6 Ways To Protect Your Child From Dangers In Online VideoGames

Child listening to music on smartphone

 

 

When we think about online video gaming dangers, many of us immediately consider the obvious threats of violence, aggressive behaviors, short attention spans, and lack of physical activities. While all of these are valid concerns, parents often overlook unknown dangers lurking behind our sons’ and daughters’ beloved online video games.

It doesn’t matter whether our children are scrolling through social media games, logging on with a computer, or signing into the gaming world with a console, current data shows that 91 percent, or 64 million, of our kids (aged 2 to 17 year old) play video games in some form. The number of gamers has jumped significantly from 78 percent that was reported back in 2009. Many experts contribute this climb in numbers to the introduction of Smartphones, tablets, and handheld gaming systems.

If our sons and daughters are participating any form of online gaming, they are exposed to some real threats. The advent of social media, instant messaging, and modern headsets has enabled our kids to interact with friends and even complete strangers within their favorite games. At first glance this doesn’t appear to be dangerous. Afterall, what’s so bad about chatting with fellow players? However, when we peel back layers of pixelated content, we might find surprising unknown dangers.

Four Common Online Video Gaming Threats:

Online Predators: Unfortunately, many predators are turning to online games to find new victims. Gaming is the perfect hunting ground for innocent victims to make contact with and groom. Often, predators create a fake profile to gain a child’s trust by changing their age, sex, and name. This technique makes it easier to gain trust and build a relationship with a child that can eventually lead to exchanging sexts, videos, or meeting in real life.

Legal Repercussions: During game play it isn’t uncommon to talk “smack” or insult other players. Unfortunately, if a child’s comments are seen as threatening, they can be prosecuted for issuing terroristic threats. Even if it is tied in with the game or play, threats in today’s society are taken seriously.

Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is becoming more rampant among the online video gaming world’s adult free areas with little fear of tracing digital tracks back to the bully. Anonymous games and user id’s offer little protection, because the authorities have the ability and know how to track down players by using cell phones, profiles, and even the address of people who pay the bill.

Addiction: Online games allow our kids to experience a wide array of activities and journeys. However, some people, adults included, become so immersed in the fictional game that they can forget to eat or sleep. Excessive gaming has the potential to disrupt a player’s ability to function and has the potential to turn into an addiction.

Protecting Children From Online Video Game Dangers

Realizing that our daughters’ and sons’ connectivity and gaming habits could be opening them up to online dangers is sobering. To make matters worse, research points out that 70 percent of our children will seek ways to cover their digital activity. So what is a parent to do?

Thankfully, here are six proactive measures we can take to help protect our children while allowing them to be engaged in their favorite games:

Start a conversation about online dangers and social media etiquette. Strive to help kids feel comfortable talking to us about any problem they encounter. In addition, teach children to never meet someone they have only met online.
Implement parental controls and passwords on certain sites or computers. Depending on the age of the child, you can filter access to online games. Make sure your children understand the reasoning behind your concerns.

Children playing on smartphones

Help children set up accounts, profiles, and user names. Far too often, kids use their real names on their gamertags or include their physical location on profiles. Encourage children to use creative names or avatars that don’t give away their age, sex, name, or address.

Keep games and devices in common areas of the home. If a family member can walk in at any given moment, children might make better choices.

Create a technology contract that includes online gaming. As a family, state all expectations and consequences for gaming. This will keep everyone informed and happily playing.

Encourage children to play online games with people they actually know in real life. By sticking with friends, children are less likely to meet predators or strangers with hidden agendas.

What methods does your family use to protect children from online game dangers? What other concerns do you have that you aren’t sure to handle? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

How To Assess the Personal Value of Products and Services

Before you decide to get that next latest and greatest product or service, or even one that’s been around for ages, it is important to assess its personal value to you relative to its actual price. This is especially important on limited income because it allows you to purchase the products and services which will give you the most personal value.

However, whether you are well below the poverty line or living comfortably, it’s still important to make sure you’re not wasting precious funds on things that are of little practical value. Then you can put your money into things that have more meaning for you personally, for example a college fund for your child or a retirement fund for yourself.

