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CertifiKID Field Report: Educational Play with Square Panda


"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." ~ Fred (Mr.) Rogers

Here at CertifiKID we subscribe to the Mr. Rogers philosophy. Whether it's outdoors in nature, exploring at a museum or helping history come to life by getting out and seeing where its happened, play is important. After all, raising kids is an EDventure (educational adventure), right?

When we got word that a new learning tool was out that uses an iPad coupled with smart letters to teach early reading skills, we were excited to learn more about Square Panda. It seemed like such a great way to get more out of screen time.

There were some big questions, though. Would it be entertaining enough to draw the kids away from mindlessly flinging digital birds at green pigs? Would kids really learn and have fun at the same time? Was it going to be one of those things they played with once and were done?

Right away one thing stood out about Square Panda. It isn’t just an app. It's an accessory for your iPad with actual physical letters that are read by a Smart Playset. Combining a tactile experience with adaptive software that identifies how your child learns really sets Square Panda apart. Would kids be excited to see the letters literally come to life? Um... we were, and we’re grownups (most days!).

Another ingenious aspect of Square Panda is its ability to learn what your child's individual learning style is. It's a learning tool that learns! As it picks up on your child's preferences it then serves them tailored games and activities from a huge library of cloud-based programing that keeps your child challenged and engaged.

For this Field Report we enlisted some expert help from within the CertifiKID community. Beth B. is CertifiKID subscriber and mother of three. Her oldest is seven and she has a set of adorable three-year-old twins as well. Beth also happens to be a first grade teacher, which makes her especially suited to the task of putting Square Panda to the test.

After several weeks of fun and play, here is what Beth reported back to Team CertifiKID:

"Square panda is interactive, fun, colorful and very appealing to toddlers. It's great for identifying letters and sounds as well as reading readiness! My 3 year olds love it. They love the hands on aspect of it. I observed them repeating the letters and sounds and words. They love knocking down the bowling pin "guys" and then searching for the letter they need. It's great to have vowels and consonants in different colors. As an educator I'm highly impressed with this!!!!"

Lending more clout to Square Panda as a learning tool that combines play with adaptive education is the fact that Andre Agassi -parent, tennis legend and founder of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education- was so impressed by the product that he both invested in it and joined the company board of directors. Agassi's foundation was built on the belief that, “With education there is hope,” a mantra that is a perfect fit for Square Panda as well.

Want to know more about how Square Panda works? Check out this video.

Play and learn on CertifiKID families!

Tags: CertifiKID Field Reports, learning, education, square panda

Fun Places to Find Pokémon


Gotta catch 'em all, do ya? I get it. The whole Pokémon Go thing is sweeping the globe and while there have a few scary stories surrounding the phenomenon, seeing kids - families even - getting outside, exploring, being active and having fun is pretty darn cool.  Heck, my kids and I were out in the park until almost dark yesterday evening and we met three families we'd never have known save for this fad.

I think the key to making sure that Pokémon Go doesn't just become another way for kids to get too much screen time is to plan your Poké-Time. Pokéstops can be found in some really cool places. Planning an outing at say a museum or park can include both Pokémon Go and other sorts of fun.

Catch 'em all on the National Mall

The Smithsonian museums are attracting Pokémon faster than any lure even a level twenty player could place. Double your fun and exploration by segmenting your time. The Air and Space museum is a bustling Pokémon Gym with lots to catch, even rare ones. It's also one seriously awesome museum for kids who are into STEM, SCI-fi, airplanes, space... okay, it's just plain amazing. Spend the first part of your visit catching all the Pokémon you can, grabbing eggs and leveling up. Then learn about Lindbergh, check out the lunar landing module, or even 'land' a jet fighter on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Top it all off with some ice cream on the lawn outside - yep, there are Pokémon there too!

Get some insider tips from Sergeant Nadia Tyler of Smithsonian Security. She's a huge fan, expert catcher and has some great insights on ways to make the real world connect to the Pokémon universe in this article. Some good advice from the National Park Service, "Remember to be respectful when you play and avoid looking for Pokémon at memorials."

Make Errands Fun!

While it would be great to spend your entire day with the kids just doing the Pokémon and playing thing at some point they're going to need to eat, go to the dentist, be clothed and all that junk. Ugh, errands. Do the kids get we loathe running around and getting things done as much as they do? We're allergic to fun, right. Pokémon to the rescue. Pull out the app in the cereal isle. Is there a Squrittle popping out behind the Pops? Pikachu has to get his teeth cleaned too. Look for the Pokémon in the mundane and before you know it your list is all checked off and you had fun doing it! 

