technology Archives - 2 Dads with Baggage
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Sphero Learning Toys Help Make Kids Smarter Through Play

Sphero Learning Toys Help Make Kids Smarter Through Play

This post was sponsored by Sphero as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

As parents, we’re always looking for the right balance of amusements for our kids. There’s only a certain amount of frivolous fun toys we can supply for them, and those definitely have a rightful place in our home. The thing is, today’s world is about so much more than the ying/yang of fun and work. That’s why we’re so interested in Sphero, because Sphero learning toys help make kids smarter through play.

Sphero BOLT with girls in back

The Sphero BOLT brings our family hours of play (including the dads since this tech is so cool!)

Learning does not have to be work. Sphero is one company that has figured that out, creating cool devices that are both fun and educational. Yes, a lot of toy makers say that – and have been since back in the day. In our home, Sphero’s high-tech consumer robots brought this to another level. The whole family is in on the fun. Plus, while our kids are playing with Sphero BOLT and Sphero Mini, the robots are supporting their STEAM learning.

(STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

Sphero Learning Toys Help Make Kids Smarter Through Play

When we were asked to review the Sphero BOLT and Sphero Mini, our answer was an immediate yes. Admittedly that yes came from me, largely because I was so intrigued by the ingenuity of this technology. When the delivery arrived, I unpacked the contents like an eager kid on Christmas morning. I could not wait to get that package open!

The Sphero products did not disappoint, and soon the whole family got into the act.

Sphero BOLT

Once we downloaded the Sphero Edu app, were were able to communicate with the Sphero BOLT via Bluetooth SMART. Believe me, we are not techies and this app makes it very easy to understand the basics of computer programming. Partly intuitive, the programming of Sphero BOLT is a learning opportunity right off the bat. We were quickly able to enable the device to perform a variety of functions.
Sphero BOLT with girl's hand

So easy to control from the Sphero EDU app on her phone, Sophia plays with the Sphero BOLT.

Both kids and parents are just learning all the things it can do, but the Sphero BOLT has some pretty awesome features. As a rolling robot, we can control its movement from the touchscreen on our phones through the app. A finger on the screen can cause the Sphero BOLT to travel around the room, spin circles and more. We could use the Sphero BOLT’s advanced sensors to keep tabs on its speed and direction, or orient and drive it with the built-in compass. The super cool 8×8 LED Matrix can be customized to our favorite colors while it animates and displays real-time data. We can even create games and learn to code by drawing on our screens. As we learn more, we can even write simple JavaScript text programs to control the robot. Very cool!
One game we played is called Flags of the World. Sections of code are easily labeled for users to see what each will cause the Sphero BOLT to perform, simply by dragging and dropping these sections into a block. When ready, we initiated the sequence and the Sphero BOLT displayed the flag of a nation while my iPhone narrated content about that country. Super interesting and fun way to learn global geography and factoids – kind of like social studies, world history and coding courses all combined into one.
Sphero BOLT Charging Station

Even the charging station for the Sphero BOLT is super cool.

Even the charger is high tech, with a magnetic base that holds Sphero BOLT in place as it charges through a simple fire wire connection.

Sphero Mini

The Sphero Mini is a smaller, lighter version of the Sphero BOLT. About the size of a ping pong ball, the Sphero Mini is a tiny, app-enabled robot we can control with the same Sphero EDU app.  On the app, we just choose Sphero Mini, and then we are off and running with games galore.
Sphero Mini size with quarter

About the size of a ping pong ball, the Sphero Mini packs a lot of punch,

There are also a ton of games to play on the Sphero Mini. We can use the ball to simulate a bunch of different scenarios, including space travel. Right now our kids are more drawn to the Sphero BOLT, so we haven’t had as much play time with the Mini to truly discover all of its attributes. More to come on that!
Just like the Sphero BOLT, the Mini has a tiny gyroscope, accelerometer, and LED lights that blink and change colors. We can also buy colorful, interchangeable shells, easily switching them out to suit our tastes or moods. Right now, our Mini has a blue case and I kind of like it.
Sphero Mini in girls' hands

The Sphero Mini fits in the palm of Sophia’s hands.

Learning at Home and in the Classroom

I totally think this is an educator’s dream, and the Sphero BOLT and Mini will start to show up in school classrooms soon. Because they are so fun and engaging, these devices can keep kids’ attention longer than anything. (Truth be told, I’m just a big kid and I played the the Sphero BOLT for hours!)  The Sphero BOLT also features infrared communication, allowing our robot to “communicate” with other BOLTs. When paired or grouped, the devices can play brand new games that involved group coding activities. Equipped with Bluetooth SMART and a durable, waterproof shell, Sphero BOLT is such a fun new way to learn and play.
Sphero to the rescue!
unboxed Sphero BOLT with packaging

When we unboxed the Sphero BOLT, the packaging was almost as cool as the tech.

