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Education kids activities

Things to do with your kids when schools are closed under quarantine

Since schools in our district (Howard County, MD) are closed, I put together a list of online learning / distance education resources, plus other ideas for things to do during the break/quarantine.

If anyone has any additional ideas for activities or other resources, please send them my way and I will add to this list – comment below!

The list is divided into eight topic areas:

I hope all of us who are well, but home, can all use this unexpected time together wisely! If you’re sick, get well soon.

Educational video classes and other learning fun learning opportunities

This break could turn into a mass home-schooling experiment, and for bad or good, may turn education on it’s ears in a way that nobody has been able to accomplish on purpose. It is definitely an opportunity for parents to get to know their kids’ academic strengths and weaknesses, in case they don’t already.

The good news is that there are loads of fantastic educational websites — many of which are normally for pay, but are free for now. Some include video lessons and classes, distance learning, others are paid courses.

Here are a few popular sites. I hope you’ll find something that will engage your child in the list below:

  • Khan Academy – This is very helpful, free website with loads of educational videos on all sorts of topics. It’s “gamified” so your child can earn points and badges as they progress through lessons.

    The videos are broken down into very specific how-to’s so you can zero right in on what you want to learn, or just follow along a given course. I very highly recommend this site. Here is a daily schedule for various grade levels using Khan resources.
    Grades Pre-K and above.
  • Khan Academy (again!) – This is a special mention because I really like this activity – Imagineering in a box. “Designed to pull back the curtain to show you how artists, designers and engineers work together to create theme parks.”
  • Outschool – For a VERY limited time FREE $100 credit for classes (Sign up here) I think this is a great opportunity for kids to learn. They have classes that are prerecorded, and others that have a live teacher that teaches your child along with classmates via video lessons. One of my children is currently taking a language class from this site and it’s really working well. I just signed the other up for an American Sign Language class.
    Grades Pre-K and above.

    You may also want to have a look at Unschool.School because it also offers a wide range of resources for different ways for kids to learn.
  • Learn At Home with YouTube – Great list of educational channels on YouTube. I like Crash Courses and It’s Okay to Be Smart.
  • Kids Discover – This website is normally a paid resource, but they’re offering free access to families with kids in districts that have closed schools. Click here to request a free account. Here is a list a librarian created with some other resources.
    Grades 1 and above.
  • Coding schools – Ok, now would be a good idea for kids who may have some interest in learning computer programming to take some courses or improve their skills with practice. There are some wonderful options for kids of all ages to get started. Here are three popular choices:
    • HourofCode is a great example, and it is very well done. Honestly, great for any age.
      Grades Pre-K and above.
    • Scratch very good for kids age 6 to 12. Fun, entertaining.
      Grades 1 and above.
    • Code.org also a great option for learning to code.
      Grades 3 and above.
    • CodeAcademy – another great resource with free and paid lessons.

  • Scholastic – This resource goes up to 6th grade. Lots of great materials to keep kids learning.
  • EdX, Coursera, and MIT OpenCourseWare – This could be an option for older kids – free online courses from major universities including Harvard, Yale, MIT, and probably most of the colleges you can think of. (There is even a course about cat and dog behavior from the University of Edinburgh)

    The classes are on just about any imaginable topic. Some are self-guided, others are “live” in that if you pay a fee, you can submit work for grading and you have to complete work in a given time frame.
    Grades 8 and above.
  • Linked In Learning/Lynda.com – Lynda offers a huge collection of online classes, mostly aimed at adults, but older kids/teens would benefit from many of them. For example, they have courses in Photoshop and other digital art tools that kids could benefit from. (Moms or dads would probably also find a worthwhile topic) Howard County Library offers it for free to their patrons, but if your library system doesn’t, the cost to join Lynda is not very expensive and is month to month.
    Grades 6 and above.
  • Instructables – I love this website. Loads of crafts, and other how-to’s on a wide variety of topics. Most kids are likely to find something that interests them–these would be good for parents and children to do together. (Thanks to Milanjali for the suggestion to add this one!)
  • Acheive3000’s Actively Learn Platform – I really like Achieve 3000’s ELA current events platform. I have used it with students for two years when I taught school and thought it was excellent. They are offering their Actively Learn remote learning platform for free for the time being.
  • CommonLit – Reading and writing program. Free. Parents have to go through a verification process, but this is a worthwhile platform with guides for teachers and parents.
    Grades 3 to 12.
  • Learn a language with Duolingo. This is a fun, easy way for your child to learn a language or learn more of a language they already know. You may also check with your local library to see if they have any other online language learning resources. For example, Howard County Library offers Rosetta Stone for free. I like Rosetta Stone for a few reasons, but top among them is the fact that it can listen to your pronunciation and tell you if you have it right.

    I would also mention that one of my kids is taking live online language lessons on Outschool.com. It’s working great even though the teachers and all of the students are in different states.
    Grades 4 and above.
  • Prodigy Math – Math activities for grades 1 – 8.
    Grades 1 – 8.
  • Delta Math – My kids are using this now. Lots of great activities. Create a free account as a teacher to get started.
  • First in Math – This is a great math resource with entertaining games and world-wide competitions. Paid subscription ($20 for 6 months).
  • Get out your library card and check to see what kind of electronic learning resources your local library has. (Note that in many places, you can get a access to libraries anywhere in your state and beyond).

    Here are some examples from the Howard County, Maryland library system (click to see them all – You need to go back to the library website and start there to login with your library card and Pin! Forgot your PIN? Reset it here):
    • Kids Infobits Grades Pre-K and above.
    • LearningExpress – Practice tests for AP exams and the SATs. Library card needed to register.
    • Muzzy
    • ScienceFlix
    • Tons of electronic books for all ages to download to your phone, Kindle, or tablet.
    • Bookflix


  • Do a project. This is one of the best ways to learn. Here is an article about project based learning–at the end of it are 15 ideas for projects including things like redesigning your city’s public transport system and solve your parents’ problem of being too busy.
  • Watch and compare/contrast movie versions of Romeo & Juliet and Westside Story. Take it deeper by adding in Rent (The Musical) and La Boheme (Thanks Debra T)

  • StarFall – This is a venerable, popular website for younger kids. Great fun.
    Grades Pre-K – 3.
  • Whizzimo.com – Free until July. Help for different learners including Orton-Gillingham.
  • Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Very well reputed online courses. This one is here because it’s a great option for some kids. The courses definitely aren’t free (quite the opposite), and you have to get accepted into the program.

    This could be a problem under quarantine since you have to test into the program.
  • MobyMax and ListenWise – These two are suggestions for schools and school districts rather than individual families: MobyMax helps your child catch up to grade level. This is great for different learners or learners struggling with school. It’s free for the rest of the school year. Call 888-793-8331 to get started. Listenwise offers articles and podcasts about a variety of subjects, and can be effective for different learners.

Random fun

Games and online fun

Here are some ideas for some ideas for fun, some of the suggestions may even be educational.

Worksheets and Learning Packets

Although I am not the biggest fan of worksheets, these free downloads will be helpful for parents who need something quick and easy for their kids to do. Worksheets have their place, but parents who have additional time may want to consider the idea of working on a project with their student instead (or in addition).

Preschool letter tracing worksheets
Phonics worksheets

Handwriting worksheets
Math worksheets

General packets for grades K – 5
General packets for middle school
Middle school math packets
Reading packets for grades 1 – 9

Easter Seals School Closure Toolkit for young students with autism

More advanced kids might take advantage of these algebra, geometry, and calculus worksheet packets with answer sheets.

More worksheets on this Google Drive from KES, and more from education.com and Curriculum Associates.

Do science

Music activities

  • Have a family sing along or a home karaoke session. Use YouTube for karaoke or try one of the a cappella apps to create your own cool arrangements. Look up rounds on the internet and try singing them together. (Thanks Debra T)
  • Take turns playing your favorite songs for each other – the things you used to listen to as a young person, and the things they like to listen to now. Notice similarities and differences in style and production. Then check out a style you don’t usually listen to and try to figure out what people enjoy about it.(Thanks Debra T)
  • Learn to play the Ukulele – Great lessons on YouTube for how to play the uke. Don’t have a ukulele handy? You can get one that’s decent at a low cost on Amazon.
  • Have an iPad or iPhone? Now would be a great time to learn how to use Garage Band. So much fun. Why not have your child come up with a new ring tone for you to use when they call you or a family theme song! Garage Band is free from Apple. Here’s an introduction on YouTube…bonus: the presenter sounds like Shrek.

Physical activities

Baking and cooking ideas

  • Get out that old bread maker. Everyone loves fresh bread, and your kids will enjoy helping to make something the whole family will enjoy. Of course you’ll need to have yeast on hand, but there’s a good chance you have the rest of the needed ingredients. There are loads of great recipes out there…Our challenge this break will be to make rolls that are most similar to Subway Italian bread. TIP: If you don’t have a bread maker, just visit your local thrift shop, there’s a strong chance of finding one there.
  • Make ice cream in a bag
  • Cooking contests. If you have more than one child, hold a cooking contest. Think Kids Baking Championship or Cutthroat Kitchen. Or see who can come up with the lowest cost recipe using staple items from your pantry. Grades Pre-K and up.
  • Make a pizza…from scratch. Here is a link to my daughter’s favorite recipe. It’s Rosanna Pansino making an “Avengers Pizza” but you can just make it “regular.” You’re going to need yeast.
  • Make cookies. Have the kids help you adjust the recipe by doubling or tripling.

Arts and crafts

Virtual field trips

Go on a virtual field trip. For example, this Madden Football by the Numbers field trip is great. Here are some others:

Didn’t find any activities you liked? Here is another list that someone posted on Facebook with more quarantine activities for kids. Definitely has some great ideas for things to do!

Categories
Education Featured Parenting Summer Camps - No School Camps

Summer Camps in Howard County for Summer 2020

26+ High Quality, “Don’t Miss This”, Great Summer Camps

NOTE 1/22/20: A few of the summer camps I am listing below haven’t put up their 2020 pages yet. I will work on updating this as soon as the camps put up their offerings. This means you may encounter old information or broken links.

Summer 2020 is approaching, and so is summer vacation–so I have made a list of summer camps in Howard County (as well as near me in adjoining counties). The list of camps includes academic sessions for the many Howard County GT students, sports, drama, arts, crafts, and music.

As a former teacher, I can tell you that summer break can do some damage to your child’s academic skills.  Every year there are too many kids who come back to school with lower reading and math abilities than they left with the previous school year.

The reason this happens will be obvious to most parents who have themselves spent their childhood summers watching TV, hanging out with friends, and avoiding anything remotely academic. Some of this is great, but not too much it seems.

[Need gift ideas for the brainy kids in your life? See my list of present ideas for toddlers, kids, and teens]

Of course, there were always a few kids who did not suffer from the summer effect and still had time to relax and be kids during summer.  These were the children whose parents were on top of making sure that some of the kids’ summer experiences would actually add to what they learned in the previous school year.

