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After-School Activities

Family Friend Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday can be a fun new tradition for your family to celebrate every year. You don’t need to bring the R-rated wildness into your living room, but you can certainly highlight the culture, music, and food of New Orleans into your home each year. Our family of three have been celebrating Mardi Gras every year since our son was born. We all look forward to it every year, and even though it is on a Tuesday, it is easy to pull a celebration together after a long work day.

Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is the last day to indulge before the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent. Even if you aren’t giving up anything for Lent, or even if you aren’t Christian, consider celebrating Mardi Gras together as as family. Here are a few ideas on how to bring NOLA into your home this year.

The music

You simply cannot have Mardi Gras without music. Stream a Louis Armstrong station to start your jazz and scatting atmosphere. Depending on your child’s age, you can use this opportunity to talk about jazz vocabulary words and instruments (think scat, trumpet, trombone, syncopation, etc.), as well as talk about the instruments that they are hearing. Most importantly – and this is the part that cannot be skipped – dance. Dance around your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom. Play follow the leader and have everyone in your family take turns in leading the dance moves for the rest of the family. Pretend you are playing different instruments, call out the name – trumpet! drums! trombone! – and have everyone do their best interpretation. Teach your kiddos the song “When the Saints Go Marching In”, as this is a Mardi Gras staple.

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The culture

Mardi Gras, and New Orleans in general, has a fantastic culture. You can recreate the Big Easy right in your home by starting with the music and then adding a few fun details. First, everyone gets beads. Chances are, you already have a pile of beads sitting somewhere in your toy room, left over from birthday party favors or pirate pretend play. Pull those out and be sure everyone wears some. Add feathered masks which you can buy at the Dollar Store or make with paper plates, paint, glue, and a few decorative feathers.

Next, and this is my son’s favorite part, get out the umbrellas. You can certainly spend some time a few days prior decorating an inexpensive umbrella with paint or streamers. Or, you can just pull out the umbrellas you have, open them inside, and twirl them as you walk. My son thinks that his Lightning McQueen umbrella is the ultimate Mardi Gras accessory, even asking if he could pack it when we actually did fly down to NOLA for a friend’s wedding last year. New Orleans is known for its parades and Second Lines, so you simply have to crank up the music, twirl the umbrellas, and have a parade throughout your home and yard. Have everyone take turns leading the parade and sing along to the music.

Dollarphotoclub_39404959.jpgFinally, New Orleans culture is very welcoming to everyone. This year, our family will be taking our parade – Lightning McQueen umbrella and all – to our neighborhood, parading from house to house to drop off bags full of beads and our favorite Mardi Gras treat, the paczki.

The food

Now that we’re talking about paczkis, my stomach is growling for the most delicious part of our Mardi Gras family celebration – the food. Growing up in central Illinois, I never experienced the paczki, a Polish pastry that is like a donut except more spectacular. When I came to live in the Chicagoland suburbs and worked with many Polish nuns, I learned that you simply cannot have Fat Tuesday come and go without eating a paczki. We have already called ahead to our local bakery to order three dozen. We will decorate paper bags that I have already in my kitchen cabinet, toss a few beads and napkins inside, and then add a few paczkis too. Our neighbors are going to love us. Dollarphotoclub_62033821.jpg

While paczkis are more common in Chicago’s Fat Tuesday celebrations, you can’t go wrong with other New Orleans fare. You can order a King Cake from a New Orleans bakery to have shipped to your home, or if you don’t have time to do that, you can make cinnamon rolls (homemade or from the tube – no judgment here) and sprinkle purple, green and yellow sprinkles over the melted icing. I mean, I believe the children are our future, and I believe that we should teach them the way of the King Cake.

Finally, for dinner, you can’t go wrong with gumbo or jambalaya. There are plenty of versions of recipes online, from super simple and fast to more authentic and time consuming. There are even cooking camps that can teach kids’ how to make foods like this, see the Cooking Around the World Camp from A Little Yumminess. Not in the mood for gumbo or jambalaya (that’s crazy, but ok), add cajun seasoning to shrimp or salmon, along with some red beans and rice, and you are set to go. Finally, add to the festive atmosphere with cocktails – hurricanes for the adults. For the kids, add a few different juices and call it something fun like a Mardi Gras Mixer or a Big Easy Sipper.

