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13 Tips for Creating Your Own Website with Blog

13 Steps for Creating Your Own Website

While there are a lot of companies out there that can create a website for you (like my sister Andrea at Curly Host), there are many benefits of creating your website yourself…especially if you don’t have much of a budget. Yes, it is quite a bit of work at first, but by creating your own website, you’ll be able to test out a variety of ideas, customize everything to your specific needs, and manage updates according to your schedule.

I’m not claiming to be the guru of all areas of web development here, but I have learned A LOT about what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to creating my own website. I started out just wanting a platform to blog about motherhood with a specific vision for my organization, and now I’m actually making some money with Amazon Associates and with my Embracing Motherhood Shop.

So without further adieu, here are my 13 steps for starting your own website.

1. Brainstorm Ideas

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start creating a mind map of all words that you would use to describe your website. (You could also use a mind mapping application like this.) Don’t worry about organizing your ideas at this point, just free associate the first words that pop into your brain when you think of your website.

For me, my initial brainstorming web included words like: pregnancy, birth, natural birth, healthy food, nutrition, recipes, food science, fitness, teaching, parenting, lesson ideas, homeschool, young children, stay at home mom, and so on.

2. Find Your Niche

Once you have a broad idea of where you’d like to go, find some other websites or blogs out there that are covering the topics that you are hoping to explore. I enjoyed finding several mothering, nutrition, and education websites and following them on social media to get their latest content. I would read their latest blogs, peruse their sites, notice things that I liked and didn’t, and thought about how I would try to define myself in my own way.

You will be constantly honing your writing style and finding your voice as you write. It is not something that will happen overnight. If you look at some of the earlier blogs I’ve written (mainly about health and nutrition), you’ll notice that my voice and style are different than they are now. Once I started getting an audience, getting feedback from others, and seeing my content live, I was able to see what things were working better than others. I learned how to create a certain flow that people could skim and scan through by adding quotes, headlines, lists, numbers, bolded and italicized text, and images so that a reader could get the general idea without reading every word.

3. Come Up With a Name

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas and done your research, it’s time to start thinking about a name. Same as the original brainstorming session, get a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing down every possible name you can think of, no matter how crazy or silly, just get it out there. I think it’s a good idea for your name to be a pretty obvious representation of what you want to write about, but you can just go ahead and make up a new word too. Basically, you’re looking for something short, simple, easy to share with someone verbally, and something that has a nice ring to it.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few favorite names, start doing a Google search to see what comes up. After I had my heart set on Embracing Motherhood, I discovered that the domain name embracingmotherhood.com was only available if I wanted to spend $4,888 so I did what you really shouldn’t do, I used a hyphen…embracing-motherhood.com.

LeanDomainSearch is a great way to brainstorm ideas with available domain names. Once you have a name you think you’d like, run it through Domainr to see if it’s available. Also check out social media platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter to see if your name is already being used. *Check out some more great tips for coming up with a name here and here.

4. Purchase Your Domain and Hosting

Now, because my sister is helping me out, she helped me buy my domain name and does my hosting for me. She uses a company called BlueHost. This company is great, and I would recommend going with the plus package that gives you unlimited storage and will run you $5.95/mo. When you sign up for hosting, it will walk you through registering your domain name as well (for free). For an extra $2.99/mo. you can get Site Backup Pro that automatically creates a daily backup copy of your entire site. If you’re creating a lot of content, this is a good idea.

5. Design a Logo

This might be something that you want to save for later, but I enjoyed getting mine done early on. My sister Andrea knows a freelance artist who helped me design my logo, but there are many different logo makers online. This one is pretty good and will cost you from $20-$100 and this one is pretty great too and will only cost you $39. (Beware, many sites that claim “free logo design” will actually make you pay for the high-res image.)

As you pick a logo, keep your color scheme in mind. Because I was wearing a purple shirt in the profile picture I chose, I ended up using purple for my main color. Then I used green as my accent and went with a rainbow pattern of colors because I like rainbows! I hope to keep working on my design in the future, but right now I’m more focused on content. 🙂

6. WordPress

I recommend going with WordPress.org over WordPress.com. Once you secure your domain and hosting, you can download WordPress and get started. They have some free themes ready to go, but after checking out many many different themes, my sister highly recommended going with Enfold for $59. This is what I use, and I love it! Everything is drag and drop and there is a great online support forum. (Just log in with your WordPress info and search for your question or write a new one. I have used this many times, and always gotten excellent support.)

If you go with WordPress.com, it is free and a one stop shop for your basic blog, but only if you plan on hosting less than 3 GB of data ($99/year for unlimited data) and you’re not allowed to connect to affiliate’s programs like Amazon Associates and have very little options in terms of design.

There are two ways you can get familiar with WordPress. You can just dive in (like I did), and look online when you have questions (just do a very specific Google search). Or, you can check out this WordPress for Beginners Blog or watch this great tutorial series to learn everything you’ll need to know before or while you’re playing around with your own site.

*You can also check out Squarespace (7 pages for $12/month), Webflow (20 pages for $20/month), Weebly ($8/mo. for unlimited pages or free with limited services), or a free blogging platform like Tumblr or Blogger.

7. Customizing

Once you get your theme, you’ll want to customize it to work for you. This part can seem really overwhelming and is probably where you’ll need to do the most amount of learning/research, so you might want to skip this step and come back to this later.

  1. Hide Your Site: As you’re building your site, you might want to hide it from search engines. To do this, go to the “Settings” option on the left toolbar, select “Reading”, and the click on the box that says, “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. You might also want to install a plug-in like this that will give a “Coming Soon” message.
  2. Theme Options: On the left toolbar, you’ll see a gear shaped icon with the name of your site. You will want to go here first and click on every option to set things up and get familiar with what you can do. When I was learning about WordPress, I spent a lot of time here changing one thing at a time, looking at things live (on the top toolbar, click on your site name with the home icon, and click “Visit Site”), and tweaking it until I liked what I had. This is where you’ll add your logo, set up your social media icons.
  3. Widgets: On the left toolbar, under “Appearance”, you’ll find “Widgets” (along with themes, menu, etc.). Widgets are a great way to customize the look of your blog. For my sidebar widget, I have a search tool, my picture, my affiliate’s disclosure, a subscribe widget, popular posts, and recent posts. In my footer widgets, I have four columns for my social media profiles.
  4. Plug-ins: Whenever you want to add something specific to your site, there’s a plug-in for that. Just like with everything else, you’ll want to play around with different plug-ins to see what you like/don’t like. *Now, don’t get crazy with the plug-ins, sometimes they can be the reason your site starts acting crazy, and you’ll have to deactivate them one at a time to figure out the problem. Here are the plug-ins I love:
    1. Askimet: Stops spam
    2. Broken Link Checker: Tells you on your dashboard page where all of your broken links are
    3. Pinterest Pin It Button: I always pin my own articles and have gotten a lot of hits this way.
    4. Print Friendly and PDF: Provides a button that allows users to easily print your blogs.
    5. Stop Spammers Spam Control: Prevents spammers from leaving comments
    6. Woocommerce: What I used to build my Embracing Motherhood Shop

7. Organizing

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a framework of organization for your content before getting started. It’s a bit time consuming to do this on the front end, and so you may just want to write 20-30 blogs or build your content before you worry about organization, but then you’ll have to go back to each blog to add categories, etc. So, here’s what I recommend, but as with everything, you have to do what works for you.