Old television set from the 1950s
What is meant by personal value? It is simply how much that product or service means to you, and to what degree you want or need it in your life. I’ll use television for an example. Let’s say television service costs $40/month. If you’re a person who only watches about 1 hour of television per week, and you don’t even consider that something you really must do, then television service may have a much lower personal value to you. If you had to associate a dollar amount with its personal value for example, it might only be $5 to $10. Well, if television costs $40 per month, you would then be paying quadruple its value to you.

Thinking on those terms, you can rule this service out of being extremely important, and focus on higher value ones first. However, if you sit around and watch television for a few hours every day after work, and use it to wind down from a stressful day, you may even assess the personal value of the television service as much higher than it costs. Let’s say you put a figure on it of about $100. In that case, the television service costs less than half the value you associate with it, and is a great deal. For you, it would probably be a great idea to get this service as it provides much needed entertainment and stress relief.

Of course there is no need to actually put a dollar amount to the value of a product or service unless it helps you put it into perspective, but the idea is to ask yourself how much it actually means to you and if knowing that it would be a good value or not.

This could also change if you have multiple people in the house. For example, if you are the person who assesses the personal value of the television service at $10/month and determine it’s not a good deal for you, but then you move in with someone who watches much more television and assesses the value for themselves at $30 or more, then it would be a good idea to compromise and get the service. The reverse could also apply if they place low value on something you give high value to. For them alone it might not be worth it but for both of you it is.

The key in all this is to think critically about how much money you have, how much a product or service costs, how much use you would get out of it, and how much that use is worth. Even something you rarely use can be considered more highly valued if that use meets a need when it is utilized.

Always remember to carefully consider the value of things as well as their price to see if they are really worth it. You don’t have to go into all the detail that I did on my example, but you should train yourself to analyze these things in your head at least before making impulsive purchases.

This would also help you in understanding where to compromise with other household members. Always remember that different people value things differently and keep your mind open to such differences even if you do not agree with them. Prices of products and services may be fixed, but their value is not, and it is always possible to be flexible and adjust your personal values from time to time and depending on circumstances. This is an important way to manage your finances and ensure that you are spending the money that you have on the things that are important to you and your family.

It is extremely easy to become in impulse buyer, but if you train your brain properly, it is equally as easy to break from impulse buying and be a very smart shopper. Smart shoppers are actually in the minority, and businesses take advantage of that fact, but if you carefully consider your purchases before you make them, you can avoid falling into impulse buyer traps.

Also always remember that while it may not cost any money to save money, this can have a high personal value as well, so whenever possible, consider putting money away to save and forgetting it is even there so you are not tempted to spend it and it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Money is not an unlimited commodity, and you won’t always get the same amount of it all your life, so preparing for any eventuality is always a good practice, no matter what your financial situation.

What methods do you use for determining whether a purchase is worthwhile or not? How do you decide whether or not to eliminate a service or sell a product when things get tough? I’ve always been pretty good with money management, but I would be curious to know what other people think.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

How To Choose The Perfect Stroller For Your Baby

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Stroller For Your Kid

As new parents, one of the main concerns is having the best tools to help you raise your baby. There are many unknown variables and many new parents go through this crazy time but this doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend your savings on just baby stuff. Keep in mind that junior will grow up quickly and all those expensive stuff will stay behind.

However, you should make sure that you select just the right products. And, since we know how difficult it can be to select the right stroller, we have a few pointers. If you’re on the market for the best stroller your budget can buy, continue reading.

Stroller For Your Kid

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Think about the size

The first thing you should consider is the size of the stroller. First of all, Junior must feel comfortable in there, but it must also allow you to use it for a longer time period. So, consider the size of your baby now and how big he or she will get in a few months. Remember: babies grow up quickly.

Also, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you going to go shopping with the stroller?
  • Are you going to use it for walks in the park?
  • Is the stroller going to fit in the trunk of your car?
  • Do you want a stroller with an included car seat?

All these questions will help you get the best size for your needs.

Durability and versatility

Some baby pram strollers are specially designed for a walk in the mall and short walks outside. Well, these are not the ones you should consider if you take the bus or use the stroller in the park. A durable stroller will have big wheels that will cushion most of the hops and will be easy to fold.

Even more, a versatile stroller will always have some extra pockets for everything Junior needs. And, some strollers can even be transformed for rainy or sunny days. This way, Junior will feel amazing regardless of the weather outside.

