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    children's literacy, product reviews, technology

    Adventure Academy: WordPlay with Kwame Alexander

    My kids are absolutely LOVING Adventure Academy and I can’t lie, so am I! It is so good, truly. Created by the creators of ABC Mouse, Adventure Academy builds critical knowledge of essential topics in language arts, math, science, social studies, and more. It’s recommended for kids ages 8-13.

    Our family recently got a sneak peek into WordPlay, a new series that will soon be featured on Adventure Academy. We were invited to an exclusive virtual screening and we can’t be more excited about this forthcoming show for kids!

    What is WordPlay?
    WordPlay is a brand new 10-episode kids video series created by Kwame Alexander. Wordplay will be available in September exclusively within Adventure Academy. The educational series provides a master class in storytelling and writing for elementary students. In essence, WordPlay teaches elementary-age children how to write short stories in a highly engaging format. Kwame Alexander created, executive produced, and serves as the host of the show.

    Each episode of WordPlay features Kwame working through a key stage of the storytelling process with the help of his diverse group of friends. Celebrities and other well-known guests make an appearance in the episode shows. For example, actor and author Maulik Pancholy of 30 Rock and former VP of Animated Shorts for Nickelodeon Samantha Berger, offer insights into various elements of the storytelling process, such as exposition, character development, and how to build a sense of mystery.

    WordPlay with Kwame Alexander

    WordPlay also features “The Pajama Drama Club,” a book club of kids who act out stories by performing literary songs and jokes in a theatrical production.

    Do your kids or students use Adventure Academy? Feel free to share in the comments. Look for the Wordplay series to be rolled out to Adventure Academy starting in September 2020.

    For more information on WordPlay, visit www.adventureacademy.com/wordplay and Adventure Academy, visit www.adventureacademy.com.

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    family fun, summer camp at home, technology

    Go Girls! Virtual Summer Camp for Girls Ages 6 – 14

    Disclaimer: Our family was provided with a complimentary 5-week session of Go Girls! camp in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions shared are my own.

    For the past four weeks, my daughter has been participating in a virtual summer camp called Go Girls! at Home. I’m so glad this camp provides so much enrichment to help keep kids busy, learning, and having fun — while practicing safe social distancing.

    Go Girls! at Home has been teaching my daughter how to be a confident leader, the importance of building community and teamwork, the art of music, song and dance and so much more! It’s a social and emotional camp specifically designed for girls and I have loved watching my growing girl blossom over the past few weeks. Bonus points for it being a Black woman owned business.

    Go Girls! at Home is a virtual summer camp for girls and gender non-conforming kids ages 6-14 (rising 1st through 8th graders) to make art and media together – all while practicing the Go Girls! Culture Code, their highly effective social-emotional skills framework designed to help girls become their boldest, bravest selves.

    As stated on the Go Girls! website, here’s how the virtual camp works:

    Go Girls! at Home virtual summer camp takes place inside of a Google Classroom.  The primary learning will happen in 3 different formats:

    1. Live large group meetings via Google Meet – at the beginning and end of the week, Go Girls! will come together for connection and celebration
       
    2. Zoom and/or Video-enriched lessons led by talented Go Girls! teaching artists – Go Girls! will watch instructional videos whenever they want and complete the artistic projects at their own pace
       
    3. Live small group meetings – Go Girls! are assigned to a small “family group” with other girls their age.  Each week, the groups, led by a Go Girls! “Camp Mama,” meet to build deeper connections and practice the lessons of the Go Girls! Culture Code.

    My favorite part has been reinforcing how my daughter (and myself) have been able to apply to the Go Girls! Culture Code to her life (Say Yes, Give & Take, Make Mistakes, Feel My Feelings, Take Center Stage).

    Each week has a new theme that follows the culture code. This week the girls are learning about feeling their feelings and emotions.

    Have questions about this amazing virtual girls camp? Ask away in the comments.

