Let’s talk about grit

Education Learning Google Translator

by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 29, 2018

She shrugged in a matter-of-fact way, not happy with what the sentence meant. She looked at me and gently took the iPad from my hands. She wrote down the line one more time on the open text box on her iPad.

For the sake of protecting her identity, let’s call her Mia.

Mia is an 8 year old girl from China whose family had just moved to the US.

She is writing a story as part of her class project.
She has to write it in English.
She is new to the language.

I work with elementary school students from time-to-time to help them with their writing assignments. Most of  the times the discussion revolves around the following suggestions, as I nudge the students to expand their stories.

‘Can you try adding more sound words or action words?’
‘Can you look at adding more punctuation?’
‘Can you add more details?’

As I sat down on a chair next to Mia, I noticed she had an iPad along with her writing paper and pencil. Her teacher mentioned that she would be using Google Translator to work through the story-writing process. This was new to me. I couldn’t simply start at nudging her with the same questions as I usually do. I realized I was learning as well.

So this is how it went before we had a full sentence of any of Mia’s ideas on paper.

She would write down her ideas in Mandarin on the open text box on the app. The app would translate them into English. This helped me understand what she was trying to say. I would then read it aloud to her, changing the words here and there so that the sentence in English made sense. I would encourage her to add sound words or action words. All of this would be accompanied by a lot of hand-gestures. As I changed the English sentence the translator app would re-generate it in Mandarin. This helped Mia confirm whether it conveyed her idea correctly. We would go over this process, together, repeatedly, until we arrived at the correct English sentence. Mia would then copy this onto her writing paper.

For the most part Google Translator correctly converted the words from one language to another. But grammar and semantics don’t work in similar ways in different languages. So you can only imagine how frustrating this can get. In one of those exchanges, as we worked through finding the correct sentence to add to her story, I kept saying, ‘The translator is not doing a good job.’ 

She smiled gently at me, almost to say, ‘It’s okay it happens to me all the time.’ She put a hand on her chest to indicate, ‘I can fix this.’ She went on to add her words in Mandarin again, to start the process over.

Mia simply kept at it until she was satisfied.

I was very impressed by the Google Translator app. It did a good job of translating words and sentences. I had never used an app like that until then. I was happy about how technology is bridging languages, helping kids learn and opening a vast new world of possibilities. 

Technology is certainly acting as a catalyst here but this isn’t a success story of any particular application.

This story is about Mia. The eight year old girl who uses this app to learn every lesson in her elementary school class. The little girl who is in a new place, far away from everything that is familiar to her and trying to put words in a language she doesn’t understand.

I had the privilege of listening to her finished story. It was beautiful.

That day I might have helped her finish a story but she taught me something much bigger. She taught me grit. She taught me patience. She taught me to stay strong and keep pushing.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

Is It Time To Reconsider The Way Our Children Read?


by Shikha Das Shankar and Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 15, 2018

Introducing children to eReading devices and apps does not mean changing traditional reading habits.

The muted colors of the local library have invited you with your children joyfully, many times over. That pack-of-five chapter book series was never on any of your Costco shopping lists but always found its way into your children’s bookshelf. And the best steals on children’s books have been the ones you purchased on impulse at the half-price book stores.

Your children love books, and you love watching their little hands flip, scribble and sometimes tear pages of books.

But what if we tell you to sprint, and not walk, to your nearest gadget store to purchase the young reader in your house an eReader device this Christmas? Your home is already a docking station for numerous tech gadgets for you and your children, so why are we suggesting you to add another gadget to your impressive roster of devices?

An eReader is a harmless and easy approach to reading for children. And it does not replace or displace the wonderful reading habits you have worked so hard to establish in your children.

For the sake of clarity, the scope and reach of this article is not limited to eReader devices. It includes the entire range of digital books that can be read on dedicated digital book devices through apps, and reading software and apps that can be installed on a phone, tablet, laptop, PC and Mac.

It is not Books vs Ebooks rather it is coexistence

To accept digital books and eReader devices, parents need a slight mindset change. Just like we did. As moms of grade-schoolers and preschoolers trying to raise readers, we dug in our heels, reluctant to let anything come close to the tangible literary possessions we have accumulated for our children in cozy nooks and corners of our home. We questioned the basic premise of whether eReaders and digital books have any utility in a child’s life. Will introducing digital books snatch the joy of watching a child run his hand on the rows of books on library shelves? It doesn’t have too.

So what changed?

We stopped pitting paper and digital books against each other. We stopped treating it like a debate between the titan of knowledge—paperbound versus new-kid-on-the-block—eReader, where one will dominate the other. Rather we thought on the lines of coexistence of books and digital books, and the complemental role digital books can play in helping children become more proficient and confident readers.

I love my Kindle but what’s in it for my kid?

The first digital book was created way back in 1971 but it wasn’t until the 1990s that they became popular. That was mostly triggered by the availability of digital readers in the market. Then came Amazon Kindle in 2007 which sold out within five and a half hours of its release.

