COVID19: Fun & educational sites for your stay-at-home kids


young brother and sister using tablets at home

Who likes to be cooped up? None of us!  But kids are in their formative, high-energy years so it’s particularly hard for them to be away from school, friends, playgrounds, sports, and other activities. And if you are a parent, your challenge is to keep your kid(s) engaged, learning, happy, and safe. Online school activities and homework are likely occupying a good amount of time, but as we approach the weekend, we thought we’d offer some fun resources for you and your kids to explore. At the end of the list, we’ve also included some resources for keeping your kids safe online.

To start, we point you to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit offering reviews for what your kids want to watch (before they watch it). It offers trusted ratings for movies, books & apps created with families in mind. See their Resources for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic. OK, on to the site

The Smithsonian – Fun Stuff for Kids and Teens
Meet the animals in live video cams, play games in the Science Game Center, visit the Learning Lab, download coloring sheets from the collection and explore more than a million science, art, history and nature resources.

NASA Space Place – Science for Kids
The site’s mission is “to inspire and enrich upper-elementary-aged kids‘ learning of space and Earth science online through fun games, hands-on activities, informative articles and engaging short videos. With material in both English and Spanish and resources for parents and teachers, NASA Space Place has something for everyone.”

NASA Kids Club
This site offers games is geared to children pre-K through grade 4. These games support national education standards in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Sesame Street Caring for Each Other
In response to the unprecedented uncertainty facing young children and families, Sesame Workshop’s Caring for Each Other initiative marks the beginning of a commitment to support families throughout the COVID-19 health crisis with a broad variety of free resources. “Children thrive with structure in their lives and they learn best through play–even in everyday moments like mealtimes and morning and evening routines. So our site is filled with content you can use all day long to spark playful learning, offer children comfort, and focus a bit on yourself, too.”

Code.org
Respected nonprofit that provides the leading curriculum for K-12 computer science in the US. Learn computer science when schools are closed features “Hour of Code” one-hour tutorials, online courses for both pre-readers and kids aged 9-18, a video library, apps and APP Lab where you can learn to design and build apps. Take a Code Break  offers a weekly interactive classroom with special guests; A weekly activity or challenge; Options for beginners, experienced students, and even students without computers. Create an account or just start coding – no account needed. All courses are available at no cost.

The Best Kids’ Podcasts for Sheltering at Home
Compiled by Wired Magazine, who says, “These child-friendly podcasts will keep your children entertained and ease the stress of being stuck indoors.”

EarthCam’s Animal Cams
Watch animals from parks, zoos and sanctuaries worldwide.

Some of the Best Online Learning Apps & Games for Kids
Wirecutter spent more than 40 hours researching and testing 50-plus apps recommended by educators, experts, and parents – they offer some great suggestions.

Audible Stories
For as long as schools are closed, kids everywhere can instantly stream an incredible collection of stories, including titles across six different languages, that will help them continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids. All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.

TIME for Kids
The school-based publication that has provided quality, trusted journalism to millions of students in elementary classrooms for 25 years, will provide free access to new issues of TIME for Kids and Your $, the financial literacy magazine for kids for the remainder of the school year. TIME for Kids will also make available a complete library of previously published editions from 2020 along with additional educational resources and activities.

The League of Young Inventors – Invent at Home
Nonprofit with a mission to make interdisciplinary hands-on science learning accessible to a wide range of kids, both inside and outside of school. They offer a growing series of free hands-on STEAM lessons for families with kids in grades K-5. Before you start, they offer a recommended that families build a Problem Solver’s Toolkit of basic school supplies, craft materials, and household recyclables.

The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks
Follow rangers on virtual tours of several national parks. From Google Arts & Culture.

Scholastic Learn At Home
Daily lessons that combine videos, stories and prompts for drawing and writing activities. Grade levels include pre-K through grade 9.

20 Amazing Places You Can Visit Without Leaving Home
For parents and kids, visit museums, aquariums, safari parks, zoos, Northern lights and more.

Internet safety for kids – parental resources

 

Shopping tips to avoid dangerous toys


Little boy playing with toy cars

Right now, Santa is checking his lists, but don’t leave it all up to him. If you are a parent or give gifts to kids, we encourage you to learn about common toy hazards so that you can sort out the naughty from the nice when it comes to toys. In 2018, injuries related to toys sent an estimated 226,000 kids to hospital emergency rooms, according to data recently issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale over recent years, there are still problem toys that can hurt kids. If you are shopping for children’s holiday gifts, it’s important to be aware of the risks – particularly when shopping online.