Even Teaching the Dogs

I must admit, we laughed pretty hard when our dogs first encountered the Sphero devices. They did not quite know what to do or what these robots are, so they sniffed them and then observed them in amazement. (Kind of like we did!) At first they tried to chase them a little, and then we programmed the Sphero BOLT to chase THEM. The literally ran backwards from the balls as they moved towards them.
Our dogs are pretty smart, so maybe we can teach them coding too and they won’t be scared of our new robots!

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Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

This post was sponsored by Amazon as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

In our house, our Amazon Echo has been a part of our daily routine for a couple of years now, and Alexa is like a member of our family. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask Alexa a question, check the weather or play a song. The kids love to try and stump her! Now Amazon has introduced kid-friendly versions of its devices. Predictably, our kids love new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition designed just for them.

We set our Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition on a cabinet in our family room so the kids could easily access it.

When we first installed our Amazon Echo two years ago, we wanted to make sure the kids were accessing Alexa in the right way. Knowing Sophia and Ava, without oversight they would have her helping them with answers to their homework assignments. We put rules in place for how and when Alexa could be used, and for what purposes. As we got more comfortable with the technology, we found Alexa was a great addition to our household. Now she helps us with all kinds of things, like making dinner reservations, booking travel and predicting weather condition in far away places.

Still as parents, we worry about the kids have full access to all the knowledge and operations Alexa is capable of providing. This is why we’re so excited to welcome the new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition into our home.

Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

kid with Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Once I had the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition set up in our family, room the kids immediately jumped into questions for Alexa.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

From the moment we set up our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition in the family room, both Ava and Sophia set out to quiz and stump Alexa. Of course they did not win that battle of brains, but it was pretty funny to listen to them try.

Ava: “Alexa, spell ‘icup’

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition: “I’d rather not answer that”

Sophia: “Alexa, is your refrigerator running?”

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition: “Yes, it’s training for a 5K”

Bottom line, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition is designed with content curated for them specifically. Alexa can be accessed to play games like Simon Says, quiz them for tests, read them a story, play songs and plenty more.

I personally love the connection between Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Audible, where my kids can listen to a story read aloud by actors. For example, Ava can listen to her favorite Harry Potter books while multi-tasking with something else.

Alexa Parent Dashboard
setting up Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Once I downloaded the Alexa app, setting up our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition was super easy. I just followed the prompts!

Through Alexa’s Parent Dashboard, we can control what the kids can access on their Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and what they cannot. Through the Alexa app on my phone, I can:

  • set time limits for how long the kids can access Alexa
  • filter explicit lyrics from songs (those hip hop artists can get pretty graphic)
  • control access remotely, limit hours and pause activity
  • listen into the room to hear what is going on remotely
  • and much more
Amazon Alexa app household communications

From the Amazon Alexa app, I can manage the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition directly from my phone.

Next up, we plan to link the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition to our household Amazon Echo system. This way, our current three Alexa stations can welcome their little sister into the network. One of the cool things about this? We can be upstairs and ask Alexa to summon the kids in the downstairs family room, using the system as an intercom. So many cool things to explore with this gadgetry – we’ve only just touched the surface! (We’re totally into learning how to use Alexa Skill Blueprints to schedule a Chore Chart for the kids. No more nagging! Alexa will remind the kids to do their chores at the specific times we set!)

Amazon Echo Kids Edition guided set up

Our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition guided me through set up – easy peasy.

Worry Free

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, giving us access to  hundreds of hours of fun and educational content. After the first year, the fee for Amazon FreeTime Unlimited starts at just $2.99 per month for Prime members and $4.99 per month for others. (We can cancel at any time by contacting Customer Service. Those of you with rambunctious kids will be pleased to know that the device comes with a 2-year worry-free guarantee.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition

Although Sophia and Ava are beyond the ages served best by the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, we tried it out and are so happy to have this fun device. It’s perfect for when our family and friends visit with their littles.

Amazon Fire HD8 Kids Edition

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is powerful enough to run data-heavy content and light enough for kids to easily manage.

Designed for kids ages 3-12, the all new Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is the latest generation of Amazon’s best-selling kids tablet. This device allows kids to play games, watch programming, and engage in many fun learning activities. Kind of like the Echo for those on-the-go situations, the Amazon Fire Kids Edition is bundled with many of the same games and features in a visual display. Kids can just touch the screen to scroll through categories and choices, selecting with their finger the activity they would like to begin.

One of the things we noticed about the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is it’s design and durability. It is a real tablet with fully engaged screen, but protected by a kid-safe bumper that comes in blue, pink, or yellow. With 8 hours of battery life, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition will easily serve the busy family on the go.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is designed specially for them, with content curated according to their levels and my parameters.

When Sophia and Ava were little, we loved having devices like the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition to keep them entertained in the car and on trips. Because of technology like the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, it’s now possible for families to continue the learning and play features for kids at home too.