Your level of activity

Of course, the stroller should also be selected according to your preferences. Thus, if you are lazy as a couple and like long, but slow walks, then a regular stroller should do just fine. However, if you are active and want to share your outdoors adventures with Junior, you’ll need a heavy-duty stroller. This way, both baby and stroller will get to the destination unharmed and happy.

Other features to consider

Once you figured out the size, durability, and how you’re going to use the stroller, it’s time to take a look at additional features. Thus, a stroller should have:

  • Brakes – this is a feature available on every stroller so Junior won’t leave without your knowledge. However, the place where the brake is located makes all the difference. You should test first and then decide if you want a hand or a foot brake.
  • Washable materials – babies are not known for their care with the surrounding environment. That’s why you should choose a stroller that’s easy to clean and doesn’t require any special conditions or substances.
  • Adjustable handle – this comes in handy when the parents are of different heights.

The list can easily go on, but the rest is mostly about your preferences and style. Also, if you’re planning to buy a stroller as a baby shower gift, these are the basic features to consider.

Take the test drive

No, you’re not buying a car; you’re investing in the next few years you’ll be spending with your child. Do you really want to remember them by how difficult the stroller was? Some strollers will behave perfectly when empty or when the baby is just a few months old. However, the same products will become impossible when the weight increases. That’s why, your best bet is to go in the store and ask to test the stroller with weights. Move it around and test pushing it with one hand – this is the supreme test. If everything goes smoothly, you found the perfect stroller for Junior.

As you can see, there isn’t one perfect product for everyone. Even more, buying a stroller is a difficult decision and you must know your preferences and daily activity to select the right one for both of you. Still, once you found that perfect stroller, and you’re happy with your investment, you’ll be thankful that you took the time to think this through. Even more, your baby will also get to enjoy great walks and this will show in his/her development.

7 Kids Bedroom Ideas To Improve Safety

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kids bedroom safety

The first bedroom you decorate for your kids will stick with you forever! It’s such an amazing experience that you’ll remember and cherish forever! Selecting the color of the walls, the furniture, the bed, and then placing everything in an elegant and playful manner!

According to specialists, the way you paint the walls in a baby’s room will influence his/her later development. It’s well-known that colors stimulate creativity, but they also help with moods. For example, the red color is better suited for the playroom while blue is more calming and goes better in the bedroom.

Safety is also a very important issue and must be one of your main concerns. The furniture, the toys, even the paint on the walls must be safe. Even the placement of the bed in relation to the window or the doorway must be thought with safety in mind. You don’t want a draft endangering your child’s health.

kids bedroom safety

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The bed

In the bedroom, the focal point is the bed – after all, it’s the bed room, right? Well, kids, especially when they are babies, are not that fussy about the bed – as long as it’s comfy.

New parents seem to prefer a bassinet or cradle, which is indeed a charming solution. However, it only keeps the baby safe for a couple of months, when they are not moving that much. This means that you will have to replace it soon with a crib, which is the safest option in this case.

Specialists recommend avoiding toys or stuffed teddy bears in the crib as they represent a smothering hazard. Also, it is not recommended to add fluffy, luxurious bedding because this can represent a health hazard for infants younger than 1 year old. We know it looks amazing, but the safety of your child is more important. If you really want to have gorgeous bedding like in the magazines, you should remove it all when you’re putting Junior to sleep. Keep things as simple as possible!

Windows and doors

Before placing the furniture and selecting the wallpaper, you must test your windows and doors. These must close perfectly without allowing any draft or air or humidity to go in. If you feel something is not right with the current situation, the safest solution would be to install new windows and doors. Also, childproofing the windows is a fantastic way to make sure your toddler won’t try to see if flying is for real. Childproofing a window also makes reference to the window treatments – all cords and curtains must be out of reach so no pulling can occur.

Hugocarter.co.uk, leader in high-quality windows and doors, recommends installing soundproof windows for the baby’s bedroom. This way, junior’s sleep won’t be disturbed by the noise outside. Also, the door must be solid and must open smoothly without any creaks.

