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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 Kittens 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.

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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 (October 24, 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. This is important because it will give you more confidence that your data isn’t being stolen when using public WiFi hotspots (eg – at the airport).

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 generally 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. Much of the time, service is better over WiFi anyway, so it’s really a bonus.

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 PA42YJ 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 May 2020, 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. Unfortunately, iPhones don’t support network switching for now.
    • 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. 5G is available for certain phones on Google Fi.
    • 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. There is also a way to limit the amount of paid data on a group member’s account. (They will still have access to “slow” data for free.) 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 October 2020), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 5 / Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are all venerable phones with different price points and selling points.

      As you may be aware, the Pixel 5 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 “a” versions of the Google Pixel phones (Google’s flagship): the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a. These two phones are a bit slower than the “regular” versions of the phones (without the “a”), and have a plastic body which is NOT waterproof, but also has an excellent camera, just like the Pixel 3 and 4 do.

      Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 3, 4, or 5, 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, and the newer Moto G phones 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

      The Google Fi device protection will cost you $5 to $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions, and in some cases even theft.
      Here is an overview of the device protection rates for some devices. To see the whole list, and to learn more, visit Google Fi’s website.

      Google Fi Device Protection Rates as of 2020
      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 Tabs S2 or newer (US versions)
      • Nexus 9 LTE (US versions)
      • Sony Xperia Z4 (US version)
      Other devices not on the list could work, if they are unlocked and 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 yet, although it is available in beta, so coming soon. 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:
      • Moto G Stylus (XT2043-4) – Amazon 
      • Galaxy S20+ (SM-G986UZKEXAA, SM-G986UZKAXAA, SM-G986UZAEXAA, SM-G986UZAAXAA, SM-G986ULBEXAA, SM-G986ULBAXAA) – Amazon
      • Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (SM-N970U1K1XAA) – Amazon
      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.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 DealRepublic 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.

      Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids and Teens

      If you’re in a position where you need to be able to control your kid’s phone use, you’re not alone. This is something that I have been trying to figure out for a long time. Here are a few tips and ideas:

      • For Android phones, you’ll want to use “Family Link.” This will give you some general control over your family member’s phone, including being able to control the amount of time particular apps are available per day, and you can (mostly) pause the phone completely. The one flaw (as of this writing) is that kids can still turn their phone into a wireless hotspot to power other devices unfettered. You can hope they don’t figure that out. Mine did. iPhones have some built-in parental controls.
      • If you opt for Republic Wireless, you can control the amount of data your child uses in a very rudimentary, but effective way: As I stated earlier, you must pre-purchase data in blocks of 1 gig at a time. So if your child’s phone only has one gig, it is gone when it’s gone. Each phone in your account can have its own data limit. Again, there is no real group plan for RW. So if they run out, then they have to wait until next month. That is unless you buy them another gig. The one drawback of this is that if you’d like to be able to track their location and they are out of data…well, you’re out of luck.
      • Google Fi is a bit more advanced on this. You can setup a specific limit to the amount of data your child can use. After that cap is hit, the data is still available, but it’s very slow. So this is great if you’re worried about your child running out of data when they’re not near wifi for safety reasons (for instance if you want to track their location), this takes that worry away. On the other hand, it may be slow, so it’s not totally unusable so if you’re trying to use data as a reward/punishment, it’s definitely not a perfect setup.
      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. Or you may want a full portfolio – these are very nice – be sure to pick one that’s the right size for 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.
      Categories
      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.

      Categories
      kids activities Parenting

      Five Ideas to Keep a Digital Record of Your Child’s Growth and Best Memories

      I love the idea of keeping track of my kid’s best memories, growth, and accomplishments with a digital record. Below are some ideas I use in hopes of creating future-proof records for family and friends to enjoy.