With that in mind, my friends and I have been discussing all of the fun and interesting summer camp options that are available these days around Howard County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore Maryland.

Please drop me a comment if you know of ones that I missed. BTW, I am only listing camps that I have first-hand knowledge of–these aren’t paid listings, but just interesting summer camps that I think kids will actually benefit from attending–some are learning camps for gifted and talented (GT / TAG) kids, and others are just general fun camps.

[BTW, if you’re looking for birthday party ideas for kids in Howard, Baltimore, Montgomery County, or Anne Arundel County I have been keeping a list!

You may also want to read my review of Google Fi Mobile Phone Service]

  1. Idea Lab Kids – A friendly place with loads of options. Great STEM Camps in Ellicott City. Here is their 2020 camp schedule.  They also have a great aftercare program.
  2. Glenelg Country School – In Ellicott City, this school has some amazing choices for summer learning fun including in theater, GT math, dance, chess, robotics and sports. I highly recommend checking out their offerings. The school has a wonderful campus in the forest in a rural part of Ellicott City. Camps run until the end of July.
  3. Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Great offerings for gifted and talented kids around Maryland including classes in Baltimore and Sandy Spring Friends School.  Students must be specially admitted to the program before they can attend the summer camps, and that won’t be possible for kids who aren’t advanced in academics.  CTY camps are renowned in the USA and we’re lucky to have them right in our backyard. BTW, if you’re looking for an alternative to the CTY camps, there is also SIG Day Program at the Woods Academy in Bethesda.
  4. Camp Invention – This is a really cool idea for kids in grades 1 to 6. There currently aren’t any schools hosting this camp in Howard County, but they may be worth some travel time or could be close to mom or dad’s office. The one that I have linked is in nearby Catonsville, at Westchester Elementary.
  5. Howard Community College – These are very popular summer GT camps and summer classes–popular like a rock concert–the registration begins and ten minutes later it’s “sold out”…Check out the options.  Many of them are very good! For 2020 registration opens on January 30, 2020. Don’t miss your chance–review the options and get ready to sign up in time! 
  6. Terrapin STEM Camp – Located in Laurel at St. Marys of the Mills Elementary School, this camp offers all day long programs for grades K-5 with before and after care. Kid’s learn about several aspects of STEM each day through fun and hands on experimentation. Activities include Zome Tools (I am a fan of these!), Lego robotics, 3-D printing, and coding,
  7. Imagination Stage – This Bethesda, MD venue is a promising place for fun and creative learning. This is definitely not in Howard County or even Baltimore, but if you happen to work out that way in Montgomery County, definitely consider sending your kids there for a week or two. Registration for 2020 now open.
  8.  Howard County Art’s Council Center for the Arts–they have all sorts of art camps, including acting. There is very limited space for these summer camps that go late June until Mid August. If your child is interested in the arts, this is definitely a “don’t miss” summer camp! Registration for 2020 opened 1/3/2020.

    [Need a gift for the brainiac child in your life? I’ve handpicked over 75 educational presents.]

  9. Club SciKidz – Space explorer, science chef and other great days of fun await your child at this camp in Ellicott City. Deep space robotics? 3-D Printing? Minecraft? Emergency Vet? YES! My kids have really enjoyed their camps. Registration is now open!
  10. Columbia Academy  (Not updated for 2020!) Columbia Academy in Columbia Maryland has some wonderful summer camps for all ages of kids. For more about Columbia Academy–see my post about private schools in Howard County.
Camp IO Hands on Science and Yoga Camp in Maryland
Great Summer Camps in Central Maryland
  1. Camp IO– Yoga and science camp in Columbia, MD for kids ages 6-11. $330/week (as of January 2020.  This camp looks great for boys and girls who love science and need more balance in their lives-mandalas and model rockets, a brilliant combination! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps).
  2. Howard County Conservancy has some great camps.  They are nature themed and take place in Woodstock, MD and Elkridge, MD. Conquer the trails of the Patapsco Valley, learn about some of the amazing beasts in our forests and streams, go green! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps). Registration opens January 15, 2020.
  3. IDTech  – Computer programming summer camps camps for kids and teens. In College Park and Towson. Great for gifted and talented kids.
  4. Howard County Parks and Recreation – Affordable and interesting camps for younger and older kids.
  5. Howard County Public Schools – Want to learn Chinese this summer? How about a biomedical skills camp? Only at HCPSS! In person registration begins February 1, 2020.
  6. Karate Camp – Wilde Lake Karate would be a great place to learn martial arts this summer. Check it out!  
  7. Drama Learning Center – Great camps where kids can hone their drama skills in Columbia/Ellicott City.

[Looking for gift ideas for the brilliant kids in your life? Check out my huge list of ideas for kids of all ages]

  1. Columbia Association – Columbia Association offers many nature and art camps that I have heard good things about. This year’s program looks fantastic.
  2. Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts / Toby’s Dinner Theater camp – Great way to get into some great acting skills.
  3. Walters Art Gallery – The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore has summer camps!  Sold by the week, these camps are very interesting for kids first grade and older.  This looks like a wonderful experience!
  4. Terrapin Adventures – If you’ve never been to Terrapin Adventures in Savage (near Savage Mill), you’re in for a high-flying treat. Their camps are full of outdoor fun, exercise, science and more. This looks really cool. Very limited space.
  5. Loyola University – Reading skills for elementary aged kids and speed reading camps for grades 6-8th taking place in June and July. Call 800-834-3693 for camp information (Ellicott City, Columbia, Elkridge and Catonsville).
  6. YMCA Camp – The YMCA in Ellicott City has several options for traditional summer camps. You may also be interested in the camps at Lifetime Fitness in Columbia.
  7. Camp Oasis – Music, drama, and other fun in Columbia.
  8. Columbia Horse Center – Horsemanship summer camps for Howard County horse lovers.

Thanks for reading my list of summer camps. I also have a list of school’s out camps in Howard County.

Categories
Childrens' Birthday Parties Recommendations

Birthday Party Places for Kids in Montgomery County, Maryland

Here is my list of birthday party place ideas for toddlers, children, tweens, and teens in Montgomery County, MD. 

I also include links to ideas for party favors that are available on Amazon.

[Looking for some great birthday gift ideas for your gifted girl or boy? See my list!]

First, here are some of the more typical birthday party place ideas from around Montgomery County.

  1. Laser tag (Ages 6+)
    laser tag party

    Shadowland in Gaithersburg is an fun venue for your party. Most kids seem to enjoy laser tag, and Shadowland’s birthday party packages make it easy for parents. Gaithersburg is also home to Castle Laser Tag.
    Locations: Gaithersburg
    ✳Laser Tag Party Favor Ideas: LED Bumpy Ring, Magnetic drawing tabletsMini LED carabiner Flashlights, LED Finger Rockets

  2. Duckpin Bowling White Oak(Ages 8+)
    birthday bowling party
    Bowling parties can be fun for kids. The key is to go to an alley that has
    duckpins rather then standard balls. This is because duckpin smaller balls are much easier for toddlers/younger kids to handle. There are obviously a few bowling alleys in Montgomery County, but I only know of one with duckpins: White Oak (near Silver Spring).
    Locations: White Oak
    ✳Bowling Party Favor Ideas: ✳LED Rubberband Helicopters ✳(I love these!) or Rocket Copters

[Need a great solution for your child’s allowance? Check out my review of FamZoo.com,a debit card for kids]

  1. Movie Parties (Ages 4+)
    Cinemark movie birthday party towson md
    With the right movie, a movie theater birthday party can be a fantastic
    choice. This can take a bit of planning and luck to be sure an appropriate movie is going to be playing when it’s time for your child’s birthday. One option would be the  Arclight Theaters in Montgomery Mall. The party goers could enjoy the movie and then a party in the mall at the Food Court.
    Locations: Bethesda
    ✳Movie Party Favor IdeasKid’s Card GamesMini Uno CardsPuffy Kush Balls
  2. Pool Parties (Ages 1+)
    Most kids enjoy a pool party. Whether it’s an outdoor party in the summer or fun at an indoor pool, kids of all ages will have a great time. There are a few options in Montgomery County including
    Rockville Swim and Fitness Center
    or Kid’s First Swim School in
    Germantown.
    Locations: Rockville, Germantown
    ✳Pool Party Favor IdeasWater ToysGogglesFlip-Flop KeychainsHawaiian Flower LeisHibiscus Flower Hair Clips
  3. Gymnastics Parties (Ages 2+)
    There are several gyms that offer birthday parties in Montgomery County. Examples are Little Gym in Silver Spring and Olney, My Gym in Potomac, Hill Gym in Gaithersburg.
    Locations: Silver Spring, Potomac, Olney, Gaithersburg
    ✳Gymnastics Party Favor IdeasRibbon WandsNecklacesJump Ropes
  4. Indoor Parkour (Age Range 7+)
    Kids love to climb. Bolt Gym in North Bethesda takes it to the next level with indoor parkour birthday parties. Kids will train in a simulated urban environment to overcome obstacles. In short, they’ll have a great time getting worn out climbing and jumping. Sure to be a great birthday party.
    Location: Bethesda
    Party Favor Ideas: Lucky Bambo, Jump Ropes (*or better quality jump ropes), hula hoops
  5. Chuck E Cheese’s (Ages 3-7)
    I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Rockville and Takoma Park. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get. This is a great party venue for toddlers.
    Locations: Rockville, Takoma Park

Looking for some great gift ideas for your girl or boy? See my list!