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    adult books, children's books, technology

    Screen-Free Week: Unplug With These Books for Readers of All Ages

    Are you looking for Screen-Free Week book recommendations for readers of all ages?  We’ve got you covered!

    Every year during screen-free week, thousands of people participate and commit to unplug from screen-based entertainment for an entire week.  Are you up for the challenge?  You can visit the screenfree.org website to find out more information, discover local screen-free week events and find great resources to help you.

    What is Screen-Free Week?

    From the Screen-Free website: Screen-Free Week is an annual invitation to play, explore, and rediscover the joys of life beyond ad-supported screens.  Each year, thousands of families, schools, and communities around the world will put down their entertainment screens for seven days of fun, connection, and discovery.  Even though it’s about turning off screens, Screen-Free Week isn’t about going without – it’s about what you can get! An hour once dedicated to YouTube becomes an hour spent outside; ten minutes wiled away on social media turn into ten minutes spent doodling; a movie on a rainy afternoon is replaced by time spent reading, chatting, or playing pretend!  You can celebrate Screen-Free Week at home, in your school, in your community, or anywhere – just put down those entertainment screens and do literally anything else! You might be surprised at what you find.

    Below are a few book recommendations for members of your whole family to enjoy during screen-free week.  These books are all related to the themes of living life unplugged or technology.  Happy Reading!

    Kid/Teen Recommendations

    Unplugged by Steve Anthony (Ages 3-5)
    One day, Blip becomes unplugged after a blackout and discovers the outside world beyond screens.  Blip explores the outdoors and also makes new friends.  A fun story with a timely message that shows kids it’s possible to have fun without electronic devices.

    When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Dennihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (Ages 4-8)
    “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this imaginative take on that popular saying, a child is surprised (and disappointed) to receive a lemon tree from Grandma for her birthday. After all, she DID ask for a new gadget! But when she follows the narrator’s careful—and funny—instructions, she discovers that the tree might be exactly what she wanted after all. This clever story, complete with a recipe for lemonade, celebrates the pleasures of patience, hard work, nature, community . . . and putting down the electronic devices just for a while.

    Blackout by John Rocco (Ages 4-8)
    This is a wonderful story about how a power outage brings families and neighbors together by turning off all the distractions. I like reading this one with the kids Enjoy in the dark with a flashlight under the covers.

    If You Give a Mouse an iPhone: A Cautionary Tale by Ann Droyd (Ages 4-8)
    A funny and lighthearted parody of the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Shows kids the good and bad consequences of too much screen time.

    No More Screen Time by Patti Price (Ages 4-8)
    A cute an informative book about unplugging from devices, playing outside and spending time with family and friends.

    Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (Ages 4-8)
    “In a bright buzzing room, in the glow of the moon-and iPhones and Androids and Blackberries too-it is time to say goodnight…”  A whimsical parody about living a life filled with technology and screens.

    How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk (Ages 4 – 8)
    All summer, Pearl has been trying to build the perfect sandcastle, but out-of-control Frisbees and mischievous puppies keep getting in the way! Pearl and her robot friend Pascal have one last chance, and this time, they’re going to use code to get the job done.

    What Does it Mean to Be Safe? by Rana DiOrio (Ages 4-8)
    What Does It Mean To Be Safe? explores physical, emotional, social, and cyber safety in unthreatening ways that spark meaningful conversations between adults and children.

    Jaden Toussant, The Greatest Episode 1: The Quest for Screen Time by Marti Dumas (Ages 5-7 )
    Jaden Toussaint, 5 year-old scientist and all around cool dude, is on a mission to convince the grown-ups that he needs more SCREEN TIME. His only weapons are science, ninja dancing, and his super-powered brain power. Can Jaden Toussaint get the grown-ups to change their minds?

    But I Read It on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo (Ages 8 – 12)
    Hunter and Carmen disagree whether George Washington really had wooden teeth, and Mrs. Skorupski encourages them to research the story on the internet and use her “Website Evaluation Gizmo” to evaluate websites and come up with the correct answer.

