back to school

Win It! Back-to-School Pilot Pens + $300 Amex Gift Card

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

Pilot Pen wants to help you stock up for school. Enter for a chance to win a journal, a year’s supply of Pilot Pens and a $300 American Express gift card by commenting below with your must have school supplies. For official rules, click here.


Preparing Your Teen’s Computer for Back to School

Written on August 31, 2012 at 5:47 pm , by

School is in session! We are working out the kinks in the morning routine and homework hour is part of our evening ritual. My family is actually used to the new schedule.One reason it’s going well? Technical preparedness.

My son’s laptop is his most-used possession. Before school started, I made him grab it and sit down with me to make sure it was as ready for back to school as the rest of us. I outsourced the time-consuming, patience-demanding portions of this task to a geek-on-call. If you read my column The Benefits of Annual Tech Support Plans you know all about this. But, in a nutshell, I called a toll-free number at McAfee’s Techmaster service (where I have an annual plan), told the tech who answered the phone that I wanted to install new virus protection (his had expired), run a scan for malware, and clean things up so the computer would run a little faster. Then I typed exactly what the rep told me to do into a remote control website, clicked OK a few times, and surrendered control of the computer to the tech on the other end of the phone. Or I should say, I walked my son through doing all of this because I wanted him to know how in case his computer went crazy when I wasn’t around to help him fix it. This took about three minutes. When the tech was done, he wished Cole luck with school and logged off.

After, I told Cole he needed real tools for school: A word processor, digital notebook, presentation program, and more. (He’s been getting by with what came on his computer and Google Docs.) And, as it happens, the not-yet-released Microsoft Office 2013 is available right now for a free download while it is in Customer Preview mode. I’ve been using it myself and I like the new, sleek look, the modern updates, and the way it integrates with Microsoft’s cloud storage SkyDrive.

Cole never takes his laptop to school so he often forgets to put completed homework on a flash drive and take it to school. But using this cloud-based storage system means he can access his files from any school computer. You don’t need to download the Office 2013 Preview to use Skydrive. SkyDrive is free. But it works nicely with the new office, making the cloud an obvious storage option every time you save.

I sent Cole to the link and he figured out the rest. He liked the new tools, too. For now, he has Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook on his laptop so he can’t claim he didn’t have what he needed to complete school assignments. Eventually, the preview period will end and Microsoft will want to charge us to keep using the final product. But by then I will know how much Cole uses it. And my budget will have recovered somewhat from all the other back-to-school expenses.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at, as well as here on

My Best Tech Advice on Back to School

Written on August 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm , by

Did you see me on TV? Hear me on radio? I just got back from a satellite media tour where I talked to more than 20 TV shows and radio stations in three hours. I have a new respect for TV personalities. That’s hard work. The tour was sponsored by Microsoft in a partnership with Family Circle. And it was a thrilling whirlwind for me, including talking nonstop, fabulous hair and makeup, and a team of handlers. (Watch out! I might become a diva!) But there is so much to think about when it comes to buying technology for students that there is simply no way to cover it all in a three-minute TV interview or even in 10 minutes on the radio.

A couple of times, an interviewer asked me a question that was too hard to answer in a sound bite–people were waving at me to keep it short!–and I just had to touch on it and move on. But I have covered so much of this material in various places over the years that it got me thinking that I should pull together some of my favorite bits of back-to-school advice by yours truly so you can quickly go to school on back-to-school tech.

First, there is my Family Circle back-to-school tech story, Old School Meets New Tech from the September issue. Some things got quick mention in that story simply because space was limited. So Microsoft asked me to expand on how I taught my son to use OneNote to take better notes using his smart phone, SkyDrive, and Microsoft Office for their OneNote blog. It’s a great trick, one I use myself for work, that will turn any tech-savvy student into an amazing note-taker.

One interviewer asked me to recommend some educational apps. I choked. I think it may have looked as if I didn’t know of any. But the extreme opposite was true. Hundreds of them swirled around in my brain. There are so many! But no single one, except the OneNote app because I’d just been talking about it, would come out of the swirl and form words. There is a list of them in my Family Circle back-to-school story. And I rounded up a lot of them last year for I look at them all the time. Should I cover this again? Let me know on Twitter and I’ll convince someone to run another story on it.

