Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scholastic's Summer Reading Challenge Has Us Reading Under The Stars! {#SummerReading}

Last month I introduced my kids to the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge and, without a doubt, they have been thrilled to participate!

Scholastic summer reading logo

Considering how much they already adore reading, the addition of fun, games, puzzles, rewards and more has resulted in a not-too-surprising increase in that love! Not familiar with the program? Read on!

Now in its 8th year, the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is a free, online/mobile reading program that helps prepare kids for back-to-school by encouraging them to read every day all summer long. As a way to stop the "Summer Slide," kids are encouraged to read during the summer months by taking part in all sorts of fun weekly challenges and the chance to earn digital rewards.

Scholastic Summer Reading for kids

This year's Summer Reading Challenge theme is "Reading Under the Stars" and is powered by EVEREADY® to encourage families to discover new and fun ways to explore reading outside. Throughout the summer, kids have the chance to open their worlds and read around the galaxy and unlock star constellations as they log reading minutes.

EVEREADY logoMy girls absolutely love (and never let me forget) to log onto Scholastic's site every day, add in their minutes and watch their totals climb!

As well as their own personal tallies, my kids have been loving seeing the total number of minutes read from kids around the world. The original goal had been just to beat the 2013 works record and that has already been shattered! As of right now, kids have read for 193,235,707 minutes, which equates to a whole lot of books!

Scholastic minutes read

Even though my kids didn't really need any encouragement to read this summer, we received a box containing everything we needed to have a Summer Reading Under the Stars party and it managed to bring the excitement to an entirely new level!

Reading Under The Stars
Not pictured: a ton more great EVEREADY® flashlights and batteries, posters, bookmarks and more!

How adorably fun is this?

In order to stay off of the grass and away from a few more of the mosquitoes that are plaguing our yard, we set up our blanket, pillows, EVEREADY® flashlights, books from Scholastic and more on our trampoline... plus, as the sun doesn't go down until after my kids are already in bed in the summer, we got a little creative with the "under the stars" theme and added a few of our own.

Besides, I wanted to head out early enough so that we could spend as much time relaxing and reading together as we could!

outdoor reading

Although I knew that having a mini Summer Reading Under the Stars party was going to be a good time, it turned out to be a really great bonding-over-books experience for all three of us. I grabbed my current novel and laid down in between the girls and all three of us turned page after page — I love reading and am so glad that my kids do, too!

Scholastic reading

Of course we did take some breaks for snacks, trips to the bathroom, jumping on the trampoline to get the wiggles out, looking for constellations in the stars and more, but overall, the few hours ended up being a big success and the girls had a blast!

Reading Under The Stars party

There is plenty of summer left to hold a Reading Under the Stars party at your house, too — the main thing that you need is a pile of good books! You can even get your extended family and friends involved by inviting them over for an outdoor party so that they can enjoy just how much fun reading outdoors can be.

Reading Under the Stars invitation

Whether your kids are constantly reaching for a book or it is hard to keep them educationally-focused during the summer, Scholastic has made it easy and fun for all ages to stay interested and involved. Be sure to head over to sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge and amp up the excitement about reading!

Stay connected with everything Scholastic as well by liking Scholastic Parents on Facebook, following Scholastic on Twitter and Instagram, following the Summer Reading Challenge Pinterest Board and liking the Summer Reading Challenge YouTube Playlist. Happy reading!

This post is part of a collaboration with Scholastic. All thoughts and opinions expressed are honest and my own.

Join Auntie Anne's and Alex's Lemonade Stand in the Mighty Fight Against Childhood Cancer

With all of the advancements and inventions that have occurred during this past decade (and those that came before) there is no denying that mankind as a whole has come a long way.

But is creating smaller phones and faster computers what truly matters?

For me (and parents everywhere), nothing is as important as the health and safety of my children. Therefore, even though I enjoy seeing what new gadgets and devices debut year after year, I would much rather hear about the eradication of diseases and illnesses that threaten children and the organizations that are doing everything they can to help prevent kids from getting sick (or helping cure those that are).