    The Teen’s Guide to Social Media… and Mobile Devices: 21 Tips to Wise Posting in an Insecure World by Jonathan McKee (Ages 12 – 18)
    The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices will help you navigate the digital world with 21 refreshingly honest and humorous tips that will not only inform, but that also just might change the way you think about your social media interaction.

    Adult Recommendations

    Raising Humans in a Digital World by Diana Graber
    This book is packed with at-home discussion topics and enjoyable activities that any busy family can slip into their daily routine. Full of practical tips grounded in academic research and hands-on experience, today’s parents finally have what they’ve been waiting for—a guide to raising digital kids who will become the positive and successful leaders our world desperately needs.

    Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
    Drawing on a diverse array of real-life examples, from Amish farmers to harried parents to Silicon Valley programmers, Newport identifies the common practices of digital minimalists and the ideas that underpin them. He shows how digital minimalists are rethinking their relationship to social media, rediscovering the pleasures of the offline world, and reconnecting with their inner selves through regular periods of solitude.

    Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Victoria L. Dunckley, MD
    Follow the steps outlined in this four-week plan to end meltdowns, raise grades and boost social skills.

    The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life by Anya Kamenetz
    Finally, an evidence-based, don’t-panic guide to what to do about kids and screens.

    Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner
    Screenwise helps parents recognize that the social wisdom they have gained throughout their lives is a relevant and urgently needed supplement to their kid’s digital savvy. These skills can help set kids up for a lifetime of success in a world fueled by technology.

    The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
    Drawing on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, Andy Crouch shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. He takes readers beyond the typical questions of what, where, and when and instead challenges them to answer provocative questions like, Who do we want to be as a family? and How does our use of a particular technology move us closer or farther away from that goal?

    Screen-Free Fun: 400 Activities for the Whole Family by Shannon Philpott-Sanders
    Screen-Free Fun offers over 400 ideas to disconnect from tech devices and reconnect with our families in a healthier way. You can pick from DIY activities to games to weekend outings. Since many of the activities work well for kids at various ages, your family will be able to grow along with the different projects and make plans for both younger and older siblings alike. You can try indoor projects, outdoor activities, or learn more about your favorite destinations with activities like a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood or an i-spy game at the zoo. There is also space for your family to add your own favorite activities so you never forget a great idea or memory! From summer vacation to holiday breaks and every rainy day in between, with this book you and your family will always have something fun to do together—without ever having to resort to a tablet, phone, or computer.

    Your turn: Are you planning to participate in screen-free week?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

     

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    parenting, product reviews, revolution math, STEM, technology

    Help Your Kids Fall In Love with Math (And Reading Too!) With Revolution Math


    Disclaimer: This post is brought to you in partnership with Revolution Math, an interactive online math and story-based program for kids in grades 2-5. Get your first month of Revolution Math plus a math learning kit for $1 with the code WEEREAD1!

    Education has always been extremely important to me.  When I was a child I used to always say I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  Well, when I finally “grew up” I changed my mind and decided on the computer field instead.  Perhaps some day I’ll be a college professor and finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of teaching.  For now, I’ll settle as being my children’s first teacher.

    I knew even before I had children that I didn’t want their learning to be left entirely up to the school system.  I make it a point to supplement whatever they are learning in school at home with my own teachings by making it fun.  One way I supplement education at home is by using an awesome interactive online math and story-based curriculum called Revolution Math.  Have you heard of it before?  If you follow me on Instagram, you may have heard me talk about it in my stories.  Try It Out for 30 Days for JUST $1 (No strings attached – I promise!)

    Math was always my favorite subject in school.  I want my kids to like math or at least do well in it even if they don’t love it as much as I do.  Did you know research suggests that early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than early reading skills?