Many found instant love of this device. More devices were launched with time. Phone and tablet versions of digital book apps found popularity, and self-published digital books became a rage. Some switched gears, alternating between digital and paper books while some completely turned to their eReaders for all reading needs.

For even those ardent lovers of paper books, who find immense sensorial satisfaction in flipping pages or all together defacing it with markings and post-its, the ability to carry a mini-library docked with the choicest of books where ever you go, at no extra cargo, became a reason for accepting digital books and eReader devices.

For children as well, the adoption of digital books is not meant to replace paper books or reduce its use in a child’s life. Digital books add to a classroom’s library where space and budget are constraints, encourage reluctant readers, and help engage children constructively when traveling and during school breaks. When you can’t keep up with your voracious reader, who insists on more paper books as presents, digital books are a great option too.

Digital books and eReaders enable children to continue reading on–the-go; allow siblings, classmates and friends to read the same title simultaneous without worrying about shelf space or limited stock; and allow parents and teachers to collaborate with the child on group discussions, book reports and even writing their own version of the story through apps that integrate with digital book apps.

We also undertook research and groundwork to support our views. We reached out to our respective county/district library, namely, King County Library System or KCLS (west Washington) and Broward County Library System or BCLS (southeastern Florida). King is the most populated county in the state of Washington while Broward is the second-most populous in Florida to understand the adoption of digital books. The results were highly encouraging.

Libraries and schools walk the talk

Libraries and schools play an important role in creating knowledgeable, aware and involved youth, and that begins by helping children harbor a love for reading.

Libraries have been actively turning to digital books, working with publishers to acquire more books digitally; providing schools with more digital books and digital reading libraries; and adding more digital titles to the juvenile reading section of the libraries.

In the state of Washington for KCLS alone, we see an interesting trend of the borrowing pattern of patrons. The number of digital downloads including digital books have doubled since 2014 while the number of physical books that people have borrowed have gone down by 11%. As we don’t see more than a 1% rise in total number of items being borrowed, there is a clear shift towards preferring digital books over physical books.

This trend is different when we consider the sales of e-books, which went down by 10% in 2017 from previous year. This follows a similar trend in the UK market as well, where the digital books sales declined by 4% in 2016 while the sales of printed books went up by 7%.

Mr. James Jones, Collection Management Manager, BCLS, says, “We tied up with the Broward County Public Schools about two years ago to offer digital books to children through a digital library service, Axis 360. The app can be installed on a classroom tablet or computer, and children have access to a curated collection of digital books to choose from. They can use Axis 360 with their library membership as well and have access to the entire collection of juvenile digital books at their local library. This initiative was slow to pick up initially but has become more popular now.”   

This partnership provided a way to supplement the existing library collection at schools, where budget and space restrains make it challenging to add new titles in the classrooms. Some of the most popular categories of digital books according to download numbers include Beginner level books–33,955 out of 1,721,193 in circulation; social themes–33,094 out of 801,026 in circulation; humorous stories–22,381 out of 632,538 in circulation; and holidays and celebrations–16,589 out of 399,120.

How do I get my kid started on one and find their fav titles?

Just like you would get a paperbound or board book for your children— through libraries, online retailers, and schools.  

Libraries allow users to downloads multiple digital titles for adults and children. Schools allow students and encourage parents to download the eReaders apps being used in the classroom at home too. This lets the child continue reading where he left off at school and allows parents to see their child’s reading progress.

In the past few years we have also seen the rise of many reading apps for young children. Homer, Epic, Endless Reader and Bob Books Reading Magic are to name a few. These apps provide new ways to promote reading and with the family sharing option they provide a way for parents and kids to consume content together. For example, Epic provides a plethora of books for children to read. Parents or teachers can create an account for the kids to continue reading. The app is available at a monthly subscription model. The music and interactive visuals contribute to a fun learning experience.

Apart from the above children reading apps, the apps of popular eReaders like Kindle eReader, iBooks, B&N eReader, eReader Kobo, and other eReading apps like Wattpad, Stanza, and Google Play Books have been adding more and more children’s titles to their collection too.

Where publishers were once reluctant to release popular titles in the digital version, they are now opening up to the idea. Self-published children’s digital books have a huge following too.

“To prepare the children for the future, we need to provide them the best of both worlds. Introducing digital books through the library and schools ensures they are reading at their level,” says Mr Jones. He also adds that the management at BCLS is big on digital books as they are able to add new titles to the collection without worrying about doing away with old ones. Space is always a problem for libraries and digital books help overcome that problem.

It’s Reading that matters

The future of reading will largely be governed by factors like availability of popular titles for children, ability to provide a device for eReading at home, and overcoming the mental block that screentime for children will increase if we provide them with another gadget, even if it is for reading.

Just like schools adopt eReading apps to offer children as an additional reading resource and not a substitute to the physical books; at home as well, an eReader will encourage reading by providing more titles for your child to choose from while providing reading material according to his reading level.

Whether your child loves the idea of submitting himself behind piles of books, or is keen on finishing reading his favorite series on his tablet, or alternates between the two, at the end of the day it is quality reading that counts.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.


Houston, we are not ready to launch yet!