Several interviewers asked me how to determine what technology to buy for what age. With only a few seconds to answer, I had to give some quick general advice and say, “You know your children best.” That is a huge question! And I elaborated at some length on this pressing problem for parents at back when my kids were a couple of years younger. While some of the sites I mentioned there may have changed, the decision making process remains the same. If you feel like your kids know more than you do about tech, I encourage you to read that piece so you can take back the reigns.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at, as well as here on

5 Ways to Save Money on Back to School Shopping

Written on August 14, 2012 at 10:46 am , by


Guest blogger Cherie Lowe on teaching your kids about money while saving big on back to school shopping.

The thrill of a shopping victory comes when you see that grossly disproportionate number at the bottom of your receipt telling you just how much money you saved. You totally know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of receipt you want to show the people in front and back of you in line, as well as the greeter at the door. It’s the kind of receipt that invokes an embarrassing mom dance in the parking lot. And it’s the first thing you show your spouse when you see him next.

Don’t keep all of that giddy pride to yourself. Back to school time is the perfect opportunity for you to teach your tween how to handle money well–and possibly earn her own receipt worth showing off. You’ll need patience and you’ll have to relinquish control, but the byproduct is a money-savvy kid who learns that each penny counts. Here’s how to start:

1. Help your tween evaluate his needs before going shopping. Block off an afternoon to take inventory of what fits, what doesn’t and what he can re-use from last year. After you have a nice stack of items donate or hand down, compile a list of needs. Be sure to take stock of school supplies, in addition to clothes. Rulers, scissors, backpacks, lunch boxes and even USB drives usually have lifespans of 2-3 years.

2. Set two cash budgets: one for clothing, one for supplies. Based on what you’ve spent in the past and what your kid needs, go to the ATM and pull out EXACTLY what you plan to allow her to spend. If you let your kids shop with plastic–even debit, and yes, even if you’re present–they will always spend more.

3. Narrow your shopping venues and clip coupons. Don’t just wander the mall. You and your teen need a plan of attack. Sit down together and decide which stores you’ll hit. Then, google their names, along with the word “coupon,” to see what’s available for both clothing and supplies.

4. Steer your kids towards the clearance. Now’s not the time to buy sweaters and jeans–purchase capris, shorts and Ts, which are on sale now. Most schools start when the weather is still hot. Wait two months to shop for fall and winter clothing; by then, prices will come down substantially. If your kid desperately wants something spiffy for the first day, let her choose one fall outfit. (It can double as picture day attire, too.) But for everyday wear, urge her to choose clearance first.

5. Give them guidelines and set them free. It’s time for the little bird to fly from the nest. If you let your teens know that it’s their money to spend, they might have a different attitude than if you’re paying the bill. So if their shopping list calls for 3 pairs of pants, 2 tops and some socks, let them choose. This is extremely hard, as a parent, but it will make them realize that sometimes you have to decide between one pair of expensive jeans or two off-brand pairs. Obviously, you’ll need to help them navigate their school’s dress code–and perhaps your own household’s possibly stricter dress code. And let’s be clear: They may blow their budget and have to live with it. But you will not be sent to parent prison or turned in to Child Protective Services. And your kids will gain some valuable life learning.

How do you help your tween navigate the back to school aisles?

For more Royal Money Saving Back to School Tips, check out:

Cherie Lowe blogs at the Queen of Free, where she wears a plastic tiara and plans on never growing out of playing make believe.  Through written word and speaking engagements, she has shared the Royal Family’s Journey of Paying off $127,482.30 over the last four years.

A Backpack with a Built-In Safety Alarm

Written on August 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm , by

In the early stages of planning my back-to-school tech guide in the September issue, I received the iSafe Urban Crew laptop backpack to review. It’s a cute backpack, black with purple trim, and I have a teenage daughter who lives by that color scheme. Once it didn’t make the cut for my story (we went another direction), it disappeared quietly into the disaster she calls her room. Yesterday, the folks at iSafe Bags asked me what I  thought of it. Only then did I realize it had been pilfered. So I dug around in her mess of ignored school books, over-ear headphones, dirty dishes, odd science equipment, mistreated novels and found it.

The thing that separates this bag from the millions of backpacks on the market is its built-in alarm system. Hidden in one of the shoulder straps is a trigger for the alarm. So if Ava was wearing this backpack and someone threatening approached, she could flip up the flap and pull a pin. The backpack would then emit a deafening screech. (It’s designed so the sound is directed away from the wearer’s ears.) Ava thought this idea was silly. But she has never—thankfully—found herself alone on a city street with a stranger approaching. I liked the sound of it.