The furniture

Now the furniture may not seem that important when Junior is a baby, but as soon he/she learns how to crawl, this aspect will become of extreme importance. Children pull things and try to climb new heights using the furniture around. So here are the most important safety measures you should take:

  • Don’t place anything heavy right above the bed – no pictures, no mirrors, nothing that could fall onto them;
  • Use special latches to childproof the drawers – these can be used as a latter to climb to the top of the closet;
  • Secure the big furniture by anchoring it on the wall. This way, if the child pulls, the cabinet won’t come down on top of him/her.
  • Secure all the lamp cords in the room or, better yet, use devices that don’t have cords. This way the baby won’t get tangled while crawling around, inspecting the premises.

Storage facilities

All those toys must go somewhere when Junior is not playing with them, right? Well nowadays there are all sorts of great storage facilities that are kid-appropriate. However, make sure that none of the boxes you’re using have lids with hinges. Lids can easily fall and crush your baby’s little hands or fingers in the process. Our recommendation is to purchase only boxes without hinges and make sure none of the other storage facilities could hurt your baby’s little hands.

Of course, the list could continue, but you get the basic idea. The best part is that, once they grow up, you’ll be able to redecorate the room, but this time, you’ll do it by involving the kids in the process. This will create a new amazing memory that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.

How do you decorate your kids’ bedrooms? Do you involve them in the process? What is your favorite idea from this post? Share your thoughts with a comment below.

Introducing Award Winning Osmo, The Best Educational Apps For Kids

Osmo Best Educational Apps For Kids
Some of you may have recently heard of Osmo, a brand new line of fun, educational games for kids. For those who have not, I’ll start by saying that this well-designed, interactive set of children’s iPad games are some of the best educational apps for kids that I have personally seen. They combine physical manipulatives with interactive electronic entertainment, providing the best of both worlds.

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If you’re worried about your kids getting too much screen time, and not enough time to play with physical objects, this product combines those two concepts, and best of all, the games are educational and inspire creativity, problem-solving, and innovative thinking.

Osmo Best Educational Apps for Kids Outer Box
I recently received an Osmo for free in exchange for sharing my thoughts about it with all of you. However, this does not change the nature of my opinion on the product, and I believe it is well worth the money, even if I had to purchase it. Let me give you an overview of the games as described on the Osmo website, and then my evaluation of them.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #1: Tangram

Best educational apps for kids Osmo Tangram Wooden shapes in box
Arrange wooden puzzle pieces to match on-screen shapes. Animals, objects, humans and more. Play with a friend or challenge yourself to increasingly more
difficult levels as your handiwork lights up with each victory.

This is one of the three games that include their own box in the Osmo package. Inside the box, you will find the shape manipulatives that combine with the iPad app. This game inspires creativity and challenges children to think outside the box. Simple enough for younger children to figure out but challenging enough to even entertain adults, this game will provide hours of entertainment.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #2: Coding

Osmo Coding uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character who loves delicious strawberries. Each block is a coding command that directs
Awbie on a wondrous tree-shaking, strawberry-munching adventure.

This game is unique, and introduces children to coding, even before they are old enough to learn actual code. It teaches cause and effect relationships as you see how the character responds. The Osmo line is recommended for children between the ages of five and twelve, but games like this one, as well as the others, may entertain younger children as well, even if they don’t fully understand them.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #3: Words

Best educational apps for kids Osmo Words inside box with letter tiles
Words – Guess and spell the on-screen image. Team up or compete in-person with friends or family to see who will get their letter in first! Download free content
like trivia, geography or upload your own like family names. The possibilities are endless!

This is a very clever idea, more designed for children that at least have a basic handle on spelling, but even if your kids are just learning to read, you can use it as a teaching tool. The fact that you can even supply it with your own customized words makes the possibilities truly endless. This could even be a great, fun tool for studying for a spelling bee.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #4: Newton

Newton works with any object or drawing – Mom’s keys, hand-drawn basket, even toys you already own. Simply place the object/drawing in front of the screen
and manipulate it to guide the falling balls into the target zones.

