Archive for April, 2014
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Today we are delighted to feature Eric and Camila (and their adorable elephants) from Geeks with Juniors for the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight! Discover their favorite apps for kids, how they think apps have revolutionized education, and more below.
Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you launch Geeks with Juniors? What was the inspiration behind it?
Geeks with Juniors (GWJ): We launched Geeks with Juniors on Jun 22, 2012. We started the site because we believe we can offer a unique perspective to reviewing educational apps for kids. We are both developers, and Eric is a lecturer and a parent. We believe the intersection of our backgrounds in technology, education, and parenting makes our reviews unique.
OM: What is the mission or goal of your site?
GWJ: We want to focus on the intersection of technology and education because we believe that’s how our future is being shaped. And, we will always try to be in the forefront. For now, the fastest growing platform is the iPad, but we keep our eyes open to shift to where the future takes us.
With this in mind, our current goal is to help parents discover the best educational apps for their kids through our reviews and guides.
OM: How do you think technology has made parenting easier?
GWJ: Ever since the beginning of time and into the foreseeable future, parenting is always challenging. Technology in itself is a double-edged sword. If we use it properly to aid our parenting goals, technology can have an astounding impact.
No matter how good we are as parents and our kids’ teachers are at teaching, we can all use a bit of help. The iPad and the internet have made parenting and homeschooling resources easily accessible. It’s inspiring to see how developers, parents and teachers share their techniques and resources with us. Now, it’s up to us and our curating skills to make the best use out of it.
OM: What is your favorite thing about being a parent in the technology age?
GWJ: We believe it’s our job as parents to introduce new concepts to our kids, and teach them how to learn new skills. We need to be continually inspired in parenting. The internet has made it possible for parents to learn from their peers and adopt the most suitable educational tools for their kids.
OM: What are your kids’ favorite apps right now?
GWJ: Eric has two sons: Philip (4) and Noah (2). Philip loves to play puzzle games and create his own music. His favourite apps are Beyond Ynth, Amazing Alex, Toca Builders, and GarageBand.
Noah loves to sing and play with alphabet apps. His favourite apps are LetterSchool, Mini-U: Zoo Alphabet, Talking ABC, and Endless Alphabet.
OM: What are the most important features you look for when choosing kids’ apps?
GWJ: First and foremost, it has to be a fun app to play. Kids learn best through playing. If you can keep them engaged, they will eventually learn new things as they play.
We tend to avoid freemium apps. Even though there are a few freemium apps that are well designed, most are not. Nowadays we also emphasize more on an app’s unique value — what does this app offer that other apps don’t?
OM: Do you think apps have revolutionized education?
GWJ: Yes, of course. Here are some examples:
* Alphabet and number apps have made flash cards obsolete. Kids can recognize letters and numbers at a younger age than ever before.
* High quality voiceovers from native speakers make it possible for ESL kids to learn phonics and spelling correctly and easily.
* Many apps have made it easier for kids to experiment with coloring, word building, jigsaw puzzles, storytelling, and even various jobs/roles.
* Several apps even make it possible for kids to explore different parts of the world: new countries, the forest, and even the deep blue sea.
OM: What are some of your favorite tech parenting sites?
GWJ: Eric and Philip are now into playing LEGO with the basic bricks. If you have a bunch of bricks and looking for ideas to build, you might want to check [Brick Instructions].
If you’re looking for ideas and inspirations for DIY crafting activities with your kids, we’d suggest Pinterest. If you’re looking for app recommendations, we’d suggest subscribing to our RSS feed or following us on Twitter.
OM: Who is the most tech-savvy person in your house?
GWJ: Both of us are the most tech-savvy members of our respective families. Eric has high hopes that will change when Philip and Noah reach their teenage years.
Thank you so much to Eric and Camila for participating in the Blogger Spotlight!
More Blogger Spotlights
Thursday, April 24th, 2014
Today we are thrilled to feature Deanne Shoyer for the next installment of the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight as part of Autism Awareness Month. Deanne was an admin and founding editor of AppAbled.com, as well as the author of Small But Kinda Mighty, a blog about her experiences raising twin boys who happen to be autistic. See what she has to say about using tablets with autistic children, her favorite apps and more below!
Oceanhouse Media (OM): I understand that you prefer to refer to April as Autism Acceptance Month. Why is that?
Deanne Shoyer (DS): In short, it’s because awareness campaigns have had a negative impact on autistic people. In one of my blog posts I wrote that, “awareness stigmatizes difference but acceptance values it. I value my boys, just the way they are.”
