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In the never ending search for kid-safe products, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids’ Edition seems to be one that’s carefully designed and surprisingly attractive. This model comes with parental controls, games and skills designed to encourage young imaginations to run wild, but with everything under control. The $70 Echo Dot Kids Edition is the same device in all respects as the third-generation Echo Dot, but it includes an annual FreeTime subscription, Amazon Parental Service, thousands of audible books, hundreds of Alexa games and child-friendly skill-development tools, as well as Amazon Music without the advertising. The FreeTime package costs $36 for Prime members and $60 for non-members. Considering that the standard Echo Dot costs $50 before discounts, you get more for the money with the Kids Edition. Also, note the books and movies available through the FreeTime subscription can be accessed on an Amazon Fire, Kindle, iOS or Android device. The Echo Dot Kids Edition is guaranteed for two years compared to 90-days for the standard Echo Dot.  Good deal.
Kids’ safety on the internet is something about which that all parents should be concerned.  A recent survey by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education shows disturbing results about the way kids are using the internet. Many kids don’t understand safe from unsafe digital behavior, which should alarm parents. The Center’s surveyed of 4th to 8th graders discovered that 40 percent of them had used the internet to connect with strangers and that over 50 percent had given their phone number to strangers. Twenty-one percent of them admitted to speaking to a stranger on the phone while 30 percent of them had texted a stranger. Fifteen percent had met up with a stranger in person, 11 percent had visited a strangers’ house and 6 percent had given a stranger their address. Another disturbing pattern is that kids use the internet at all hours. Forty-nine percent claim to be online at 11pm and 33 percent claim to be online past midnight. Late nights and talking to strangers are not good activities for pre-teens and teens. Also, kids often know they are misbehaving: 29 percent admitted to using the internet in ways that their parents wouldn’t approve and a third of them admitted to lying about their age to access adult programs. Meeting bad people at all hours of the night is not the only internet usage risk to children. Self-esteem issues from cyber bullying and gossip is another major problem. Then there is tech addiction that prevents many young children from healthy levels of interaction with nature and friends – not to mention that late hours hamper school work. Given how ill-informed most children are about healthy internet safety standards, it’s important for parents to educate their kids about what’s proper. Further, children need parental controls to prevent them from making mistakes even after they’ve been schooled about healthy internet behavior.
Many parents today are trying to get their children interested in and knowledgeable about STEM subjects. The economic benefits of STEM knowledge are significant. Games, books and other tools can be used to spark STEM knowledge and passion from an early age. One important STEM subject which is sometimes overlooked is data science. Data science is the practice of organizing and analyzing massive amounts of data. This practice is also very much about understanding the patterns which can be found in these data collections. There are certain simple methods for parents to teach their kids the basics of data science. One of these methods is to collect objects of different shapes, sizes and colors. Let’s say the parent uses 11 objects. Then the parent rearranges 5 of these objects in order to explain a pattern to the kid. Then the parent should ask their kids how they think the remaining objects will be used if the same pattern continues. The next step is to let the kid point out what the pattern is; this skill of pattern recognition from data is at the core of data science. Using certain objects in a random way is also an important part of the teaching process because data science is also about dealing with randomness in data. Small games like this can explain the basics of data science to kids at an early age. These types of intellectual tasks are good for the mental development of children.
Lots of movies for kids are about to be released. Here’s a short list of fun films to watch out for. Angry Birds Movie 2 was just released on August 2nd. In the new version, our birds team in an uneasy alliance with pigs to fight a mysterious purple bird named Zeta. Together they struggle to avoid a new ice age from coming – apparently not having heard about global warming. Playmobil: The Movie, is the first ever movie version of the Playmobil toy series It’s scheduled for release on August 9th. Abominable, is coming out on August 11th. The movie follows a hero who protects a Yeti from a Yeti capturer. Dora and the Lost City of Gold follows later on August 16th. In this adventure an older, high school Dora, goes on a mission to rescue her parents and uncover the mysteries of the lost city of Gold. UglyDolls, a doll oriented musical, is coming on the same date as Dora, August 16th. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is being released August 18th. This film is a sequel to Maleficent, which was about the villain from sleeping beauty. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, is scheduled for the same day, August 18th. The film explores the interactions between sheep and extraterrestrials. Coming in the fall on October 25th is The Adams Family.  The movie is an animated take on the Adams Family TV series. Frozen 2, will be released in time for Thanksgiving on November 22nd.  Get your tickets now. The final movie of the series: Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker, will be released on December 19th. On December 27th Playing with Fire, a film about a superintendent who babysits three children he saved from a fire, will be released. Finally, ananimated spy movie starring Will Smith called Spies in Disguise, will be released on December 27th.