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27 Mar, Monday
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Montreal Families

Apps that help families get organized

Alissa Sklar is a busy woman – she has a husband, three kids, a full-time job, a consulting business and more. Over the years, she has had to learn how to lead an organized life, and the invention of apps has helped her tremendously. In this column, she shares some of her favourites.

In the 14 years since I’ve become a mom, I’ve tried to take advantage of evolving digital technologies to facilitate all the tasks involved in parenting. I’ve watched our kids’ favourite VHS tapes morph into DVDs and Blue-rays and then disappear with the advent of Netflix and iTunes. Their old cassette tapes and CDs became obsolete when our MP3 players began organizing the family’s music and audiobooks. And iPads made the big, clunky desktop computer in the downstairs office a relic.

I can’t recall how I ever managed without a smartphone, which organizes my life, gives me access to information and helps me stay in touch with people in various ways; calling, texting or emailing.

For most parents, whether or not they work outside the home, these devices are so much more than a phone. In our family, it is command central; the digital brain that connects us, keeps us on top of our tasks, entertains us and makes us so much smarter than we were before. The core of all this functionality lies with the endless stream of apps that set out to do the things we used to manage with only our grey matter and bare hands. How did we do it?

I realized just how critical these apps were to our lives last August, when my daughters’ high school released its own app for parents and students. Now I automatically have a curated list of school events synced to my phone, and I never miss a news announcement. Brilliant!

Here is a somewhat eclectic list of my favourite parenting apps, chosen for their functionality, ease of use, and insight into the deepest needs and desires of parents everywhere:

Google Calendar (Free): If you don’t have it, get it. You need it. Trust me. Track your various personal, work, family and social calendars across various devices, share events or school calendars with the right people, invite others to events so it gets noted on their calendars. And you never have to worry about updating with a new device, or losing track of your life if you lose or break your smartphone.

Wunderlist (Free): My family and friends know that if I don’t write things down, there’s a risk they’ll be overlooked. That’s why I’ve come to depend so heavily on this multifaceted list-making app. It lets me manage multiple lists for work, home, shopping, trips and more. Users can collaborate with anyone, access the list from other devices and cloud sync, so there’s no panic if your smartphone ends up running through the laundry. The most valuable features for me are the ability to set up recurring to-dos (groceries, volunteer commitments at the kids’ school and/or weekly staff meetings), share lists with my husband and set reminders. No more making four dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale at 1 a.m.!

Artkive (Free): One of the biggest challenges we faced with three daughters in elementary school was the constant flood of artwork, drawings and projects that came home. Our prolific little artists were very attached to all of their creations, but our refrigerator, kitchen-wall gallery and bulletin board were overcrowded. There’s no longer any need to feel guilty when you file most of them in the recycling bin, because the Artkive app allows you to preserve them for posterity. Take a photo of the work, tag it with a title and the child’s age/ grade, and share it with doting grandparents. You can then turn these images into a lovely keepsake book of memories that will fit neatly on a bookshelf or coffee table.

Total Baby ($4.99): This is touted as the most comprehensive baby logging and tracker application out there. You can track feedings, vaccinations, nap length, nursing time (and what side), growth, allergies, milestones and more. It even works for twins, which would have been useful for our family back in the days when we almost certainly fed or changed the same baby twice in a row and overlooked her sister.

Take Me to My Car (Free): I cannot be the only sleep-deprived parent out there who has um…. misplaced my car in a crowded shopping mall parking lot. With two taps on your phone you save the exact location of your parking spot; a single tap later on retrieves the information. Avoid the meltdown moments at the end of a trip when you’re lugging bags and trailing several cranky kids back to the car.

Epicurious (Free): I’ve got 20 minutes at the grocery store before I pick up a child from basketball practice, and my mind has drawn a complete blank on dinner options. Browse this colourful app for menu ideas (ranging from simple to complex) or search for recipes based on ingredients, course, cuisine, dietary considerations, dish type and season or holiday. I love searching user reviews for product substitutions (seriously, who buys buttermilk?), generating an on-the-spot shopping list and (if you have the $1.99 upgrade) saving it to your online recipe box.

NFB films for phones or tablets (Free): Named “the best content app of the year” by the Apple Blog, this all-Canadian application lets you watch over 1,000 English and French animated films, documentaries, features and trailers for free on your device. No need to feel guilty that the kids are staring at a screen — they may actually be learning something!

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