Internet Safety

Internet Safety - Under the Monkey Bars blog

The internet suddenly became scary when we had kids. They can see and read anything with just a few clicks. Once they do, we can’t take it back. Images and words are so powerful. I know I can’t shelter the monkeys from everything, but it’s my job as a parent to help them find their way — safely.

It’s ironic that most of the information I’ve learned about internet safety I’ve read online. It wasn’t until I heard Detective Aaron Wojtkowski and Officer John Lucey III from the Newbury Police Department speak about internet safety that the topic really came to life.

The officers not only educated parents about the risks of social media, but also they shared real stories about local kids getting into trouble online. Big trouble. I got the chills more than once.

I’m quite certain that if I’m not vigilant, one of my monkeys could be their next case story.

It’s a complicated world out there. The internet is far from safe. Many social media applications can be dangerous. But regardless, kids are already using them or will be in the near future.

As parents, how do we keep our kids safe online? With new technology like mobile phones, iPods, laptops, and video games coming into our homes, we as parents need to educate ourselves and set family rules to protect our kids.

Officer Lucey recommends keeping all computers in a common area where an adult can monitor computer use at any time. He said that shared computers are easier to monitor and therefore safer. You’ll be more apt to check browser history on a computer you also use, not to mention how powerful walking by can be!

Well, that was my first mistake. I immediately took the laptop out of Bean’s room after the presentation. She has been respectful of our new “computers on the first floor only” rule but I’d image this will become more difficult as she gets older. Officer Lucey recommends that parents don’t allow kids to bring their phones to bed. We’re planning to have the kids leave their devices on the kitchen counter when we reach that point. This gives kids some healthy insecurity and gives you a chance for random checks.

Limiting the amount of time that kids spend online at night is another great tip. Most predators work during the day, making kids at greatest risk at night. This never would have crossed my mind and I definitely haven’t read about it online. “No computers after dinner” is another new rule at our house.

My monkeys don’t have mobile phones or an iPod touch yet, and I plan to hold out as long as I can despite the constant requests from the 10 year old. Common Sense Media, an online resource that helps kids and parents navigate our technology driven world, suggests that kids are mature enough to manage a phone at age 13 when they have a better sense of what’s happening in the world around them. Read more about their reasoning here

The internet brings cyber-bullying to the forefront 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Once kids are connected, they can’t avoid it. Victims can’t win. Detective Wojtkowski says not to engage bullies over social media and never reply impulsively. Some apps will allow you to access the privacy settings to block an abuser. Make sure to save and print the conversations first. It’s good to know that companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that are based in the U.S. cooperate with law enforcement, but not all apps do.

If you have teenagers, watch the move Cyberbully on Netflix together. I watched it myself last week and can’t believe how much stress social media adds to teenagers’ already complicated lives. There are so many apps out there it’s hard to keep track. Take a look at this guide on Common Sense Media.

Surprisingly, dating sites and apps are really big right now in middle and high school. This was a bit of a shocker for me. Kids can lie about their age to get access to a number of apps. Some are designed for kids over 18 — but some allow access to 13 year olds. Have you heard of MeetMe, Tinder, Hot or Not, Plenty of Fish, Okcupid, and Zoosk? Time to get acquainted. Besides avoiding dating apps, Officers recommend steering clear of the following apps because of cyber bullying and predators: Ask.fm, Chat Roulette, Omegle, Kik, and YikYak.

Have open conversations with your kids about internet safety. Let your kids know that you’re watching. Keep track of their passwords. Set rules. Have clear, set consequences for when they’re broken.

For more information, check out the following websites:
– NetSmartz
– Yoursphere
StopBullying.gov
KidsHealth.org
SafeKids.com
– Facebook’s Family Safety Center
– Instagram Tips for Parents

Locally, the Newbury Police Department will hold another Internet Safety presentation for Triton Middle School parents on January 28, 2016 at 6:30pm in the Triton High School auditorium. Contact your local police department to find out if they host talks on internet safety for parents. 

You can reach Detective Aaron Wojtkowski from the Newbury Police Department at 978-462-4440 ext. 124 or via email at a.wojtkowski@newburypolice.com. Greg Whitney is the School Resource Officer in Newburyport and can be reached at 978-462-4411 or via email at gwhitney@newburyportpolice.com.

Holiday Gift Guide 2015

Under the Monkey Bars Holiday Gift Guide 2015

1. For the selfie obsessed :: Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Instant Film Camera will be an instant hit this holiday. Jazz up the border of those plain polaroids with mini film stickers, or throw in an accessory bundle that includes a selfie lens, frames, stickers, album, and case. Don’t forget the film!

2. For the musicianKala Makala Shark Ukuleles come in a rainbow of colors and are easy on the wallet. Add a guide for self learners to get started on this entry level instrument. For tiny musicians, try the Hape Early Melodies Ukulele.

3. For the book worm…Naughty Mabel by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott is the new hilarious story of a naughty French bulldog that will entertain kids of all ages. Don’t miss Amazon’s list of 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime for filling the home library shelves. Add a fun headlamp to the stocking for monkeys to read in bed or the car.