Which is just one of the reasons that I was thrilled to hear that my favorite pretzel company, Auntie Anne's, has once again partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) to help fight childhood cancer!

Unfamiliar with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation? Where have you been?

This incredible foundation emerged from the front yard lemonade stand of cancer patient Alexandra "Alex" Scott (1996-2004). At the age of 4, Alex announced that she wanted to hold a lemonade stand to raise money to help find a cure for all children with cancer. Since Alex held that first stand, the Foundation bearing her name has evolved into a national fundraising movement, complete with thousands of volunteers across the country carrying on her legacy of hope.

To date, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised more than $75 million toward fulfilling Alex’s dream of finding a cure, funding over 375 research projects nationally.

I can't help but tear up every time I have the chance to promote ALSF and the research and children that they have helped support over the years. Would the possibility of a cure for childhood cancer be where it is today without ALSF? Probably not. And would incredibly brave kids like Jordan Vincent be able to inspire all of us as a Mini But Mighty Hero?

Jordan Vincent

Jordan, a 15-year-old living in California, was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2003 when she was only 4. So, while today she may appear as a typical teenager that loves her iPad, fashion and the color purple, this "cancer slayer" is in fact fighting a daily battle against a rare brain cancer and has spent over half of her life in cancer treatment.

I can't even begin to fathom what Jordan and her family has been through (and continues to deal with), but I love being able to find out about her incredible strength and passion and the optimism that she brings to each and every day. You're amazing, Jordan!

Jordan Vincent cancer slayer

You can find more information about Jordan and the stories of many other Childhood Cancer Heroes on the ALSF website, where you will no doubt be moved by the strength, courage and bravery that these children portray.

It's time for all of us to come together and follow in Alex Scott's vision to find a cure for all children with cancer. Head over to ALSF to find out more and, even better, take part next week in the amazing Mighty Fight Against Childhood Cancer campaign to raise even more money and attention.

The Mighty Fight campaign

Mark your calendar, set your alarm or tell Siri to remind you — from July 28 to September 15, you've GOT to visit and take part in this campaign!

Auntie Anne's is donating money in my name to Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for sharing this information, but all thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prep For Summer Road Trips with State Farm {Summer Trunk Safety Makeover Kit Giveaway!}

State Farm logo
Although summer is already halfway over (what?!), there are still numerous vacations planned for families looking to get away together for a little relaxation and fun before the whirl of back to school planning gets underway.

But as well as making sure you've packed enough sunscreen, haven't forgotten your child's beloved stuffed animal, and have enough clean underwear to get everyone through the trip, have you ensured that your vehicle is prepared for your road trip in the heat?

We all work to make sure that our car can keep us safe through the cold of winter, but it's important to know that there are steps to take before logging all of the summer road trip miles on it as well. Thanks to State Farm, you can easily check items off of your vehicle's checkup list and rest easy that your vacation will be hassle-free (car-related, at least)!

Before your family road trip this summer, remember to:
  • Inspect the radiator, pressure cap, belts, and hoses to make sure they are in good shape with no signs of blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber.
  • Check fluid levels: brake, automatic transmission, power steering, windshield washer and coolant. Make sure each reservoir is full and if you see any sign of fluid leakage, take your vehicle in to be serviced.
  • Check the air pressure in all tires, including the spare.
  • Make sure the wiper blades are functioning properly.
  • Check battery life and inspect batteries and battery cables.
  • Inspect brake pads and linings for wear; change the oil and filter according to manufacturer’s service interval specifications.
  • Test the headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights.
Even if you've thoroughly checked your car, there is no way to be 100% confident that you won't need an emergency kit. So, even though your trunk may be packed with suitcases and beach umbrellas, State Farm suggests you don't leave home without jumper cables; flashlight; emergency flat tire repair; gloves, blankets and towels; hazard triangle, road flares, brightly colored distress sign, or "Help" or "Call Police" flag; screwdrivers and wrenches; first aid kit; cell phone and charger; water for both the car radiator and your family; and high-calorie, non-perishable food.

family vacation packing

Your bags are packed, your car has been inspected and your emergency kit is filled and stowed... time to hit the road for vacation, right?