    What Is Revolution Math?
    Revolution Math is an innovative program designed to help 2nd-5th graders develop their math skills and an overall love of learning. The live, online interface integrates an interactive learning experience with a story-based curriculum and Common Core aligned math games. Students enjoy a small class size of only 4 students, allowing them to build confidence under the instruction of a dedicated teacher.  Check out their brief introductory online videos for more information.

    Our Experience
    My daughter has been using Revolution Math (we pay for this program with our own money) for the past two months.  I can honestly say she is truly enjoying it and most importantly she’s learning advanced math skills for her grade.  While the program is recommended for kids in grades 2-5, they also accept first grade students like my daughter.

    Initially, some of the concepts were a bit difficult for her to grasp (as with learning anything new), but I’ve seen lots of improvement over the past two months.  She is now able to do one, two, three and four digit addition and subtraction problems a lot easier using the concepts learned through the program without any worry or anxiety like she initially had.

    Here are a few of the things my daughter has learned so far:

    • Place value charting to decompose addends for 2-digit + 2-digit addition and 3-digit + 2-digit addition
    • Different ways to represent three-digit numbers
    • Finding patterns
    • “Bundling”, “exchanging” or “carrying” from a lower place value to a higher one

    I’ve loved witnessing the progress and confidence I’ve seen in my daughter over the past two months.  It’s also been great to see her build a relationship with her online teacher (the teacher remains the same each week) and on occasion participate in class with other students.

    Other added benefits are parents receive a weekly update on the math tutoring session which includes cool apps and strategies you can use at home to reinforce learning.  Also, registered subscribers can access additional drills for practice playing the Revolution math game.  Finally, kids earn gems each lesson that can be traded in for kid-friendly prizes from the Revolution Math Rewards store.  Who doesn’t love an incentive?  I know I sure do!  My daughter is currently saving up her gems for a fidget spinner.

    Are you excited yet?  Do you want to help your children fall in LOVE with math (and reading too!)?

    Try It Out for 30 Days for JUST $1 (No strings attached – I promise!)
    You seriously can’t go wrong with this deal – it’s like getting 4 high-quality math classes for just $0.25 cents each if you break it down.  To me, this is a no-brainer to sign up for a 30-day trial especially if you have kids in grades 1-5.  Plus, you get a math learning kit which is yours to keep and doesn’t have to be returned.  Win-win!  I only share brands and products that my family truly uses, values and trusts and Revolution Math has gained our trust over the past two months.

    The learning kit includes several math manipulatives: graph paper, dice, place value number tiles, a protractor and masks to use for the story time portion of the course.  Be sure to use my code ‘WEEREAD1’ to take advantage of this fantastic deal for just $1 and tell them I sent you!

    Your turn: Are you ready to raise a math whiz?  Have you heard of Revolution Math before?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    adult books, book reviews, STEM, technology

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Coding Homework


    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework by Frazer Wilson

    Publisher: Sterling Publishing
    Pages: 208
    Format: Paperback

    Synopsis
    Facing the daunting prospect of helping your children with their coding homework?  Coding for Parents teaches you what you need to know . . . so you can teach your kids!

    Unlock the mysteries of coding with this easy-to-follow and well-illustrated guide—and help your kids ace their coding homework! Organized by age and grade, It takes you by the hand and leads you through the basics, building your knowledge of key concepts, terminology, and techniques, and giving you the language you’ll need to explain it all to your child. Instructional diagrams and compelling illustrations appear throughout to enhance your understanding, and the book covers the most popular software, including Scratch, Python, and Java.

    Reflection
    The introduction of the computer has changed the world forever, for better or for worse.  The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science.  President Barack Obama said it best when he said, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.”

    In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.” – Barack Obama

    And yet, computer science is not part of the required curriculum in many US public schools.  That means it’s up to adults to help their children get more familiar with computers, technology and coding when it’s not offered to them in their school.  With the help of great books like Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework adults can cultivate a child’s interest in computing, even if they’ve never written a line of code on their own a day in their life.