      1. Conduct a yearly video interview with your child. We do ours every New Year’s eve. Sometimes it can be difficult to think of questions to ask. I always ask about how school was going, their favorite teachers and classes, but I like to include more philosophical questions as well. This year, I asked my friends on Facebook for help. I got some great ideas:

      “Do you feel the movie Wonder Woman empowers girls & young women to be smart & strong?”
      (Jeff)

      “Do you think Mariah Carey nails her New Years singing after last years debacle ??”
      (Tom)

      “2017 was the year of the fidget cube, fidget spinner, slime, and squishies.
      Which was your favorite, and why? What do you predict will be the next kid craze?”
      (Jennifer S)

      Heather:
      * What advice would you give your parents?

      * What do you think you will be doing 10 years from now?

      * Why do you like being your age?

      * What is your happiest memory?

      * Who do you like to hang out with the most?

      * What is your favorite thing to wear?

      “What traits do you value in your friends? What do you like about yourself?”
      (Mary Anne)

      “If you could meet one person who would it be?” (Leigh De)

      “What is your favorite meal, including beverage and dessert? “(Melissa)

      “Are there any accomplishments that you will be striving for this year? “(Svetlana)

      “What are your favorite words? Least favorite words this year?”

      2) Like the other ideas, this isn’t original, but it’s a great way to keep track of your kid’s accomplishments–set up an email address on Gmail when they are born (may improve the chances of them getting something remotely close to their name. And whenever you have a thought about them, or they’ve reached a milestone, accomplishment, etc, you can email accolades and artifacts to that address. When they reach the right age, give them the username/password to the account. If you’re going to do this with Gmail, you need to use the Family Link feature. Otherwise, you’ll have an issue when you put in their birthday–you need to be 13 to have a full Gmail account!

      3) Tag them in their Facebook photos. Eventually they’ll have an account and they can go through and see.

      Photo Wall of Childhood Pictures4) Take a yearly photo for a photo wall. The secret to this idea is to purchase a whole bunch of matching picture frames that you’ll store until they’re needed. Each year, take a photo of your child for the wall. This could be done by taking “the same” photo every year as they age, or by just selecting one or two of the best photos from every year to put on the wall.

      5) Use Google Photos to Back Up Photos of Events and Great Times. Google photos is an excellent way to backup all of the photos you take, especially those taken with your mobile phone. Aside from being free, several other things make it great:

      1. Any photo you take with your phone can automatically be backed up to the cloud.
      2. Google has done an amazing job of making the photos searchable–you can search for things that are IN the images (that you haven’t tagged with text)…want to find photos of people on the beach? Just search for beach. Want to find photos of people on the beach wearing sunglasses? You can search for that too.
      3. Google’s photo assistant will automatically gift you with animations and videos. It will even find similar photos of when your kids were younger and create a new photo that shows the old picture and new picture side-by-side. It also makes videos about my kids…since it knows their faces, it finds pictures of them and puts them together in a video with music and transitions (it also recognizes family pets–I get an occasional “meow movie”).

      6) Use Google Photos to Back Up Art and Writing – Google Photos is also a great way to backup your child’s artwork, writing and other school projects.

      If you’re like most parents, it can be difficult to part with the various schoolwork projects your child brings home. On the other hand, after you have accumulated boxes and boxes of art, it becomes a bit of a space issue, and perhaps in some cases a fire hazard.

      Snap a photo or two using your phone’s camera or using Google’s special app just for taking photos of documents. If it happens that the item in question was created digitally, just make a folder in your Google Drive to house it.  Eventually, you’ll want to just share that Google Drive directory or photo album with your child’s Gmail account (when they finally have their own.)

      Categories
      Reviews Technology

      Review of the Ecovacs Deebot N79 Robotic Vacuum

      tldr; The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is a worthy robotic vacuum that may not be as smart as some of its competitors but it definitely has a great feature set and does an excellent job of its primary job–it is a really good vacuum.

      My daughter asked for a robotic vacuum cleaner for her 9th birthday. (Looking for better gift ideas for a gifted and talented student? [Opens in a new window]) A strange request, but my wife and I were talking about getting one anyway, and the birthday wish was the push we needed to finally look into it and make a decision as to which robot vacuum to purchase. There are several competitors, and among the competitors there are different price points and features. It was difficult to decide.