  1. Create Pages: You’ll first of all want a home page (some people like their blog to be their home page, but not me, it feels too random). Then create pages for all of your main ideas and link them to your home page. (Mine are: Home, All Blogs, Parenting, Teaching, Mom Talk, Health, How To, Guest Bloggers, Etsy, and Shop) Start by using the “Advanced Layout Editor” to create a “Page Template”. Basically, everything needs to be in a layout box, then you can put a “Text Box” (under “Content Elements”) inside of a layout box to create a header. Then, you can add a “Magazine” or “Blog Post” layout to put under that and it will automatically put all blogs with a matching category there. Watch this tutorial to learn more about creating pages.
  2. Create Categories: These are how you’ll organize your blogs. Under “Posts” on the left toolbar, select “Categories” and just create categories for all of your main ideas. You can also create subcategories by selecting a “Parent”, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this at first. Now, when you write your blogs, just select which category they belong in and you can sort them to the appropriate pages.
  3. Create a Menu: Now that you have your main pages, you can organize them into a menu. Under “Appearance”on the left toolbar, choose “Menu”. There, you can add what pages will be on your main menu.
  4. Write Some Content: Once you have a general layout, you can start writing some posts! It may take awhile to find your voice and your writing style, but don’t worry about that at first, just start getting some content out there so you can see how everything works together.

8. Adding Images

When I first started writing a blog, I was so sad that I couldn’t just do a Google image search and use whatever photos I wanted. 🙁 How easy would that be??? But thanks to Creative Commons, there are lots of free works available to use.

  1. Use Your Own Pictures: It can be so tempting to buy stock photos, but using pictures that you have taken gives your blog a much more personal touch, and it won’t cost you any money!
  2. Attribution: When you use someone else’s photo, even if it’s “Creative Commons”, you should give attribution according to the specifications of the image. If I use an image within my blog, I’ll put the attribution right under the photo saying something like: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pearson Scott Foresman, 2008. I’ll also link my photo to the original source. You can also credit the image source at the end of your blog. Here’s a good article with more information about giving image credits.
  3. Canva: Canva is a very simple photo editing program that allows you to custom design images with text. This is what I use to create my featured images for my blogs (845 x 321 pixels are the dimensions you want for a featured blog image with sidebar). I like it because there are suggested dimensions for a variety of social media and other outlets many basic templates available, simple tools for adding text, and basic tools for modifying your image. You can even search for a particular image and purchase it for $1.
  4. Photo Pin: Here, you can search millions of Creative Commons photos and easily add them to your blog posts. A photo attribution link is provided for each image.
  5. Flickr: Start by clicking on “Explore” and then search for the type of image you’re looking for. Look at the image description to see if it is “Creative Commons” or free to use, if so, attribute the image according to the author’s request.
  6. Wikimedia Commons: This is my favorite place to go for free photos when I need them…usually to place within my blog. Just search for what you’re looking for and make sure to attribute according to each photo’s request.
  7. Pixabay: This is a great place to search for free photos, and they don’t require any attribution!
  8. Shutterstock: If you are willing to pay for some really high quality images (usually $1-2), this is a HUGE resource.
  9. Pexels: Great stock photos and videos for free use.
  10. Vimeo: You can find free stock videos here.

9. Search Engine Optimization

You probably won’t be concerned with this at first, but if you can keep these tips in mind as you create content, then you won’t have to go back and rewrite everything. :).

  1. Write Good Content: This is kind of a no brainer, but if your writing is good, easy to follow, and useful, you’ll have a higher chance of people reading it, sharing it, and linking to it. The more popular a blog post is, the more likely it is to show up on a search engine.
  2. Make Your Topic Clear: Clever titles (and click bait titles) aren’t as useful as clear titles that emphasize the main idea of your blog post. Then, make sure to state the main idea of your post in the first sentence and repeat key words throughout.
  3. Alt-Text: When you upload photos, make sure they have an accurate name that describes the image (this can’t be added later), then set the alt text so that it spells out any text used in the picture as well as gives an accurate description of what the photo is. This helps webcrawlers to find your content in search engines more easily.
  4. Categories: If you group similar content based on content, category names are a great organization tool that recommends similar articles in your website.
  5. Tags: As you create tags for your posts, think of what people will type into their search engines. Also, include your categories.
  6. Link Building: The more people who link to your site, the higher search engine ranking you’ll get.
  7. Networking: By having guest bloggers, doing guest posts for other websites, and teaming up with others selling similar or complementary products/services you can increase your traffic as well.

*Read more about search engine optimization here.

10. Social Media

Social media is a great way to get your content out there and advertise your website.

  1. FaceBook: This is a great place to network and share your content.
  2. Twitter: Another great platform to share your content.
  3. Instagram: A visual platform to share your pictures associated with your website.
  4. Google Plus: Helps your content to show up in Google searches more often.
  5. Pinterest: A great way to get your content shared in a visual format.
  6. YouTube: Think about starting a YouTube channel to share your content.

11. Amazon Associates

If you are going to be linking to products that people can buy on Amazon, you’ll want to start an Amazon Associate’s account. Watch the tutorial here to learn about the program in more detail, but basically, you can earn a percentage (which starts out low, but gets higher when more items are purchased) when people click on your links and buy your recommended items. The really cool thing about this program is that if people search for and buy other items once they’ve entered Amazon via your site (even items you haven’t recommended), you’ll still earn a percentage. This is called a “third party sale”. *On a side note: the cost of the product remains the same as if the customer would just do a regular Amazon search.

Amazon approves accounts on a case by case basis, and you’ll need to get a certain amount of clicks on your links in order to remain in the program. You also have to make sure you clearly disclose your affiliation or they could terminate your account. (Check out my disclaimer here. I also have a disclaimer link on every blog.)

12. WooCommerce

Woocommerce is the best way to set up a shopping platform. It’s free, easy to set up, and easy to use. Once you install the plugin, it will walk you through the install. I recommend creating your own shop page so you can customize it, but if you don’t, it will automatically create one for you. Once everything is installed, all you have to do is set up your products. If you have any questions along the way, check out Woocommerce Docs.

Setting up shipping was the hardest thing for me. I tried setting up a variety of shipping options, and in the end just decided to include the cost of shipping in my product and offer free shipping on everything.

Another option if you’re looking to have all of the work done for you (calculating shipping, printing shipping labels, sending customers tracking information, etc.), you might want to consider opening an Etsy shop and linking to it on your website. The benefit of using Etsy is that it can provide a platform for you to share your product, but the downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options if you plan on growing. Check out my Etsy shop here, and feel free to copy my shipping policies, etc.

13. Nitty Gritty Stuff

  1. Cite Your Sources: This isn’t English 101 requiring MLA format, but be courteous and find a way to link to the sources that you can use. You can link to the name of the author and/or title of their work, link to some key words in your text, or have a link called “source” in parentheses at the end of the information you’re paraphrasing. If you’re citing something word for word, make sure you put it in quotes and thoroughly cite the source.
  2. Grammar Police: Think about what tense you want to write in (past, present, or future) and stick with it. Find a pattern for personal pronouns (“you” is informal, “one” is really formal, or you can stick with your experiences and just say “I” or “we”). When referring to gender pronouns, you can try to make the plural form work, alternate between he/she, or take turns with each gender.
  3. Policies and Disclaimers: You might not want to worry about this until later, but it’s good to cover your butt and have these thing covered. Check out my terms of use, disclaimer, privacy policy, comment policy, and more in my About Me section.
  4. Make Yourself Present: Find a good picture of yourself to post and have a place for a personal bio. People like to know who is creating the content.

In Conclusion

I’m not going to lie, having my sister as a web developer has definitely given me an edge as I’ve created my own website, but I hope that by offering these tips, I can help to give you that edge too. I certainly don’t know everything and have a long ways to go before I reach my final goals, but I hope that by sharing my experiences with creating a website, I can help others out there who were once starting out just like me. If you’ve got a budget, I highly recommend getting ahold of my sister Andrea at Curly Host, and she will not only set you up, but teach you how to manage your own cite along the way.