This is yet another fun and clever concept, and another which even younger children will enjoy before they fully understand it. The fact that it works with a variety of objects is unique and intriguing. I can’t wait to try it with some of the most bizarre things I can find around my home and see how well it works. Even that alone would provide entertainment, sending your kids on a scavenger hunt for different objects to try with the game.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #5: Numbers

Best educational apps for kids Osmo Numbers inside of box with number tiles on top and dice dotted tiles on bottom
Numbers – Add, count and multiply the tiles to match the numbers on the bubbles. Popping enough bubbles will free the fish and unleash a storm of lightning and thunder!
Big or small, even or odd, will you become the Numbers Master?

This game makes learning about numbers fun. Your kids can learn as they play with the physical pieces which include actual printed numbers and dots like those found on dice. Strengthen your child’s mathematical skill and interest with this great game.

Best Educational Apps For Kids #6: Masterpiece

Masterpiece – Unleash your inner artist! Pick an image from the camera, web or curated gallery and Masterpiece will transform it into easy-to-follow lines, helping you
create beautiful drawings.

As someone who has always been terrible at drawing, this game is of particular interest to me. When I was a kid, the closest thing we had was those connect the dots pages in various coloring books and children’s magazines. Even then, you were limited to whatever was printed there. I love how Masterpiece, like many of the other games, allows you to use your own images to create fun things to draw.I feel that all of these games are among the best educational apps for kids because every single one of them captivates a child’s interest, teaches important skills, inspires creativity, and broadens a child’s horizons in unique and interesting ways. The fact that they are expandable makes them even better.

I look forward to the release of future games from Osmo. Note that the iPad app downloads for these games are free. However, you must have purchased the set and have a PlayOsmo account in order to use them. Nonetheless, it is well worth every penny and provides education and entertainment that will last for years.

Which Osmo game is your favorite based on the descriptions? Which one do you think your kids would most benefit from or enjoy? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Note: The Osmo game set is available at Best Buy, who sponsored this post and provided me with a free Osmo to review. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

A Parent’s 3-Step Guide to Stress-Free Party Planning

Planning a party for your child is never an easy task, especially if parents worry both about the happiness of their kids as well as all other guests. It is perfectly normal for parents to want the absolute best for their children and if throwing a fun-filled birthday party is what their kids want that should become the priority, rather than catering to the ideas and desires of other parents. Children of any age group will not be particularly impressed by incredible details and many different activities that are waiting for them if they do not feel like engaging in play and if they notice that they are not the center of the party, so it is important to keep an eye out on how your child is acting during the festivities.

 

party

Image source: pixabay.com

Listen to what your child wants

Before starting with organization, talk to your child. That way, you can get the insight of child’s wishes and ideas and use those for the theme and décor. Stop thinking of what you or anyone else would find cool or interesting. This is your child’s special day and you should try your best to impress them and no one else. This is the first step in reducing stress. Just think about it – if you do not listen to one or two specific desires your kid might have, you are probably going to get lost in planning and preparing everything that comes to mind, which will definitely be impossible to achieve during the course of one birthday party. You do not need anyone else’s approval or opinion when it comes to your child’s birthday other than your kid’s. That way, you will know specifically what to pay attention to and what theme and atmosphere to create in order for your child to have a blast and you to save time and money as well as avoid stress when organizing everything.

Kid's party

Image source: flickr.com

Do not go crazy with activities

While it is necessary to have several activities planned out for the birthday boy or girl and their little guests keep in mind that these activities should involve simple games that they can play together, not several big attractions. Basically, provide them with enough ideas and materials so that they can enjoy themselves but do not go overboard with different attractions that would make their heads spin and possibly even cause a fight when they cannot agree what attraction to attend first. If you want a bouncy castle, stick to it. If you think that the children will find a fun-filled magic show more amusing, hire professional kids party entertainers. If a sports theme is what your child wants, organize a specific sports tournament. But remember to choose one major attraction among all other activities that the kids will enjoy during the party. Not only will you be able to provide your child and other kids with party climax so that they feel that this was the best time they ever had, but you will also prevent any additional stress and worrying on your part.