Check The Map

As they say, there's an app for that and in this case the app is a map that tracks where to find a treasure trove of Pokémon. Curbed has come up with a nifty community mapping program that allows players to drop a pin in the map when they find Poké Stops, Gyms and more. Users are even leaving tips on which characters were found where. Brilliant!

photo courtesy of the National Park Service via Facebook

Where To Look

Here is a short list of some rumored Pokémon hot spots in CertifiKID cities: 

Washington, DC - National Mall, Capitol Hill, National Harbor waterfront, National Zoo

Baltimore - National Aquarium, Fells Point, Fort McHenry, Maryland Zoo

New York City - Nintendo World Store (obvi), Central Park Zoo, Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Battery Park

Atlanta - CNN, Centennial Olympic Park, World of Coca Cola (rumor has it there are tons of rare ones near here)

Chicago - Millennium Park,  Navy Pier, The Bean

Dallas - Reunion Tower, Dallas World Aquarium, Nasher Center

Philadelphia - Independence Hall (the whole complex is a Pokéstop), Reading Terminal Market, Franklin Institute,

Pittsburgh - National Aviary, Carnegie Art Museum, Pittsburgh Zoo, Botanical Gardens

San Francisco - Golden Gate Park, Exploratorium, Ghiradelli Square

Los Angeles - Jumbo's Clown Room, Santa Monica Pier, Barnsdall Art Park, Union Station 

Tip: libraries and historical sites seem to be favorite places for Pokéstops. 

Have fun out there CertifiKID families and good luck catching them all! 

~ Lara

Team CertifiKID, Mom of 4, Level:8, Gym:Valor


Reminder: Enjoy playing safely. Always be aware of your surroundings and follow the guidelines that pop up every time you open the app.

Tags: just for fun

5 Great Ways to Enjoy Watermelon!


The laid back pace and sunny days of summer are great but if we're being honest one of the best things has got to be, watermelon!

What's better than a cool, juicy slice of this sweet treat when the day has been long an hot? Not much. Then again... just when you thought watermelon couldn't get any better we go out and find these amazing, creative and tasty ways to enjoy Nature's summer candy!

Watermelon Lemonade

photo courtesy of Cooking Classy

This recipe comes from Jacly of Cooking Classy. She writes, "I’m not ever big on drinks because I’d rather get my sugar from a decadent dessert but this is my new exception! It is totally irresistible and the watermelon and lemon flavor combination pairs perfectly together." And we're in total agreement. It's a refreshing twist that is perfect for a lazy summer afternoon, a fancy get-together or a casual backyard BBQ. You can find the full recipe here.

Speaking of BBQ... want to blow away your taste buds and best buds at your next cookout? Here is the way to do it.

Spicy Watermelon BBQ Sauce

photo courtesy of The Fit Fork

Yep, you heard that. Spicy. Watermelon. BBQ. Sauce. Drooling already, aren't ya? We must all give thanks to Jennifer of The Fit Fork who not only brings us this mouthwatering recipe for the awesome sauce to beat all sauces, but whom also pairs it with a juicy brisket and wraps all that wonderful up in a taco.

Our advice is to make this is BIG batches (here is the recipe) then can it and have summer all year long!

Watermelon Ice Cubes

This one is so simple you're going to be shocked you never thought of it. In fact it's so easy we don't even need a photo for it. Slice a melon into two inch think rounds. Cut around rind between the white and red flesh. Then cut a grid of one inch wide squares. Pull the rind off. Place cubes on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight. BOOM, watermelon ice cubes!

Sour Watermelon Gummies

photo courtesy of Meatified

Um, Meatified may we make a suggestion? How about you change the name of your blog to OMGawdified? These gummies are as cute as they are cool and even tastier by two. Sour Patch Kids... meet the curb. The recipe is easier than you think. It might take a try or two to get the amazing results Rachel did but fear not even the mistakes taste great. Find the full recipe here.

Watermelon Sorbet

photo courtesy of Cincy Shopper

Summer gets busy. Sometimes at the end of the day all you want is a little something refreshing and easy. Jen at Cincy Shopper gives the perfect sweet solution with her four ingredient watermelon sorbet. You got that right, just 4 ingredients. We can't keep this one in the freezer very long, it's that tasty. Luckily it's also that easy. Give Jen's famous recipe a try here.