Embracing Motherhood Best Teaching Apps for Preschoolers

Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6)

With these apps, these YouTube playlists, some simple flashcards, and a library card, you can teach your little ones to read, write, do basic math, and basically know everything they need to know for kindergarten. Children’s brains are primed and ready for learning at a young age…much earlier than we would think. They crave stimulation, they love learning, and they need to be challenged in their zone of proximal development. Our youngest daughter is full on reading at the ripe old age of two, and these apps definitely played a role in that (among other things).

In my opinion, most of the good apps out there are designed specifically for iOS devices, and I have made a note for each app that can only be used on an iOS device. I know the price tag on Android devices can be tempting, but if you want to have access to the most and the best apps, I highly recommend getting an ipad (like this ipad 4 for $345 or an ipad mini 1 for $235) over any other tablet.

It can be somewhat challenging to teach a youngster how to use a touch screen at first. If your child is struggling with the concept of a touch screen, one of the things I have done is opened up the Starfall site on a computer and had the children touch the screen (pretending that it was a touch screen) while I controlled things with my mouse (hidden away of course). The best thing to do though, is to just sit down and play the games together. I recommend doing this anyways with all new games until they are familiar enough with them to play them on their own.

So without further adieu, these are the apps that I have used to teach my children the fundamentals of reading, math, and more.

Best Apps for Preschoolers

1. Starfall ABCs (Free)

If you only get one app, get this one! It covers all of the letters of the alphabet (names and sounds) in one fell swoop. (Unlike ABC mouse that focuses too much on one letter at a time in isolation.) When you click on a letter, it shows both the upper and lowercase versions while saying their names. When you click on the letters, they say their letter sound, and then you click the green arrow to progress through a series of examples showing things that start with that letter along with simple and engaging animations.

Starfall ABC App

Starfall ABC App

The simplicity of the app is absolutely beautiful, and I love the way kids have to click various things to progress things along. Unlike a YouTube video (which can be great too), this gets kids engaged every step of the way. I love how there are little sparkles around where the child needs to touch (or click on a computer). It’s a very good way to teach children how to use touch screens.

Other Starfall Apps:

  • Starfall (Free): This is basically an app giving you access to the entire Starfall website. If you have a membership ($35/year and something I highly recommend), then you’ll have access to everything on the website (including the content of every app). But even without a membership, you can get limited access which will give you a pretty good idea of what’s on the site. I personally prefer using the entire site on the computer and paying for the apps.

    starfall app

    Starfall App

  • Starfall Numbers ($4.99): The layout of this app is very similar to the ABC app. There are numbers 1-20 (plus 25, 50, and 100) plus 7 interactive learning activities that have to do with counting, weight, money, and addition. When you click on a number, it says the number, and shows its quantity. Then you press the green arrow to see a series of examples showing that number. This app does an amazing job of teaching number names and quantities which are the foundations of math just as the ABCs are for reading.

    starfall numbers app

    Starfall Numbers App

  • Starfall All About Me ($1.99): Children get to design their character to look like them and then select categories such as, “Where do I sleep? What will I wear? Who am I? What is my pet? and Which is my toy?” My kids LOVE playing this game because they are very connected to the personalized content. I love the sentences where you have to fill in the blank with a single word that is personified by a corresponding image. It is a great pre-reading strategy!

    starfall all about me

    Starfall All About Me App

  • Starfall Learn to Read ($1.99): This is basically a collection of mini books sorted by vowel patterns. Each book starts with a little clip of how to pronounce the focused letter sound, and then you select the green arrow to progress through the pages. There’s a little ear you can press that will read the text out loud. For each page, you can tap the screen to facilitate some sort of movement. There are also eight “mini-lessons” on the bottom that teach additional reading skills.

    starfall learn to read

    Starfall Learn to Read App

  • Starfall I’m Reading ($1.99): This app has tons of books sorted by genre with plenty of interesting titles. Unlike the website version, this app automatically reads the text while highlighting what is being read in red.

    starfall I'm reading app

    Starfall I’m Reading App

2. Endless Alphabet ($4.99)

This app (and the other Endless apps) are designed for a bit of an older child than the Starfall apps, but I love introducing my children to higher level content with some guidance. This app does a wonderful job of teaching not only letter sounds, but how letters come together to form words, and what those words mean.

endless alphabet alphabetical order

Endless Alphabet App

When you open this app, you’ll find a variety of vocabulary words sorted alphabetically. After you select one, you first have to spell it by dragging the letters to their shadow (each letter is personified and makes its sound as you move it), then the meaning of the word is acted out by cute little characters that look they have been hand drawn on lined paper. This is very entertaining app, and all of our children have loved it!

Other Endless Apps:

  • Endless Reader (Free with in-app purchases): All words are sorted alphabetically, and just like in Endless Alphabet, you drag the letters to make a word.  Then you put the word (and sometimes other words) into a sentence, and the cute little characters act out the sentence. This is a fabulous app and teaching tool to help children learn how to read. I love it! It comes with six free words, and then it costs $5.99 to buy the Reader Pack 1 which has 20 words, $11.99 to buy each additional Reader Pack of 1-4, 5-8, or 9-12, or you can pay $29.99 to buy all of the packs.

    endless reader app image

    Endless Reader App

  • Endless Wordplay (Free with in-app purchases): This game really focuses on spelling because (unlike the other Endless apps) you have to spell the words in order. Each spelling lesson focuses on a certain pattern and the words you spell come to life with a cute little animation. You progress through each lesson on a large board that makes progression fun. It comes with 9 free words, then it costs $6.99 to buy the starter pack of 90 words, $11.99 to buy the remaining words, or $14.99 to buy all of the words. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    endless wordplay

    Endless Wordplay App

  • Endless Numbers (Free with in-app purchase): When you click on a number, you first have to drag the number to its shadow (as you drag each number, it comes to life and says its name), then there’s a simple addition problem, and a cute little animation that shows the number. It comes with five free numbers, then it costs $6.99 for a starter pack of numbers 1-25, $11.99 for the remaining numbers, and $14.99 to buy all 100 numbers.

    endless numbers

    Endless Numbers App

  • Endless Spanish (Free with in-app purchase): This app is set up like Endless Reader where you select a word from an alphabetical list, drag the letters to spell the word, and then put the word (and other words) into a sentence that comes to life as cute little characters act out the sentence. It comes with six free words, then it costs $5.99 for a starter pack and $11.99 for all words. I love introducing young children to other languages when their brains are super open to it. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    endless spanish

    Endless Spanish App

3. Easy Music ($3.99)

Just like learning to speak, learning to read, and learning how to do math, there is a logical progression to learning music. This app teaches notes, pitch, rhythm, and melody using beautiful landscapes and peaceful sounds. In one section, you can practice these music skills and in another you can make and record your own musical ensembles.

easy music app

Easy Music

Other Edoki Academy Games:

  • Montessori 1st Operations ($3.99) – Using simple graphics and easy to maneuver interactive features, this app teaches basic addition, subtraction, and doubles and halves. There are three different methods of practice in each category that are very good at teaching the core concepts. Every problem you get right gives you a point and you use your points to build a monster.

    montessori first operations

    Montessori 1st Operations

  • Zen Studio (Free, $1.99 to unlock all templates): Using a grid divided into triangles, you swipe your finger across either a boundless canvas or guided templates using a variety of colors to make different pictures. Relaxing music accompanies each stroke of the finger.

    zen studio main page

    Zen Studio

  • Crazy Gears ($2.99) – A puzzle game that allows you to manipulate colorful gears, chains, rods, and pulleys to pull yourself through each level. Each reasoning challenge was carefully designed to lay the foundation for careers in things like mathematician, computer scientist, and programmer.