4. For family game night…Jenga’s new GIANT game is 3ft tall and even more fun than the original. Play inside or outside with this hardwood classic.

5. For the techie… They’re asking for a phone but you’re not ready. FiLIP’s wearable watch with GPS locator displays date/time, calls, texts, and communicates location with up to 5 contacts. Consider the GizmoPal for younger kids. Families can stay connected without a smartphone. Now that’s smart.

6. For the movie lover…Schylling’s Star Wars jumbo inflatable R2D2 comes with sound and a remote control for kids of all ages to move the droid in every direction plus stunts and 360-degree spins! Seriously? A must for Star Wars fans.

7. For the artist….Coloring books are a must for kids of all ages this year. The Lost Ocean coloring book is the latest by pen and ink artist Johanna Basford. Not interested in going under the sea? Check out the Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, and Tangle Wood coloring books. If your little artist doesn’t have a human mannequin body for freehand drawing, it’s a must-have — and fits in the stocking!

8. For the builder…Tegu magnetic wooden block sets make the perfect green gift for any age. Magna-Tiles taught us that the more you have, the higher you can build. Choose a classic set of Tegu wooden blocks, this robot, horse, car, or helicopter…and don’t forget the travel tote! Tegu is truly an investment in imagination.

9. For the fashionista…StyleModel Pocket Sketchbook provides pre-drawn models and stickers for fashionistas to create unique designs. Some images are a little edgy, but my monkeys absolutely love these books. Neutral colored pencils help create just the right shading. Little designers who love animals will flip over StyleModel Doggy.

10. For the traveler…Boogie Board Jot eWriter takes lists, games, and drawing to a new level by saving tons of paper. It’s perfect for little monkeys to practice writing their letters or playing hangman in the car. For a more retro travel game, check out these reusable bingo cards for the car.

11. For the scientist…Crazy Aaron’s Made by Me Thinking Putty is new this year, allowing kids to mix their own colors without making a mess. This new kit adds to Crazy Aaron’s creative line of over 40 putties to knead, bounce, bend, tear, stretch, snap, or pop while you think. Don’t miss holiday themed Thinking Putty for the stocking!

12. For the doll lover…Lottie is an age appropriate English doll without makeup or high heels that my monkeys have played with consistently since last holiday season. New this year as a collaboration with the European Space Agency and winner of the 2015 Space Age Awards, Stargazer Lottie includes a telescope and tripod. Finn was designed as a playtime buddy that boys can relate to, with a healthy childlike boy shape and a kite to fly. No matter what Lottie doll you choose, it will be received with a smile and hours of wholesome play.

Print this Under the Monkey Bars Holiday Gift Guide to take shopping with you, or click the image to pin it. Support your local toy stores and #shopsmall this Holiday season. The monkeys and I love to shop at the Dragon’s NestEureka, Jabberwocky, and Green Elephant Toys locally. What’s your favorite local toy and book store? What are your little monkeys wishing for this year? 

 

Note: This post was not sponsored by any of the companies included in the holiday gift guide. The opinions are my own. This post includes affiliate links, which means I could make a small commission on something you purchase at the corresponding site. However, products will not cost you more because of this. Thank you!

Kids Art

Kids Art - Under the Monkey Bars blogDesk + Hutch :: Pottery Barn
Desk Chair :: Pottery Barn
Task Lamp :: Pottery Barn
Office Storage :: The Container Store
Clipboards :: Target
Kids Art :: Bean + Sweet Pea
Wall Color :: Ben Moore Bennington Gray

Little Van Gogh’s create a ton of artwork. I’m always looking for a better way to manage, store, hang, and admire the monkeys’ masterpieces. Sunday it all came together and I finally managed to tackle the kids art situation in the playroom.

For $12, I picked up 6 composite clipboards at Target. I love how the natural color of the clipboards almost blend into the wall. There are tons of options for clipboards if you don’t like the composite. The monkeys absolutely love that we can quickly swap out the artwork. In fact, this is likely the 20th display we’ve created.

We also re-organized the desk since it hasn’t been properly cleaned since before school started. Our new system from the Container Store works really great so it didn’t take long to sort through a few paper piles and put away crayons, markers, and pencils that were in the wrong place.

I’ve had such an organization itch lately. It’s probably good timing before all of the holiday decorations emerge and the house becomes even more cluttered. In January, I’m going Marie Kondo on this house. Hold me to it!

How do you hang kids art at your house?

Lunch Box Love

Lunch Box Love - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Bean + Sweet Pea’s lunch boxes from the other day: Grilled chicken, risotto made with homemade bone broth, honeydew melon, yellow peppers, and carrots.

We’re finally getting into a lunch making groove. After 3 weeks of morning chaos, we’ve got this. So I thought it was a good time to give you some lunch box love.

Whether you’re packing a lunch for yourself or someone else, it’s always an extra thing to do when you’re strapped for time in the morning. Some things can be prepped the night before, others not so much. Personally, I don’t like to make lunches at night. After dinner clean up, I’m kind of done. Plus, the monkeys eat their lunches better when the food is fresh.