      We mainly considered the Roomba  and  Ecobots offerings. They seemed to get the most favorable reviews. We were especially interested in the Roomba model that Costco sells (Not a member of Costco? See my review!), but since we weren’t really sure how much use we’d get out of it, we didn’t want to shell out nearly $400 for it. So we decided to look for something cheaper.

      As we looked at the various models, we considered whether they would be able to interoperate with our Google Home, whether they had the ability to mop the floor as well as vacuum, and how well other reviewers received the devices. We eventually settled on the Ecobots N79 and purchased it from Amazon. We loved the fact that former Roomba owners endorsed it, and were sold when we read the review from the woman who left  her sliding glass door open and found it outside dutifully cleaning her patio until it got stuck in some lava rocks.

      The Deebot N79 was easy to setup and get it going. It comes with a charging station and a tool used to clear hair, etc, from its rotating brush and to clean off the filter intake. The first time we ran it, we were extremely impressed, if not a bit mortified by the amount of cat hair and crud it picked up before heading back to it’s charging station about an hour later.  We don’t keep the tidiest house, but we do vacuum and we didn’t think there would be so much invisible debris. It didn’t stop there though. It’s holding tank was stuffed full the next few times we ran it–I am sure it sucked up an entire cat’s worth of cat hair…and much more. To be fair to us, the robot is able to slip under our sofas and is rather persistent about trying to get into various corners we may often miss.

      Certainly, one of the things we like about this model is that it has a low profile so it can get under the sofas.  It also can slip between our dining room chairs which means it does a decent job of cleaning up after dinner. It has side-brushes that stick out and sweep crumbs into its rotating brush path (also a distinguishing feature as many of the competing units don’t use a spinning brush). We also like the fact that it can be programmed to start automatically at a certain time of day either via the included remote control or from a free Android/iOS app which can trigger a vacuuming from anywhere you have an internet connection.

      The Deebot N79 seems to be very durable and determined to do it’s job. I really like the fact that it is really easy to change and clean it’s brushes. Even the main roller brush has a compartment that easily snaps open, so it makes it easy to clean off hair that gets wrapped around it etc (and they also include a tool that helps you cut off hair without taking out the brush too. Also, it is no problem to change its air filter–again you just snap open a chamber on the dirt collection box and you can just put in a new one.

      The Ecovacs app includes a timer that tells you when to officially change certain parts (like the side brushes or the air filter). The box we got came with 2 extra side brushes and an extra air filter. And when you need additional parts for the vacuum they are readily available on Amazon, and aren’t that expensive.

      As you can tell I am genuinely happy with our purchase, however everything isn’t perfect about the vacuum. Unlike some of its competitors this device is rather dumb. It runs in random patterns and redirects itself if it approaches something it can “see” in its path such as something tall like a wall, sofa leg, a person or the top of a staircase. It doesn’t always see things ahead of time but if it runs into something it is a relatively harmless bump that turns it around and sends it in another direction.

      While some of it’s more expensive competitors can map your house and know which areas it has done recently, this one is clueless. Still, in an average session, it seems to find its way all over the place. So even though it doesn’t have all the smarts, its cleaning algorithm seems to get it around to enough places so that it is still effective. It handily gets between our hard wood floors, our area rugs, and the shag carpet in our bedrooms–this is something that apparently can’t be said of certain competing robotic vacuums.

      This review would be remiss if I didn’t include a sort of warning for new owners. You kind of have to “clean up” for this robot if you want to get the most out of it and/or don’t want to risk certain belongings getting chewed up by it. We’ve had two occasions so far where this became an issue. One time it made it’s way into our bedroom and found a dress that was touching the floor in the closet. It did manage to suck it into it’s brush and apparently tried to get away with it. It didn’t end very well for the dress. The vacuum’s consumable side brush got a bit torn up in that tif as well.