    crazy gears

    Crazy Gears

  • The Sight Word Adventure ($1.99) –  Using 320 sight words (based on Dolch and Fry lists) spread across five levels in 10 different mini games (that focus specifically on hide-and-seek),this app is great for giving repeated exposure to sight words.

    the sight word adventure

    The Sight Word Adventure

  • Busy Shapes ($2.99) – This is really designed for a toddler and does an excellent job of teaching shapes, their relation to other objects, colors, and is a good intro for learning how to use a touch screen.

    busy shapes

    Busy Shapes

4. Montessori Crosswords ($2.99)

This game is GREAT for teaching phonics! You can choose from one of 44 sound clusters (i.e. short a, long e, oo sound, etc.) or from the other four word series of increasing phonetic difficulty (simple words with three sounds, words with consonant blends, words with digraphs, or words of any complexity).

montessori crosswords app screen shot

Montessori Crosswords App

When you choose a category, a picture pops up next to the number of boxes needed to spell the word. The word is spoken and the alphabet is listed below (all of the vowels are blue and the rest of the letters are red). The letters needed to spell the word are highlighted, and the other letters are faded. You drag the letters to spell the word and it is sounded out and read out loud. As you transition to the next word, you get to tap the screen and interact with some fun animation. My kids don’t usually enjoy playing this game on their own. It is more of a teaching tool that we sit down and use together.

Other Montessori Apps:

  • Montessori Numbers ($2.99): This app is great for teaching the association between numbers with the quantity they represent. It also helps to teach the decimal system and place value. There is even a place to trace numbers. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    montessori numbers

    Montessori Numbers App

  • Word Wizard ($4.99): A talking movable alphabet in this app allows you to experiment with phonics and word building. It has three spelling activities that increase in difficulty, 184 built in word lists (about 1,800 words), and you can add your own words to create unique spelling quizzes. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    montessori word wizard

    Montessori Word Wizard App

  • Writing Wizard ($2.99): This is a WONDERFUL letter tracing app that keeps kids engaged the whole time. As you trace uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and words a fun moving rainbow trail emerges. There are a lot of letter tracing apps out there, and this is one of my favorites!

    montessori writing wizard

    Montessori Writing Wizard App

5. Talking ABCs ($2.99)

This is a great app for teaching letter names! Every letter that you select is molded into a creature that starts with that letter. It is surprisingly mesmerizing to watch.

talking abcs

Talking ABCs App

When you press play, it brings you to the letter A, then you can swipe to the left to go through the whole alphabet or go back to the main menu. It also has four different games (find the letter, find the animal, spell a word, and puzzle) and an autoplay feature that will automatically progress through all of the letters. You can also get this app in Russian. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

6. Metamorphabet ($3.99)

This is an app that will not only teach the ABCs and alphabet vocabulary, but is something that will unlock a certain whimsical wonder in the mind of all users young and old alike.

metamorphabet

Metamorphabet App

The adventure begins with all of the letters on the main screen. When you select a letter, say A for example, every tap of the finger brings about another action. After several movements, the letter name is said and with each subsequent tap it moves a little more and one by one more vocabulary words are revealed such as antlers, arch, and amble. To go to the next letter, you click on the star in the top right hand corner to go to the next letter or you can click the shapes in the top left corner to go back to the main screen. Metamorphabet contains NO in-app purchases. *Available on iOS devices and PCs only.

7. Storybots ABCs (Free…)

This is basically just a collection of all of the Storybots ABC songs. Each song is about one minute long and cute little robots sing about each letter of the alphabet. In the app, you can select a letter from the main menu, or just progress through the letters alphabetically.

storybots

Storybots App

You can also download this app that will give you access to all of their learning videos. The only problem is that these apps were free when I downloaded them awhile ago, but now it seems that you have to pay a $4.99/mo. membership fee which I don’t think is worth it at all. In doing so, so will get access to all of their printables too though which is nice. If you don’t want to pay the membership fee, just check out these playlists on YouTube…for free! *These apps are only available on iOS devices.

8. Dora’s Skywriting ABCs ($3.99)

If your child likes Dora, these apps will be a winner for sure! If not, you might want to skip them. 🙂

dora abc

Dora’s Skywriting ABCs App

In the uppercase, lowercase, and uppercase and lowercase letter games, you use Tico’s airplane to get nuts and trace the letters. Writing letters is more of an advanced skill, so this might be better for the older preschooler. I really like the letter and picture match game the best. In this game, you have to find the pictures that start with the featured letter. *All of the Dora apps are only available on iOS devices.

Other Dora Apps:

  • Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure ($2.99): In this game, you match pictures that rhyme. Besides rhyming words, there are first sounds, last sounds, and inside sounds to match in different levels.

    dora's rhyming word adventure

    Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure

  • Dora Hops Into Phonics ($2.99): To play, you have to match pictures with words, change one letter to make a new word, and then make Dora hop across the lily pads. There are also cute little game break games to play along the way.

    dora hops into phonics

    Dora Hops Into Phonics

  • Dora’s Dress Up Adventures ($2.99): In this simple app, you can change the background, dress Dora, and add a variety of props. For kids who enjoy Dora, this is really fun.

    dora's dress up adventure

    Dora’s Dress Up Adventure

  • Dora’s Ballet Adventures ($2.99): This is basically like a really interactive book. The words are highlighted as Dora reads them, and you get to do all sorts of actions.

    dora's ballet adventure

    Dora’s Ballet Adventure

Honorable Mentions

For the remaining apps, I didn’t want to do a full on review, because I think that the six apps and their affiliates that I’ve covered above are more than you’ll ever need, but these are apps that we have downloaded and enjoyed as well.

In Conclusion

If you use these educational apps in moderation as a teaching tool for your children, it can greatly enhance their learning experience. Teaching your child at home doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you don’t have to wait until they are in kindergarten to teach them how to read. With these apps, these YouTube playlists, a $35 Starfall membership, and a library card, you can teach your children everything they need to know…and more!

For more resources, check out my blog about tips, tricks and resources for teaching the ABCs here, or my blog about how we’ve taught our two year old to read here.

You also might like checking out some of my other favorite resources that I use to teach my children. These are affiliate links, so if you purchase any of these items, I will receive a small “finder’s fee” percentage. You, however, will pay no more than if you were to do a regular Amazon search.

Embracing Motherhood My Favorite Preschool Playlists on YouTube

My Favorite YouTube Playlists for Teaching Kids Ages 0-6

These are our favorite playlists that we have used with our four children (currently ages 1-6)  to help them learn the basics such as their letter names, letter sounds, numbers, shapes, colors, nursery rhymes, and more. The repetition of the songs combined with the simple and engaging graphics in these videos have helped our children to develop oral language which is a precursor to learning how to read.

I absolutely love using technology to help our children learn! Some people don’t think that children under 2 should be watching any sort of TV at all, but I strongly disagree. Check out my blog about why I don’t think we should ban screen time for young children AT ALL here. Basically, if you’re using technology to teach, if you’re watching it with your children before you leave them to watch it alone, and if you’re purposeful about how you use it, technology can be an amazing tool that really benefits young children and helps their brains to develop neural pathways that will help them to be more prone to learning in the future.

*Keep in mind that these playlists (and technology in general) are just one modality of teaching. Kids benefit from many other strategies as well. Check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read to see how all of these parts come together.

The Right Set Up

You can certainly show your children these playlists on any computer, but for an optimal viewing experience, I recommend connecting your TV to your computer to use the following playlists (and to become more purposeful about what you watch).