Here are some other ideas that aren’t as popular. This will give your kid
the chance to do something more unusual:

  1. Escape Room Party (Age 11+)
    There is an escape room in Rockville – A Game of Rooms. They offer
    several types of games. There is a conference room available for rent for parties, but there isn’t really a group rate. You can just visit their
    website and purchase the number of tickets you need. You need to be 11 or older to enjoy this birthday place. Keep in mind that the puzzles are very challenging and some might find it frustrating instead of fun.
    Location: Rockville
    ✳Escape Room Party Favor IdeasMini Magnetic Board Games, Mini Rubics Cubes, Mini Teaser Puzzles, Snake Twist Cube Toy
  2. Fencing (Ages 8+)
    If you’re looking for something different, try a fencing party. Contact
    Capital Fencing in North Bethesda. You might also try
    UR Fencing in Rockville. If you’re looking a different kind of party
    location, this is your place.
    Locations: North Bethesda, Rockville
    Fencing Birthday Party Favor Ideas: Lego BricksMake Your Own Bouncy Ball Kits, Atomic Soccer Balls
  3. Nature Center Parties (Ages 2+)
    There are several choices around the Montgomery County area for Nature Center birthday parties. Consider Black Hill in Boyds. They
    have several types of parties available.
    Location: Boyds
    ✳Nature Center Party Favor Ideas: Succulent Plants, Worm on a string
  4. Craft Parties (Ages 4+)
    Kids can have a great time at craft parties. There are several options for locations including Michael’s Stores and JoAnn Fabrics.
    Locations: Rockville, Wheaton
  5. Pottery Parties (Ages 6+)
    Paint your own pottery is a great idea for a birthday party. Kids in
    kindergarten and beyond will enjoy paint parties with their friends.
    Color Me Mine in Rockville is a great choice for this type of party.
    Locations: Rockville
    ✳Pottery Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tabletsPutty Balls
  6. iFly (Ages 3+)
    An amazing venue in Gaithersburg! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor skydiving would make for a wonderful birthday party place. Your boy or girl will never forget this birthday party! Be warned, this is a bit of a pricey option, at the end, each child will probably only get maybe 2 to 4 minutes of flying time. I would suggest that due to the amount of patience needed while waiting for your turn to fly, this venue is best for kids older than 7 even though toddlers are welcome.
    Locations: Gaithersburg
    ✳iFly Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
  7. Rock Climbing (Ages 5+)
    Earth Treks is a fantastic place to host a birthday party. The location in Rockville on Gude Drive is convenient for all of Montgomery County.
    Locations: Rockville
  8. Indoor Playground (Ages 3 – 7)
    ZavaZone in Rockville, Kidville in Bethesda, and Badlands in North Bethesda are two fun places for kids birthday celebrations. Both are in Rockville. Your child might also like the party options at BusyBees in Chevy Chase. If you’re in the north of the County, you may want to check out Adventure Zone in Gaithersburg. Although I have concerns about the safety of trampoline parks, this one has some other options too.
    Locations: Rockville, Gaithersburg
  9. Ice Skating (Ages 8+)
    Plenty of kids love to ice skate. The Cabin John Ice Rink is a
    great venue to host a birthday bash.
    Locations: Cabin John/North Bethesda
    ✳Ice Skating Party Favor Ideas: Glowing GlovesGlowing Bracelets, Light
    Up Finger Rings
  10. Rent a Pavillion at Local Park or Community Center(Ages 2+)
    Rent a pavillion at one of the local parks. Brookside Gardens or
    Wheaton Regional Park would be great choices. At Wheaton Regional Park, younger kids would enjoy the train ride and excellent playground at the park. There are several great themes for birthday parties at Brookside Gardens including a Wings of Fancy Butterfly party, a Garden Tea Party, Dinosaur party, and a Paint a Pot Party. You might also want to consider renting a room at the Thomas Farm Community Center.
    Locations: Wheaton
    ✳Outdoor Party Favor Ideas: Sidewalk Chalk, Bubble Wands, Beach Balls
  11. Fire Station Birthdays (Ages 3-7)
    Many people don’t even know that you can host a birthday party at some of the fire stations in Montgomery County (Potomac).  I
    know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…so why not combine the two. It’s fun for the kids, and they get some fire safety tips too! My only caveat would be that an emergency could potentially cut the party short.
    ✳A great gift to go with this birthday party would be a pair of walkie
    talkies. Here is one suggestion for a pretty good pair–but please read my caveats about them in my gift ideas for brainy kids blog post.
    Locations: Cabin John/Potomac, Rockville.
  12. Zoo Parties (Ages 1+)
    It’s a bit of a trek from most of Montgomery County, but the National Zoo is a prime idea for a birthday party. Kids could take Metro down to the Cleveland Park Metro Station and walk from there.
    Locations: Washington DC
    ✳Zoo Party Favor Ideas: Zoo Animal Headbands, Cat Keychains, Magic Snake, Invisible Ink Pens, Rubik’s CubesAnimal Sticker Sheets
  13. Basketball Party (Ages 5+)
    If you’re child is into basketball, there are a few places around Montgomery County for a themed party. Some of the Sport and Health Club Locations (Bethesda, Gaithersburg) can host a basketball party. You can also have a great time at Pat the Roc Basketball Skills Academy.
    Locations: Bethesda, Gaithersburg
    Basketball Party Favor Ideas: Atomic Basketballs, Basketball Mini-Stress Foam Balls, Basketball Keychains
     
  14. Day Spa Parties (Ages 4 – 14)
    There are some great spas in Potomac, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Silver Spring that can host children’s birthday parties. One option would be Cutesy Celebrations in Kentlands/Gaithersburg. They offer spa parties and tea party theme packages for kids.
    Locations: Around Montgomery County, Kentlands
  15. Imagination Stage (Ages 2 – 8)
    Why not have a dramatic birthday party with a show or class at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. This is sure to be great fun and it’s a one of a kind kids party venue.
    Location: Downtown Bethesda
    ✳Theater Party Favor Ideas:Tea Party Hats, White Formal Gloves
  16. Indoor Miniature Golf (Ages 8+)
    Monster Mini-Golf is an interesting place to have a birthday party for older kids. The place is dark, flashy, and rather loud in my experience, and I realize that for many kids this will be a plus. Since it’s also coupled with “monsters” it might be a little bit too creepy for younger kids, so I’d steer you away from this place for kids 7 or younger.
    Location: Gaithersburg
    ✳Miniature Golf Party Favor Ideas: Colorful Mechanical Pencils, Noise Putty, Active Flyers
  17. Music Birthday Parties (Ages 4+)
    There are some options for music-related birthday party fun. One venue suggestion is Bach to Rock in Gaithersburg featuring a two hour jam session for 7 year olds and older kids. They also have programs for kids 4 and older as well. 

Bonus Idea: For any birthday party, consider getting a photo booth. These can be great fun and provide lasting memories. Choose your  photo booth provider carefully. I’ve had great luck with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth (410) 961-2983.

Hopefully this list of party ideas helps you out. If you can think of any
places I missed, please comment below. Don’t forget to check out my list of gifts for gifted kids.

Categories
Education Parenting Recommendations Reviews

FamZoo: A Debit Card for Your Kid’s Allowance

My Review of FamZoo – An Allowance and Finance Education Solution for Families

Looking for advice and ideas on how to make more out of giving your child a weekly allowance or to reward them for meeting goals or doing chores? Look no further than FamZoo.com.

FamZoo is a great solution for families to handle this time-honored tradition. Not only does it provide a great, easy-to-manage system for giving your kids money, it teaches financial literacy, and encourages charitable giving.

Here’s a quick summary of the features that make this a great option for families with kids:

  • At its most basic level, FamZoo is a MasterCard debit card for each of your children.
  • The card is the same as many bank-issued debit cards/ATM cards.
  • When you order the cards, each kid over the age of 13 years old can get their own name on the card.
  • Kids younger than 13 years old get their parent’s name and their name on the card.
  • The parent’s transfer money into a FamZoo account and then it can be distributed as required either automatically in regular intervals (such as for an allowance) or as the parent authorizes.
  • There is a web-based and iOS application that parents can use to setup accounts, transfer money to kids’ cards, and keep track of transactions/spending.
  • Savings and charity accounts can be created. Parents can decide on an “interest rate” for their child’s savings account. (The parent pays the interest, but the kid learns about the value of saving.)
  • When a child earns money, some of it can automatically be diverted into the charity or savings accounts. Parents can setup a “savings match” program if they like.
  • If a debit card is lost, there’s a checkbox in the app/web account that can disable it instantly.
  • Since it’s a debit card, and you set the pin, the possibility of theft / fraudulent use is minimized. It is easy to order replacement cards and to transfer the money on the old card to the new account.
  • Debit cards also mean no chance of accidently going into debt, late fees, overdraft fees. The money that you put on the card is all that is available for your child to use.
  • The debit card is on an ATM network (MoneyPass), so your child can withdraw cash as needed (from the available balance on her card).
  • Teaches responsibility.


Watch the video below to learn more about how FamZoo works:

Interested in a 30-day trial? Click to learn more about FamZoo.



Categories
Recommendations Reviews Secondary Features

Sandy Point State Park Beach Review

Sandy Point State Park Maryland

Central Marylanders are often faced with a choice during the summer–trek out to Ocean City or the Delaware shore or go to one of the closer in Chesapeake Bay Beaches.  If you don’t have time or money to head all the way over to the Eastern shore, there are definitely a few popular beaches in Anne Arundel and Calvert County.

I’d say that among the most popular Chesapeake destinations are North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Point and the one everyone knows – Sandy Point State Park.

The park is open year round. As of this writing, it is only closed on Christmas Day.

The street address for the park to put into your navigator is:

1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD 21409
1-800-830-3974 / 410-974-2149 (Office) General Information
Hours of Operation are 7am to sunset. Fishermen and boaters may have 24 hour access.

There are entrance fees (see below) that are paid either using coins (quarters or dollars) or credit cards (Visa/Mastercard).

See below for park entry costs (Updated for Summer 2019).

[Looking for the perfect solution for your child’s allowance? Have a look at my review of the FamZoo MasterCard Debit card for kids]

Sandy Point, which opened in the 1950’s, is located just to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which looms over the beach. In fact, one drawback of the Sandy Point beach is that you may encounter some of the beach traffic you’re hoping to avoid by not going to Ocean City.

To get to Sandy Point, you head down Route 50 towards the bridge but exit (exit 32) shortly before you reach it to get to College Parkway.

Just plan your visit with the potential for traffic in mind and most days you’ll be able to get there without much of a delay.  In case you were wondering, a section of the beach is supervised by lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day.

[See my hand-picked list of great places to host a birthday party in Baltimore County, Howard County or Anne Arundel County.]

As a state park, there is an admission fee which as of May 24, 2019, Sandy Point State Park entry for Maryland Residents is:

  • $4 per person on weekdays
  • $5 per person on weekends and holidays.
  • Children buckled in a child safety seat (infant and small children in a car seat or booster seat) are free.
    Costs are a few dollars more for non-Maryland residents. Rates may increase for holidays or special events.
  • Military and their dependents as well as disabled people get in for free–you have to present proper ID to get these free passes to Sandy Point.You can also buy a season pass or buy a Golden Age Pass for $10 if you’re older than 61. Here are a few more details: If you plan to go often, you probably want to consider getting a season pass. Golden Age Passes are available for purchase for people age 62+ –with it, you’ll get free admission (and unfortunately, the National Park Service Eagle Passees aren’t accepted).

As mentioned above, those with a Maryland Park Service Disability Pass get in for free.  BTW, when you get a season pass, they give you a magnetic card to get you into the park, as the entry gates typically aren’t staffed.  By the way, aside from those passes, these automatic toll machines accept exact change only in the form of $1 coins and quarters. Alternately, you can use a credit card: MasterCard and VISA are accepted.