    I like that this book is organized by age and grade level for different software like: Java, Scratch and Python.  It’s a compact and comprehensive introduction to all things coding broken down into digestible bites that are easy to comprehend.  There are also helpful diagrams with some added humor to help take a bit of the edge off if you’re new to the world of coding.  The book also contains a helpful glossary and index making it easy to find and reference information throughout.

    Coding is all about learning by doing.  And the more kids feel like they can “do” computers, the more likely they are to pursue technical careers.  An added bonus is having a parent or adult who understands coding and can help a child easily understand it too.  That’s where  Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework comes into play.  Check it out if you want to be able to confidently help the special kiddo in your life with their coding homework.  Makes a great back to school gift idea for parents!

    Your turn: Is Computer Science a part of the curriculum at your child’s school?  What other books would you recommend for adults to help children with coding homework?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    family fun, STEM, technology

    STEM Saturdays: Osmo Creative Kit Review


    Disclaimer: I received an Osmo Creative Kit directly from Osmo in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    As a Computer Programmer and lover of all things STEM (science, math, engineering and technology), it’s important for me to expose my children to technology in order to help them build foundations for future academic and career success.  I want them to be as computer-savvy as possible from a young age.  Online skills are becoming as important as reading and writing for the younger generations, so why not give them a head start in life?  Since my kids are both still currently under the age of 5, my main goals are making sure they know their way around computers, smartphones and tablets without over exposing them too much.

    What is Osmo?

    I’ve been a huge fan of Osmo since discovering them a couple of years ago.  Simply put, Osmo is a unique gaming accessory for the iPad that comes with games that will change the way your child plays.  To date Osmo has been named one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions, is a Parent’s Choice award winner, a winner of the prestigious Oppenheim award, and a 2016 finalist for Toy of The Year.

    What’s Included?

    We received the Osmo Creative Kit which uses interactive art tools in 3 creative apps: Monster, Masterpiece and Newton. With the creative kit you receive: a white board, dry erase markers, a pouch, and a cloth to erase.

    Each of the three apps you download transforms your drawings and instantly brings them to life on the screen right before your eyes! The drawings then become animation to take part in a story, solve a puzzle or they become a one-of-a-kind artwork piece you can frame!

    How Do You Play Osmo?

    All that you need to play Osmo is an iPad with a camera.  Osmo is currently compatible with: iPad 2, iPad (3rd Generation), iPad (4th Generation), iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2 and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Osmo does not currently work with Android-based tablets, however they hope to develop for Android in the future. Right now they are just focusing on iOS.

    Setting up your Osmo gaming system is easy.  You simply download the apps from the app store, place your iPad in the white Osmo base, and then clip on the red Reflector.  And once you set up your Osmo account(s), you’re ready to play!  Note:  If you have multiple children or people who will be using your Osmo you can set up different accounts.  I think this great to be able to track the progress each person has made.

    Why We Love Osmo

    Although we haven’t quite figured out how to play the Newton game yet, we truly love our Osmo gaming system! The kids enjoy playing Monster the best – they love Mo (and so do I)!  It’s so cool to see all of the things the kids draw being pulled onto the screen.  I’m still amazed at the technology and how it all works.  I want to see the code behind, but that’s just the techie in me I guess!

    I personally love the Masterpiece game since I am not the best at drawing.  My drawings always turn out looking amazing!  Now if only I could actually draw that well on my own – ha!  The Masterpiece app has several pictures in the library that you can choose from to sketch. I also like the fact that you can take photos of different objects in your home and draw them as well.  Initially getting used to looking at the iPad screen instead of looking at the paper takes some time and practice.  We love watching our drawings in fast play once we’re done creating them.