  1. Connect Your TV to a Computer (or Laptop): Basically, you can connect your computer or laptop to your TV using an HDMI cable. Read more about how to do this here and what other resources we like watching instead of cable TV here.
  2. Download the Chrome Browser: The reason why you want this browser is so that you can download Ad Blocker (which I’ll get to next). I also like it because I can customize it with my favorite bookmarks and have it look the same on all of our computers and devices. This is especially helpful for the kids once they learn how to navigate computers on their own. Click here to download the Chrome browser.
  3. Download Ad Blocker: Without Ad Blocker, this whole playlist plan just doesn’t really work. The reason why I like my kids watching playlists custom designed for their interests and needs is that unlike TV, they aren’t getting bombarded with commercials. When we’ve had Ad Blocker off, it’s really a horrible experience because some commercials go on for 30 minutes if you don’t hit “skip this ad”. So without any further adieu, download Ad Blocker here.

How to Save Playlists

Before I share my favorite playlists with you, here are the steps you’ll need to follow to save them.

  1. Make a YouTube Account: In order to save any playlists, you first of all need to have a Google account. (Get one here.) Then, you use that to create your own YouTube account where you can subscribe to your favorite channels, upload your own videos, save playlists, and create playlists.
  2. Finding Playlists: You can certainly just use my playlist recommendations, but if you find a single video that your child really likes, type the maker of that video plus “playlist” into the YouTube search. Sometimes I’ll just play the longest playlist and sometimes I’ll select the playlist from the maker of the videos. These playlists are typically more up to date and predictable with their content than a random user who creates them.
  3. Save a Playlist: Once you  click on a playlist that you like and want to save, look in the top right hand corner for a plus button. Once you select it, it will turn into a check. Now you can go to your channel, look under “saved playlists” and you can see all of the playlists you’ve saved.
  4. Subscribe: Instead of saving all of your favorite playlists, you might just want to subscribe to the channels that you really like. Look under the “playlists” tab of your favorite channels, and browse the playlists they’ve created.

My Favorite Preschool Playlists

There are a TON of resources on YouTube that you can use to help your child learn, and I don’t presume to have found the be all and end all of all learning videos online. The important thing is to find videos that resonate with you and your children. I find it helpful to always watch videos WITH my children repeatedly before letting them watch them on their own. This way, I can determine what they like, help them to decipher and interact with them, and make sure there is nothing inappropriate or confusing.

These are the playlists that our children have been mesmerized by, learned from, and the ones I haven’t minded having on in the background on a regular basis.

1. Kids TV 123

This educational playlist of songs about the letter names and sounds, basic counting, brushing your teeth, animal sounds, planets and more has been ridiculously popular with all of our young children. (It has been especially helpful with teaching our children their letter names and sounds.) The animations are very simple and everything is personified with little sets of eyes, arms and legs.

kidstv123 youtube web pic

The elusive creator A. J. Jenkins (read an interesting article about him here) records simple songs with just his voice, guitar, and sometimes keyboard and light percussion that are very cute and catchy. Go here for all of his playlists and here for some free printables that go along with the videos.

2. Super Simple Songs

The team over at Super Simple Learning have done an amazing job of creating videos designed to help children develop oral language. These videos are specifically designed to help children who are learning English as another language and who are special needs, but they are amazing for all young children! Most of the songs encourage movement and motions and our children love watching these videos over and over and over again. (*We have a shortcut to this playlist on our desktop and watch it every single night as a part of our bedtime routine.)

super simple songs

Our children have all especially loved this Twinkle Twinkle Little Star video, and my dad loves using it to calm down little ones and help them fall asleep. Last I checked, this video had over 500 million views! Go here to see all of their playlists and here to download TONS of free printable resources such as coloring pages and flashcards.

3. Storybots

These cute little robots and catchy songs aren’t just good, they’re great! The music is very well produced with kind of a Beatles rock n’ roll feel to them, the lyrics are clever and well thought out, and they have been VERY captivating for our young children. They have songs about letters, numbers, shapes, planets, professions, behaviors, emotions, and more that are educational and fun!

storybots

Unlike the first two playlists I’ve recommended, this one doesn’t have an “All Videos” playlist. Maybe someday I’ll create one (or maybe you can!), but for now, here’s the link to all of their playlists for all of their videos. They also have a website where you can get some printouts for free and others for a subscription fee and some apps. Our kids love the ABC app!

4. Mother Goose Club

This channel has just about every nursery rhyme you could ever imagine! They also have a variety of different playlists to choose from.

mother goose club

Our kids love these simple classic songs and the way they are acted out by children using minimal props and special effects. Learning basic songs and nursery rhymes is great for oral language development!

5. Busy Beavers

This playlist is great for teaching all of the letter names and sounds in addition to many great nursery rhymes. The simple animations and repetitive songs are designed to teach children who are learning English, but they are great for teaching oral language development for ALL children! You can also watch these playlists to teach your children French, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, and more.

busy beavers

These videos can be a little annoying, but the fact is that kids love them and they are a great teaching tool. They will also invite you repeatedly to pay money to subscribe to their channel to get the videos ad free, but if you’re rocking Ad Blocker, you won’t need  to worry about that! You can get some free printables to go along with the videos here or get full access to all of the printables for a monthly subscription fee. Go here to see all of their playlists.

6. ABC Kid TV

There are a lot of different ABC playlists designed for kids out there, and it feels like we have watched them all! For some reason, these particular videos have been a favorite with our 2 year old daughter Ophelia recently. I think she really likes the combination of real children and cartoon graphics.

abc kid tv

The playlist is about an hour long and covers all of the letters of the alphabet with simple graphics and several examples as well as the ABC song. See all of their playlists here.

My Playlists

While I was writing this blog, I decided to just go ahead and create my own favorite playlists. Creating playlists is a bit time consuming, but so worth it to have custom designed lists that are just write for your children. In order to create your own playlist, just look for the “add to” button on the bottom left of the screen of the video you want to save (make sure it’s not on full screen), click it, and you can add the video to an existing list or create a new list. Once you make a list you can edit it by changing the order of the videos, adding videos, deleting videos, changing the title of your list, and adding a description. Go here to see all of my playlists. You can subscribe to my channel to keep informed of new videos that I upload and the playlists I create.

  1. ABCs: This collection starts with basic ABC songs, then transitions into videos that focus on each letter, and finally ends with some compilations so that my children will probably lose interest before I run out of videos!
  2. Nursery Rhymes and Familiar Songs: American children will grow up hearing these songs over and over and over again. The repetition of these rhymes and songs encourages oral language development, which is a precursor to reading.
  3. Simple Songs: Children may not automatically know these songs like they may possibly know nursery rhymes, but if you watch these videos, they will quickly become just as beloved. Many of these songs incorporate movement and motion. They are also great for developing oral language, which is a precursor to reading.
  4. Preschool VocabularyThese songs facilitate the development of language through their catchy melodies, intriguing yet simple images, and use of vocabulary that helps children to understand their world. Learning the names of things is a big aspect of oral language development and a precursor to learning how to read.
  5. Learning to ReadChildren are capable of learning to read at a much younger age than we give them credit for. Once children are able to sound out a word and commit it to memory, they don’t need to sound it out every time. Being able to sound out words is a great strategy for when children encounter new words, however, and this playlist is designed to support the strategy of sounding out words and to encourage the memorization of simple words.
  6. Preschool Science and Social StudiesLearning about science and social studies happens in layers just like reading. The younger children are when they are exposed to the ideas of maps, planets, how the body works, and more, the more they will understand it later. These videos are cute and catchy and will help children to learn about these higher level concepts with ease.
  7. Preschool Math: Learning that counting means each object is counted only one time (the one-to-one principle) is as fundamental to math as learning the letter names and sounds is to reading. It is not a concept that is easily or automatically learned, but through lots of repetition, exposure, and practice, children can master it. Another foundation of math is learning the names and attributes of shapes. I’ve also included other basic math concepts.
  8. Learning LanguagesThese simple songs are great for exposing children to the sounds of other languages. By the time children are one, the phonemes they can pronounce are pretty much hard wired into their brains. Exposing children to other languages at a young age leaves the door open for further language development. There are longer playlists (I like the ones through Busy Beaver) of just one language, but I like having this hodge podge mixed together.
  9. Favorite Preschool Videos: This is a compilation of all of my favorite preschool videos spanning all topics and subjects. This is the playlist I go to when my kids are fussy or for a time when I want them to watch a hodge podge of things to keep them entertained rather than to just teach.
  10. Our Kids Learning How to ReadBeing a teacher, I have always been fascinated by children and how they learn. Now that I have four of my own and am a stay at home mom, I have enjoyed teaching them how to read. I have been fascinated by how young they have been able to read. All of our children have learned to read at a young age (2 being the youngest). This is a collection of videos of them reading over the years.