But how do you test something like this?

Just as I was wondering that my husband stopped by my office for a lunch date. The backpack was sitting in a chair. “You bought another bag for Ava?!” He asked. But there was an accusing tone in his voice. Even though this was my office, he assumed I’d gone on a shopping spree for goods we didn’t need. This irked me. So I decided to use him as a test subject. (Hell hath no fury like a woman whose shopping skills go underappreciated.)

“No,” I said pleasantly. “I got that in for review. You want to see what’s cool about it?” I asked as I put it on.

He did.

I flipped up the flap, pulled the tab, and the alarm went off.

He hit the ceiling! Literally! I have never seen a man jump that high outside of a basketball court. In fact, I think I saw his eyes bug out of his head like a character in a classic cartoon. Then he darted down the hallway—seemingly against his own will—to get away from the noise.

So. That worked.

After he calmed down and I was sure he didn’t need medical attention, I started giggling. After a while, so did he.

I’m still giggling. But I’m wearing this backpack if I ever have to hike across campus late at night.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at, as well as here on

4 Organizing Tips for Back-to-School

Written on August 10, 2012 at 11:15 am , by

By Lorie Marrero

Ready for the kids to be back on a regular schedule? New routines and classes can make for a challenging adjustment from a relaxed summer pace. Let your home support you in your transition by establishing the following four stations for commonly needed functions:

1. Get out of the door faster every morning with a “Destination Station.” Set up your Destination Station at the place where you most often enter and exit the house. Every home can utilize this concept, whether you repurpose a piece of furniture like a sideboard or bureau in a hallway, add some sturdy hooks and shelving to a wall, repurpose a coat closet, or use a dedicated mudroom. This station provides a home for all of the comings and goings of a busy family, like backpacks, purses, briefcases, and phones. Phone chargers can be helpful here, along with a shelf for errand items such as library books and store returns. Develop the habit of hanging up keys here on hooks or stowing them in a bowl. Each evening you can place everything here to be ready to leave the next morning.

2. Make homework time a happier time with an “Education Station.” This station is a place to centralize school supplies and create a space that feels comfortable and functional for working on those dreaded math worksheets. If you have a desk or table dedicated for studying, that’s ideal, but if your kids like using the kitchen table, make it easier to clear off for meals with some clever containers. A shower caddy can hold frequently used supplies like pencils, pens, calculators, and rulers, and the handle makes it easy to grab and move quickly. A rolling cart of plastic drawers can serve up supplies and get “parked” in a nearby closet when not needed. Make sure you have a pencil sharpener, erasers, paper, a surge protector strip, and good lighting.

3. Combat confusion with a “Communication Station.” Make sure you’re ready for the accelerated activities of the school year by having a place for shared information, including phone numbers, grocery lists, and schedules. A Communication Station can be as simple as a bulletin board in a high-traffic area or as formal as a built-in kitchen desk. Elements of this station may include:

  • Paper and pens for notes
  • Trays, cubbies, or bins for each family member’s mail and messages, if needed
  • Family calendar, I recommend a large paper calendar, since dry erase versions don’t allow you to refer back to the history, such as when your last dental appointment
  • Grocery list and menu plans
  • Posting space, use a corkboard, magnet board or similar display area to keep current information
  • Family Binder, this binder is like “Command Central” for the most frequently-needed information. Use a 3-ring binder for school bus schedules, medical reference information, school policies, and often needed phone numbers
  • You can also consider using a shared online calendar for these functions

4. Move it on out with a “Donation Station.” Back-to-school time means buying new school clothes and taking stock of the clothing that may have been outgrown. As a result, you might have lots of clothing to donate. Oftentimes, items for donation just end up sitting neglected in your closets. Setting up a permanent area where donations can be gathered allows you to make decisions about your stagnant stuff and get those items pulled out of circulation. Keep paper sacks, shopping bags, or cardboard boxes in a corner of a closet, on a shelf, or even in the trunk of your car to gather your donations before taking a load to your nearest Goodwill. Also, you may want to keep a clipboard with paper and a pen close by if you want to make a list of donated items for tax deduction purposes. Just as there are things we recycle, there are things we donate, it’s a planet-friendly habit that keeps billions of pounds out of landfills and helps people in your own community with training and other job-related services.




Lorie Marrero is a certified professional organizer and bestselling author of The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.