Boy baby balloons

Image source:wikimedia.org

Start preparing on time

Once you have realized what your child’s wishes are and decided on the theme accompanied by the main attraction, it is important not to expect everything to go smoothly. You still have to make an effort for the party to be a success. The amount of stress that can accumulate due to procrastinating can really weigh down on your mind and make you really anxious. Therefore, start organizing everything at least two months before the party and even before if you plan to book a special venue for the birthday. Taking care of everything takes time and considering your generally busy schedule, tending to one task at the time in your own tempo is the best option for stress-free planning. Start looking for specific theme-based décor as soon as you learn what it is that your child wants. No one can say for sure that you will be able to find everything and you might be left with DIY decorations as your only choice. Moreover, planning the menu has to be done as soon as possible no matter whether you are going to prepare everything yourself or hire someone else to do it. This is especially true for the cake. Good use of time and proper organization are key ingredients for a successful stress-free birthday party.

Again, it is essential that you keep in mind that the success of your child’s party is not determined by the number of attractions, complicated décor or vast choice of foods. Children simply want to have fun and when kids are younger their fun time has to be focused. Therefore, concentrate on making this day as enjoyable as possible for your child and forget about what other parents and adults in general have to say.

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Kid’s Play Zone

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children racing stance

Is your backyard truly kid-friendly? I don’t mean in terms of safety, but in terms of fostering play and imagination. Maybe you have just moved into a new home, or your young child has finally reached that age where they’re ready to start exploring the outdoors independently. Whatever the case, it doesn’t require much time or money to transform your backyard into the perfect kids’ play area. If fact, with a few adjustments, you can make your backyard the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood. Here are just a few things you might need:

Some Ideas That Every Child Will Love

Swings. If you feel inclined to go out and invest in a full-sized swing set with all of the best swings, slides and monkey bars, that’s great. However, if you don’t currently have the budget, space or interest in such a build, you may want to invest in a simple tire swing. It costs very little, it takes up virtually no space at all, and it connects effortlessly to any sturdy tree. Many toy manufacturers — like Super Spinner — are designing kid-safe tire swings in bright colors, so you need not worry about any ugly old tires compromising your children’s safety.

A Chalkboard. Backyard chalkboards are becoming increasingly popular, as they’re easy to build and enable your children to foster their creativity while outdoors. You can build the chalkboard over your existing fence using salvaged wood, and then paint over it with chalkboard paint. It really is that simple.

children in garden

A Child’s Garden. This is another simple and inexpensive addition to any yard, and one that is as educational and edifying as it is fun. You can purchase kids’ gardening kits at any toy store, or simply set up your own creative garden using planters, your favorite seeds, and a few colorful crafts (to add decorative touches). Your little one will experience tremendous excitement as he or she watches the garden grow.

What Does Your Child Love?

Beyond the basic essentials, it’s important to stop and consider the specific kinds of activities that are important to your child. After all, if you want to get them away from their video games and out into nature, you must tailor your outdoor playspace to their needs. Does your child love sports? Consider adding a simple basketball court or tetherball court, both of which require very little installation. Does your child love to splash 

around in the water? You may want to invest in a fun kiddie pool, or any one of countless water games that kids love (who remembers the Slip n’ Slide?).

children racing stance

A Few Helpful Tips

  • When building the ultimate kid’s play zone, make it a family affair. If the kids are old enough, get them involved not only in the planning, but also in the the assembly. It’s a great way to build memories and teach your child to truly appreciate the great outdoor toys at their disposal.
  • Portable play items allow you to easily transform your yard from a kids’ play place to grownup wonderland in a matter of minutes, so if you also like to use your backyard to entertain your own friends, focus on items that can easily be moved as needed, like kiddie pools, tire swings, and portable sports equipment. Items like sandboxes and swing sets aren’t so easy to transport.
  • Safety first. Whenever purchasing a new outdoor item for a child, make sure to check the age recommendations, and follow all safety instructions. For younger kids, close supervision is always critical.

Stay Safe and Have Fun

While you’re making your backyard into the ultimate playground for your kids, it’s important to ensure their safety above all else. With some careful planning and common sense, it’s easy to make sure your little ones have a safe space in which they can create and play.