How to Make a Desktop Shortcut to Your Favorite Playlists

I like having access to my favorite playlists at the click of a button, so I like to create shortcuts on my desktop to find them. For some people, you might think, “Oh, that is so easy!” But for others, like me until I did some research, we may have no idea! So, here’s how you create a shortcut on your desktop to your favorite playlists:

  1. Right click anywhere on your desktop.
  2. Select “new” –> and then “shortcut”.
  3. You will then see a blank space to add a url called “Type the location of the item”. (You can browse to choose an existing file, but don’t do that right now!) Copy the address of your favorite playlist and copy it into this blank space. Then click “next”.
  4. Now you can name your shortcut whatever you’d like.

In Conclusion

I think that one of the most fundamental and most helpful things to teach young children is the alphabet. By teaching the letter names and sounds from young age, we are helping children’s brains to be wired in a way that makes learning to read easy and fun. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) These playlists are just one way of doing this. Check out my blog: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to see all of the ways I have enjoyed doing this with our children.

Happy watching and happy learning!

Embracing Motherhood What We Watch Instead of TV

What We Watch Instead of TV

Ok, so you’ve connected your computer to your TV, now what? Is it possible to be entertained without a paid subscription to cable? Yes! You can certainly connect your TV to your computer and still enjoy your local channels or even a cable subscription, but when we got rid of those things, we found that we were much more purposeful about what we watched, we didn’t waste time flipping channels, we weren’t inundated with commercials, and we spent a lot less time in front of the TV. If you already have Internet in your home, choosing a couple of these options could even save you money!

Most of the following are things that we use, but I’ve also included a few other sources that I would recommend nonetheless and marked these with an *.

1. YouTube

YouTube usually has full length features of the programs we like watching like John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. We also like watching Ted Talks and basically videos about whatever we’re interested in learning about. And of course, who can resist funny cat videoshilarious Japanese pranks, and our favorite music videos! We love showing the kids educational videos like this preschool playlist and now YouTube has a YouTube Kids app that we put on our tablets and phones.

In order to enjoy watching videos on YouTube without ads, you will first want to download the Chrome browser and then download Ad Blocker (Chrome is the only browser that will support Ad Blocker). Without blocking ads, I’m not really sure how good of an experience this would be.

They are now promoting YouTube Red where for $9.95/month, you can have an ad free experience as well as download your favorite videos to watch anytime.

2. Netflix

For $9.95/month, we enjoy streaming movies, TV shows, documentaries, and more on Netflix. I love how when I’m not sure what to watch, I can check out a certain genre and browse for ideas. The kids love using the kids login page, and they get great ideas for new shows to watch based on shows they have already enjoyed.

3. PBS

On PBS, you can watch any program (like my favorite, Call the Midwife) under programs, and check out other great programs sorted by topic. You can create an account (for free) that will let you save your favorite programs and keep a viewing history. Go to PBS Kids to watch all children’s programs. It’s laid out so that children can navigate very easily and there are games to play as well. Everything is educational, fun, and there are no commercials!

4. Other Network Stations

You can go to any network affiliate such as ABC, NBC, FOX, as well as pretty much any other station, and watch all current episodes online. If you want to watch older episodes, you’ll have to have a paid cable subscription, and in any case, you’ll still be bombarded by commercials, but at least you won’t be forced to watch your favorite program only at the time it is “on the air”.

*5. Amazon Prime Video

We have Amazon Prime (free 2 day shipping for $99/yr), and so while we get do Amazon Prime Video for free, we never really use it because it’s just not as kid friendly as Netflix. But I do know many people who enjoy watching it.

*6. Hulu

We don’t personally subscribe to this, but I know other people who have given up their cable subscriptions and enjoy this instead. Not only can you get your favorite TV shows, but Showtime originals and popular movies as well. You can check out a free trial here, otherwise, you’ll pay $7.99/mo. for limited commercials and $11.99/mo. for no commercials.

7. Pandora

No, we don’t watch Pandora, but we love having it on in the background and watching our itunes visualizer (on mute). It makes for a nice background, kind of like a fireplace. 🙂

8. Free Streaming Sports

Most people who don’t want to give up their cable TV will cite “sports” as the number one reason why. This page shows all the televised sporting events happening on any given day. At the top of  the page you can sort this enormous list by type of sport (or you can just hit ctrl+F and  search the whole page to find the event you are looking for, i.e. ‘Lions’ or ‘Olympics’).

This site is pretty wild, though. It doesn’t like AdBlocker, so you should turn it off  before visiting this page. Of course this allows the page to blow up all kinds of pop up ads. The trick here is to find the little “x” on each pop up over the video stream so you can remove all the ads between you and the free stream. This is kind of a cultural adventure as well, since most of these stream come from broadcast stations in other countries, so you can experience their commercial and local news bumpers, as well as their native commentary on the game (which in the case of, say the Super Bowl, is pretty entertaining).  Vipbox Sports pretty much does the same thing.

9. Kodi

Kodi is on the more advanced side of things. It is basically a free media player/server, but most of the functionality of this program is unnecessary for most home users. The reason I am even mentioning it is that it has an amazing array of  free TV channels from the US and around the world where you can browse on-demand videos on your computer. This is how we first discovered “Dora in the City” (Dora grown up) and HGTV shows like “Cake Boss” and “We are shopping  for a house in the Virgin Islands” or something like that – totally fun!

In Conclusion

I highly recommend connecting your TV to your computer and getting rid of your cable subscription (or keep it and do both). It’s not as hard as you think it would be, and once you get through the set up and adjustment period, you will love it! There are TONS of resources online and once you start doing this, you will find that you become more purposeful and more selective about what you and your family watches. In an era where technology threatens to take over all of our free time and interactions, this is definitely a good thing.

Embracing Motherhood How to Connect Your TV to a Computer

How to Connect a TV to a Computer

Connecting our TV to our computer is something that we have been doing for so long that sometimes I just assume that everyone else does it too! Yes, my husband is a techy computer guy, but this is so easy anyone can do it! Not only that, but most people have 99% of what they need to make this work in their house right now.

But why would anyone want to connect their TV to their computer anyways?

Here are the benefits we have enjoyed:

  • Not paying for a cable subscription
  • Not wasting time with channel flipping
  • No exposure to commercials
  • Ability to watch all of our home movies on our TV
  • Ability to access all of our downloaded files
  • Ability to be purposeful about what we watch with Netflix, YouTube, PBS, and more (Check out what we watch instead of TV in my blog here.)

How to Connect Your TV to Your Computer

If you have a newer laptop or desktop computer (post 2007) and an HD TV (post 2005), this will be a very easy set up. I am going to explain the two basic set ups which are:

  1. Connecting your TV to a laptop
  2. Connecting your TV to desktop computer

If you have an older TV or computer/laptop, I will cover some of your options in the FAQs and/or you can check out this very handy tutorial that will walk you through exactly what you need to do, and this article can help to fill in the gaps.