      Another time our indoor welcome mat got sucked in and dragged around until the robot stopped and shut itself down. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but our mat had become a bit disheveled. The point is that you have to get certain things out of the robot’s way or it is going to try to “neutralize” it. So before you decide to buy one of these, look around your house and think about what may need to be picked up before vacuuming. If you have chairs whose legs are too close together, that could also be something you’d have to move out of its way if you’d like it to clean in that area.

      [Looking for gift ideas for the smart kids in your life? See my hand-picked list of educational toys that make excellent birthday or holiday gifts.]

      This should be obvious, but the robot can’t go down stairs by itself. So if you have a multi-level dwelling, you will need to physically move the robot yourself and turn it loose. It won’t be able to find its way back to the charger if you do this, so it will eventually just die someplace and let out a sad beep to make you aware of its failure. Certainly it is worth the effort to move it to another level for a while and let it do its thing while getting a break from the usual scenery.

      There is another odd foible about this vacuum that I would like to mention. You can use the app to schedule vacuum sessions ahead of time at different times of day/days of the week, etc. It isn’t that much work, but in an instant, your schedule can potentially disappear. If for some reason you decide to use the robotic vacuum’s On/Off switch to toggle the power–something that there is rarely a valid reason to need to do–your schedule will be toast. That makes absolutely no sense and I hope they will fix the problem at some point.

      It seems to me that if the app in your phone knows what the schedule was, it could easily re-download it to the vacuum’s memory at next opportunity. But for now, if you toggle the power on the vacuum, and return to the app, your schedule will also be removed from there…and you’ll have to recreate it. Rather a pain.

      In spite of that and the above detractors, I definitely do recommend this vacuum. At the price, you probably won’t have an easy time finding something that is as reliable and capable. Don’t take my word for it, you’ll definitely want to have a read over the other reviews on Amazon.

       

       

      Categories
      Food Nutrition Recommendations Save Money

      Top 5 Places To Buy Fruit, Vegetables & Other Produce in Maryland


      If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  We especially like to buy fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control.

      Below are my top recommendations for where to buy produce, plus some bonus tips on how to get great veggies for lower prices in Maryland.  Read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:

      1) You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in our box week by week.

      This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for the most part for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely that we’d get less attractive fruits if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. Sometimes we do see things in the box that are a bit undersized, but mostly it’s just the normal stuff you’d get in the supermarket. (And some things you wouldn’t find there at all.)

      Often we get unusual fruits and vegetables that you don’t normally find in regular grocery stores. Things like sunflower greens and fresh bay leaves. Again, we get these by choice — you can select the items you want for each delivery.

      Hungry Harvest has a warehouse near me in Jessup and they employ local drivers to drop off the fruit and vegetable boxes in each neighborhood. I spoke to our driver today and she said it’s really exploding in popularity.

      She said she had 60 deliveries just today in Columbia alone. I know a few people who use this service and also like it. If you’re interested, please use this link to sign up-We will both get a $10 credit on our next order

      Each produce box you get comes with a gel ice pack. So if you decide to order from Hungry Harvest, be sure and save your ice packs and return them…just leave them on your porch on the drop off day and the driver will get them. They prefer them to be thawed out and dry.

      vidalia onions at Costco Wholesale Warehouse2) Shop at Costco warehouse stores.  We love shopping at Costco (Read my review and list of organic foods available there).

      One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen.  Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach), and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries.

      Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk.  I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price.   Find a Costco location near you.

      Spring Onions 7 bunches for $1 at Super Best Asian Market
      Green Onions
      at a
      Maryland
      Asian
      Market

      3) Shop at Asian or International markets.  There are many of these in Maryland.  One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best. We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.

      There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap.  For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. If you live in Columbia, you may want to visit La Mart.  To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.

      3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart.  You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off.  In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go  to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.

      That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save.  Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland.  Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.

      If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce.  Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale.

      It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time.  Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list.  They are located at  8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area.   (410) 799-5000.

      PRO TIP
      : For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays.  It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.

      4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”.  Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals.  This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable.

      A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.

      5) Shop for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices.  Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets.  Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location).