One of my favourite pieces explaining the detrimental effect that “awareness” campaigns have had on autistic people is “A Call for Accountability”.
(OM): When and why did you create Small But Kinda Mighty? How did you come up with the name?
(DS): I first started blogging 3 years ago using a free WordPress site. My partner and I had recently started dating and he asked why I didn’t have a blog. I couldn’t think of a good reason so I figured I’d better get cracking. As to the name, I wrote a post explaining that.
(OM): How did you find out about tablets helping autistic children? What has been your experience with this?
(DS): In February 2011 I heard an interview on the Autism Women’s Network blog talk radio show in which Shannon Rosa and Melody Latimer talked about the huge positive impact that iPads have had on their children’s lives. I started following Shannon via Twitter and her blog posts at Squidalicious were instrumental in my decision to get iPads for my boys.
iPads have been life changing for my children in so many ways – their communication, fine motor skills, language acquisition and ‘academic’ learning have all improved. The iPad has been a bridge that has helped them make sense of, navigate and connect with a world that isn’t designed with their neurology in mind.
(OM): Tell us about the fundraiser you did to purchase iPads for your kids.
(DS): At the time a 64GB iPad 2 cost about $1,000 and I didn’t have the money to buy one of them, let alone two. So I decided to see if I could use crowdfunding to raise some money. I emailed friends, family, work colleagues and spread the word via Twitter and Facebook asking people to help any way they could. I had a yard sale and made leaflets explaining what I was doing and why. My neighbours stepped up in style and I got a few hundred dollars just from the yard sale alone. People blogged and shared on my behalf and I was so impressed and grateful for the support I got, including support from people I’d never met other than through social media.
(OM): What are some of your favorite apps for autistic children?
(DS): This is a tough one to answer as there are so many. Two years ago I wrote a post listing my top ten favourite free apps for autistic kids.
Another way to check out my favourites is to look at the ‘apps for autism’ tag on my blog.
There are also some developers whose apps just seem to ‘click’ with autistic children. OMBooks, especially the Dr. Seuss and Byron Barton book apps are very popular as are most apps by Toca Boca, Little Bit Studio, Busy Bee Studios and Spinlight Studio.
Thank you so much to Deanne for taking the time to participate in our Blogger Spotlight. Tune in again next week for the last spotlight as part of Autism Awareness Month!
More Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlights
Thursday, April 17th, 2014
So far we have featured Smart Apps for Special Needs and Shannon Des Roches Rosa in our Blogger Spotlight for Autism Awareness Month, and today we are thrilled to talk to Jack Kieffer from Autism Plugged In about his experience using ACC apps with autistic children. Read about his favorite apps and tips for parents below!
Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you create Autism Plugged In? What was the motivation behind it?
Jack Kieffer (JK): I started volunteering with special needs individuals through a local organization, Northwest Special Recreation Association a few years ago, during the summer after 8th grade. I worked with several non-verbal autistic kids, and most of them had to carry around bulky communication boards in order to express themselves. Shortly thereafter, I started hearing about the benefits of technology like the iPad and decided to launch the website, Autism Plugged In, as a way to help parents find the apps that they need! Essentially, Autism Plugged In was created to help with the navigation of the digital app marketplace.
(OM): What has been your experience using apps with autistic children? How do you think it has helped them?
(JK): My personal experience has primarily been with AAC applications (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). I have found that children on the spectrum have much more going on in their minds than they are able to express. In particular, I have worked with a non-verbal teen now communicates quickly and at a relatively high level with the Proloquo2Go application, and this has really improved his life. When kids can express themselves more easily, there’s a lot less frustration.
(OM): What are some of your favorite apps for autistic children?
(JK): I’m glad you asked! We get a lot of parents asking about apps that address specific issues. For instance, communication apps, or AAC apps, allow non-verbal kids to communicate by tapping pictures on their iPad. Proloquo2Go is probably the most comprehensive AAC app available for the iPad, but it’s a bit pricey for some families. So, I like to offer alternatives such as Alexicom AAC or LetMeTalk – for Android. A wonderful scheduling app is First Then Visual Schedule HD, which lets kids see and plan for “what happens next” in their daily routine. Another group of essential apps for kids on the autism spectrum is social skills apps. i Create… Social Skills Stories is an iOS app that lets parents create sample storylines that demonstrate a particular activity, like feeding the family dog. By adding sequential photos of the child opening the dog food container, then a picture of he or she scooping dog food, and finally a photo of the child pouring the food into a bowl, it creates a visual step-by-step guide to everyday activities. Readers can also check out a list of my favorite applications on the website.