Hold on! Before you take to social media to say goodbye and head out the door, keep in mind a few more great tips that will help keep your home, children and pets safe, secure and happy while you're gone.

Summer Road Travel Tips

For the remainder of the summer (and for all road trip vacations to come), be cautious, be safe and be prepared. Along with having the important supplies in your car, take the time to regularly check that all of your vehicle's equipment is working properly. Your family just might be depending on it!

Head over to the State Farm website to find many more tips, ideas, information and more that can help keep all aspects of your life prepared and ready for anything. Plus, connect with them on Facebook and Twitter so that you won't miss the great articles this good neighbor company has to share.

And, thanks to their generosity, one person will be prepared for their next road trip even more than usual, because...

One lucky person will win a Summer Trunk Safety Makeover Kit*
from State Farm (ARV $50)!

State Farm giveaway
*Kit includes: State Farm cross-body bag, travel mug, first aid kit, mini flashlight, Rand McNally Road Atlas, jumper cables, windshield scraper, tire pressure gauge, 9-piece ratchet set and hand driver, pliers, (2) screwdrivers, electrical tape, automotive fuses, insulated ring and spade terminals, work gloves, triangular hazard sign carrying case.

A big thank you to State Farm for providing a prize pack for me as well as for one lucky giveaway winner. The opinions shared are my own and honest and if you really need to see more, click here to see how I roll.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Smartest Watch For Kids: VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch {Review & Giveaway}

VTech logo
While I don't envy some of the ways that advancements in technology will affect my kids as they get older (e.g. stupid mistakes going public through social media, always feeling the need to stay connected, etc), I am a little jealous about all of the ways that it has made their childhood cooler than mine.

Can I help it if I wish that I had been able to watch movies during long car trips, had all of my favorite books and songs at my fingertips at all times or had been given a tablet to play on when waiting for a delayed doctor's appointment?

Similarly, the watch that I had as a child was a very standard one. It told time. That's all.

But kids these days? These lucky watch-wearers don't only get to tell time, they can now capture photos, add effects, record videos, play games and much more with the VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch!

VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch

Taking the wearable technology trend to a younger level, VTech's first ever fun camera watch for kids has arrived with features and abilities that are sure to thrill any young owner. An interactive watch that allows kids to take just about all of their favorite VTech games and toys with them right on their wrist? Amazing!

VTech Kidizoom watch

Unsurprisingly, Big Sister E and Little Sister B were extremely eager to open our Kidizoom Smartwatch so that they could start using it. I couldn't blame them!

Right away I found the setup easy, as I simply used the included micro USB cord to ensure that the rechargeable battery was full and flipped the (tiny!) power switch on the back to ON.

From there it took a few taps to set the date and time and we were able to swipe between all of the great options that were waiting.

Is there anything that the multi-functional Kidizoom Smartwatch can't do?

Kidizoom Smartwatch screens

The Kidizoom Smartwatch watch.

Perfect for kids learning to tell time, the Kidizoom Smartwatch allows users to choose their watch face (there are more than 50 digital and analog clock displays to pick from)...

VTech kids watch faces

...as well as use this device as a timer, alarm or stopwatch. The combination of the colors, designs, animation and tones really come together to make this a kid-friendly way to tell the time or countdown a few minutes!

The Kidizoom Smartwatch camera.

Young photographers can easily capture photos and videos while on the go with the Kidizoom Smartwatch, as the camera itself is located right on the top edge of the watch and the shutter is controlled either by the camera button on the side or the image of the shutter on the screen.

Kidizoom Smartwatch camera

Along with snapping regular photos, the Kidizoom Smartwatch can add fun special effects such as photo frames, color filters and distortion (these options must be selected before taking the photos, however, and cannot be applied to a picture already taken).

Is there a kid out there that doesn't get a kick out of taking humorous pictures of themselves, their family members, their pets and more?

Kidizoom camera effects

VTech made it easy to scroll back through the photos taken (or watch them in a slideshow mode) or, for even more action, the camera can record short videos as well!

The Kidizoom Smartwatch voice recorder.