      PRO TIP: 
      One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops.  This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.

      Bonus Tip: Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own.  Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.

      If you’re new to gardening, you might want to have a look at the home gardening programs and information provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension–it is a great resource.  If you live in outside of Maryland, check with your state’s department of agriculture for similar programs.

      This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy.

      Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!

      There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.

      Pick your own strawberries - box of strawberries

      Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables.  They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.

      BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm.  I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems.  It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm.  You can read about how Larriland uses this system here.  There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.

      BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:

      • InstantPot – This is a digital pressure cooker/slow cooker/rice maker/yogurt maker and more. We use ours every day. Here is my full review of the Instant Pot.
      • Vitamix or Blendtec blenders – You’ll love making smoothies and vegetable soups in these professional blenders.
      • Spiralizer – This is a three-blade spiral slicer for vegetables. So many fun things you can do with this including zucchini noodles.
      • Julienne peeler – This is a great way to peel veggies.
      • Corn Stripper – Well, the name makes me laugh, but it’s a great way to get the corn off the cob.
      • Produce bags – These bags will help keep your produce fresh much longer.
      • Juicepresso – A great way to juice. Definitely an improvement over our Jack La Lane.
      Categories
      Columbia Maryland Education kids activities

      School’s Out and Spring Break Camps in Howard County Maryland 2019 – 2020 School Year

      Looking for ideas for what to do with your kids when schools are closed for special days off in Howard County during the 2019 – 2020 school year?

      Here are a few of the organizations that I know of that can provide care and learning during days off such as spring break, fall break, teacher in-service days, and other days off during the school year.

      1. Idea Lab Kids – Kids take STEM classes including 3D printing, coding, cooking, chemistry, and more. Located in Columbia near Red Branch Road on Route 108.
      2. Howard County Conservancy – Great camps my kids really enjoy these. Beautiful locations in Elkridge and Woodstock.  For example, this year, on the break for September 30, 2019, they have a reasonably priced called “Gardens Galore” that seems like loads of fun!.
      3. Club Science Kids – I love these camps and so do my kids. Great organization. Your child is going to have a great time and they will learn some STEM! Camps are located in various places including the Maryland International School in Elkridge. Check their calendar. Looks like they have some great options for October 9, 2019 when school is closed…but they also have opportunities during winter and spring break.
      4. Camp IO – Yoga, art & science. Great combination. Great camps.
      5. Active Kids Camp – They have a variety of sports camps. You may need to look around their site for this year’s camps.
      6. Howard County Recreation and Parks – Always a good choice. They have many choices, from sports to science.
      7. Columbia Association – CA is offering a few camps over school breaks. These vary. Please check their page for a list of upcoming “school’s out” camps. Options at several locations.[Upcoming Birthday Party? See my huge list of places to hold a birthday party in Howard County, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County]
      8. Columbia Horse Center – Spring Break is a great time to learn to ride horses.
      9. Terrapin Adventures – Check with Terrapin Adventures to see if they are holding Spring Break camp this year.[Looking for birthday party ideas for your kids? See my curated list of ideas!]
      10. Lifetime Fitness – Lifetime Fitness in Columbia offers some worthwhile camps for days off and for summer break.
      11. Hwarang Martial Arts – Karate day camps on days off.
      12. Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County (SAC) – Full and half day sessions with before/after care. Day off sports clinics $70/day and Spring break camp is $250 for full day (price may change)
      13. Kid Museum – Outside of Howard County in Bethesda, Md, but possibly worth the trip, especially if you happen to work in Montgomery County. Kid Museum has some great offerings for camps.
      14. Brickz for Kids – Lego camp held at the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City. These look like great fun at reasonable prices!
      15. Howard County Youth Program Basketball Camp – Boys and girls camps held at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.
      16. Drama Learning Center – Drama camps – Located on  Red Branch Rd near Route 108.
      17. Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts – Located on Dobbin Road, this venue has after school programs and camps for middle and elementary schoolers.
      18. Howard County Schools – Howard County Schools may offer sports camps on days school is closed. Check their website for schedules and locations.
      19. Silver Knights Chess and Programming Camps – They offer camps during Spring Break only in Howard County (last year at the Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City). Check the link above to see if they have added any local day off camp programs as they have them in some locations.