Be aware that sometimes, especially on certain holidays, the park can fill to capacity and they simply stop letting people in. That can really be disappointing because there aren’t really any comparable nearby beaches. If that happens to you, I can only suggest taking a ride to downtown Annapolis and taking in the sites, or if you a heart-set on the beach, take about a 1-hour ride down to North Beach and hope for the best.

The beach itself isn’t perfect, but it is a nice way to spend the day with kids. As mentioned earlier, there are life guards on the beach during the summer months from 10am to 6pm.  Snacks and concessions are available for sale at the beach.  They also have showers and restrooms available.

Aside from going in the water or hanging out on the beach there are also opportunities for crabbing and fishing (for licensed fisherman and people age 16 or under).  There are rock jetties you can stand on for fishing or you can rent a 16 foot motor boat/bring your own small craft. Fisherman enjoy 24 hour access to the park during certain times of year.

Jigging and chumming seem to be effective ways of catching striped bass at Sandy Point–especially if you’re there in the early morning hours. If you like hiking there is are several nice trails that take you through marsh land and a planted pine forest.  It is a great way to see wildlife such as birds and turtles.

Pets are allowed in the park only during the off-season times of year. Dogs must be leashed.

[Looking for things to do with kids in Maryland? See my list of ideas.]

Sandy Point might be a place to consider for group outings or parties.  For large parties they have shelters available for rental that can hold up to 300 people.

Note that this is the only place alcohol is allowed in the park, and you MUST get a permit if you intend to serve drinks.  Also, you are NOT allowed to have amplified music at Sandy Point.  Another important consideration for groups is that everyone entering the park must pay separately.  Youth and scouting groups can also reserve a campground area.

Another important thing to note is that Sandy Point is a “trash free” park.  What that really means is that it is up to the visitors to collect their trash and take it with them.

There aren’t any trashcans in the park.  Related point–you can bring your dogs to the park during the off season, but you are expected to clean up after them.

People ask me what I don’t like about Sandy Point.  Well, we’re lucky to have a close-in, convenient option, but well, it isn’t the same as Ocean City.  The sand is different, the bottom of the bay feels different to walk on and there seem to be more creatures that bite and sting (Both flying creatures and lots of jellyfish some years–especially when the water starts getting warmer).

Another issues is that the beach itself can get kind of dirty sometimes. Anyway, I do like it, but sometimes it makes me wish for O.C. — also, on most days, given the choice, I would rather trek out to North Beach which tends to be better maintained for sunbathers and swimmers.

Liked this post? Please check out my other reviews and lists. For example, my list of gift ideas for children and restaurants for kids in Howard County.

Categories
anne arundel county Childrens' Birthday Parties Party Ideas

Birthday Party Ideas Anne Arundel County Md

birthday party ideas in Anne Arundel County

SEE MY LIST OF 33+ IDEAS FOR KIDS’ BIRTHDAY PARTIES IN ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD BELOW

Are you looking for a great place to host your child’s birthday party?

There are so many choices, but unfortunately, many parents return to the same old places again and again – for example, bounce houses.

Below you’ll find some other party ideas that may be a bit more creative. Please note that this is my own collection of birthday party place ideas – no business have paid to be on it. The list contains links to party favor ideas which are sponsored by and link to Amazon.com.

This list of birthday party ideas is mainly for people who live in or near Anne Arundel County, but if you live elsewhere, there are probably similar places near you!

(I also have a list of kid’s birthday party venues in Howard County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore County as well as other birthday party-related posts. For instance, I have a post about giving out party favors and gift ideas for intelligent kids!)

Where to have children’s birthday parties in Anne Arundel County:

    1.  Whole Foods Cooking Lesson Party (Ages 5+)
      whole foods kitchen annapolis md
      The the Whole Foods in Annapolis has a closed off kitchen area where they hold classes and parties. The kids will get a cooking lesson and learn about the store. If you’re looking to hold a baking birthday party, this is definitely the place.
      When I attended a party at Whole Foods Annapolis, we made guacamole in a bag, which was great for a party for 6-year olds. Older kids can make more serious culinary creations. Unfortunately, not available for toddlers.
      Location: Annapolis
    2.  Go Kart Speedway (Ages 5+) in Crofton Maryland.
      Crofton Md Go Carts
      Looks like a blast. This venue doesn’t really have a reservation system, so you just show up with your party and have a ball. This would be especially good if it’s a last minute party. There will be plenty of fun and smiles.
      Location: Crofton
      Party Favor Ideas: Balloon Racers, Balloon Helicopter Racers
    3.   Craft parties (Ages 4-10): Have your party at Michael’s Craft Store. Michael’s provides a party room where your group can do a craft together.
      Location: Bowie, Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Hanover
    4. Jewelry Making at Twisted Bead and Rock Shop (Ages 5+):  The twisted bead is located in Edgewater and has jewelry making options for all ages.
      Location: Edgewater
    5. Paint Parties (Ages 5+): Muse Paintbar in Annapolis hosts kids parties where they can paint on canvas or glasses.  The painted masterpiece is the party favor.
      Location: Annapolis Towne Centre
    6. Is your child a cat lover? (Ages 7+) Have a birthday party at Cats in Cups on defense Highway in  Annapolis. Cafe setting with a dozen or more cuddly cats to play with.
    7.   swim birthdayIndoor pool parties (Ages 2+) There are many places in Anne Arundel County where you can hold an indoor pool party. For example, at Kid’s First Swim School in Severna Park you can hold a party for about $250 for an hour of swimming and an hour of room use. There are also other venues that offer kids’ pool parties.
      For example, the North Arundel Aquatic Center is a great choice. They also have a party room and very reasonable rates for large parties. This is a great birthday party place for toddlers, but usually the parents are going to have to swim with their kids.
      Location: Severna Park, Glen Burnie
      Fees: $225-$350
      Party favor idea: Goggles and water toys
    8.   theaterLive Theater Parties (Ages 3+)   There are a few choices around Anne Arundel County and surrounding areas for live theater that kids would enjoy. One possible choice is Medieval Times in Arundel Mills Mall. Kids will enjoy the show and the amazing moves of the trained horses. Another place with great show opportunities for kids is the Children’s Theater of Annapolis, Annapolis Musical Theater, and don’t forget about the amazing performances at the Maryland Hall for the Arts. (Click here for more Children’s Theater ideas)
      Location: Hanover, Annapolis
    9.   rock climbing partyRock climbing parties (Ages 5+) There aren’t any notable rock climbing facilities in AA County. If Laurel isn’t too far away, consider a party at ClimbZone. The place is really fun with some very creative climbing walls including a giant book shelf and “Mount Rushmore”. You may want to check with the Pip Moyer Center in Annapolis, as they do have a climbing wall there. Also, see Big Vanilla, below.
      Location: Laurel
    10.  Ballet and dance parties (Ages 2-10)
      ballet
      The Annapolis Dance Academy in Arnold is a great choice for kid’s BDPs.
    11. Location: Annapolis
    12.   Gymnastics parties (Ages 2-10)
      Gymnastics BDP Places
      Severna Park Gymnastics does great parties for kids. Works well for girls or boys. Also, in Severna Park is We Rock the Spectrum, a perfect place for a birthday party for a child with autism…their value proposition sounds great: “Finally a Place Where You Never Have to Say I’m Sorry”
      Location: Severna Park
      Party Favor Ideas: Ribbon Wands, Necklaces
    13.   build a bear annapolis mallBuild-A-Bear (Ages 2-7) – Kids of love Build-a-Bear parties. The location in Annapolis mall does a great job with parties. Consider having snacks in the food court area before the party.
      Location: Annapolis Mall
    14. Bowling parties (Ages 5+) Bowling parties can be fun, but I would caution parents to steer towards older kids with this idea. Even with bumpers, the game can be frustrating for younger children. Definitely go for duck pins if possible. Although they are relatively rare, the bowling alley in Severna Park still has them. By the way, the Severna Park alley is a great environment and kids older than 7 are sure to have a great time there. My only complaint about this place is that the food choices just aren’t healthy. For example, their popcorn is full of chemicals. If you have a party here, you aren’t allowed to bring in your own food except for a cake. Glen Burnie also has a duck pin alley. There are certainly other bowling alleys in Anne Arundel County such as Crofton Bowling and Annapolis Bowl, but no duck pins there.
      Location: Severna Park, Glen Burnie, Crofton
    15.  Crofton Roller Rink birthday Roller skating (Ages 5+) The Skate Zone roller skating rink in Crofton has birthday parties starting at about $260. Another good choice is the roller skating rink in Odenton.
      Location: Crofton, Odenton
      Party Favor Ideas: Invitation Tickets
    16.   Ice skating (Ages 5+) The Piney Orchard Ice Arena is a great place for a birthday party year-round. Great deal! They have a party room upstairs, and accommodate quite a few people with skating for $200. For kids who don’t know how to skate, they have “walkers” to help them on the ice. Nice place. In the winter, there’s also the Glen Burnie outdoor ice rink.
      Location: Odenton, Glen Burnie
    17.   Music Birthday Parties (Ages 2-7) – School of Rock in Gambrills and Arnold offers music birthday parties.
      Location: Gambrills, Arnold
      Party Favor Ideas: Inflatable Guitars
    18. Paintball (Ages 8+)  Paintball parties can be lots of fun…there is a great paintball venue in Pasadena called Paintball Sports and Supply (Curtis Bay).
      Location: Curtis Bay, Md
    19.   soccer birthdaySoccer Parties (Ages 5+) This is a great idea for your soccer loving girl or boy. The Soccer Dome in Harmans is a great place to host a party.
      Location: Harmans
      Party Favor Ideas: Bouncy Soccer Balls, Soccer Whistles, Soccer Stress Balls, Soccer Birthday Candles, Soccer Key Chains, Soccer Pinata
    20.   horse back riding bdpHorse center parties (Ages 6+)   Mane Event in Pasadena offer birthday parties for your horse-loving child.
      Location: Pasadena
    21.   Terrapin Adventures (Ages 6+) (301-725-1313) This is a tree-top adventure park located in Savage, MD (Howard County). This place is really fun, and would be an especially good party in late spring or early fall.
      Location: Savage, Md
      Party Favor Ideas: Tickle Plant Seeds
    22.  pirate cruise birthday partyPirate Party  (Ages 7+) on the Urban Pirate boat that sails from Baltimore or the Chesapeake Pirate Boat that leaves from Eastport. This is a great idea for a warm-weather birthday.
      Location: Eastport or Baltimore
      Party Favor Ideas: Pirate Eye Patches, BandanasGold Pirate Coins, pirate masks
    23.  movies party Movie Theater Birthdays (Ages 3+)  Arundel Mills Cinemark Egyptian Movie Theater or Bowtie Theaters in Annapolis Mall are easy choices. They have party areas and offer group rates. Let the movie you watch dictate the theme of your party (ie-Peanuts or Disney Princesses).
      Location: Arundel Mills Mall, Annapolis Mall
    24.   like a carnival Dave and Busters (Ages 4+) Dave and Busters in Arundel Mills mall is a very popular party venue. Kids will have fun, but usually very busy there.
      Location: Arundel Mills Mall
    25.  fondue pot cookie chocolate turtle dessert The Melting Pot (Ages 7+) This is a great place to have a party with a small group of your child’s friends. This place is always a hit. Parties here are probably going to take at least 2 hours, so just collect parent’s mobile phone numbers and text them when dessert arrives to pick up their kids.
      Location: Annapolis
    26.  quiet-waters-partiesRent a pavilion at Quiet Waters (Ages 2+)  In the summer, Quiet Waters park is a great place for a party. Rent a pavilion and enjoy some time with kids running around. You could also consider renting kayaks or canoes there for added fun for older kids.
      Location: Annapolis
      Party Favor Ideas: Dolphin Necklaces, Tickle Me Plant Seeds, Fractal Succulent Plants
    27. Ecoventures – Animals and fun.
      Location: Millersville
    28.  Have a Lego birthday party (Ages 5-10) – Brikz for Kids -You’ll need to provide a space for this party, but this is definitely a cool way to go.
      Location: Crofton, Annapolis
    29.   Birthday Party Idea in Odenton AA CountyFire house birthdays (Ages 3-7) Consider having a birthday party at one of the firehouses in Anne Arundel County. These parties are exciting and fun, plus it is a wonderful way to support the local volunteer fire departments. For example, see the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company website.
      Location: Odenton and other fire houses in Anne Arundel County
    30.  Pottery Party in Annapolis Md Pottery Party at Clay Bakers (Ages 5-10) Clay Bakers on Main Street in Annapolis is a great place to hold a birthday party.  You’re guests will be able to socialize together as they paint mugs, plates, etc (whatever the hold chooses) and then they will be able to have their creation as a party favor memory (there might be a few days before they have a chance to put the items in the kiln). This is a great place for a party!
      Location: Annapolis
    31.   YMCA (Ages 3-10) – YMCA (formerly Big Vanilla) has a variety of parties including dance, martial arts, swimming, cheer leading, tumbling, and rock climbing for kids. Even if you’re not a member, I believe you can still have a party at this venue in Pasadena, Maryland.
      Location: Pasadena
      Party Favor Ideas: Sports Mini-Stress Balls
    32. Chuck E Cheese’s – I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Glen Burnie. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get.
    33.   Miniature GolfMiniature Golf (Ages 7-10) – Night Hawk Golf Center in Gambrills/Crofton has a fun, 19-hole miniature golf course. They also have basketball and batting cages. Party packages are available.   Severna Park Golf Center also offers miniature golf. Younger kids can play, but the game may be frustrating for newbies.
      Location: Severna Park
      Gift idea: Home mini golf set
    34.   BaseballBaseball Park Birthday Parties (Ages 6+) – Obviously these three aren’t in Anne Arundel County, but an unforgettable birthday could take place at Camden Yards or Nationals Park. Another option, just as fun might be a Bowie Baysox birthday.
      Location: Baltimore or Bowie
    35.  Glam spa party for girls Lady Bug Kid’s Glam Spa (Ages 5+) – Hold a princess party with manicures, pedicures, and more in Crofton.  They have a party room, a stage, a candy bar. Sounds like a great place to hold an amazing party. You may also want to check out Pig Tails and Crew Cuts in Annapolis for a variety of parties for girls and boys.
      Location: Crofton
      Party favor idea: Clip on colored braids
    36. Wiggle Room – Located in Crofton, this new 3,800 foot indoor play space hosts fun parties with free gourmet coffee for the adults.
      Location: Crofton
    37. Bonus idea: Kids love to take photos of themselves with funny props and goofy expressions. Add a photo booth to any party for added fun. Sure to please kids of all ages. I’ve had good experiences with Shelly’s Sweet Photo Booth (410) 961-2983.