Option 1: Laptop to TV

If you have a newer laptop and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go!

 

Laptop to TV Connection

Laptop to TV Connection

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, easy to disconnect and use as just a laptop again meaning that you only need one computer, doesn’t take up much room, won’t turn off if the power gets turned off

Cons: Can be more expensive, ties a laptop down instead of letting it roam free (albeit temporarily), not the best permanent option, this is not the option we use…see the next section

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV:  This is just a sample of what you might want to get. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port, which just about any newer TV will have, and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended Laptop: This Lenovo 100s will do everything you need and more. While this is the best and cheapest option currently available, you can make just about anything work. Just make sure any laptop you get has an HDMI port.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Laptop HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your laptop.
    hdmi port on a laptop

    HDMI Port on a Laptop

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.
    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Using Just the Laptop: The easiest thing would be to use the keyboard and mousepad on your laptop to navigate, unplug it when you’re done, and there you go!
  4. Adding a Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  5. Permanent Set Up: For a more permanent set up, adjust the power settings on your laptop to allow it to stay on while it’s closed. (Learn how to do that here.) Close it, and put it somewhere out of the way. (*Note: We have used laptops with broken screens for this, and it totally works.)

Option 2: Desktop Computer to TV

If you have a newer desktop computer and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go.

This is the set up we have in our living room. We put the TV on a table (so the kids can’t touch it) and cover it with a big piece of fabric so that everything is concealed. We built a little table to make storage more organized and keep all of our gaming stuff under here too.

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, perfect for a permanent set up, easy to keep external hard drives connected for more storage, cheapest option

Cons: Turns off if the power goes out, not ideal if this is your only computer…unless you go with a much smaller TV, and/or set up a dual monitor system

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV: This is just a sample of what you might want to get, and it’s the same recommendation for a laptop set up. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port (any newer TV will have this) and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended ComputerThis mini desktop computer has everything you need and more! It’s small, has 32 GB of storage, has bluetooth, and plenty of USB ports for connecting to an external hard drive if you need more than 32 GB of storage.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or you can get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Computer HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your computer tower.
    hdmi port desktop computer

    HDMI Port on a Desktop Computer

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.
    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  4. Speakers: The TV speakers should work just fine in this set up, but you could always get some even better like these speakers…your choice!

FAQs

  1. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI port? Look to see if it has a DVI port, and if so, get a cable like this. The DVI (Digital Video Interface) cable does not carry sound, so you’ll also need an audio cable to connect to your TV speakers.
    dvi and vga ports on computer

    DVI and VGA Ports on a Computer

  2. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI or DVI port? All laptops and computers will at least have a VGA (Video Graphics Adapter) port. Unfortunately, there is no VGA to HDMI cable, and even if you find one, it won’t work. Basically, the VGA port is outdated and won’t work in this situation. What you’ll need to do instead is either just buy a new laptop or desktop computer or buy something like this that you can plug into your USB drive and create an HDMI port, but it’s $60, and for $150 you could actually buy a basic computer that has everything you need.
  3. What about those TVs for sale that have computer options built in? You can get a “Smart TV” like this, and if all you want to do is watch Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, then it’s a pretty good option. But if you want to watch any of your own files, you’re better off just wiring a regular old TV to your computer.
  4. Are there any wireless options?  Just like with the “Smart TV” options, if all you want to do is watch online TV and none of your own files, this is a pretty good option. You can get the Amazon Fire TV Stick for $40, a Roku Streaming Stick for $40, Google Chromecast for $35, and Apple TV for $150 if you have a Mac just to name a few.
  5. Is there any way to keep my cable AND connect my TV to a computer? Yes. All you have to do is hit the input button on your remote to select the correct input and you can have both! Your cable should come in as “TV” and your computer will come in as “HDMI 1” (or something like that). This is also how you would select your gaming system.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend connecting your TV to your computer. It’s not as hard as you think it would be, and once you get through the set up and adjustment period, you will love it! There are TONS of resources online and once you start doing this, you will find that you become more purposeful and more selective about what you and your family watches. In an era where technology threatens to take over all of our free time and interactions, this is definitely a good thing.

*Check out my blog: What We Watch Instead of TV to see how we stay entertained without a cable subscription.

Embracing MotherhoodWhy We Shouldn't Ban Screen Time for Children...Especially for Children Under Two

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children…Especially for Children Under Two

We all know that the American Academy says that all screen time should be banned for children under 2 and severely limited for all children, but do you know why? Have you looked at the studies they reference? Probably not if you agree with them because the studies actually show that children exposed to educational programming are smarter and there is, in fact, NO DATA on children under 2. In addition, the studies were all conducted before the advent of ipads and touch screens and involve television only.

We live in an age of technology, the future is going to be built on technology, and to ban children from the tools they will be using in the future during this crucial time of brain development is just absurd. What I have discovered while raising my five children is that by exposing them to educational and quality programming from a young age, they have all learned how to read as young as 2 and a half, love learning, and know how to discover new information on their own.

What the American Academy of Pediatrics Says

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screen time be banned for children under two and that it should be limited for all children regardless of their age. I’ve never been one to just believe something because one institution or another makes a sweeping generalization about something that ALL people must do, and this was no exception. But eventually curiosity got the best of me and I decided to do some research about what exactly they are saying and why they are saying it, and this is what I learned.

First of all, I looked at The American Academy of Pediatrics, and this is what they have to say about screen time,

“Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

They claim that excessive media can lead to attention problems, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity and that the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors. They suggest  that we should turn off the TV during dinner, limit screen time for older children and instead encourage children to read newspapers, play board games, play outdoors, do hobbies, and use their imaginations in free play.

Why I’m Not Buying it

I agree that children’s brains are developing rapidly. (Check out my reading program to see what children are truly capable of at a young age.) And because of this, I believe in exposing children to all kinds of learning opportunities, including screen time. Appropriately used screen time can be an amazing teaching tool!

There is just something extremely disturbing to me about a large, revered, and somewhat feared institution making a claim of this magnitude. Ban ALL screen time for the first two years? Really? I mean, it’s just absurd! So no educational playlists, no ABC videos, no nursery rhymes, no home movies, no educational apps, no family movie night, no exposure whatsoever to something that is a part of our daily lives and that we as adults use constantly? Are we supposed to segregate our children from our lives completely in order to prevent them from the evils of technology? This sounds a bit archaic and very fear based to me.

I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowledge that our children will not only encounter technology at some point, but that it will be an ever increasing part of their lives as we continue to make technological advancements and that we should teach them not only how to navigate it but how to choose the good over the bad? How to enjoy the educational over the mundane? How to use it in a positive way? But that doesn’t make for a very good slogan does it?

The American Academy of Pediatrics must assume that everyone is stupid and so instead of making a recommendation about filtering the input we expose our children to (and why do we need an institution to tell us, “don’t show your kids inappropriate content” anyways?) they say just ban it all. Ban it all, because it’s obviously a choice of one or the other. We will either park our children in front of the TV, computer, ipad, or cell phone all day every day, or we will interact and talk with them, encourage them to play outside, and model behaviors that will lead to healthy choices and lifestyles, and so they say that we must choose the latter.

What Do the Studies Say?

First of all, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that “studies show”, but doesn’t link to any studies. Where are the studies? So I did some research and found an excellent data source through the Kaiser Family Foundation. They did a meta study of all of the research ever done about children and electronic media from the 1960s to 2005. Because ipads and such are so new, there hasn’t been enough time to conduct any significant longitudinal studies, but what this meta study found about electronic media up until 2005 is pretty interesting. They also conducted a phone survey with 1,065 parents, and although I think phone surveys are pretty ridiculous, this one pointed to some interesting information. So here’s what they found.