Start small for your Mardi Gras celebration this year, and watch as it grows a bit bigger every year. Let the good times roll!

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After-School Activities

Top Benefits of Taking a Pottery Class for Children

The cute turtle your child painted purple in pottery class is a symbol of more than one accomplishment. Pottery class provides your family with more than just new artwork for the home. It can enrich your children’s lives in ways ranging from boosting their self-esteem to improving their motor skills.

The Soothing Qualities of Clay

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Clay can captivate a child’s interest for hours, and it has a calming effect. If you visit pottery classes for children, you may notice a trend. They tend to be quiet because everyone is too busy creating a work of art. Even children who are considered hyperactive can become fascinated by clay and focus on a single masterpiece. The soothing qualities of the medium keep them engaged while their imagination takes over.

Improving Creativity

When your child picked out purple paint for the turtle instead of the traditional green color, creativity was behind the decision. You are not likely to find a purple turtle in your local pond, but pottery gives children the ability to think beyond the conventional norms. Clay is easy to handle for small fingers, and it is a forgiving art form. Children quickly learn their mistakes can be rolled back into a ball, so they can start over. Their focused faces during class reveal their creativity is being fully engaged as they shape dinosaurs, create bowls or make birds.

Improving Motor Skills

Pottery class can improve children’s motor skills by giving them the chance to engage their arm and hand muscles. As they learn how to manipulate the clay, they will discover that their hands can be powerful tools. Meanwhile, their fine motor skills are getting better because working with clay requires hand-eye coordination.

There is another benefit tied to motor skills parents may notice, but it is likely to occur outside of pottery class. Working with clay can help improve penmanship. The hand-eye coordination skills your children pick up in pottery class can transfer to their schoolwork with more legible writing.

 Improving Sensory Development

If you walk into a pottery class for children, your senses will not be overwhelmed, but they will get gentle stimulation which is perfect for sensory development. A pottery class engages the sense of smell with clay and paint, the sense of sight with artwork and the sense of touch with clay. A class gives children the chance to absorb things at their own pace. Children create art based on their development stages, and the safe environment of a pottery class lets them grow without restrictions.

Improving Self-esteem

 The beaming smile on a child’s face after creating a vase in pottery class is impossible to ignore. The vase may be lopsided and only painted on one side, but the child has accomplished something unique and is proud of it. Pottery class can improve self-esteem because children have control over their projects and can quickly see results.

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Perfection is not the goal of pottery class. Creation is the goal, and it does not matter how many steps it takes to achieve it. Clay is easy to handle and more forgiving than other art forms. It does not run off the page like watercolors or require sticky glue to work. Children quickly realize they can mess up their projects and keep going. Their self-esteem grows as they realize they can create something fun with just their hands.

Learning to Solve Problems in a Safe Setting

There are no grades or trophies in pottery class. It is a safe setting for children who want to learn without pressure. It is also a perfect environment to learn how to solve problems without parental interference. Are their clay T-rexes starting to dry out? They will learn all they need is some water. Do their bowls need stronger handles? They will learn how to add more clay to their masterpiece. Both of these examples require children to experiment and solve problems by trying new things.

Pottery class can provide your children with multiple benefits. It is the type of experience that leaves a lasting impression on their lives, and it helps their development without sacrificing fun. If you look beyond the artwork from class filling your home, you will see happier, stronger and more creative children smiling back at you.

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After-School Activities Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Cooking With Kids: Getting Kids Familiar with the Kitchen

The dreaded dinnertime dilemma: You suddenly realize that it’s just after five o’clock and it’s time to make dinner…again! Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone else to take over the dinner preparations, or at least lend a hand from time to time? Look no further than your own children. Your toddler might not be able to pull of a three-course meal, but she can certainly help bring things to you and set the table.

Kids are always eager to learn and help, but so often we push them aside–even plopping them in front of the television–so that we can get a meal on the table without having to listen to a “drum” solo on the pots and pans, clean up extra spills because their hand-eye coordination needs more practice, make an impromptu double batch of the casserole because she accidentally put in the whole package of noodles instead of half. By taking time to embrace these teachable moments and minds, it’s possible to get kids familiar with the kitchen and basic skills from an early age.