    Looking to have a birthday party at your house? See my birthday party theme ideas. Also, check out my review of the FamZoo debit card for kids.

Categories
Phone Bills Reviews Save Money Technology

Google Fi vs Republic Wireless 3.0 Mobile Phone Service Customer Review 2020

tldr; – I am a fan of both mobile phone companies, however at this time (January 11, 2020), I feel that Google Fi is the better value. Get a $20 credit here.
Read my Republic Wireless / Google Fi review below to find out about the ups-and-downs of both discount mobile phone companies, information about Republic Wireless and Fi compatible phones, see sample bills, and more.

If you’re tired of the big U.S. mobile phone companies (aka Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile), you may want to consider two very strong contenders: Google Fi and Republic Wireless 3.0.

Below is my review and comparison of the two mobile phone service providers.

I am a current customer of both Google Fi and Republic Wireless. I have been with Republic Wireless since the beginning and am a more recent Google Fi phone company (formerly Project Fi) customer starting in July 2016.

I currently have two mobile phone lines on each service–my wife and I mainly use Google Fi, and my kids are on Republic Wireless phones.

At the moment, I’d say Google Fi is the better option – especially because it supports more phones (Android and iPhone) and has additional connectivity options, particularly when traveling internationally (no “roaming” fees in 120 countries).

I also prefer Google Fi, because it has  built-in security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re accessing service via WiFi.

Right from the start, I’d like to say that neither Google Fi, nor Republic Wireless are perfect for every mobile user.

Google has a helpful tool to help you determine if this sort of service will meet your needs and save you money (or more importantly–whether it won’t!):

Take the Google Fi “fit” quiz to find out if Google Project Fi is the right choice based on your current mobile needs. Just answer a few questions about your usage habits and typical location, and it will help you to know if the costs and Google Fi coverage will work for you.

Pro Tip: If the Google tool tells you that Fi phone service isn’t right for you, then the Republic Wireless service probably won’t be right either.

Service coverage general isn’t an issue for U.S. customers of either carrier, the main question is whether or not you’ll require more than the tipping point of data to make it worth it. In most cases, if you can commit to connecting to WiFi as often as possible, you can make the switch to Fi or Republic worthwhile.

BTW, if you decide to go with Google Fi, please use my “refer a friend” code. After you’ve been on the service for 30 days, you’ll get a credit for $20, and so will I! The Google Fi coupon code/promo code is EM35EF or you can just follow this link

You should see something like this at the top of your screen:

Google Project Fi Coupon Code
This is valid for single accounts (not group/family plan accounts) and may expire (they have extended the deadline for this program, but haven’t stated a new end date–but if the link works–and it will tell you immediately that it did, then you WILL get the credit. It is definitely still in effect as of January 2019 and looks like it will continue for now.)

BTW, check here for current Project Fi special offers.

What Do Google Fi and Republic Wireless Have in Common, and What’s Different?

Executive Summary

    • iPhone Support: Google Fi supports iPhones. This is exciting news because it opens the door to cheaper service for all users-not just on Android. Most iPhones should work fine on the service.
    • Both companies allow you to purchase a phone from them or bring your own unlocked phone. Republic Wireless has a more limited list of bring-your-own options.
    • Both companies allow you to make calls and send text messages over WiFi. Both try to save data by connecting you via WiFi when possible. Google Fi has the added advantage of built-in VPN security over WiFi. This means there’s less worry about hackers snooping your data when you’re using WiFi in public places because it will be encrypted.
    • Both companies are month-to-month, no contracts. Stop service at any time.
    • Google Fi service automatically routes your calls and data on one of three 4G LTE networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular), depending on which has the best connection when you place a call or use data. It will support 5G on Sprint’s network as it rolls out, provided your device can accommodate 5G. On the other hand, Republic Wireless is only on T-Mobile’s network.
    • Both companies offer very competitively priced data plans. The real savings come into play when you use WiFi for calls, texts, and data as much as possible. Google Fi offers an unlimited plan.
    • You are more likely to have better mobile call quality with Project Fi than you are with Republic Wireless, but I have had very few problems with Republic Wireless’ call quality in recent years. If you are placing calls on a decent WiFi network, either provider works great.
    • Both companies offer the option of monthly payments/financing on the phones they sell.
    • Republic Wireless plans start at $15/month and Google Fi’s plans start at $20/month. These are the base prices to keep your line activated and make calls and send texts via WiFi — you’ll be charged more if you use any mobile data. (Which can be avoided by using WiFi for data when possible.)
    • Data on Republic Wireless is cheaper than on Google Fi, however, Google Fi’s “flexible plan” billing model is much more, well, flexible since you only pay for the data you use–and you only pay to the penny. In other words, although they quote $10/gig, they only charge you for any fraction you actually use when you select this plan–you don’t have to pay for an entire gig.
      • With Republic Wireless, you will know exactly how much you will be billed at the end of the month based on which plan you select. With Project Fi, you will know the base costs, and then the actual bill depends entirely on how much data you use. Google’s “Bill Protection” feature puts a cap on the monthly charge and amounts to an unlimited plan.
      • Google Fi has an “unlimited plan.” It is a great deal if you use lots of data. The most an individual will have to pay in a month is $70. For that price, an individual on the plan will get 22 gigs per month of high speed data without throttling and without paying anything more. If you exceed 22 gigs, but don’t want to be throttled you can opt to pay an additional $10/gig.The same deal exists on the family/group plan…but for instance the most two people would have to pay is $120/month. There are additional savings for each person you add to the plan.Here is a table with pricing as of September 22, 2019:Google Fi Plan PricingYou also get free calling to over 50 countries included in the unlimited plan. Google One membership with 100 gigs of Google Drive space is also included.
    • Republic Wireless requires you to upgrade your plan when you hit your data limit. You can upgrade and downgrade your plan up to two times per month. This is a bit of a pain. You also must pay for the entirety of the amount of data in the plan you select no matter what portion of the data you use.
    • Republic Wireless does not have a family or group plan, Project Fi has a “group plan’  with very competitive rates, convenient “bill splitting” features if you’re sharing with friends, and data plan sharing. This can be an especially great deal for members of your family who don’t use alot of data…and the bill splitting is very innovative.Google Fi will let you pause a member of your group’s data usage or pause their service completely. On Republic Wireless, you can downgrade a user’s plan to not have data, but you can’t really pause their account yourself (although you may be able to do this by contacting customer service).
    • If you purchase your phone from Google Fi, you can enroll in their “Device Protection” insurance plan for about $5 – $7/month. I highly recommend this, as it has been hassle-free help for me on three occasions including one where a $300 phone was dropped in water. In the event something goes wrong with your phone it’s will be replaced with a refurb for around $60 – $90. If your screen is broken, you can take it to a local retail shop and have it fixed for around $20.

What’s So Special About These Two Mobile Phone Carriers?

They have some great selling points and great phones in common. As mentioned earlier, I am a customer of both of these services, so I wanted to share some insights for people trying to figure out if Fi or RW is right for them and whether or not they should dump the usual suspect mobile carriers and save money. (The answer is probably YES!)

