Five Creative Interactive Storytelling Apps/Sites

by Christa Melnyk Hines on October 22, 2014

Serious art is born from serious play. ~ (1)Five Creative Interactive Storytelling Apps/Sites for Kids

I love interactive sites that promote storytelling and give kids an opportunity to flex their creative muscles, especially if the platform gets them revved about literacy and learning. Whether your child loves to draw, tell stories, journal, take photos, or play with audio and video, your creative genius might love exploring a few these digital storytelling apps and websites that I found.

*This list is in no way complete. If you have a suggestion, please be sure and leave a comment so I can check out your recommendation!

Superhero Comic Book Maker and Princess Fairy Tale Maker by Duck Duck Moose Gallery (ages 5 and up). For kids who aren’t writing yet, these two apps enable them to choose colors and backgrounds featuring animated monsters, superheroes, princesses, ballerinas and so forth. When they are finished, they can record a story and play it back. Cost is $1.99.

We Make by Puffin Books (ages 6 and up). This site is a comic creator and story design where kids can illustrate and write a story. They can then share it with friends, save it and/or print it out. Cost is $9.99 (ages 8 and up). This family-oriented app and website created by Bill Zimmerman provides writing prompts for kids, as well as templates for creating comic strips. I also like the family activity suggestions for parents. Free!

Strip Designer by Vivid Apps (ages 8 and up). With this app your child can take photos of his own artwork or upload photos and create his own comic strips using a comic book template. Not only can they create their own comic strips, this a fun way to build a how-to project or make a mash-up of vacation photos. Cost is $2.99.

Book Creator Book Creator says it is designed for ages 4 and up. You can try it for free before downloading the app. Kids and adults can make picture, art and photo books, as well as other types of ebooks using fixed layouts. The app also allows for audio and video elements. Upload your completed project into iBooks. You can also share the book with your family and friends. Cost is $4.99.

Do you have a favorite digital storytelling app or site? Share it here! I am compiling a list to go in my resources section!


How Dining Out Builds Communication Skills

by Christa Melnyk Hines on October 15, 2014

And bring your kids!

Eating out offers a communication skill-building opportunity for kids.

Kids acting up in restaurants results in bad press from time to time, but don’t let that deter you. While it won’t necessarily be relaxing for you (that’s what date night is for, right?!), taking your children out to eat periodically is an enriching experience that helps them learn important communication skills and appropriate behavior in a public place.

  • Choose a family-friendly restaurant and if you have younger kids, come prepared with crayons, scratch paper and a light snack. My husband and I always chose loud restaurants when our kids were little since they were still learning to keep their voices down-and if necessary, we wanted to have the option to clear out quickly with as little embarrassment as possible.
  • If your child is an unpredictable toddler or preschooler, be mentally prepared to pack your meal to go and pick up the tab early should a tantrum ensue. You might warn the server. Trust me, you won’t be the first parent to have to leave before the meal is over! Sitting still in a restaurant isn’t the easiest activity for a busy, moody tot. (And hungry people are irritated people no matter what their age.)
  • Engage your kids in small talk. Talk about the menu choices and the foods they like to eat or might like to try. Discuss the restaurant surroundings. Tell stories of your favorite foods when you were a child. Review the day or talk about what you are looking forward to the next day or over the weekend.
  • Even preschoolers can learn to order a drink. Give them two choices like milk or juice. Tell them to look at the server when they order the drink and to speak up using “please” and “thank you”. If you have a shy child, be ready to provide back up and encouragement during the ordering process.
  • Elementary age children should be able to order their main meal. Discuss the menu choices with your child and then coach him before the server arrives about making eye contact and speaking up while ordering. Provide support for any questions that might come up during the ordering process if it seems like your child needs help.

While you may not be able to eat out frequently with your family due to the cost, take advantage of the times you can make it work. Lunches are usually less expensive than dinners. Even if you choose a fast-food restaurant, your child can still help during the ordering process. Over time, your children will learn essential skills about how to behave in public and will grow more confident communicating politely on their behalf with others.


How to Nurture Social Skills in Techie Kids

by Christa Melnyk Hines on October 7, 2014

Socialize (3)Many parents worry that once they introduce their kids to technology, they’ll lose them to virtual friends and a social life conducted exclusively through texts and emoticons. I think most kids crave real-life, interpersonal interactions as much as the rest of us. In an environment where most of their friends interact online, the challenge is making sure your kids complement their online interactions with a healthy offline life.