Filed under Just For Fun

Tags: recipes, summer fun

Expert Tips for Building Your Summer First Aid Kit


If you’ve ever had to go on a frantic search for Band-Aids while a tearful kiddo is hyperventilating, sure that scrape on their knee will cause them to lose a limb, you know how important having a First Aid Kit is. But did you know that a change in seasons means you should be changing things up in your kit? We’ve sought some expert advice on what you should have in the family First Aid Kit.

Tim Reel is a retired Fire Chief, Emergency Medical Technician and first responder with over 40 years of experience. He’s agreed to give us an easy list of things every summer First Aid Kit should have.

So where do we start? Most importantly the Chief stresses that you should always have a minimum of two kits; one for the house and one kept in the car. One of the least expensive ways to get started is buying a pre-made kit for your foundation items. Look for kits that contain at least a minimum of;

  • Gauze
  • Tape
  • Antibiotic Ointment (like Neosporin)
  • Band-Aids (be sure there are several sizes)
  • Scissors
  • Anti-Itch Treatment
  • Benadryl
  • Alcohol Swabs
  • Fabric Bandages
  • Safety Pins
  • ACE Bandage

It is relatively to find kits that contain these items both in stores and online. Now to add to the kit for summer.

First things first, be sure you have a container big enough to hold everything. That may mean that the box or bag your kit came in needs replacing. Ideally the kit should be waterproof and easy to grab and go with. Some ideas for that, include: insulated reusable shopping bags with zippers, waterproof canvas bags or backpacks, air tight portable tool boxes.

Now that you’ve got the right container, here is what you may want to add to your at-home kit;

EpiPen - Many people have a history of severe allergic reactions and some may be allergic and not know it. Anaphylaxis is the term used for these potentially life-threatening reactions. If someone in your home has severe allergies like this talk to your doctor who can give you a prescription for an EpiPen or Auvi-Q. Be sure to get instruction in the proper use of this rescue device.

Numbing Spray - The Chief cautions that this shouldn't’t be used for burns, but it can come in handy for numbing the pain of cuts and scrapes so that they can be attended to.

Sunscreen - Yep, extra sunscreen is a must-have.

Lip Balm - Not just for kissable lips, balm soothes sunburnt, dry and/or cracked lips.

Emergency Blanket - Sometimes called ‘Survival’ or ‘Safety’ blankets these are those weird things that look like an uninflated mylar balloons. They are First Aid kit essentials anytime and everywhere. Used to care for those in shock, protect against cold and even cool you down when overheated, you need these.

CPR Shield - This is a simple tool with a powerful job. It helps protect both the person administering mouth-to-mouth and the recipient.

CPR Instructions - Even if you’ve been CPR certified for years it’s still helpful to have this on hand in an emergency.

Tweezers - Essential when removing things like broken glass, burrs, splinters and such. (my little brother had to have rocks removed from his nose. Yes, more than one rock, more than one time. Because, boys.)

Magnifying Glass - Helpful when you have a small splinter to go after.

Splint - No, you don’t have to tape sticks together like back in Scouts. Pick up a ready-made splint at any drugstore and put it in the kit. Not sure if that finger or toe is sprained or broken? Splint it, then head to Urgent Care.

ZipLoc Bags - Perfect for packing a tooth or digit for transport to the ER. Got ticks? If you pull one off you may want to save it for identification. All ticks are gross, some are carriers for nasty diseases.

Now that you’re ready for almost any bump, bruise or emergency at home what is it you’ll need when you go on the road? Chief Reel advises that all of the summer extras should be in your car kit year round. In addition to those you’ll also need;

Water - You might think that water bottles would fit the bill here but Chief Reel recommends less bulky and easier to pack Datrex Water Pouches. He advises that these not only take up less space they’re also lighter to carry and if you need to leave your car, that matters. If you're stranded water is going to be the most essential item in your kit. We all need it to survive!

Small Flashlight - A solar powered one may be your best option.

Cloth Sun Hat (one for each member of the family) - These roll up easily for storage and both protect you from the sun and cool you off in the heat - when wet.