Below is a review of some of the feature differences between the two mobile phone service companies:

What are the Phone Options for Google Fi and Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless and Google Fi get the best performance with certain pre-selected Android phones. Importantly, Google Fi allows you to use an iPhone, Republic Wireless does not.

When you sign up for either of these companies, you’ll either have to bring your own phone (which, in the case of Republic Wireless, will need to on their list of approved phones) or purchase one from the company.

The phones they recommend are generally among the higher-end phones.  If you purchase a phone from either company, it will come “unlocked” — it will be yours to take with you should you ever decide to move to a different phone company. This is good to know as it is often not the case when you buy a phone from other carriers.

[Learn More About Google Fi]

Likewise, if you buy your own phone (or if you already had one that’s compatible), it will need to be “unlocked” for it to work. If you are purchasing a new phone, just be sure that not only is it a compatible model, but that it is an unlocked phone.

If you have a compatible phone that you purchased on a plan through AT&T, for example, it may not be unlocked. You may or may not be able to get AT&T to unlock it for you, depending on your contract. You’ll have to call and ask to be sure.

Both Republic Wireless or Google Project Fi will provide you with a SIM card that you’ll need to install to use their service.

Google Project Fi Phone Options

At the moment (as of November 2018), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 4 / Pixel 3a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are venerable phones.

As you may be aware, the Pixel 4 phone is now the flagship phone of the Android operating system and has some fantastic features-I am a HUGE fan of this phone (EXCELLENT camera, fast response, waterproof, very good all around and perfect for Fi–follow this link and click SHOP to see the discounted Fi customer price).

If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the  cheaper version of the Google Pixel 3 (Google’s previous flagship), the Pixel 3a. It is a bit slower, and has a plastic body (NOT waterproof), but also has an excellent camera, just like the 3’s.

Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 2, 3, or 4, you’ll get a monthly software update from Google–You will always have the latest release of Android–a truly a nice feature, rather than waiting and hoping that your phone will get an update…a chronic problem due to a combination of phones and phone companies.

The Moto X4 and Moto G7 are also well regarded and certainly have a lower price point than the Pixel phones. Although having said that, you may want to look at the refurbished Pixel phones on Amazon.

Along those same lines, you can purchase these phones from Google when you sign up for service, but you should double-check the price on Amazon just to make sure you can’t get a better deal — here are some links to refurbished older Pixel phones:  Google Pixel, and Google Pixel 2.

You can finance the phones when purchased on Google or Amazon. Having said that, a compelling reason to purchase the phone from Google is their trade in program that is applicable to certain phone models and includes a Google Fi credit of varying amounts depending on the age and condition of the trade.

I have bought several phones through Google Fi’s store and have had good luck that way. It definitely does make it a little bit easier than bringing your own phone.

A Word About Google Fi Device Protection

Google Fi Device Protection December 2018The Google Fi device protection will cost you $5 to $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions.

If something goes wrong they will replace your phone with a new or refurbished similar phone. I have used the service once when the battery was failing on my Nexus 5x. It was quickly replaced with a refurbished identically configured phone. There is a deductible to consider.

See the table above for example costs for device protection and the deductible you’ll have to pay if you get your phone replaced using this service. Note that you can only sign up for device protection if you buy your phone from Google.

Bring an Additional Data Only Device to Google Fi

Google Fi will allow you to add a free additional “data only” SIM card to your account. This will let you share your data plan with another device (without any additional monthly fees!) So for example, you could have your main SIM card in your Google Pixel phone, and then put the data-only SIM in an iPad. Whatever the device, so long as it’s able to use a compatible SIM card, and it is “radio compatible” with T-Mobile. You would not be able to use the phone’s dialer with this option and there is no tethering.

Here is a list of devices they have verified are compatible with the free data-only SIM card:

  • Android tablets running 7.0 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US Versions)
  • iPads running iOS 10 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US Versions)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 or newer (US Versions)
  • Sony Xperia Z4 (US Version)
  • Nexus 7 – K009 (2013 US LTE)
  • Nexus 9 – 0P82300 (2014 US LTE)
  • iPad Air 2 – Model A1567 (2014)
  • iPad Mini 4 – Model A1550 (2015)
  • iPad Pro – Model A1652 (2015)
  • Galaxy Tab S – Model SM-T807V (2015)
  • Nexus 5X (North American version)
  • Nexus 6 (North American version)
  • Nexus 6P (North American version)

Other devices not on the list could work, if they are radio-compatible with T-Mobile (GSM Radio) and they have the right sized SIM slot. For example, I have heard of people using it with their iPhone 6.

You can just order one and try (it’s totally free! You don’t even have to pay for shipping.) if you think you have an unlocked device that will work. Just remember there will be no calls or texts through the normal channels (although you can certainly replace the regular dialer and text messenger with some other app for example, What’s App, Viber, or Skype…). Note that you might potentially need a “nano SIM to Micro SIM adaptor” for some devices.

Republic Wireless Phone Options

Republic Wireless is compatible with lots of phones, but they only allow you to use specific models, and there is no iPhone support. Having said that, the list of choices are fairly substantial and that gives you more freedom if you’re bringing your own unlocked phone that is on their short approved list. Below is a list of a few of the phones they are currently compatible with (The model number IS important!).

I have included a link to Amazon.com for each phone. You are likely to find the phone cheaper on Amazon than on the Republic Wireless site, in some cases $50-100 cheaper–especially for the Moto G, since Amazon is selling it at a discount, but it includes some relatively innocuous advertising.

At any rate, as long as the model numbers match, you will be able to use it on Republic Wireless–just be sure it is unlocked and double check the model as sometimes these links get switched out to different products on Amazon’s end, and I can’t control that:

If you already have one of the above phones and want to check to make sure it’s compatible, you can just download, install, and run the Republic Wireless app from the Android app store. It will tell you if your phone is compatible.

I wouldn’t mind having any of the above phones, but the Google Pixel 2 and the S6 and S7 are my favorites.

At this writing Project Fi also offers insurance on the phone, Republic Wireless does not. Insurance is something Republic is said to be working on.

Multiple Mobile Networks and WiFi in Use

One very cool feature of both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi is the way they can move seamlessly between wireless networks, and they can also place calls/send text on WiFi networks.

Google Fi has the upper hand here, as it can make use of 3 major US mobile phone networks: Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Whichever network is providing the strongest signal is the one that your call will be routed on. It does this in real-time, so if you should move to an area where one of the three providers is giving you a better signal your call will switch networks and you’ll be “none the wiser.”

Republic Wireless utilizes just one network–T-Mobile (actually, they don’t tell you, but they hint that it’s the one that has the best 4G LTE network.)

The Seamless Handover Between Phone and WiFi

Both Republic Wireless and Project Fi will allow you to seamlessly switch over to and away from a WiFi connection. This is REALLY handy. Especially if you live in a place where there just isn’t really any strong cellular signal (or if, for example, you work in a basement that has WiFi, but no mobile signals get through).

If you’re connected to a WiFi hot spot, you don’t incur any data charges and you can use voice, data, and texting as you would on the mobile network. Did I mention how great this is? 🙂

If you place a call, and then move away from your WiFi network, your phone is going to seamlessly jump on to the wireless network, assuming one is available.

Google Fi also keeps a database of hundreds of open WiFi networks that it can automatically connect to. When it does, it always uses an encrypted connection to protect your calls and data. It seems to work very well and saves you money.

The Data Plans and Costs

Depending on your situation, you will probably find that you’ll save money using either one of these companies, when you compare them to AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon.

The Cost of Google Fi

Google Fi has two basic plans: Unlimited and Flexible. You can choose which one you’d like and switch between them at will–the change takes effect on the next billing cycle.

The Flexible Plan on Google Fi

The formula for pricing is something like: Google Fi Monthly Payment = Base Cost of $20/month + data used & international calls + phone insurance (optional) + taxes, fees (in my case $3.62 in October 2016 for a single line to be exact–see sample bill below).

Google’s FAQs state “Taxes and government surcharges vary by service address, but are normally between 10-20%. For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.”

If you’re paying for your phone on a monthly basis, that fee would also be charged on your monthly bill along with device protection fees if you are enrolled.

Google Fi “Flexible Plan” is really a pay-as-you-go offering.  They do give you benchmark “data plans” but really, at the end of the month you’re only going to pay for what you actually used as far as data (down to the megabyte). This is a bit hard to grasp, because we’re so used to phone companies that charge you the minimum of your chosen data plan and then charge you for additional data as you go, but in specific large blocks of data. This is not the case with Project Fi.

When you sign up for Google Fi on the Flexible Plan, you will “choose a data billing plan,” but really it’s just to give you the idea of what you will be spending each month. That might sound scary, but it works–especially with their bill protection feature.

Even though you signed up for a plan, they charge you by the megabyte. To put this more specifically, Google currently charges a base of $20/month to keep the service activated for voice and texting, then they charge $10/gig of data used (plus a monthly fee). In reality though, if you only used 350 megabytes in a month, you would be charge $3.50 for data, not the whole $10. So you are always charged for just what you used, no matter which plan you select.

Project Fi’s help explains signing up for a data plan on their network this way “You’ll always pay for what you use, so changing your data budget is like setting a goal. We’ll send you alerts as you get close to your budget.” They go on to explain that “With Project Fi, you’re charged $10 per GB for data. If you use more data than your budget, you’ll be charged for the exact difference–at the exact same rate. If you use less, you’ll get credited for what you don’t use. ”

If you really need to have no more than an exact amount of data used, you can use your phone’s “set mobile data limit” features to set a hard limit. This way, when your phone notices you’ve reached a certain data threshold it will shut off its mobile data usage.

Pro Tip: I’d recommend the Datally app made by Google to control your data usage in any case.

The Unlimited Plan on Google Fi

The Unlimited Plan is a pretty good deal. At the moment, an individual line on this pays $70/month. A family of 4 would see a bit of a discount, paying $45/line. This includes 22 gigs of high-speed data. After that you will be throttled.

The Unlimited Plan also includes free international calling to 50+ countries and a subscription to Google One with 100gigs of Google Drive space.

Traveling and International Calls on a Google Fi Plan

An important, and notable feature of Project Fi is that if you travel to any of 135+ other countries, your data plan will still be in effect–you won’t be charged any extra (beyond the regular $10/gig if you’re on the Flexible Plan and nothing additional on the Unlimited Plan), and you’ll be able to consume data, just as you did in the USA. I recently traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Germany with my Fi phone and had success with calls, text messages, and data. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry with purchasing a local SIM card or anything like that.

Once I got to a new country, it took a few minutes, but I’d get a message from Google Fi confirming my phone had been registered in the given country, and then I could make calls, send texts, and use data. For more details and to see the list of countries that are in Project Fi’s plan, click here.