Kids begin developing key communication skills between the ages of 8 and 13. Here’s how to make sure your kids have plenty of opportunities to develop those vital social skills that will help them nurture close friendships as they grow into adolescence and adulthood:

  • Involve your child in extracurriculars like sports and activities that expose them to a real-life network. Outside of sports, scouts, performance arts and 4-H are just a few types of organizations that help kids develop communication and leadership skills. I recently got my 9-year-old involved in an organization called Destination Imagination, which combines engineering, creativity and performance/presentation skills.
  • Most major social media sites stipulate that members must be 13 and older. Use this rule to your advantage. If your child wants to interact with friends online, restrict their interactions to texts that you can easily scroll through and check.
  • Slowly introduce social media. When you feel it is appropriate, introduce your child to sites that are geared toward kids under 13. You and your child can then explore social media in a relatively safe environment together and begin learning the rules of appropriate, positive social media engagement.
  • Decide when and where you allow electronics in your life. Be firm about your boundaries. You will send the message to your kids that while screen communication and virtual networks are wonderful complements to their social lives, electronics don’t get to control their time.
  • Nurture conversation skills by eating meals together as a family, spend time together, have your kids call relatives on the phone, and provide them with opportunities to interact with adults of different generations. During these interactions, coach your kids on eye contact and manners.
  • Remember when our kids were toddlers and we were all about scheduling playdates? As our kids get busy with school, homework and extracurriculars, it is easy to forget that scheduling face-to-face time with your kids’ friends is still important. Take a couple of hours on a weekend and have a friend over. Even if they spend some of that time playing a video game, they will still be interacting with each other.

What do you do to ensure your kids are developing a solid set of social skills?


And the Winner is…

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 30, 2014

HH&H_cover_860x600_strokeCongratulations to Kari Burkholder! Kari (as chosen by is the winner of the Nabi 2 tablet, a digital copy of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected and 10 conversation gems.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway and showed social media love over the past two weeks by buzzing and sharing the link to my book. I appreciate all of your support and encouragement as I launched this new baby into the world. I’ve had a great time, and I’ve enjoyed connecting with some terrific folks.

If you are so inclined, there are still ways you can help me spread the word about this social media training resource for parents…

  • Share the link on Facebook
  • Tweet about it on Twitter
  • Pin the book’s cover image on Pinterest or Instagram
  • Write a review on Amazon or
  • Add the book to your Goodreads shelf

Thanks again for your support!


Interactive Technology Brings Families Closer

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 29, 2014

Studies find that interactive technologyOnly 24 hours left to enter to win a Nabi 2 tablet and a copy of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget below to enter! 

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research, “A majority of adults say technology allows their family life today to be as close, or closer, than their families were when they grew up.”

What are some ways families stay connected with technology? I asked this question during my Facebook Virtual Book Launch Party. One of the most popular ways that parents said they stay connected is through Skype and Facetime.

Skype and Facetime are especially great technologies when a spouse travels for work. A parent can show their child their surroundings, read a book together or simply say good-night using video technology.

These technologies are also fun for grandparents who live far away as a way to see and chat with their grandchildren.

While your kids may spend a good chunk of their time making silly faces on camera, the early exposure to talking through video will help them feel more relaxed visiting with people this way later. Many teens also use Facetime and video hangouts to chat with friends. And in the future, more employers may start using Skype or other video connections to interview candidates living across the country.

Texting is probably the most common way we stay connected to one another. We can coordinate schedules and check in with each other easily throughout the day using instant messaging.

Among families, Facebook is a simple way to stay connected with long distance relatives. I have not only grown more aware of my extended family’s lives thanks to Facebook, I’ve even gotten to know relatives I may not have ever “met” if it wasn’t for social media.

What do you think…. Has interactive technology brought your family closer? If so, how do you use technology to stay connected?


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A Special Thank You!

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 26, 2014

Only 4 more days left! Join me as I celebrate the launch of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! Enter to win a Nabi 2 Tablet and a digital copy of my book. Enter daily if you like! Go to the Rafflecopter link at the end of this post.

Thank yThe average user of a social networkingou to everyone who was able to make it to my virtual book launch on Facebook. I had so much fun interacting with a great group of parents and learning more about their concerns and challenges surrounding raising this generation of digital kids!

If you couldn’t make it, the event page is still available. Be sure and check out the conversation threads and the resources that I made available. Click here to see it.

Also, feel free to post to the page if you have questions or comments. I will be checking in and I’m happy to answer questions any time.






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Nurturing an Empathetic Communicator

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 25, 2014


Join me as I celebrate the launch of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! Enter to win a Nabi 2 Tablet and a digital copy of my book. Enter daily if you like! Go to the Rafflecopter link at the end of this post.

Self-confidence and communication skills are deeply intertwined. Without one, it is difficult to be successful with the other. Emotional intelligence helps us navigate all sorts of relationship issues more successfully.

Daily experiences provide opportunities to help your child see other people’s point of views and grow in empathy. You can do this by asking your kids questions like: “How do you think that made him feel?” “How would you have handled a situation like that?”