Protein Bars - If you get lost or stuck in the middle of nowhere the petrified fries under the car seat may end up looking like an option if you don’t prepare. Chief Reel says to look beyond Clif bars and instead look at higher calorie, more nutrient dense options that come well sealed, like; S.O.S and Mayday survival bars.

Safety Flares - To signal for help.

Baby Wipes - These are a multi-use wonder.

Collapsible Umbrella - Protects from both the sun and the elements.

Saline Solution - For washing out wounds.

Bug Spray - If you have to leave your car and trek to civilization you’ll be far more comfortable if the bugs are not’t making a meal out of you.

It may sound like that’s a whole lot of trunk space to take up, but if you should ever need it you’ll be glad you did. And if you pack properly it really won’t take up that much space.

Another tip from The Chief is to be sure to check your kit often to see what might need to be replenished or replaced. These are just a few of the essentials, you can always add more. There are some great resources out there for building the ‘ultimate’ First Aid kit. A good place to start is The Red Cross. As always, you know your family best if there is something missing from this list that you know you'll need, by all means add it.

Have a happy and SAFE summer CertifiKID families!

Tags: Tips, Resources, Expert Advice

CertifiKID Field Report: The Fun Side of Parenting... Parties with Oriental Trading Company!


Sure, this whole parenting thing can be tough. What with the crazy schedules and endless obligations. The thing is, it also can be lots of fun -- especially when we get to throw parties for our kiddos! 

We love Oriental Trading Company because the variety of products they offer helps make the celebrating and creating a snap. They're our party 'partner' and go-to place for supplies, special touches, DIY projects, activities and more. Oriental Trading Company is a one-stop shop where just about anything you need for fun can be found - and won’t break the bank.

Today’s CertifiKID Field Report is here to give you some inspiration for celebration, and a recipe too. Party on, parents!

Whooping It Up for Fourth of July

Any good party has got to have some sweet surprises. Watermelon (on a stick) or Grown-Up Popcicles (cocktails on a stick) and even putting your own twist on Grammy’s famed potato salad can put some pop and spark into your 4th of July. How about wowing them with a Patriotic Whoopie Pie?

Wait … how are Whoopie Pies patriotic? Well, when you dress them up in red, white and blue, of course. Our recipe includes summer-fresh berries for a fun twist. The best part? It’s super-easy because you start with boxed mixes. Easy is always more fun. 


1 Box Yellow or White Cake Mix
½ Cup Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs
½ Cup Blueberries
½ Cup Strawberries
¼ Cup Water

  • Heat your oven to 350°F. Grab two cookie sheets (one for each color) and line them with silicone baking liners or spray them lightly with cooking spray if you don’t have liners.

  • Puree berries (separately) until smooth.

  • In a large bowl combine cake mix, eggs and oil mixing on low speed until moistened.

  • Divide mix into two smaller bowls and mix in the berries. Add water as needed until the mixture is about the consistency of sour cream. Smooth but not too runny.

  • Pour batter into a 1 gallon resealable plastic bag or a pastry bag. Seal top and cut a hole about the size of a nickel into the bottom of the bag.

  • 5 Pipe batter into 36 small circles onto cookie sheets about 1-inch apart to allow for spreading.

  • 6 Bake 10 to 12 minutes until set being careful to not over bake. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets and cool completely on a rack.


1 Cups Confectioner’s (Powdered) Sugar
8 oz Cream Cheese
1 Stick Butter

Allow cream cheese and butter to come to room temperature. Combine in a medium mixing bowl then slowly add sugar by the ¼ cup until fully combined. DO NOT refrigerate before filling cookies.

Spread filling onto the flat side on one (cooled) cookie half. Top withe the second half and press down to spread the filling. A pastry bag is a big help here too. Serve and ENJOY!

Let these sweet treats take a place of honor next to your red, white and blue decor on a table. Oriental Trading Company can help with that! They’ve got plates, tablecovers, cups, crazy straws, and sparkly touches to make the whole thing sing.

TIP: scatter bead necklaces, patriotic leis, silly sunglasses and hats around the table. Double duty decor and party favors!

Add a craft to the day’s festivities to keep the kids entertained until the sun goes down and the fireworks go up. Oriental Trading Company has fun DIY ideas for all ages. Make 4th-themed “firefly” magnets, patriotic bling, a custom photo frame to remember the day, and more.