The 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund helps identify dangerous products and provides tips for parents and gift-givers. These annual reports have led to more than 150 recalls of unsafe toys, inspired legislation to strengthen toy safety and empowered parents to take key actions to ensure toys are safe. We’re offering  safety tips from the report but encourage you to visit the site at the link above and to download and read the full report. Also, check for toy recalls and follow Safety Alerts issued by the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission

Here are “What to watch for” tips from the Trouble in Toyland Report

  • Toys with sound – If a toy is too loud for you, it could be loud enough to damage your child’s hearing. Turn off the sound, remove the batteries or return the toy.
  • Slime – Some slimes contain high levels of toxic boron. Consider making homemade alternatives without borax, or monitor your children at all times. If your child ingests a slime product, call Poison Control.
  • Fidget spinners and toys marketed to adults – Some products, such as fidget spinners or children’s makeup, are not classified as toys and avoid certain safety standards. These products could contain higher levels of lead, choking risks and other hidden dangers. Avoid these “toys,” or watch your kids closely while they play.
  • Toys with small parts – Toys marketed to ages six and older may contain small parts that are choking hazards for younger children. Parents should check all toys for age guidelines. Before your child plays with a toy for the first time, see if smaller parts fit through a toilet paper roll — indicating they pose a choking hazard. Watch our video to learn how.
  • “Hatching” toys – Toys with break-apart packaging can become choking hazards for small children. Monitor your child while they open the packaging and promptly dispose of the pieces.
  • Balloons – Never let a child under three play with balloons, and monitor any child under 8, as balloons are the number one choking hazard for children.
  • Smart toys – Sites, apps, games and smart toys may be collecting private data from your child and exposing their information to hackers. Consider running these smart toys without connections to the internet, evaluating privacy policies when you first activate them, and monitoring your child’s use. Check out this guide for more info.
  • Makeup – We found asbestos in Claire’s makeup last year. Makeup lacks necessary safety standards, which is why we recommend avoiding these products for children, or at a minimum purchasing alternatives without talc, as it can be a source of asbestos.
  • Toys with small magnets -Swallowed magnets can cause serious internal damage by bunching together. Keep away from young children and monitor older children when they are playing with toys containing magnets.
  • Toy jewelry with toxic metals – Cadmium is a toxic metal that can be used as a substitute for precious metals in inexpensive jewelry, including dress-up jewelry marketed to young children. If your child is under six, watch them carefully to confirm that they don’t swallow a piece of jewelry, chew on the item, or put it in their mouths. Also, consider avoiding cheaper, metallic jewelry that is imported.
  • Recalled toys sold secondhand – Before using an old or pre-owned toy from an online marketplace, garage sale or passed down from a family member, parents should confirm that the product has not been recalled by visiting www.SaferProducts.gov.
  • Toys already in your home, school, or childcare facility – A survey earlier this year by U.S. PIRG Education Fund found 1 in 10 surveyed childcare facilities still using recalled inclined sleepers, despite a heavily publicized recall. The same problem exists in the toy market, potentially to a greater extent, since many recalls receive less attention in the media, regardless of their risk.

2019 Worst Toy Nominees

The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.)  recently released its 2019 Nominees for the 10 Worst Toys – check out the report for photos and descriptions so you can recognize the toys, some of which would definitely have appeal. The W.A.T.C.H. report also cautions about chopping online, which it has likened to the Wild West when it comes to outlawed toys.

W.A.T.C.H. lists the following safety tips related to toys to watch out for:

  • Toys Marketed On The Internet, with product descriptions that may omit warnings and cautions or provide incomplete or misleading information
  • Battery Operated Toys For Children Under 8 Years Of Age since batteries may leak, overheat and explode.
  • Toys With “Fur” Or “Hair”, including dolls and stuffed animals, that can be ingested and aspirated by oral age children.
  • Toys With Small Removable Attachments at the end of laces and strings (e.g., bells, knobs, etc.).
  • Projectile Toys, including dart guns, sling shots, and pea-shooters which shoot objects and can cause eye injuries or blindness
  • Toys With Pointed Tips, And Blunt Or Sharp Edges that could crush, cut or puncture children’s skin.
  • Toys With Strings Longer Than 6 Inches which could strangle small children.
  • Any Crib Or Playpen Toys which are to be strung across cribs or playpens. This type of toy has resulted in strangulation deaths and injuries.
  • Toys Marketed With Other Product Lines, such as food, clothing, books, cassettes and videos which could have dangerous designs and are often sold with no warnings, instructions or age recommendations.
  • Toys Composed Of Flammable Material which will readily ignite when exposed to heat or flame.
  • Realistic Looking Toy Weapons including guns, dart guns, Ninja weaponry, swords, toy cleavers, knives, and crossbows which promote violence.
  • Toys Which Require Electricity to function and do not have step-down transformers to reduce risk of shock and electrocution.
  • Toys With Small Parts that can be swallowed or aspirated, causing choking.
  • Long Handled Toys For Children Up To 4 Years Of Age due to a tendency of such children to place these toys in their mouths and choke.
  • Toys With Toxic Surfaces Or Components that have the potential to be ingested or cause skin irritations (e.g., some children’s’ play makeup kits have components which contain ferrocyanide, a known poison).

School bus safety tips for kids and for drivers


school bus safety - kids getting on a school bus

Now that we’re in back-to-school season, take the time to teach your children school bus safety. Even if you’ve done it before, good habits can be forgotten over the lazy summer days so be sure to review procedures at the start of every new school year. Consumer Reports offers School Bus Safety Tips for Back to School. They suggest tips for safety while waiting for and getting on the bus, while riding the bus, and exiting the bus. It’s particularly important to give kids safety rules about remaining visible to the bus driver at all times when entering or exiting the bus or crossing in front of our behind the bus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a helpful back to school safety tip sheet. We’re reprinting the safety tips that deal with traveling to and from school safely.