Whether you are out driving around, at the shopping mall, watching a TV show together or your child is telling you about a problem at school, flip situations on their heads to play a friendly devil’s advocate and encourage critical thinking.

For example:

Frankie: “Mom, the new kid at school is so weird. He wears the same shirt almost every day. He told me that I’m no good at basketball. He wasn’t even playing with us.”

Mom: “Did that hurt your feelings?”

Frankie: “Yeah, kinda.

Mom: “I bet. Why do you think he said that?”

Frankie: “It was cause I missed a shot.”

Mom: “Well, I know that wasn’t a very nice thing to say, but maybe he is just trying to fit in with you guys? It’s hard being the new kid. I remember when I was the new kid at school.”

Frankie: “What happened?” 

Mom: “I had a hard time making friends because I was shy. Then, this really nice girl in my class asked me if I wanted to sit with her and her friends at lunch. After that, things got easier. Maybe you could ask him if he wants to shoot hoops with you guys next time you play.”

Frankie: “Yeah, maybe. It doesn’t seem like he has any friends.”

Share stories rather lecturing. Teach them to question the status quo and to think critically about why others act the way they do. (Sometimes there really is no explanation, but mostly people mean well.) Your kids will learn to tune into their intuition; fall back on their value system; and assess information and diverse situations critically–and with empathy.

What do you do to nurture empathy?

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Virtual Book Launch Party Today!

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 24, 2014

Don’t forget today is my Virtual Book Launch Party on Facebook from 4:30-8:30 CST! This will be a festive event with plenty of opportunities to chime in, share your experiences and thoughts, and learn about resources that will help you prepare your child for the digital world.

Please feel free to pop in and out at your convenience. This event is open to the public. If you have a friend you’d like to invite, you are welcome to share this post.

Have a specific question you are hoping to learn the answer during the event? Leave a comment below.

Thank you for helping me celebrate the launch of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! There is still plenty of time to enter my giveaway. Simply scroll down to the Rafflecopter link below.


Parker cartoon: Back to school
Cartoon: Jeff Parker/Florida Today



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Be There or Be Square: A Virtual Book Launch Party!

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 23, 2014

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Join me as I celebrate the launch of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! Enter to win a Nabi 2 Tablet and a digital copy of my book. Enter daily if you like! Go to the Rafflecopter link at the end of this post.

This Wednesday, September 24, between 4:30 and 8:30 CST, you are invited to my Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected Virtual Book Launch Party on Facebook!

Know other parents with preschool and school-aged kids? Feel free to invite them, too!

What is a Virtual Book Launch Party? A virtual book launch party is a light-hearted, interactive event that you can participate in from the comfort of your own home. I know you are a busy parent, which is why I stretched the event out over several hours. Drop in and out at your convenience. No babysitter required!

Throughout the afternoon/evening, you can:

  • Share your thoughts, concerns and perspective about parenting in the digital age
  • Learn the good news about our phenomenal online generation
  • Nibble on tips, trivia and fun facts about social media
  • Access a variety of helpful resources
  • Enter to win a Nabi 2 tablet, a digital copy of my book and 10 Conversation Gems

(This event is in no way administered, sponsored or endorsed by Facebook.)

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Games that Nurture Listening Skills

by Christa Melnyk Hines on September 22, 2014

Join me as I celebrate the launch of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected! Enter to win a Nabi 2 Tablet and a digital copy of my book. Enter daily if you like! Go to the Rafflecopter link at the end of this post.

shared. (1)When others pay attention to what we say in a conversation, we feel validated, like what we contribute is meaningful to those we are conversing with–even if they happen to disagree with us.

By definition, dialogue is the shared give-and-take between speaking and listening. So why does it feel like so many conversations are more like competing monologues?

For sure, listening is a difficult skill to learn, but it can be nurtured. While your kids may not always tune into everything you have to say, here are four fun games to help promote active listening skills.

20 Questions. One person picks a person, place or thing. Other players have to make guesses by asking questions to gather clues. The person who listens carefully to the clues and guesses correctly in 20 questions or less gets to go next.

Shout-out. Use this game when reading books or listening to songs with lots of repetition. Whenever your toddler or preschooler hears the key word or phrase, she can shout it out. Popular children’s books that use repetition, include Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Brown Bear, Brown Bear; and Bear Snores On.

Who am I? Gather your preschooler’s stuffed animals and have her turn her back. This game will probably get both of you giggling! Pretending to be one of her stuffies, use a silly voice and describe your characteristics. Can she figure out which one of her favorite lovies you are describing?

Picture it. Have your child take a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Using step-by-step instructions, tell your child what to draw. How accurate was he? Then let him challenge you!

(Additional listening game ideas are included in my book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.)

What do you do to promote listening in your home?

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