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10 Free Back-To-School Apps Every Parent Needs

Sending the kids back to school is akin to setting those New Year’s resolutions in January. It’s a clean slate and a period (however brief) of good intentions. Make the most of this optimism with these 10 smartphone and tablet apps to help you stay organized, help lend a hand with homework, and even help add some extra learning fun.  

We talked with teachers, principals and other educational experts about their favorite apps, and then we gave them a try to see how they worked. What follows is a list of our front runners, all designed to help you and your family get the school year off on the right foot. The best part? All of these apps are free. 

Looking for more parenting tips, back-to-school related and otherwise? Sign up for our free newsletters to have them delivered straight to your inbox.  

High-Tech Family Fun: 5 Ways Technology Can Be Family Time

My family has been having a great summer and making use of several ideas from our Ultimate Summer Play List along the way; it's hard to believe we're already more than halfway through the season. We've cooled off with water games, revisited classic backyard games from our childhoods, and turned childhood stories into family games. Of course, most plans we make involve asking someone to put down an electronic device (and give the poor, hounded Pokemon a rest). Wouldn't it be great if we could put those phones and tablets to more enriching use? Maybe even use them for some family playtime?

Ask and ye shall receive: check out these five ideas for exercising minds and thumbs together.

25 Things To Do in Cincinnati with Kids

Cincinnati, Ohio hits the highbrow and lowbrow sweet spot for families. It may be referred to as the Queen City, but there are no regal airs in this utterly unpretentious town.

Proud of its working-class roots, Cincinnati forges into the 21st century with plenty of innovations. Its compact core makes it ideal for walking and an eagerly anticipated new streetcar route opens in September, connecting its diverse outlying neighborhoods with the vibrant downtown. Nature lovers can bask in Cincinnati's leafy parks just minutes from the city center. Pro sports are a big deal, with baseball’s Reds and football’s Bengals leading the charge, but families with an interest in history and the arts have also come to the right place.

To help families get the most out a visit to Ohio's Queen City, we've pulled together a carefully curated list of things to see and experience with kids. For more stateside family vacation ideas, be sure to check out our United States Family Travel Guide.

Niagara Falls: Family Bucket List Vacation Spot

If you breathe oxygen, it's on your bucket list. Heck, there are probably even some alien life forms out there that want to take their kids to Niagara Falls. It would be hard to overstate the breathtaking power and natural beauty of this international landmark, the first of our national parks, but I'll do my best.

I was lucky enough to stumble, with a little good advice, onto an itinerary as easy as a vacation should be, allowing our family to see Niagara Falls from above and below, from in front and behind, by day and by night, from the US and from Canada without waiting more than a few minutes in any line or spending a lot of money. To be fair, we pulled off this feat in June; repeating our movements in July or August might be more crowded, but I still think it will be the path of least resistance. Or you could go to the other extreme and see the Falls in winter, which by all accounts is a whole other kind of magical.

If you have time to explore a few fun things beyond the waterfalls—of which there are overwhelmingly many—there are some great free options. You'll run out of time before you run out of things to do in Niagara.

Water Safety Musts for Kids at the Beach, Pool and Lake

It’s a basic law of summer that a dip in a cool pool, or a splash in the ocean, makes everything right in the world. With many families gearing up for ocean and pool trips, or lake vacations, we talked to swim instructors and water safety experts around the country to gather the most important tips for keeping water-loving kids safe this summer. 

Surviving Mother's Day as a Single Mom—8 Ways To Have the Day We Deserve

Mother's Day seems like such a great idea, but for single moms it rarely delivers. Who's going to bring us breakfast in bed—a toddler?

There are many paths to single motherhood, and I think among my friends we cover them all. Whether we were surprised by motherhood, by divorce, or just by everything that came after the sperm bank, one thing we all share is that Mother’s Day is not all it's cracked up to be. That’s not because we don’t love being mothers—being Mom is the part we love best. And the concept of celebrating motherhood is a fine thing. But being responsible for teaching someone else—someone small and self-centered—to make a fuss over us? That feels like more trouble than it's worth. Or, to put it as concisely as one of my friends does, “Kids ruin Mother’s Day.”

Of course we're joking. Kind of. How could kids ruin a day all about our joy in having them? Maybe it's because Hallmark builds this thing up as big as Valentine's Day and makes us think that someone is supposed to shower us with champagne breakfasts and roses. In a two-parent home, the responsibility for living up to that fantasy at least falls on an adult. Of course, friends readily tell me how often the adult can fall short (I don't think the Mother's Day deep fat fryer episode ended my one friend's marriage, but it clearly didn't help). Enough dads do seem to get it right, though, to leave a single mom feeling like she's alone in a world of mimosa drinkers come Sunday morn.

First Birthday Party Ideas and Tips

First birthday parties are tricky. Since they're as much for the adults as for the baby, parents want to throw a memorable celebration that the birthday child can enjoy while marking the occasion with friends and family.

I've been thinking about first birthday party ideas, so I decided to ask the experts: the moms who work on Mommy Poppins. Sure enough, I got lots of great tips, advice and concepts.

Kids' Mystery Party: Games and Ideas for a Kid-Friendly Murder Mystery Party

When my son declared he wanted a mystery party for his 10th birthday, I turned to the Internet to research party games and ideas. Happy surprise, the No. 1 Google result for “kids mystery party” is my friend Liz’s hilarious post comparing the type-A Pinterest-perfect mystery ideas she found online vs her own totally type-B mystery party. 

While anyone who has been to my always-messy apartment will attest I am definitely not a type-A mom, when it comes to birthday parties, I love to go all out with really creative activities that always leave the kids saying, “That was the best party ever.” Let’s face it, kids don’t care if your paper goods are fancy; they just want to have fun. 

So, in response to Mom-101's post, I took up the challenge to create an A-is-for-Awesome kids' mystery party that anyone could throw without a MFP (Masters in Fine Pinterest).

How to Make a Free Photo Booth for a Kids' Party

For the past few years, I have dreamed about having a party with a photo booth. Not only does it seem like a fun party activity, but the guests end up with great favors: The funny photos that show everyone together, having a blast. You can rent a photo booth from a local company, but the prices start in the high hundreds and go up from there, so I looked into different options for DIY photo booths.

After much research, my photo booth solution ended up being incredibly simple and free, and it was a huge hit at my last gathering. We got terrific pictures of all the guests, but the biggest surprise was how great having a photo booth was for the kids. We had children ages 3 to 12 completely occupied, snapping away, leaving the grown-ups to eat, chat and mingle.

While this easy DIY photo booth works for grown-up parties, I think it's a particularly great addition to a kids' party. The only downside is, if you want the kids to do anything else, it might be hard to pull them away. Find even more fun and easy tech ideas like this in our Geek Guide.

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