You don’t have to wait for our Nation’s big birthday soiree to start the fun. Oriental Trading Company has some seriously fun and FUNction stuff for a beach bash - hello DIY beach bags, flip-flops and kites! A day at the pool goes Old School with some Tiki Bar awesome. Mocktails in coconut cups for the kiddos and cocktails with tiny umbrellas for the mamas and the fellas.

One of the things that makes shopping for party supplies and DIYs at Oriental Trading Company so great is you won’t break the bank. Spend the big bucks on the big stuff then add a few touches from Oriental Trading Company and you’ll have a swanky soiree and budget left to start planning the next one.

It's summer party season... enjoy the FUN!

Tags: CertifiKID field reports, Just for Fun, Recipes

Road Trip Sanity Savers


Since even before the days of Griswold, the family road trip has been a right of passage. Whether it's over the river and through the woods at the holidays or down to the shore for summer, the biggest challenge in any road trip is saving your sanity. After all you can only hear, "are we there yet?!" so many times before you go loopy. And honesty, keeping the kids engaged and entertained makes the trip more fun for everyone.

Road trips are something that my family really enjoys. We've trekked coast-to-coast, up into Canada and down through the Baja peninsula. Some of our best memories didn't come once we got to where we were going, but rather on the trip getting there. Like that one time we spotted a miniature horse riding in the backseat of a Subaru. <---True story.

Any great road trip takes some planning. Put a little work in ahead of time and it can have major payoffs. Here are some of my personal favorite tips for road trip survival... and FUN!

Road Trip Sanity Savers

Busy Bags

Nothing is worse than getting 20 minutes into the trip and hearing, "I'm bored." Keep them busy. That's my motto. Busy Bags can be as simple or complicated as you have time for. A two-quart Ziploc bag is the perfect size for holding everything they need to have fun, snacks and more. Typically ours have;

  • Kindle (or whatever tablet or smartphone they can't live without)
  • Coloring Books (or blank paper. Because, creativity keeps 'em busy)
  • Colored Pencils (they won't melt like crayons and can't muck up your upholstery like markers)
  • Stickers (yes, even teens still dig stickers)
  • Playing Cards
  • Printed "Old School" driving games
  • An Easy Craft (that requires no glue or cutting)
  • Travel Journal (start them on these early, they'll become heirlooms one day)
  • Snacks
  • Hand Wipes
  • Tissues

I break each item down into smaller bags, both for organization and excitement. They are allowed to come up with ideas for what they'd like in their bags, but can't see them before we're loaded in the car and on the road. 

Even with all that prep there is still a pretty good chance they'll get bored. I've planned for that too!

This part is my favorite. I put together timed "surprises" in the form of envelopes we open on a schedule. If it's a long trip, like the two days it took to drive to Disney World, I open an envelope every hour - shorter trips it's thirty minutes. They never know what's going to happen and that makes the time fly.

Not into plastic bags? How adorable are these Road Trip pillowcases?! Thanks for the inspiration Amazing Mae.

Road Trip Envelope Ideas

  • Drawing Contest - Think of it like Car Pictionary! Typically the reward is a buck or two to use in the vending machine at the next rest area or control of the tunes for a set amount of time. 
  • License Plate Game - Who can find the most states? Bonus points for cars from Canada or Mexico! Mom's Mini Van blog has a fun (and free) printable
  • Map It - If your kids have WiFi enabled devices this is a fun and educational game. Have them pick a city along your route and look up as much as they can about it. Then they make their case for why that place is interesting. The winner gets a prize. BONUS if they find a really cool place you can stop on your way back through. We've found the neatest places doing this.
  • Out The Window iSpy - This can keep them busy for the whole trip, so maybe start with it? Each kiddo gets a sheet with the alphabet printed in double spaced rows. As they spy something out the window they write it down. I spy an apple orchard (more likely an Applebee's). I spy a big bus... and so on. Whoever gets the most items on their list wins.
  • Treats - Keep some of the best treats upfront with you. Open a treat envelop and everyone is happy.
  • CARaoke  - Hands-down my favorite! I build a playlist on Spotify with our favorite songs to sing along with. Open that envelope up and it's as though James Corden came along for the ride!

See, road trips don't have to be so rough. Save your sanity and have tons of fun too. Catch ya in the carpool lanes.

~Lara of Team CertifiKID (mom of four and seasoned road warrior)

Filed under Just For Fun

Tags: CertifiKID tips, For Parents, Family Time

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