  • If your home is surrounded by lots of vegetation, or is located in a wooded area, it’s likely that a few of those plants around your backyard may be toxic to small children or pets. According to Healthy Children, an online organization promoting pediatric health, the leading cause of poisoning among pre-school age children is from common backyard plants. Do some research on which plants are safe to have in your backyard, and which should be removed. For instance, naturally growing plants like poison ivy can be found in a variety of places throughout the country. If you’re unsure about which plants in your backyard are poisonous, consult a landscaping professional.
  • All child safety should begin and end with proper supervision. Talk to your children about what to do in emergency situations, or what to do if a stranger approaches them. If you plan on being away or have to run errands, always make sure your kids are supervised by a babysitter or neighbor.
  • Always ensure a soft landing. If you have installed a play structure or swingset, you should make sure that the surrounding area has some kind of soft, or shock-absorbing padding. This can be as easy as laying down wooden or rubber mulch to prevent any serious injuries kids can get from falling down.

Remember, there are no hard or fast rules for building the perfect kids’ play zone. You know your children better than anyone else, so get creative, and make it something truly special!

 

7 Easy Ways to Beat Summer Cooling Costs

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Each summer, Americans spend about $22 billion on air conditioning. With the average electric bill during the summer totaling almost $400 in 2013, and with energy costs consistently rising year after year, American families often look for ways to save on summer cooling costs.

When the weather is milder, it can be hard to think ahead to when the heat will rise and air conditioners will work overtime, sucking down your annual energy budget faster than you can say “fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Fortunately, the average family can make plenty of changes that will drive down those electric bills while allowing them to remain in relative comfort.

  1. Adjust Your Thermostat

You’ve likely heard this advice before, but did you know that changing your thermostat by just one degree can save you as much as four percent on your cooling costs and using a programmable thermostat can save you as much as 10 percent? The best way to utilize this tip is to start at a temperature of about 74 degrees.

If this is uncomfortable for your family, you can always turn it down a degree or up a degree and see how the change feels to everyone in the family. While it is important to save money, you don’t want to be miserable in the summer heat.

  1. “Summerize” Your Home

Well before the hottest days hit, you should replace caulking around windows, add insulation, and test and seal your air ducts. In addition, if you know that there are areas of your home that let out heat and air, add some additional weather stripping or window coverings. Even adding drapes that cover a sunny patio door can help keep in cool air and reduce the sunshine that heats up a room.

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  1. Change Your Cooking Habits

A number of cooking tricks can keep your home cooler. First, limit the times you use the oven. Ovens heat up your home and take a long time to cool down. Instead, opt for dishes that require little to no cooking and that you can prepare on the cooktop or grill outside. You can also use your crockpot in the summer as it will heat up a room far less than an oven will.

Another idea is to cook larger batches when you do have to heat up the oven. Making lasagna for dinner? Why not cook a second one and eat lasagna several days in a row? It is far easier and more cost-effective to simply microwave leftovers. Plus, it will save you time and stretch your grocery budget further.

  1. Swap Out Your Light Bulbs

Swap out your regular incandescent light bulbs for energy efficient ones. Choosing lighting that is Energy-Star rated means you will have light bulbs that put off 75 percent less heat. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are known to be much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. On top of using 75 percent less energy than regular bulbs, they also last up to 25 times longer.

All of this not only puts off less heat and thus reduces your cooling costs, but earns you additional savings both in energy usage and in replacement costs.

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  1. Make Your House Feel Cooler

You can make your house feel cooler by reducing the humidity in it. There are many ways to reduce humidity. Take short showers, cover pots with lids when cooking and even purchase a de-humidifier. Running a de-humidifier and exhaust fans is more cost-effective than running your air conditioner.

  1. Change Your Air Filter Regularly

Changing the air filter on your heating and cooling unit should be one of your regular maintenance tasks. Swapping out a dirty air filter for a clean one keeps your unit running at maximum efficiency and thus reduces the strain on your system and helps save money.

If you don’t change your air filter regularly, your unit may even freeze over, requiring a service call from your heating and cooling professional.

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  1. Trees and Awnings

Adding some strategic shade to your home can also reduce cooling costs. While a tree might not offer immediate savings, over time the tree will grow and shade your home. If you have a particularly sunny room that heats up and is uncomfortable, try adding some awnings or even room-darkening shades or thermal curtain liners. Small changes can make a big difference in the overall comfort and energy efficiency of your home.

This summer, spend more money on making fun memories your family will keep forever, instead of spending that money on energy. Even small changes like the ones outlined here will make a difference in the amount of money you spend on air conditioning this summer.