Note that although your data costs will be the same as they are in the USA, expect to pay 20 cents per minute for calls. Assuming you have a US phone number, WiFi calls within the USA and abroad would be free, and beyond that, if you’re calling another country, the same international calling rates would apply.

If you are wondering, yes, you can send text messages to other countries from Google Fi phones–I have texted to Germany and  Ukraine without problems.

A Word About Groups and Families on Google Fi

Google Fi offers a group plan/family plan. Each additional line above the initial primary line is $15/month, and then the data is shared at the same rates mentioned above.

If you have younger kids and want to be able to control their data usage, you’ll want to use Google Family link app. It lets you set limits on the child’s phone including which content they’re viewing but you can also create settings and alerts for data usage that the youngster can’t tamper with.

One great feature of this group/family plan is the bill splitting/”repay” feature. “Fi plan members can repay group plan owners for their share of the monthly bill directly through the Google Fi app. No need to pull out your calculator—Project Fi will handle the math. Reminders, payments, and tracking are all just as simple.” That means it’s a bit easier if you’re sharing an account with friends or roommates, everyone can easily pay their share of the wireless bill.

The Cost of Republic Wireless 3.0 Plans

Republic Wireless has a base cost of /month. This base cost includes no data, and doesn’t include things like taxes and fees, phone payment plan, etc. But if you own the phone outright, that is a great starting point. For college students who are near ubiquitous WiFi, that could truly be all you need. Plans go up from there. Most people will need a data plan, and with Republic Wireless, you get 1 gig included for $20/month. Not bad.

Here is a chart (as of 8/6/2016) that shows how the rates increase with more data. You will find these rates turn out to be lower cost than Google Project Fi. See below for a direct comparison.

Republic Wireless Data Plan Rates - A Great Deal

Republic Wireless allows you to switch plans via their app whenever you want, so if you hit your limit or need to cut back, you can do that at will. It is important to understand that unlike with Project Fi, you can’t just keep using data beyond your selected plan. The data will stop when you hit your data plan limit. At that point you can upgrade to a higher plan through the Republic Wireless app, and you will immediately have more data at your disposal.

On the other hand, if you then want to downgrade again, you can request it, but it doesn’t take place until the beginning of the next billing cycle. (I think you can just do this immediately after you upgrade, so you won’t have to wait an extra billing cycle to switch back down). With Republic Wireless, you still get billed for the entire amount of your data plan, even if you don’t use it.

A Word About Using Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids

If you have children and those children have a phone, you’ll probably have concerns about their data plan usage. The question will be: how can I restrict my child or teen’s data usage so that they don’t cause the parents to go bankrupt. Here are a few thoughts on this:

  1. With Republic Wireless, it’s a simple matter – you just select the amount of data you’re okay with and that’s what you’ll be charged — provided that your kid doesn’t upgrade their plan themselves–a possibility, but definitely a deliberate action, and one you may be able to restrict (see Family Link bullet below)
  2. On Google Fi, there is no “hard stop” on data usage. It will let you keep going, and you’ll be charged until you hit your plan’s threshold for unlimited data. After that there will be no further charges. So if you have a kid who uses lots of data, there is no line where the data will be “gone.”
    Having said that, they do have two features that are useful in cases where you need to control your family member’s data usage.
    First, you can set a data usage “alert” at whatever amount you think is appropriate. So for example, if you think you’re child should only use 1 gig per month, you can choose that amount, and you and your child will receive an alert when they hit that benchmark.
    Second, you, as the account owner can sign in to Google Fi and  pause the data for your child’s account. So if you’re on the ball, you can sort of control how much data is used. Depending on your child, the alert itself might be enough for them to curb their data usage.
  3. On Android devices, you can setup the “Family Link app.” Family Link is a free Google app that allows you to control all aspects of your kid’s phone usage.
    Family Link doesn’t specifically let you control they amount of data they can utilize, but it would allow you to restrict their ability to access certain apps. So this may be a way for you to stop them from adjusting the phone’s settings. It definitely lets you restrict the amount of time kids can spend using specific apps.
    I don’t know much about it, but there are similar apps for iPhone/iOS.
  4. I think it is worth mentioning again that both Google Fi and Republic Wireless are built on the idea that you’ll use WiFi as much as possible — including for sending text messages and making phone calls. Therefore, in many situations that other mobile phone companies would have you using data from the data plan, these two companies stand out since they save you from this where possible.

Comparing the Cost of Republic Wireless vs Google Fi

In short, although there are some nuances to this, Google Project Fi is slightly more expensive than Republic Wireless. It really depends on how you intend to use the service which of the two would be better.

Base Plan (No data) cost

Republic Wireless: $15/month (no group/family plan at this time)

Google Project Fi: $20/month first line, $15/month additional group plan lines

Data Costs:

Republic Wireless: Depends on the amount of data. All plans already include unlimited voice & texting: 1 gig $20; 2 gigs $25; 3 gigs $30, etc. (as of 8/6/2016). You DO have to pay for unused data.

Google Project Fi: Base Cost of $20 PLUS the data costs (but only for the exact amount of data you use): $10/gig. So a one gig plan would be $30/month; 2 gig plan would $40/month, etc. +taxes, fees, etc. I am in Maryland, and I paid $3.62 in taxes and fees on my October bill (see below).

Google Fi Sample Bill

Here is a sample bill from Google’s Project Fi for one line in October 2016… and if you’re wondering about Google Fi taxes and fees, there is a breakout (again for October 2016 in Maryland! It might be somewhat different in other states):

Project Fi Taxes and Fees

Closing Thoughts

You can’t go wrong with either of these phone companies. Both offer great service and operate with very decent phones. Google Fi has the power of additional phone networks, encrypted WiFi, international data, phone replacement insurance/device protection, etc, but Republic Wireless gets the job done at slightly lower costs. Since there are no contracts with either company, you can leave and take your phone with you at any time — you just have to finish paying for the current month and you’re done.

You can certainly try Project Fi and if you don’t like it, you could switch to Republic Wireless (assuming you are using one of the compatible phones that work on both mobile services!). The hardest part would be changing out the SIM card in your phone (which isn’t that hard, but can be kind of a pain if you’re a bit ham fisted like me.)

Like what you read? See my review of the Vitamix 5200 blender and my list of gift ideas for Brainy / Gifted kids.

Categories
Education Featured gifted and talented Private Schools

Private Schools in Howard County Maryland

private schools in Howard County Maryland - Glenelg Country SchoolsLiving in Howard County Maryland means that the bar is set relatively high for public schools–not to mention private schools in Howard County.

By many standards, Maryland has some of the best public schools in the USA. And within Maryland Counties, the two top contenders are Montgomery County Public Schools and Howard County Public Schools.  So this is to say that Howard County’s schools are among the best in the country.

Still, to many parents there are a multitude of issues about both Howard County and Montgomery County Public Schools that drive them to look for alternatives.

For some there’s just general dissatisfaction with public school education.  This usually includes the feeling that the Common Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top programs have taken the creativity and real learning out of schools, and substituted it with test preparation.

For others, they worry about the quality of teaching or they believe there is a lack of individualized attention for every kid due to large class sizes, and in the various other forms that might take.  Finally, there are people who realize that although the aggregate of Howard County education is relatively high quality in comparison to other jurisdictions in the state and country, individual public schools and classes fail to meet important standards or simply ignore the individuality of each student.

So what are the private school options if you’re in Howard County?

Here are the elementary, middle, and high school private school options I know of.  This list of private schools is not meant to contain every private school in the county, but I am happy to add a school if your favorite is missing–just message me below. By the way, if your child is younger than age 5, see my list of private preschools in Howard County.

Types of schools you’ll find below:

Unaffiliated Independent Private Schools in Howard County

Maryland International SchoolMaryland International School - Private School in Howard County Md
This is a STEM-focused, Montessori school in Elkridge, Md for grades 1-12. This is the only school in the region to offer 3 International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and the only school in the USA to do so as part of a STEM curriculum. This is great news because IB programs are known for their rigor and tend to be well designed.

At the elementary school levels, they are offering a Montessori-style education. At the middle school and high school level, it’s more of a traditional-style teaching program.

This school is definitely worth checking out, and tuition is reasonable. Younger grades can attend the affiliated Children’s Magnet Montessori School which is housed in the same building.

The school is expanding and plans to break ground on a multi-million dollar athletic center with a pool and basketball court soon.

Bus transportation is be provided for an extra fee and runs in Anne Arundel and Howard County.

Glenelg Country School review Glenelg Country School
Independent college prep school founded in 1954 offering preschool, lower school, middle school and High School.   They have small class sizes and very nice campus on 87 acres of wooded land in Ellicott City.  Glenelg is the largest independent school in Howard County, and definitely one of the larger private schools in Maryland.

Here is a link to the Glenelg tuition and financial aid information page.

Both of my girls attended this school for a few years. A very diverse group of kids come from all over the area including Silver Spring and Washington DC to attend this school. Bus transportation has stops in 6 Counties including places like Laurel, Catonsville, Ellicott City, and Olney and as far away as Mount Airy, New Market, Brookeville, Gaithersburg, and Odenton (Map of bus stops for 2017-2018 school year).

If you are considering a private school in Howard County, definitely see this one.  Also, have a look at their high quality summer camps.

Columbia Academy in Columbia, Md
Columbia Academy Elementary and Middle School Campus in Columbia, MD Near Route 29 at Route 32.

Columbia Academy
My own child went to this school for a year and we were very happy with it overall. Class sizes are very small and there were some very dedicated teachers who were willing to differentiate for my daughter because she was ahead of the class in many aspects.  As the name suggests, the main campus is in Columbia although they have several other preschool centers around Howard County.

Tuition is reasonable in the $10,000 dollar range and includes before care from 6:30am (after care until 6:30pm is around $2,000 extra).  They offer preschool through 8th grade.

There is bus service available and the school goes up to 8th grade.

BTW, I have visited the pre-K center in Fulton–Very nice facilities.

Fusion Academy – I honestly don’t know much about this school beyond a few comments from other parents and what their website says, but the model is definitely interesting. The classes are ALL ONE-ON-ONE: One teacher to one student. That could be really great for certain students. Definitely check out their website.

McDonough School in Owings Mills, Md
McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD

McDonogh School (in Baltimore County)
Very awesome school founded in 1873.

Bus transportation is available–they have buses that come to Howard County to pick kids up.  Great academics, huge pool, stables…wow!  I know some families with children here who are very happy.

Boarding is available for high school level students.  Here is a link to their tuition page.

[Looking for ideas for holiday or birthday presents for your gifted or talented child? See my list of present ideas.]

Montessori Schools

There are several Montessori schools of varying quality in our area, I found it hard to tell the good ones from the not so good ones. The schools listed here have students in at least the lower grades of elementary school. Montessori generally doesn’t go past sixth grade.