(OM): What tips do you have for parents, teachers, and therapists when selecting and using apps with autistic children?
(JK): Remember that one of the huge benefits that technology brings to the table is “fun!” If you are trying to use the iPad and its apps in a very conventional and rigid way, you’re not going to see the benefits – you might as well be working with a low-tech chalkboard. Apps work because they’re stimulating, interactive, colorful, and easy-to-use. As a parent, teacher, or therapist, your job is to facilitate the use of these apps and chime in where necessary. I would also say this: have your child try new apps, instead of letting them use the same one or two over and over again, but don’t force it. If your kid doesn’t like a particular app, for whatever reason, let it go and move on! If you keep pushing that program, kids will associate those negative feelings with the iPad as a whole, and they won’t want to work with the technology.
(OM): What is your favorite thing about Autism Awareness Month?
(JK): Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity for innovators to showcase their work, whether that is from a sociological viewpoint or from a medical perspective. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to learn about new technology, research, and therapies that they didn’t know about before.
Thank you so much to Jack for sharing his insight with us! Tune in again next week for another Blogger Spotlight as part of Autism Awareness Month.
Read More Blogger Spotlights
Friday, April 11th, 2014
The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, and flowers are starting to bloom- spring has finally arrived! This is a wonderful time to plan a heap of outdoor activities to get your family physically active and healthy, all while strengthening your bonds and making unforgettable memories. Below are 10 of our favorite spring activities to get your kids outside in the warm weather, utilizing their creativity, and learning just how fun being healthy and active can be!
1) Take a nature hike or walk together.
2) Plant a flower garden.
3) Enjoy a healthy picnic at the park.
4) Visit a farm to see the animals.
5) Draw with sidewalk chalk.
6) Go on a bike ride.
7) Visit the farmer’s market.
8) Fly a kite.
9) Build a bird house.
10) Visit a botanical garden.
After the sun sets, we encourage you to snuggle up together with some of our favorite springtime book apps!
Just A Day at the Pond – Little Critter
A Great Day for Pup (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
My, Oh My-A Butterfly! (Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat)
Ladybug at Orchard Avenue – Smithsonian’s Backyard
The Lorax – Dr. Seuss
And don’t forget take advantage of our Easter app sale through April 21st!
The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule: $.99
The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School: $.99
The Berenstain Bears Faithful Friends: $.99
The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You!: $.99
The Berenstain Bears Discover God’s Creation: $.99
The Berenstain Bears Living Lights Collection #1: $7.99
All other Berenstain Bears Living Lights apps: $1 OFF
Happy Easter, Little Critter: $.99
Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
Today we are honored to have Shannon Des Roches Rosa of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and Squidalicious for the second installment of our Autism Awareness Month Blogger Spotlight! We featured her back in November, but this time we wanted to talk to her specifically about her experience using apps with her son Leo. We also encourage you to read this article she published last week: World Autism Awareness (or Acceptance) Day: Hope and More Hope for Autism Parents Like Me.
Oceanhouse Media (OM): How did you discover that iPads and tablets are great tools for autistic kids?
Shannon (S): Completely by accident. Leo won an iPad in a raffle, about a month after they were released in 2010. I’m not an early adopter, so I was skeptical. But he dove right in and hasn’t stopped learning and having fun with iPads & apps in the nearly four years since. It was amazing how suited the iPad is to Leo’s visual learning style, how easy the touchscreen is for him to use (compared to a mouse), not to mention how competent he feels when can entertain himself with favorite videos and apps, completely independently (though of course if he needs help, we help him).
(OM): What is the first app Leo ever tried?
(S): I believe it was the drag-and-drop spelling app FirstWords. At the time, I wrote that “Leo loves First Words because it’s fun and easy. I love it because he’s learning to spell words, and the interface makes that learning error-free.” Leo and I both still really appreciate well-designed apps like FirstWords, and Oceanhouse Media’s OMbooks, of course.
(OM): What are some of Leo’s favorite apps right now?
(S): He’s a thirteen-year-old boy, so he loves the YouTube app. He especially enjoys watching videos of rollercoasters, and somehow finds the rollercoaster channels, even though he’s still working on reading. But he’s interested in Lego, and really enjoys their Duplo: Food app. He also likes to revisit favorites he’s had for a while, like Oceanhouse Media’s Rudolph Run! game, and Byron Barton’s Trains. And he really loves reading the custom photo and story books we make for him with Kid In Story.
(OM): If you could snap your fingers and instantly create the app of your dreams, what would it do?