This cute addition gives users the ability to record a message right onto the watch and play it back whenever and wherever they choose. Even better, another tap or two allows users to change the way that the message is played back, resulting in the voice being higher, lower, slower, robotic, etc. My kids are constantly giggling over the funny way that they sound!

The Kidizoom Smartwatch games.

This watch comes preloaded with four learning games (more can easily be downloaded from VTech's Learning Lodge), with each one providing just the right mix of education and entertainment. There is also the option to utilize the parental controls, in case you want to limit the amount of time your child spends playing games each day — no limit, 30 minutes, 60 minutes or 90 minutes.

However, as the parental controls are accessed directly on the watch screen by anyone who can read (the "password" is to press a certain color square three times), if you are trying to limit an older child's play time, they would easily be able to bypass these if they did a little searching.

As for the games themselves, it only takes a few taps on the easy-to-use 1.4" color touch screen before play can begin!

Kidizoom Super Detective gameSuper Detective
This game shows which character the user is looking for and then switches through various different faces, with the objective to only tap on the original one to collect points. There are three levels in round 1 and three levels in round 2, which get slightly more difficult as the user advances, but overall this is an extremely easy game. Skills used include recognition, matching skills, observation and more.

Kidizoom Rotating Puzzle game
Rotating Puzzle
This timed game begins by showing a photo, either provided (e.g. flower, sheep, apple) or one of your own, and divides it into quarters. The three rounds of level 1 have one or two of the squares turned and the player taps them to get them turned upright without taking too long. The rounds of level 2 have one, two or three of the squares turned for slightly added difficulty. Skills used include picture recognition, logical thinking, small motor skills and more.

Kidizoom finger dance game
Finger Dance
Players tap on the indicated circle in time with the jazzy classical music, adding points with each correct move. The cute, colorful animated backgrounds change each time and the movements get slightly faster and more difficult through the three levels. Skills used include concentration, recognition, reflex, small motor skills and more.

Kidizoom Time Master game
Time Master
Less of a game and more of a fun way to encourage the user to help tell time using both analog and digital, players select between Hour or Minute and change them to any desired time. When tapped, the friendly owl then tells what time it is on the clock in two different ways — e.g. "It is a quarter past 8 in the morning," and "It is 8:15 am."

Little Sister B deemed Finger Dance her favorite of the Kidizoom Smartwatch games and, after playing any of them, always has a grin when she is "presented" with a trophy and congratulations messages!

Truly, VTech has found a way to make their Kidizoom Smartwatch the right combination of fun and education in a small, portable package. I appreciate that photos and videos can quickly be uploaded onto my computer, that one of the settings allows parents to raise and lower the volume (even the lowest seems loud to me when in a quiet location, so we have mostly left the sound off completely) and that it is easy to see the amount of battery left right on the screen.

At the same time, recharging is easy by plugging this watch into any USB port, although VTech states that the battery will last up to two weeks before needing to be charged. I assume that it would also depend on the amount of usage and if turned the power switch on the back is turned off to conserve more instead of letting the screen "sleep." However, turning off the power does have the downfall that the date/clock has to then be reset every time that the power is turned back on, which starts to feel like a hassle.

Overall, this is one tech toy created with a kid-durable design to withstand drops and bumps and a splash/sweat-proof coating for no worries about everyday play. I assume that VTech's Kidizoom Smartwatch is easily going to be on wishlists across the country as it's just too fun to be able to have all of this child-friendly technology (designed for ages 4+, I would recommend for ages 4-5) right at your fingertips!

VTech Kidizoom watch review

Retailing for $59.99 in four vibrant color options — blue, pink, white and green — the Kidizoom Smartwatch is available now from VTechKids.com, on Amazon and in stores near you. As well as heading to the VTech website, be sure to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about this and all of their high quality products.

And, thanks to their generosity, one person will soon get to see why their child will enjoy having the best of VTech kids' fun right on their wrist as well, because...

One lucky person will win a Kidizoom Smartwatch from VTech!

Kidizoom Smartwatch giveaway

The VTech product, gift card, information, and additional gift pack have been provided by VTech. The opinions shared are my own and honest and if you really need to see more, click here to see how I roll.