Love of Learning school in Columbia I have been told by several parents that this school is very good.  Comments welcome.

Bryant Woods – Another Montessori school that I have heard very good things about.  In Columbia. No before or after care (school hours from 8:45-3:45).

Columbia Montessori – Looks like it has some very good programs.

Mater Amoris – This school is in Olney, but not far from Howard County.  Looks like its programs are very good–I have heard positive things and seems like it may be worth the trip for some parents.  Goes up to sixth grade.

Children’s Manor and Childrens Magnet Montessori School – Locations in Elkridge, Columbia, and Ellicott City.  Goes up to 6th Grade. Children’s Magnet feeds into Maryland International School, which is housed in the same building. See above.

Christian / Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Perpetual Help – K-8 Catholic school – 2016 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Well regarded, and recently launched an innovative 1:1 Chromebook program for students in Grades 3-8.  Tuition information is here.

Sandy Spring Friends School – The Friends know how to teach.  If you’re comfortable in a Quaker atmosphere, this place is definitely great, and it certainly attracts a nice bunch of people.  Even though it isn’t in Howard County, it isn’t that far out of the way either.  I have heard very good things about this school.  BTW, they do offer boarding for high school level students.  Here is the Sandy Spring Friends school tuition information page.   Some bus transportation is available and they also offer boarding for older students. (There is another Friends School in College Park)

St. Louis School – Catholic K-8 education- Blue Ribbon school.   I have heard good things about it. Here is their tuition information, the rates are significantly cheaper than the independent schools listed above.

Trinity School – K-8 Catholic School in Ellicott City, Howard County.  This school is a bit unusual in that it is an independent Catholic school. That gives them some flexibility with the curriculum. If you are interested in Catholic education, this place is worth a look and has come highly recommended by some parents. No bus service provided. Here is their tuition and fee schedule.

Bethel Christian Academy– pre-K3-8th grade in Savage / Jessup.  I don’t know anyone who goes to this school but I do know one of the teachers and she speaks highly of it.  Class sizes vary.  Here is their tuition information.

St. John’s Parish Day School – k-5 Episcopal school in Ellicott City. Here is their tuition information.

St. Augustine Catholic School  Tuition and fees are low at this pre-k to grade 8 Catholic school in Elkridge.

Special Needs Schools

High Road Academy – In North Laurel, this is a school for kids with specific types of learning disabilities.  In order to attend, students must be referred by the public school system Grades 3-12.

Phillips School – In North Laurel, (Howard Co.) this school is for various special needs kids.  Grades 3-12.

Legacy School – In nearby Sykesville, in Carroll County, this school is especially for children with Dyslexia. Maintains a 3 to 1 student ratio.

Finding Out More About These Private Schools

All of these schools offer days when you can visit and see how classes are run.  You may also want to see if they have any public activities or summer camps that you can take part in to see how you like the school.

What’s your opinion?  Is there a school that I missed here? Please let me know in the comments section below!

Looking for a place to have a birthday party? See my list of over 35 birthday venues in Howard County, MD and more birthday ideas in Anne Arundel County. Also, see my list of educational gift ideas for advanced children.



Categories
Education gifted and talented Recommendations Reviews Technology

Getting the Most from your Rocketbook Notebook – A User Review with Tips

The Rocketbook Everlast and Rocketbook Fusion are a fantastic gift for the “wired” high school, college students, artists, and business people.

These notebooks put a new twist on taking notes in the more traditional way with pen and paper, while at the same time not being as onerous as using a tablet computer to take handwritten notes.

There are a few things that raise the value of this system:

  1. The spiral-bound notebook is made of paper-like plastic, rather than regular paper. This is great because it means that if you use the readily available Pilot Frixion Pens or Markers, anything written on the pages can be easily wiped away clean with a damp paper towel. So basically it means you can reuse the notebook over and over again. I love the feel of the special Pilot pens on this surface. It is smooth and fluid. I also appreciate the fact that the notebooks have some pages that use dots instead of lines. I prefer this because makes it easier to use the paper for a wide-variety of notes including drawings and landscape notes (as opposed to portrait) which definitely has come in handy.
  2. There are two sizes available: 8.5″x11″ and 6″x8.8″.Although there is a cool-factor to having the smaller size, I’d recommend going with the letter-size book. It’s slightly more expensive, but the added utility makes it worth it.
  3. Before you wipe away your notes with a wet cloth, you can use the Rocketbook app to photograph your work and automatically file it up to one of several services including Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote, or just email the notes to yourself or a designated email address (perhaps use Gmail’s “+ addressing” as part of a filing system).
  4. The app includes handwriting recognition that incorporates artificial intelligence to improve the results. I have been using this feature and I must say it is pretty good–not perfect, but my writing certainly isn’t either. What it gives you (for now) is the ability to make your notes searchable once you scan them and email/file them in the cloud. That’s a huge step forward, and it’s definitely a welcomed feature.The notebook’s pages have a 7 symbols at the bottom of the page that when checked tell the system where to send your notes…You define the symbols in the app…that way, if you check one or more of the symbols, the app will automatically know where to email or upload your notes. Otherwise you have to do it manually once you’ve photographed the pages…kind of a waste of time since it can be automated.

These two parts taken together mean freedom for people like me who need to take lots of notes and actually keep track of the resulting work for future reference.

Here are a few points that may help you understand the way you can make use of the Rocketbook system:

  • The Rocketbook system let’s you work in a nonlinear way–since the notes will be sent to the cloud, you don’t necessarily have to use contiguous pages to track the same topic–you just have to send the right pages to the right place in the cloud and then possibly further organize them from there.
  • You may want to consider adding a pen holder to your Rocketbook.
  • If you don’t plan to fill the notebook before you photograph it, or if you need to erase some notes but aren’t ready to erase others, you’ll need some sort of system to identify which notes have already been photographed.
    I keep it simple–I just use the upper right hand corner of the page to put the date and circle it after I capture the page so I will know it’s safe to erase.
  • There are a wide variety of Pilot Frixion pens and markers available from retailers including Amazon.com. They come in different colors, sizes, and tips.
  • I learned from the “A Life of Productivity” blog, that it’s better to use the Pilot Frixion 0.5 tipped pens–they dry faster and obviously don’t make your writing as thick. This solves a problem that I have also noticed: it takes a few seconds for the ink to dry on the page–I’ve definitely smudged a few notes with the default 0.7 pen that ships with the Rocketbook.
    I have a few of the .5 tipped pens, and it is clearly an improvement. I also appreciate the fact that I can take up less space with a fine tip.
  • Rename your files when they reach the cloud. For instance with Google Drive, you would want to rename them and possibly move them into a more precise folder.You will want give the files some kind of descriptive name to help you to know the contents of the notes and the order that they’re meant to be read.  If you always write about a particular subject, you may be able to leverage the symbols system to always file particular types of notes to a particular place/folder…so that can save some time.
  • The Rocketbook people also have another notebook that is possibly more well-known than this one called “The Rocketbook Wave.”It is cool in that you erase the notebook by microwaving it, however it may only be able to be used a few times.Aside from that, the idea behind the notebook is basically the same as the Rocketbook Everlast.
  • One final tip: The day is going to come when you’re going to make a little mistake in your notebook and you’re going to want to erase. It would be simple to just use the eraser that is on the other side of your pen. Don’t Do That. If you do, you’re going to mess up the coating on the notebook. I know it’s a pain to use a damp cloth to get to just one small area of the notebook, but still don’t erase the regular way. If this comes up for you alot, you might find something like this aqua eraser which could work in some cases.
  • Stickers like post-it notes seem to mess up the notebooks. It’s unfortunate because one thing that’s missing is a good way to bookmark or divide up the Rocketbook…but try to avoid putting these to use in your notebook.
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Education gifted and talented preschool Private Schools

List of Outstanding Preschools In Howard County Maryland

Pre-School in Howard County MD - Glenelg Country School

There are many options for preschools in Howard County, Maryland.

Finding the right fit can be difficult. It is not always easy to know which school to trust with your young children. You want to find a school with smart teachers who will be able to recognize your child’s talents and skills and bring them up from there.

Preschool should be fun, but hopefully your child will be involved in both learning fun and play fun, or both.

To help you with finding the best preschools, I have created a list of some of the top pre-K / preschool programs in Howard County.

Note that some of these schools have pre-K for various ages younger than 4, in fact some of them may be able to take kids that are younger than 1. If I don’t mention which age the school starts, please contact the school.

Also, the schools below have not paid me to list them. I have handpicked them. If you know of one that I should be aware of and possibly mention here, please submit a comment.

Bryant Woods Montessori School – One of the best Montessori schools in Howard County.  Education starts at age 3 and goes to age 6 in this school located in Columbia.

Children’s Manor Montessori School – This school has several locations throughout Maryland, including three in Howard County including Columbia, Ellicott City, and the differently named Children’s Magnet School in Elkridge.  Montessori is a great option to consider. The Children’s Magnet Montessori School feeds into Howard County’s newest private schoolThe Maryland International School in Elkridge, which is based on the International Baccalaureate program and has an emphasis on STEM education.

Columbia Academy – Columbia Academy has several preschool childcare center facilities around Howard County.  Their newest building is very nice and is located in Maple Lawn.  This school also has a campus that services kindergarten to 8th grade.  They are able to accept infants for daycare.

Glenelg Country School – Located in a rural area of Ellicott City, Glenelg Country School provides a comprehensive experience for kids.  This is a college prep school that goes all the way from pre-K3 to 12th grade.  They also offer a full-day pre-K4 program called Pre-K4 Plus.

If you like the idea of a private independent education for your child, Glenelg is definitely worth considering in Howard County.  They have modern facilities and and a beautiful 90-acre campus.  There are lots of enrichment activities for the preschoolers at this school.

Glenwood Country Day School – Campus in Woodbine in Western Howard County.  If this is a convenient school for you, program for ages 2-5.

Longfellow Nursery School – This is a non-profit, co-op. Looks like they have a good program.

Public School Employees Child Development Program – This preschool is meant mainly for the children of Howard County Public School teachers and staff.  Although Howard County Public Schools employees’ kids are given preference anyone can apply to send their kids here.    The caveat is that Howard County School’s academic schedule is followed — so that means, for example, no classes over the summer.

On the other hand, if you want to send your kids to preschool but not over the summer, this might be perfect for you as you’ll find that many schools may not hold your place if you withdraw your child over the summer months.  There are six locations in Howard County, all but one of them is inside of a high school, the other is at the Cedar Lane School in Fulton.

More Private Schools in Howard County

Want a broader list of private schools in Howard County?  Here is a list of great private schools.

Also,  here is some information if you have an exceptional student with a late birthday and are wondering about getting early admission to Kindergarten in Howard County.

Also, check out my list of educational gift ideas for brainy kids and ideas for birthday party locations in Howard County, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County.