(S): We’re lucky in that some of those apps are already here, like Oceanhouse Media’s Mr. Brown Can Moo, which lets Leo read one of his favorite books of all time to himself. I suppose I’d like a really flexible visual scheduling app that would be easy for Leo to use himself. Good basic-to-complex visual scheduling apps do exist, like First-Then Visual Schedule and ChoiceWorks, and their interfaces work for me, but they don’t work for Leo.
(OM): What tips do you have for parents using apps with their autistic child?
(S): Heh. I have a lot of tips! Remember that you are the parent, and need to set reasonable limits with the iPad as you would with any other media. I say this because I think there is too much brouhaha in the news about parents using iPads as babysitters, when in fact iPads are just another tool — and it seems silly to blame tools.
Be careful about buying apps, especially those specifically for autism. Do your research first, as apps can be expensive, and app purchases can pile up quickly. To help people with their app decisions, I work with an SLP, Jordan Sadler, and an autistic adult, Corina Becker, to maintain a curated spreadsheet of recommended autism apps. But there are other good resources, like CommonSenseMedia.org, MomsWithApps.org, or TechInSpecialEd.com.
Make sure you buy apps that your kids find fun as well as those just for learning! Sometimes parents of autistic kids feel as though everything in their kids’ lives has to be therapeutic or educational. Don’t forget that autistic kids need opportunities to chill and relax, too.
Thank you so much to Shannon for sharing her insight and experience with us. We look forward to following her family’s journey in the future!
More Blogger Spotlights
Friday, April 4th, 2014
Another fun and successful quarter is in the [digital] books at Oceanhouse Media, which meant we got to celebrate together at our quarterly team outing! Last quarter, we celebrated by volunteering at Feeding America San Diego, and this quarter we were very lucky to feed ourselves at a completely out-the-box experience: a group cooking class at The Center for a Healthy Lifestyle.
The majority of us had no idea where we were going or what we were doing when we showed up to the office before the outing. Last time the team outing was a secret, we ended up at a high-ropes course, so those of us who are scared of heights were happy to hear that we would be spending the afternoon in a sunny garden rather than suspended 50 feet above the ground!
The Boys & Girls Clubs’ Center for a Healthy Lifestyle is an adorable, sunny yellow cottage nestled in Solana Beach, California. The center is dedicated to “inspiring children & adults to live healthier lives through cooking, gardening and fitness”. Complete with a beautiful kitchen space, communal organic garden, and peaceful patio, the center was the perfect place to spend a sunny morning in Southern California!
We were very lucky to have Amanda Mascia of The Good Food Factory, an Emmy-award-winning healthy cooking show for kids, as our joyful and energetic teacher. She curated a menu to coincide with our 5 core values:
-Creative problem solving: brown rice (she taught us the perfect way to bake it)
-Efficient excellence: carrots & thyme
-Always learning: blueberry vinaigrette for our salad
-5 stars or no stars: salmon
-Passion for the work: whipped cream and berries
The first item on our to-do list was to peel a giant box of carrots (not as giant as the box at Feeding America San Diego!), so we all grabbed a peeler and got to work. With all of us chipping in, we were able to peel and chop the entire box in just a few minutes! Amanda had all the recipes we needed printed out so she instructed us just to start cooking and let her know if we had any questions. We all loved that she let us take initiative and figure things out on our own. We were able to modify some recipes to fit certain team members’ dietary restrictions, create our own perfect marinade for the salmon, and pick anything we wanted from the garden to add to our fresh salad! We self-organized into groups to make various items such as the salad dressing, salmon, croutons, whipped cream, etc. It all tasted absolutely delicious! So often in today’s world, meals are rushed and “convenient”, so it was relaxing to slow down and really savor the process of cooking, especially with a group of people. Working together outside of the office was so much fun and really helped us to get to know each other better.
As we ate our lunch on the beautiful patio and took in the gorgeous day, we discussed how the experience relates to our company culture. One aspect we really value at Oceanhouse Media is getting the chance to take initiative on projects, just as Amanda let us do with the recipes. Team members are always taking the lead on new ideas or processes, applying forward-thinking knowledge (always learning), and trusting of one another to try something new- even if it fails. When one team member told the group how much he learned about gardening after one season of an unsuccessful garden, we discussed how important failure is in the learning process (FAIL = first attempt in learning), and how if you are not failing, you are not taking enough risks. Finally, the carrot peeling resonated with us because of how quickly we were able to power through a huge task when we all pitched in and helped. The exercise was demonstrative of how much more efficient we are as a group. Now when an individual employee has a big project to tackle, we all pick up our theoretical carrot peeler and help out!
