technology? Load up an iPad with a collection of digital book apps and start developing good reading habits with interactive content. Digital book apps can also be a more effective way to enhance literacy and build vocabulary- every omBook includes highlighted narration plus tappable words and pictures to improve reading skills.

7) Make reading fun!
Above all, reading should be fun! Read with enthusiasm, use funny voices, act out scenes- anything to keep your kids laughing and having fun. Always suggest reading as a leisure activity, avoid using it as a punishment, and be sure to foster fond memories of reading together as a family.

How do you get your kids to read? Share with us in a comment below!