    My favorite thing about our Creative Kit is all of the games encourage creativity and lots of imagination.  In addition, they encourage children to work on their fine motor skills in a simple way that’s really easy to understand.  You’re learning while having fun and strengthening muscles in your body including your brain.  How cool is that?

    Osmo games teach children a wide variety of things like:

    • logic and problem solving skills

    • spatial relational skills

    • spelling and critical thinking skills

    • drawing and creative confidence

    • counting, addition and multiplication

    • math, money, fractions and nonverbal communication

    Osmo is recommended for children ages 5 – 12, but my children are able to use it just fine with very little adult supervision required.

    To learn more about the affordable Osmo gaming system kits and games visit their website.

    Your turn: Do your children have an Osmo gaming system?  How do you teach your children about STEM and/or technology?  Feel free to share in the comments.

     

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    family fun, subscription boxes, technology

    Bitsbox: How I’m Teaching My Kids to Code Before Middle School

    Photo courtesy of Bitsbox

    Are you curious about how you can teach your kids to code before middle school?

    A couple of months ago I introduced you to a new subscription box called Bitsbox.  Bitsbox is a subscription box (designed for kids ages 6 – 14) that sends coding exercises to kids each month in order to help them learn coding. It includes app cards and coding themed toys to keep the kids interested in learning more month after month.  Kids can see the exact code and the results of their changes in real time!

    As a Computer Programmer and lover of all things STEM, it’s important for me to expose my children to technology in order to help them build foundations for future academic and career success.  That’s why I’m a huge fan of Bitsbox!

    Here are a few reasons why I absolutely LOVE Bitsbox:

    • It sends a clear reminder to parents that “coding is the new literacy.”
    • Coding experience is NOT required!  Remember, this is simple and it’s designed for kids.
    • You receive a cute “Apper Keeper” to store and organize all of the coding exercises.  Remember the old Trapper Keepers from the 1980’s?
    • Through repeated repetition, kids have the chance to play around and see how basic coding and functions work before they graduate to more complex learning.
    • It encourages children to learn design while fostering their problem solving abilities. Kids can change colors, add different backgrounds, songs and sounds to their creations.
    • It is specially designed for young children (ages 6-14) to give them a developmentally appropriate understanding of how coding works.
    • It helps teach children how to type and become more familiar with a keyboard.
    • Once you become a Bitsbox user you have access to the website for free, and can continue to use the cards and online apps for as long as the website is available for continued teaching and learning.
    • They offer different resources for parents AND classroom teachers.
    • It’s fun: My kids LOVE doing it – honestly! (And they are currently only 3.5 and 4.5 years old!)

    The first box (Animal House) focused on the coding skill of coordinates.  The second box (Robo Boogie) taught the kids all about variables and action commands.  We learned how to make objects move, how to change them to a random size and position them on the screen.  Future boxes you receive after the first and second one feature more advanced concepts like working with variables and if/else statements.  Sound too complex?  Don’t worry, Bitsbox made this super simple to understand by including a handy explanation guide for kids (and grownups) with each box.

    My kids and I have enjoyed creating these apps on our own for the past few months.  Since they are still both under age 6, I still assist them quite a bit with typing in some of the lines of code.  This is especially true for some of the longer and slightly more complex apps.  The kids are definitely becoming more comfortable with typing on the computer keyboard and memorizing where certain letters, numbers and symbols are which is great!

    To get started coding with Bitsbox all you need is a computer with a keyboard (desktop or laptop) and a web browser. (It’s currently not available to use on a tablet or smartphone.)  You then go to the Bitsbox website and login using either a grownup account or a kids account.  (All of your work will be saved to your account so you can refer back to it later.)  Next, your child starts building  their own customized apps which can be downloaded to a phone or tablet just like any other app!

    Ready to try Bitsbox for yourself?
    Save 20% on a subscription with my discount code: WEEREAD20.  Here’s to hoping your family becomes a Bitsbox-loving family like ours!

    Disclaimer:  We received free subscription boxes from Bitsbox in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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