We are not ready to launch yet

by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 8, 2018

I woke up with a panic attack this Monday with an email from a friend that said ‘I tried to download and install your app and ran into issues.’ A voice in my head goes, ‘Err, umm, what?’. I am grateful she reached out because it helped me resolve it sooner than later.

It was not a problem of epic proportions like, ‘Houston, we have a problem’. But it was certainly a problem of ‘Houston, we are not ready to launch yet.’ 

By the way, did you know that the term ‘Houston, we have a problem’ is an erroneous quote made highly popular by the 1995 film Apollo 13. The original words spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert to base were, ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem’.

Well, back to my present day Monday morning.

Are you signed up on PopSmartKids to receive newsletters and email updates? Then you know what I am talking about.

Ever took the brownie out of the oven way too early and packed it off for a bake sale? Then you know what I am talking about.

As I started digging I realized an email had gone out to all my enthusiastic friends who have signed up to be with me on this journey. The email was an invitation to download the kid’s story telling app. It was completely unintentional. My team and I were researching on getting our email lists integrated in preparation to our launch at the end of this year. We are not there yet. Have you heard of tech misfirings? I am calling this a tech-misfiring.

The only logical thing to do for me was to reach out to each one of my trusted ally and tell the truth. I sent out an apology email, explaining what had happened. To quote a colleague I respect, ‘Experience over knowledge. Failing forward is the way to go’. I believe him.

I am grateful for each one of you for taking this ride with me. Stay with me, it is only going to get better.

It was also the same day that I found this little poster on the walls of the school while I was picking up my son. It definitely resonated.

We all make mistakes – it is the most human thing to do. We hear everywhere that we should encourage our kids to make mistakes and not shy away from trying. Our everyday experiences can be teachable moments for our children.

As a parent the best way I can mentor my kids is to live by example.

So fast forward to the evening the same day, one of the things we spoke about over dinner was what happened with Mommy at work. And boy, did I get some questions. But it was all in good intent. I had fun talking through them. I am hoping that my sons now know that it is okay to make mistakes. And when they do they will always have a space to share, pick up the pieces and get moving again.

That was my win for the day.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

Cyberbullying – What You Can Do?


by Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 1, 2018

October was the National Bullying Prevention Month. To honor the national campaign we talked about cyberbullying last week. We want to extend that discussion and go into how we, as parents and teachers, can prevent it from happening.

When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.

We have mentioned cyberbullying is hard to detect, that is because cyberbullying happens online. So it requires a different strategy to deal with. Here are a few things that you can do.

Pay Attention

The first step to remedying any problem is to acknowledge it. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves to tell if our kids are being cyberbullied. Although this list is not exhaustive, it certainly is a place to start.

  • Is your child emotionally upset during or after using the internet or being on the phone?
  • Is your child being super-secretive of his digital life or his online persona?
  • Is your child wanting to stop the use of computer or cellphone or does not like playing his favorite game any more?
  • Is your child getting anxious on receiving a text or email?


This has to start way before any signs of cyberbullying happens. Just like you would make an effort to know your kids’ world he lives in – his friends and activities, along the same lines make an effort to know his online world. Ask to ‘friend’ them on social media and do not abuse that privilege by posting his/her baby pictures and commenting cute, or having conversations with him/her that you should have in the privacy of your home. That will be against everything we have been trying to coach.

In fact I think the mentoring should begin before kids start to interact on social media. Talk to them about the importance of online privacy and why it is a bad idea to share personal information online.

You have preemptively done the ground work. It will be that much easier to prevent cyberbullying. Then if it happens make sure to talk to them about what is happening, who are involved and how it all started.


Ever been in a moment of pain? How do you feel when you hear your friend say, ‘I get it, I have been there’? As a parent, share your own experiences of being at the receiving end of cyberbullying. Of course you should censor unnecessary details of the situation, like all conversations keep it age-appropriate.

In light of this, it is worth mentioning that a few weeks back, I had to experience a personal attack over the social channel. While I was discussing this incident with my husband, my 8 year old goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ I found it as an opportunity to make it a teachable moment. Needless to say, personally it helped me talking to my family about it.

When you get vulnerable and share your hurtful moments you are creating a safe space for your child to know that he or she can do the same when the time comes.


This might be easier said than done, but take an effort to document everything if you witness cyberbullying. Keep an account of the comments and posts that are derogatory. This will come handy if you ever need to report it officially.


Sometimes cyberbullying can take to extreme forms, like threats of violence, child pornography or sexually explicit messages. Taking a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy is an act of cyberbullying. Stalking and using words to perpetrate hate crimes is a serious offense.

If you see or hear any of these happening, and you have done everything you can to resolve the situation, like blocking the bully, it’s time to report. This list provides a good guide on the different ways that such incidents can be taken up with the higher authorities.

There are laws today to prevent cyberbullying. There is growing awareness of the problem of bullying, which may lead some to believe that bullying is increasing. However, studies suggest that rates of bullying may be declining. Although it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. This means we, as parents, educators and adults have work to do.

Every effort we make, however small that is, will go a long way to ensure a safe and kind growing environment for our children.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.