Just like the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition comes with one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, and two-year worry-free guarantee. If anything happens, we can return it and Amazon will replace it – no questions asked.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition PBS programming

Our new Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition has great content, like movies, TV, games and more from ideal sources like PBS Kids.

Perfect Gifts for the Holidays

Since we know kids love new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition designed just for them, we’re sure these will make great gifts for the holidays. We’re Amazon Prime members, which makes ordering these gifts even easier. We could even be huge holiday shopping procrastinators (who, us?) and still order the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition right up until just days before Christmas. Amazon will even wrap them for us!





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Manage Kids’ Cell Phone Use with a Contract

Manage Kids’ Cell Phone Use with a Contract

When we first decided to allow our girls to have their own cell phones, it wasn’t to keep up with the Joneses. Despite the kids’ arguments that they “needed” them for conversation with their friends, we decided to get them when the girls started going to events without us. We didn’t want to enter into this new world without parameters, however. We came up with ways to manage kids’ cell phone use with a contract, and a friend shared a document to build from.

blank desk with phone

We started by making a list of all the things we thought could go wrong with allowing our kids to have phones.

This turned out to be a pretty great idea. Sitting down with the girls to go over a written contract made the whole ritual of getting their first cell phone far more serious. It wasn’t just a toy, it was positioned as an important contractual deal with the parents in control.

The best part is that it was worked pretty well!

Manage Kids’ Cell Phone Use with a Contract

Some of the kids at school started getting phones around age 8 or 9, which seemed shockingly early to us. Maybe we are the “strict parents” but there was no way Sophia and Ava were getting phones at that young age. We waited until they were 12, and then sat down at the kitchen table for a family meeting where the contract was presented.

boys using cell phones

Whether you have girls or boys, the issues are similar in trying to protect their use of cell phones.

Golden Rule of Cell Phones and Kids

From Day One, we made sure the girls understood our Golden Rule of Cell Phones. We told them this was our cell phone THAT WE WERE ALLOWING THEM TO USE UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS. When the concept was engrained in them that they were essentially borrowing their phones from their parents, it was easier to enforce the rules. If the rules were broken, we would restrict their access to our phones.

Now at ages 14 and 16, the girls have grown into a more mature place of responsibility. They are given far broader access then when they were younger, but the contract remains in place.

girls with cell phones in airport

When we travel, the phone restrictions become looser so the girls can entertain themselves on long flights and drives.

Cell Phone Contract With Kids

Here are the details so you can modify for your own family’s circumstances. Good luck – our hearts go out to you in trying to manage this!

Kid’s Responsibilities:

  1. I will not send threatening or mean texts to others.
  2. My phone will be charged at all times.
  3. I will not bring my cell phone to the family dinner table.
  4. My cell phone will not be taken to bed at night, and I will leave it downstairs in the kitchen where I will charge it.
  5. I am responsible for knowing where my phone is, and for keeping it in good condition, and will pay for cracked screens or broken parts.
  6. I understand that my cell phone may be taken away if I talk back to my parents, I fail to do my chores, I fail to keep my grades up, or am not kind to my sister.
  7. All rules of etiquette will be obeyed regarding cell phones in public places. I will make sure my phone is not in use when I am in the library, or a waitress is speaking in a restaurant, or quiet settings of any kind.
  8. Anyy rules my school has regarding cell phones will be obeyed, such as turning them off during class.
  9. I promise I will alert my parents when I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages from people I don’t know.
  10. I will also alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cell phone.
  11. Under no circumstances will I use my cell phone to bully another person.
  12. My cell phone will not be used to take pictures or video of nudity, violence or other unlawful activity and I will not send embarrassing photos of my family or friends to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others.
  13. Social media will be kept to an agreed upon amount each day, and will not abuse it.
  14. A cell phone can be helpful in an emergency, but I know that I must still practice good judgment and make good choices that will keep me out of trouble or out of danger.
  15. The number of people that have my cell phone number will be limited to only people I know well.

I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, my cell phone privilege may be revoked.

Parents’ Responsibilities

  1. I understand that I will make myself available to answer any questions you might have about owning a cell phone and using it responsibly.
  2. I will support my child when she alerts me to an alarming message or text message that she has received.
  3. My child will be given one warning before I take her cell phone away for any reason or cause.

I agree that I have read and understand the above responsibilities. If I fail to follow them or adhere to them, I face consequences which could include a number restrictions, including the loss of cell phone privileges.

By signing I agree that I have read, understood and agree to the above.

Signed ______________________________



Signed ______________________________



Date ______________________________

girl using cell phone

If we allowed it, our girls would be on their phones 24/7.

Serious Business

In today’s world, this is serious business. We’re sure you hear the same stories as parents that we do. There are real issues regarding cell phone addiction, health issues related to mobile technology, cyber bullying, and more. These kids are young, and not mature enough to be making important decisions about their own safety.

Hopefully this is one way we can do our parental duty. Hope this Cell Phone Contract With Kids is helpful to you!

The younger the kid, the more controls should be put in place to restrict time spent.