Our lunch boxes are full of real, whole foods with nothing processed or out of a package. It’s not easy — but it’s worth it! If you missed it, read my post about cutting out processed foods here. It’s all about getting back to basics and nourishing your body with foods that don’t contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. Real food helps your body feel better and your brain think clearer.

I pack my monkeys lunch boxes with organic fruit, veggies, meat, legumes, seeds, nut butters, and whole grains. We try to keep it simple. The night before school, the monkeys look in the refrigerator to see what we have. They use a clipboard and pencil to write down their lunch and snack orders (seriously – it’s all about the clipboard!). In the morning, they help me with little things like peeling clementines, washing grapes, or writing each other notes (we use napkins!).

It has taken me years to figure out how to really pack a lunch box. It shouldn’t be this hard, right? I’ve finally figured out the secret: it’s all about the products! Here’s a list of things we love and use every day in our lunch boxes:

  • LunchBots stainless steel food containers are the best. We like their divided container (the new lids are awesome!), dip condiment containers, and round containers. The divided containers do leak, but work great for solid foods. Dip and round containers don’t leak. These containers last for years and are virtually unbreakable.
  • Try these silicone baking cups to line the LunchBots and add some fun colors.
  • Use a Thermos hot food jar for soups, mashed potatoes, and chili. While you’re warming the food, fill the container with boiling water. This helps to keep it hot longer. Also, be sure you don’t add an ice pack to the lunch box! Plan sides and snacks that don’t need to stay cold, like a whole apple or dried fruit.
  • Kids Konserve sweat-free ice packs are an excellent investment. We’ve used ours 5 days a week for the past two years and they are in perfect shape.
  • Kids Konserve food kozy is a perfect wrap for sandwiches. Gluten Free bread isn’t the healthiest so my girls only take sandwiches once or twice a week. These wraps last more than a year and serve as a placemat when opened. Think of all the plastic baggies you’ll save from a landfill.
  • Cleanwell pocket size hand sanitizer — because my girls eat lunch after recess.
  • Land’s End class mate soft sided lunch boxes are our favorite. There are so many lunch boxes to choose from and lots of them are fantastic. Land’s End has worked the best for us — especially for fitting in all of these containers!
  • Reusable silverware makes it into the monkeys lunch box almost every day. The girls love these sets from Pottery Barn Kids, and I love that they are dishwasher safe.
  • Lifefactory glass bottles are leakproof. We’ve had the same bottles for at least 4 years without breaking the glass and they look new. I fill the bottles with water because the only juice we drink in our house comes straight out of the juicer. Bottled juice purchased at the store has no nutrition and is full of sugar. Not the best choice for a lunch box! 

All of these waste free lunch products are non-toxic, BPA free, reusable, healthy for your kids and the environment. It’s expensive to buy everything at once. Pick up new products here and there, and always fill the lunch box with love!

How do you pack a lunch box? What works at your house?

Back to School

Back to School - Under the Monkey Bars

The countdown is on. T-11 days until school starts. YIKES! I’ve already seen so many first day of school pictures on Facebook. Thankfully we’re starting late this year as I’m not quite ready for my monkeys to go back to school!

How have three months passed so quickly? We’ve had quite a summer. We’ve laughed, cried, day tripped, and road tripped. Whether hanging around the house or on an adventure, we’ve learned a lot about each other and have crossed lines through virtually every item on our Summer Fun List. There are new scars, blonder curls, and taller girls.

I really can’t believe how much these monkeys have grown. Bean “borrowed” a few t-shirts of mine that have somehow stayed her room. She’s seriously almost my size! Together we cleaned out closets and drawers. Well, except for Sweet Pea who refuses. She’s a lot like me and doesn’t love change. It’s so hard to say good bye to old favorites, but try as she might, the 4/5’s just won’t fit!

We’re planning our back to school clothes shopping for late September when we can actually wear long sleeves, sweaters, and tights. The sales should be good, and as you know I love a good sale! At least we finished the school supply shopping. Target had such cute stuff that I apparently needed some supplies for myself and of course some new essentials for the homework station. Anything to get those monkeys excited and motivated, right?

We’re *trying* to go to bed a bit earlier every night. Even I’m sleeping in past 7am, which won’t get us to school on time! After school activities are on the calendar — yet not taking it over. The babysitter is booked for back to school night in September, our library book basket is filled, and new lunch boxes are ready to slide into last year’s backpacks.

All in all, these monkeys are ready to go back to school. But if you ask, “Are you ready for school?” They say no. They want to savor every last minute of summer. We just need these last days of summer to really be ready for the change and for “back to school.”  

I’m having a hard time letting go of my first and fourth graders. I’m trying to remember to say second and fifth. With each new grade, there are new friends, new experiences, and new challenges. The hardest part for me is letting them go. They always seem to grow up so much after entering the school’s metal doors in September. As much as I’d like to make time stand still, I know I need to hold my chin up and be ready for this next school year and whatever it brings.

Thank goodness for my friend’s annual Champagne and Kleenex party the first week of school. Together we’ll celebrate and mourn the start of the 2015-2016 school year. I really miss my monkeys when they go back to school, but great friends always make the transition easier! 

What are you doing to prepare for the new school year?