SCHOOL BUS SAFETY FOR KIDS

  • Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
  • Make sure your child walks where she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see her, too).
  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street – traffic does not always stop as required. Practice with your child how to cross the street several times prior to the first day of school.
  • Teach your child to respect all the bus rules, including staying seated and listening to the driver.
  • If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus. (If your child’s school bus does not have lap/shoulder belts, encourage the school system to buy or lease buses with lap/shoulder belts).
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus.  Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan, if possible, prior to the first day of class.

MOTORISTS, TAKE HEED!

Train yourself to be as alert for school bus lights as you are for traffic lights. Motorists need to a complete stop when lights are flashing. Failure to do so can result in steep fines and points added to your driving record for years to come. In Massachusetts, failure to stop can result in a ticket of up to $250. That fine can go up to $2,000 and a suspended license of up to a year for subsequent offenses. In Florida, the minimum fine is $165, or $265  if you pass on the side where children enter and exit, In Connecticut, failure to stop for a school bus with flashing red warning lights can result in a hefty fine of $465 for a first offense. See state school bus laws for motorists and state motorist fines for school bus violations.

KIDS AS PEDESTRIANS OR BIKERS

If your kids are walking or riding a bike to school, they need to learn how to be safe around vehicles and traffic. Here are more tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about walking or biking to and from school:

WALKING TO SCHOOL

  • Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age as long as they are at the right developmental skill level and show good judgment.
  • Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If the route home requires crossing busier streets than your child can reasonably do safely, have an adult, older friend or sibling escort them home.
  • If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.
  • Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school.  In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
  • Bright-colored clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.

BIKING

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.
  • Know the “rules of the road.”

 

“It takes seconds.” Protect your children from drowning


Summer fun often happens in or around bodies of water: lakes, ponds, pools, and beaches are abuzz with activity during the warm-weather vacation months. But fun can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Drowning is the number one killer of children aged 1-4, and it much of the time it happens even while an adult is close at hand.

That’s because drowning in real life doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see. In the movies, drowning people shout and wave their arms. In real life, drowning happens quietly and quickly, as the victim succumbs to the body’s instinctual drowning response. This can look a lot like a child attempting to dog-paddle.

“The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect,” said Mario Vittone, a water safety expert. “There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning.”

The recent tragic death by drowning of Emeline Grier Miller, the 19-month-old daughter of professional beach volleyball player and model Morgan Beck Miller and her husband, US Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, serves as a stark example of how fast tragedy can strike.

“It takes SECONDS,” she wrote on Instagram, urging all parents of young children to be aware of the dangers of drowning.

To see what the Instinctive Drowning Response looks like as it happens, watch this scary video (warning: child endangerment):

Stay close to your kids when you’re in the water and know what to look for. Attention and knowledge are the best tools we have to keep our children safe from this all-too-frequent threat.

Children’s car safety seats: Are you using yours correctly?


baby in a car seat

Are you using your child’s car safety seat properly? A 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests you might not be. More than half the car seats looked at in the report were improperly installed or incorrectly used. Similar studies conducted independently showed even higher levels of misuse. While some of the errors found in these studies were small, others were large enough to negate the safety of the seat entirely. As Miriam Manary, senior engineering research associate at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told the New York Times:

“… somewhere around 35 percent of it is gross misuse where they’re not going to get any protection from that system — things like not securing the child restraint into the vehicle or not harnessing the child in the child restraint system.”

Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in children, and forty percent of children killed in automobile crashes were unrestrained. Correctly using a child’s car safety seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than half. The child safety group Safe Kids Worldwide offers free children’s car seat checks. Look at their website to see if they’re sponsoring an event near you. If there are no safety checks nearby, Safe Kids Worldwide also offers a list of technicians qualified to check that your children’s car safety seat is properly installed and that you’re using it right.

Here are some pointers to help make sure your children are getting the safest ride out of their car seats:

Don’t forget the top tether. All children’s car seats have at least three anchor straps. Some have five. It’s easy to forget that important top strap.

Check the expiration date. Like all good things, children’s car seats won’t last forever. Wear and tear, exposure to heat and UV light — all these things take their toll. Most convertible car seats are good for 10 years; most infant seats for 6. Check your warranty card to see when yours expires.

Been in a wreck? Throw it out. A damaged car seat is an ineffective car seat. If you’ve been in a serious accident while your child’s car seat was in the car with you, maybe toss it and get a new one.

And finally, some good news: more expensive doesn’t always mean better. All children’s car safety seats have to meet the same federal standards. They’re tested by the NHTSA to make sure that all models on the market conform to those guidelines. Some models may be more convenient, more versatile, better looking, or have a better cup holder – but they’re still providing the same baseline safety features.

So keep these tips in mind, do your homework, and before you take a spin, strap ‘em in!