      Looking for Summer Camps? See my list of great summer camps in Howard County Md. Alot of these camps would also be great ideas for birthday party ideas. See my complete list of Howard County party ideas for kids.

      I also maintain a list of party ideas for Baltimore County and birthdays for Anne Arundel County. I also have a list of restaurants that are great for kids in Howard County.

      Help me build this list of schools out day camps. If you know of other places that offer camp during school vacations, days schools are closed, or breaks, let me know!

      Categories
      kids activities Parenting Phone Bills Technology

      Parental Control Apps to Monitor and Control Your Child’s Screen Time

      As a parent, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Screens have invaded the minds of my two girls, and I needed to get control over it. Since my kids switch between a few devices and types, I needed to use a combination of things to reign this in. Here is what I was up against:

      1. Mobile Phones – My kids both have mobile phone devices from Republic Wireless. That means they can use either mobile data plans or WiFi to access the internet. I needed to be able to control the apps they use, the time of day they can use them, the websites they visit, and be able to update the time they can use these devices as needed, such as when the schedule changes temporarily or to reward good behavior.
      2. Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets – The cost of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets is so low (especially on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday or if you get a refurbished unit) that we got one for each of them. They also got Amazon Freetime Unlimited for Kids so they do lots of reading on the devices. But they also spend time doing other things including using some educational apps that I recommend anytime, and some not-so-educational things, like watching Rhett and Link videos on YouTube.
      3. Chromebooks-I LOVE chromebooks in case you were wondering. They are quick, virus-free, and reliably do what they are designed to do–run a chrome web browser and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the parental control options are quite limited, so this required some thought.

      The parental control that works for us

      Given the mix of devices above, there isn’t one complete solution. Especially because of the mobile data on the kids’ phones, I needed to come up with something extra for that, but here is what works in our household:

      Google WiFi – I have to say I am very pleased with Google’s WiFi product. It was easy to setup and depending on the size of your home, you can add additional “nodes” around the house to get full coverage–it sets up a mesh network around your home very easily.  You can purchase either one node at a time or buy them in sets of three. Three will do quite well for most medium and larger homes. Once you’ve setup your Google WiFi, you control it through an app on your phone. Among other things, that app allows you to easily pick out devices on your network and schedule the time they are able to access Wifi. For most of the things my girls do on their Chomebooks, Phones, no WiFi means things aren’t going to work. They definitely won’t be watching videos on YouTube for example if they have no WiFi. This takes care of alot of the issue, but not all of it.

      Parental Time Limit App for iPhone and Screen Time – I really like this kid-supervision app. It is installed on the mobile phones and works on Android and iOS devices. It allows us to set a limit for the total amount of time the kids can spend on their phone using apps. You can restrict app installs, and set limits for specific apps. You can also use this app to schedule the time the phones can be used.

      There is an easy “pause” button that allows you to turn off access on the kids’ phones–great for dinnertime. When you click it, you can set the amount of time the phone will be in pause mode. You can also add time if you like. In fact, one great feature is that you can setup tasks that. The app costs about $4/month with discounts for multi-month purchases.

      There is a limited free version of the app that will let you get the hang of the app, and is potentially all you need.

      Kid’s FreeTime App – This is specific to the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets. It is more difficult to use than the ScreenTime app mentioned above, however the basic version is free and included with the Kindle Fire Tablets. It limits time in apps, and also prevents kids from installing their own apps or books. The Kid’s FreeTime Unlimited add-on allows kids to choose their own books and movies based on Amazon’s pre-selected titles that it feels are okay for children.

      Categories
      Columbia Maryland Food kids activities Nutrition

      Great Restaurants in Howard County for Kids

      My family is always working on finding the restaurants in Howard County that offer the best experience and best quality food for our family lunch and dinner outings.