  • 36% of children live in a home where the TV is left on all of the time regardless if anyone was watching it.
  • 65% of children live in a home where the the TV is on at least half of the time or more, even if no one was watching it.
  • Most kids watch TV and are exposed to media.
  • Most kids have some kind of rules about how much TV they watch.
  • Most kids watch TV with a parent in the room.
  • Kids in this survey spent about 2 hours per day watching TV, 2 hours playing outside, and about 40 minutes per day reading.

The meta study was the most fascinating because after analyzing the salient points, I am surprised that the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement requiring parents to have their children watch a certain amount of educational programming per day. Here are some of the highlights about educational programming:

  • Children who viewed educational programs like Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Dragontales, Arthur, and Clifford between the ages of 6 months to 30 months of age had accelerated language growth whereas children who viewed adult programming had reduced vocabularies.
  • Children who watched Blue’s Clues scored better on problem solving and flexible thinking than children who did not.
  • When preschoolers who watched educational programming were studied once again in high school, they had higher grades and read more books than those who did not watch educational programming.
  • In low income homes, educational viewing at ages 2 and 3 predicted school readiness.

But what about the negative aspects of TV viewing? What evidence could the American Academy of Pediatrics point to that would link electronic media to obesity and  sleep disorders? Here is what I found:

  • The likelihood of obesity in low income multi-ethnic children ages 1-5 increased for each hour of TV or video viewed.
  • Body fat and body mass index increased most between children ages 4-11 who watched the most TV.
  • 40% of children had a TV in their bedroom and were more likely to watch more TV and more likely to be obese.
  • Advertising and its effects on consumerism in children has been a continuing concern since the 1970s because very young children are unable to recognize the persuasive intent of advertising.
  • Children (average age of four years) preferred specific foods advertised.
  • Viewing frightening programming raised children’s heart rates and caused PTSD symptoms.

There is another phone study that claims to show the negative impact of baby DVDs for children under two, but all it does is show how completely horrible Baby Einstein videos are…and yes, they are terrible. Just try watching one for a few minutes and you will immediately lose a few IQ points. (To see an example of the type of quality programming for young children like the Your Baby Can Read videos, check out this video that my husband and I made.)

What Do the Studies Mean?

So, from what I can gather, the studies show that children who watch educational programming are better off than those who do not. This makes me wonder why the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t issue a statement encouraging parents to increase their children’s watching of educational programming rather than calling for a ban of all screen time.

Next, the studies make a correlation between the amount of TV that children watch and their levels of obesity. But when analyzing data and looking at correlations, you have to wonder when several factors involved, which is causing which. My best guess is that it’s not just the TV watching that’s leading to sedentary behavior that’s leading to obesity, but rather the massive amount of commercials geared towards manipulating children to want to consume copious amounts of sugary candy, cereals, and soft drinks as well as nutrient depleted fast foods and other such junk.

In our house, we never watch TV with commercials and so our kids are pretty much oblivious to the marketing. But I remember one time when my husband found some Internet channel that streamed old Nickelodeon programming from the 90s, and when the commercials came on, our kids were hooked! Luckily, when they begged us for Bubble Tape and Gushers we knew that they wouldn’t be able to find them anywhere. 🙂

Maybe you SHOULD consider banning the use of screen time in your home if you do the following:

1. Keep the TV on all day long, even if no one is watching it, and give your child unlimited access to  ipads and tablets with no time restrictions whatsoever.

2. Let your children watch whatever they want regardless of how appropriate it is or if it causes nightmares. What’s wrong with blood, gore, killing, bad language, mature content, and clowns who hide in sewers waiting to snatch children anyways?

3. Don’t worry about your children’s exposure to commercials. Also, when they ask you to buy them the food and toys from the commercials, do it immediately!

4. Never watch TV with your kids, never talk to your children about what they are watching, and never watch what games they like to play on their ipads and tablets.

5. Let children keep TVs in their bedrooms in addition to ipads and tablets. Never make sure they turn the TV or their devices off before going to bed.

6. Instead of talking and interacting with your children or letting them go outside to play, just have them watch TV or play their ipads and tablets instead.

How to Use Screen Time Appropriately

1. Give up your cable subscription and be intentional about what your children watch. Learn how to connect your TV to your computer here so you can access things like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube (find else what else we watch instead of TV here). And with the money you save from your cable subscription, you can buy entire seasons of your children’s favorite shows such as Dora, Blue’s Clues, Preschool Prep, The Magic School Bus and other educationally based programming! Not everything needs to be educational either. I like following my children’s interests to help them find fictional programs about dragons, adventure, or fantasy based on whatever they are interested in.

2. Download YouTube Kids on tablets. There is a lot of bad stuff on YouTube that children can stumble upon. You can always scroll to the bottom of the screen when YouTube is loaded and turn the restricted mode on and it will filter out content that has been flagged as inappropriate, but YouTube Kids is even safer. It’s an app that you can download for free on any tablet and you can choose if children can use the search option or not.

3. Find cool apps to download. With my little ones, it’s easy to engage them with great learning apps like Starfall and Endless Alphabet. I also like to download apps based on their interests like cars and trucks, Dora, or whatever they are interested in. With my older kids, I really have to do my research to keep finding apps that will engage them in a creative way. Minecraft and Terraria are definitely some favorites.

4. Do whatever you can to limit your children’s exposure to commercials. If and when your children do see commercials, talk to them about the persuasive techniques advertisers use to get them to buy their products. Also, don’t buy them everything they ask for. When children ask for things that I don’t want to buy for them, I either explain that we can’t afford it or tell them to add it to their Amazon wish list and maybe grandma and grandpa will buy it for their birthday.

5. Watch programs with your children and talk to them about what they are watching. Make sure that you sit down and watch TV with your children so that you can make sure what they are watching is appropriate. By watching TV with them, you will learn what they are really interested in and kind find ways to bring the favorite parts of their programs into imagination games and such. Once you are familiar with what your children are watching, I think it’s fine to have them watch it on their own. Sometimes you just need kids to be entertained for a little while so you can get a few things done!

5. Keep TVs, computers, video consoles, and tablets in common areas where you can monitor what they are being exposed to. Letting children lock themselves away in their bedrooms to watch content with no parental guidance is just a recipe for disaster. If they are using technology in a common area, not only can you protect them from inappropriate content, but you will learn about what they are interested in.

6. Allow plenty of time for talking and interacting with your children and encourage them to play outside instead of letting them sit in from of the TV all day every day. Saying that screen time should be banned because human interaction is better is just absurd because it’s not an either or situation. If we’re talking about extremes here, then would it be best for parents to have face to face time with their child for every minute of every day? Doesn’t that sound just as absurd as children being in front of a TV all day? (Well, maybe not as absurd, but still absurd.) Do you think that as parents you can exhibit some moderation and self control and maybe not have the only options to be no screen time or only screen time? Isn’t there some sort of middle ground that can be achieved without the government having to step in and tell you what to do?

7. Encourage a balance and set limits if you have to. I used to have this vision that I would let our kids have as much screen time as they want, and they would choose to have a balance…but that was not the case! I have since implemented some rules like: 1) While eating, they can only watch something educational 2) Before having choice time (during the summer and on weekends) they have to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, make their bed, do something creative, play outside, and do a chore before having choice time. 3) The limits I set on how long choice time is depends on what I need to get done.

In Conclusion

The main point here is that it’s all about moderation. As parents, we have to moderate a lot of things in the lives of our children. There aren’t always (or ever?) times when things are just black and white. It is our job to sift through the gray and find things that work best for us, our family, our lives, and our children. So take the time to do the research yourself, see what works for your family through trial and error, but don’t blindly accept the fate doled out to you by some institution who only sees things in black and white.