“Building software is like making whipped cream. Things get mixed up for quite some time and then voila!, something magical appears.” – Greg U.
“Seeing our team in the context of a kitchen made it clear to me that the sweetest things come from working in tandem with one another.” – Chandler
“Our morning with Amanda at The Good Food Factory was really fun and educational. It was so nice to take time as a team to make a healthy and delicious meal together in a beautiful setting where we could grab anything we needed for the meal right from the garden. Working together made the job easy and we all brought great, tasty ideas to the table that resulted in a a fresh and delicious lunch!” – John C.
We would like to extend a huge thank you to The Center for a Healthy Lifestyle and Amanda for making our team outing a wonderful experience!
Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, April’s Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight will feature a handful of our favorite bloggers and app review sites related to special needs and autism. We’re kicking off the series with this insightful interview with the staff of Smart Apps for Special Needs.
Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you launch Smart Apps for Special Needs? What was the inspiration behind it?
Smart Apps for Special Needs (SAFSN): Smart Apps for Kids, the sister site for Smart Apps for Special Needs, hit 1 million pageviews during Autism Awareness Month in 2013. This proved a high interest in apps and resources for individuals with special needs, so the idea of a new site to focus on this audience was born. Smart Apps for Special Needs was launched as a Facebook page in June 2013. It grew much quicker than expected, so in August 2013 the blog was launched to further support our expanding audience.
OM: Briefly describe how iPads and apps help children with special needs.
SAFSN: IPads and apps are beneficial to special needs children because of their ease of use, easy accessibility, affordable cost and use across a wide range of subjects including math, science, English, shapes and communication. Many apps are customizable to support various learning abilities. Kids can often learn and play at a speed that works best for them with apps. They empower children by giving them control of their learning, and by allowing self-correction much more than when their learning is directed by teachers and other adults.
OM: What tips do you have for parents using apps with their special needs child?
SAFSN: Follow your child’s interests! If your child likes planets, find apps that teach around characters based in space or characters that are planets. If your child is fascinated with a certain character, find that character on the App Store. Getting a child engaged with the device under controlled circumstances (apps you approve of with characters they love) allows leverage to be built on how the child may utilize the iPad as they progress with their education. Make sure to set screen time limits and make sure you still do hands-on stuff with your child! Apps are wonderful, but people should not be replaced.
OM: What are the most important features you look for when selecting apps for special needs?
SAFSN: We look at six different elements for an app for special needs. We rate if it meets the intended goal, if it is worth the price, ease of use, educational value, entertainment and level of customization. We also think about apps for longevity. An app that is easy to use, but has no growth potential has a short shelf life. An app that is difficult for a child to maneuver without adult guidance prohibits independent learning and lowers the chances for building autonomy and growing self-esteem. Individuals with special needs are each unique; therefore, an app has to be considered for each person individually.
OM: What are some of your most trusted resources for special needs parents, teachers and therapists?
SAFSN: In order to best support our audience, we openly discuss with members of the special needs community — parents, therapists and developers. We trust the developers we work with and the suggestions from family and friends. We want to remind others that it is important to trust the therapists and teams that work with an individual child. It is great to get ideas from different places, but those working closest with an individual will be the best resources.
Thank you so much to everyone else at Smart Apps for Special Needs for participating in the Blogger Spotlight. Tune in again next week!
More Blogger Spotlights
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
April is Autism Awareness Month- a special time dedicated to spreading knowledge and understanding about autism, as well as coming together to bring comfort, love, and acceptance to those in the autism community. Throughout the years we have had the pleasure of working with a handful of bloggers who are committed to sharing their experiences parenting (and loving) children with autism. Witnessing their journeys has showed us that autism is so much more than just a label, and this month we want everyone in the autism community to know that they are loved, accepted and appreciated just the way they are!
Throughout April, the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight will feature bloggers who have found apps to be effective tools in helping children with autism communicate, have fun, and learn important skills. We are very excited to share their insights and hear more about their amazing kids!
-Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
-Alpine Learning Group
-Kind Tree- Autism Rocks
-The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
-The Autism Women’s Network
-Left Brain/Right Brain
-Organization for Autism Research
-Quality Services for the Autism Community
-Snack and Friends
-Pacific Autism Center for Education
Read and share this incredible article:
World Autism Awareness (or Acceptance) Day: Hope and More Hope for Autism Parents Like Me
by Shannon Des Roches Rosa