      [Looking for summer camps and school’s out camp ideas?]

      It’s easy to go to the usual suspect restaurants such as Friday’s and Red Robin, but there are other great restaurants that you and your kids may enjoy. Below find a few of the favorites my family enjoys.

      • Cava Grill (Columbia) – This is currently my favorite fast-casual restaurant. They offer Greek food Chipotle-style. You and your family get a healthy meal and they have great beverages such as cucumber mint or rosemary blackberry.

        If the line is long, don’t worry, it moves fairly quickly and even if you have to wait 10 minutes or so, it’s worth the wait. Kid’s meals are available. It may be a small stretch for some kids to enjoy the food here, but it’s fresh, delicious, and high quality. 

        Check out the menu and location. There are several other options in that shopping center just in case (Noodles and Company, Chipotle, Modern Market, and Jimmy Johns).

      • Chipotle (Columbia) – I always enjoy a meal at Chipotle. If your kids like Mexican food, especially burritos or quesadillas, they’ll like it here. Conveniently located right next door to Cava Grill off of Dobbin Road in Columbia. 

      [Looking for great birthday party ideas? See my list of over 35 great places to hold a kid’s party in or near Howard County]

      • Cheesecake Factory (Columbia) – Aside from the obvious desserts, there are some healthy options here. Kids enjoy the atmosphere and love checking out the cheesecake case and whip cream dispenser behind the counter.
      • Noodles and Company (Columbia) – If you’re feeling like pasta, this is a great choice. Also in the same shopping center as Cava Grill and Chipotle.
      • Jason’s Deli (Columbia)- I like the menu at this restaurant in Columbia. There is plenty of good quality food and even a salad bar. I always enjoy going here and my kids do too. The fact that they offer free soft-serve ice cream cones is a fantastic bonus.
      • Uma Uma (Ellicott City) – We enjoy Ramen Noodle Night at home, and certainly do like to go out to a restaurant that adds an authentic experience. Really the only thing on the menu here is variations of Ramen Noodle soup, and there isn’t really a kid’s menu, AND you won’t find much in the way of your typical dessert items either, but still a great experience.

        Having said that, I’d have to warn you that this could be a bit risky with some kids. The food here is different, and your child at least needs to like soup with noodles to like this place!

      • Eggspectation  (Ellicott City) – Lots of great food here including healthy smoothies and foods. Definitely more than just breakfast though. Open for dinner. Check for a Groupon.
      • Great Sage (Clarksville) – Get your vegan on. Nice atmosphere for kids and families. Great menu. Nice staff.
      • Seasons 52 (Columbia) – Upscale. Great food quality in a cosy atmosphere. Good for older kids. Might be “too much” for younger kids. The dessert’s here are terrific. I recommend the pecan pie glass.
      • Maggiano’s Little Italy (Columbia) – Upscale Italian. Nice atmosphere, decent kids menu (provided your kids like pasta). Sometimes they even have classes for kids on Saturday mornings.
      • Silver Diner (Columbia or Greenbelt) – Silver Diner has been around the Maryland-DC-VA area for decades. And lucky for us, they finally have a Columbia, MD location near the Costco and Lowe’s. Silver Dinner offers a great farm-fresh menu and has some more unusual options for kid’s meals. In my opinion, they have one of the best kid’s menus of all… and it is a fun, traditional diner atmosphere.
      • Bonus 1: Toby’s Dinner Theatre – This can be a great experience for kids, depending what’s playing. They change the offering regularly, so if the show isn’t specifically a kid’s show, your best bet would be to “Google” it to see what other parents are saying. The food at Toby’s is “okay” buffet food. It’s underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never felt the urge to go back for 2nds. That said, this can be fun and enriching.
      • Bonus 2: The Meadows Custard – This is a well kept secret in Hickory Ridge. Amazing custard and Italian Ice. Better than competitors. Highly recommended.

      Looking for great educational gifts for kids? See my list of over 70 handpicked gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah.