Tech Tools for Busy Families
Enoch and Tania Choi are 21st century parents: They use Google Calendar to coordinate their schedules and those of their 5- and 7-year-olds – who’s picking up whom, who is working in the evening, who has a piano, art, taekwondo or science class. They send text messages and photos via their smart phones throughout the day since it’s hard to find time to talk. And when they have some down time, they watch shows recorded through a new DVR service called Sezmi, which doesn’t require a cable or satellite television subscription.
From entertaining the kids to managing a tight budget, technology has become an indispensable tool for busy families. Sure, there’s a fear that it can become a crutch or substitute babysitter. Or so addicting and time-sucking that parents lose sight of what’s important.
But in moderation, the right tech tools can also help arm parents with life-saving information, save time and money and, of course, give parents a well-deserved break.
“It’s more important to spend time with the kids,” says Enoch Choi, an urgent care doctor in Palo Alto. “Technology helps us do more of that, rather than spending time organizing.”
Just in time for Father’s Day, here is a look at some favorite parenting tech tools and gadgets:
On the Go
Pocket First Aid & CPR from the American Heart Association
This $3.99 iPhone application includes step-by-step directions and photos for administering CPR and responding to choking, specifically for infants and children, as well as general information about handling allergic reactions, poisoning, burns, bleeding and other worst-case scenarios.
This particular app is only available on the iPhone, but a number of emergency and first aid applications have also been created for the Blackberry and Android phones.
SitOrSquat: Bathroom Finder
This free iPhone application helps find the nearest restroom wherever you are via GPS. You can even filter the results for restrooms with changing tables. The only trouble is that its database still needs work. For some locations in the Bay Area, it either didn’t have the store hours or had them wrong, so you couldn’t tell if the bathroom was actually open.
Don’t have an iPhone? MizPee (mizpee.com), a similar service, offers a mobile site that you can access from any smart phone.
Kindle and iPad
Both Amazon’s Kindle ($259) and Apple’s iPad ($499) are changing how we read books and access other traditional media such as newspapers and magazines. For parents, it means lightening the load and making it easier to tote around a library of reading material wherever you go. (The Kindle, for one, holds up to 1,500 books.) One mother pointed out how she can breastfeed and read at the same time because the Kindle makes it easy to turn pages and bookmark your place, something that’s much harder to do with a traditional book and hold a baby at the same time.
While both are pricey and not indispensible, they also have their merits: Through Amazon, the Kindle offers good deals on new releases, and you can download a new book at any time. The iPad, meanwhile, can access more than 150,000 apps, including interactive Dr. Seuss books and any number of videos and games to entertain your kids – and you, of course.
Introduced in late 2006, the Nintendo Wii ($199.99) has had an amazing run, for good reason. From practicing yoga to singing karaoke, the family-friendly video game console can help you get a workout as well as entertain your children and their friends.
Most recently, like its video game rivals the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, it added the ability for Netflix customers to stream films and television shows on demand directly onto the television set. No time to go out, can’t find a babysitter or too exhausted at the end of the day? Here’s your solution.
Though it’s not the only calendar application – others include Apple’s iCal, CalendarFly and Cozi – Google Calendar (calendar.google.com) has become a popular tool for time-crunched families. Each person (or group) is color-coded so that it’s easy to see both the individual and the entire family’s daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Plus, Google Calendar, which is free, is accessible online and on your cell phone.
This personal finance site (mint.com) helps track how you’re spending your money. Yes, you will need to divulge your credit card, checking and savings account, investment and other details to make this resource worthwhile, but Mint, a startup now owned by Mountain View’s Intuit, reassures its users that it has a number of privacy and security mechanisms to protect you and your information.
Once you’ve submitted your information, Mint will show you your spending habits, including the percentage of dollars you use on food, travel and other expenses. It also helps you create a budget and find ways to cut costs.
There are a number of online services, software and gadgets to help you back up your digital files. The key is to find one that works for you and to use it regularly to save your digital photos, videos and other vital files, something you don’t want to lose if your computer suddenly crashes.
It can be as straightforward as manually saving them onto a DVD, flash drive, a portable hard drive or an external hard drive; Seagate and Western Digital are popular manufacturers of hard drives. Some programs, such as Apple’s Time Capsule, automatically back up your files.
You can also opt to save your files online, known as the “cloud,” which allows you to access your files anywhere, including from your cell phone.
One service receiving a lot of attention is Dropbox (dropbox.com). Through Dropbox, you create a folder on your desktop, laptop and cell phone. Each time you add a new file to your folder on one device, it synchs the folders on all your other systems. It offers 2 GB of storage for free – enough for a few hundred photos – and additional space for $9.99 a month to $19.99 a month.
Ellen Lee, a San Francisco mother of two, covers family technology for Bay Area Parent.