Just as with reading, piano and soccer, with repeated practice their skills will develop and by the time they’re pre-teens they can easily cook dinner one night a month.

Safety First!

Just because toddlers can’t learn the proper way to handle a knife doesn’t mean that they should. Use common sense, and err on the side of caution, when deciding which skills you’ll teach the kids.

Younger kids can:

  • measure dry ingredients like sugar, flour, beans
  • pour milk, oil, water and broth into pans
  • stir ingredients together
  • break eggs (into a separate bowl to avoid a crunchy calcium boost to your food)
  • unwrap butter, cheese and cream cheese
  • wash fruits and vegetables
  • press granola bars into a pan
  • toast bread and bagels
  • spread jam, butter and peanut butter with a plastic knife
  • mash potatoes, bananas and cooked apples
  • use cookie cutters
  • press garlic

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Older kids can:

  • peel vegetables
  • open canned goods
  • cut fruits and vegetables
  • grate cheese
  • slice vegetables
  • use specialty appliances like blenders, waffle makers and panini presses
  • follow written recipes
  • microwave food
  • use the stove and oven

Sanitation Skills

Set a good example by pulling or pinning your hair back, putting on an apron and washing your hands thoroughly as you start each cooking session. Explain each step as you do it, rather than lecture them, and invite them to do it with you. If they choose not to, let them know that the cooking can’t commence until they’ve completed these steps. These reminders will be frequent at first, but over time donning an apron and washing their hands before cooking will become second nature.

Nutritious Nibbles

Make your first foray into cooking with the kids relatively simple and create a snack that they’ll enjoy. Some kid-friendly favorites include:

Apple Slices with Nutty Dip- Wash or peel and apple and cut it into slices. Stir together 1 cup of peanut (or other nut) butter with 8 ounces of softened cream cheese. Either dip apples or spread the dip on top of each slice.

Loaded Bagels- Toast or microwave bagels and spread with cream cheese. For fruity bagels, top with chopped strawberries and bananas, blueberries and shredded coconut. Or try veggies like colored bell pepper pieces, chopped broccoli and shredded carrots.

Berry Green Smoothies- Fill the blender with a generous handful of spinach, a banana, two cups of frozen strawberries or an assorted berry blend. Add enough milk or yogurt to blend to the desired thickness.

Expand Their Knowledge and Their Vocabulary

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Experts say that kids who are active in preparing the family’s meals tend to eat healthier. Cooking with the kids is a great time to casually discuss nutrition since you’re not competing with television commercials beckoning your kids to eat sugary-packaged snacks or magazine ads touting the newest corn syrup-laden fruit beverages that will have the kids running on high-speed all night long.

Talk about the importance of eating a balanced diet; fresh fruits rather than fruit snacks; the virtues of a heartily topped baked potato over nutrient-void potato chips.

If your family follows a way of eating that’s not mainstream–vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, Paleo–this is a prime opportunity to educate your kids about your way of eating.

Take the kids grocery shopping and let them choose new-to-them fruits and vegetables. At home hop on Google to find a recipe and prepare it for dinner. Kids who are given choices in meal planning, do they want vegetable soup or chili for dinner, are often more willing to eat the foods since they feel they’ve been given some control.

When cooking use the names of the tools as you use them. Show them the difference between ‘whisk’ and ‘stir’ as you make cookies. First you whisk the eggs with the sugar, then you slowly stir in the flour. They probably won’t remember the words the first time, but heard repeatedly during regular cooking sessions, they’ll internalize the words and start using them when appropriate.

Have Fun

Most of all, don’t stress over these cooking sessions. Enjoy your time cooking with kids! Making memories and teaching them in an inconspicuous way and over time they’ll develop a vast array of skills. What are some ways that you include your kids in cooking? Share your tips in the comments!

If your child enjoys cooking, consider some of these summer camps for your little culinary geniuses!

Cooking Camp for Tweens and Teens – Palo Alto, CA

Health Hands Cooking – Novi, MI

Children’s Culinary Creations – Los Altos Hills, CA

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After-School Activities Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Beginning Competitive Swimming

Your child has incredible potential if they follow their heart in sports. Parents tend to struggle and put their children in a plethora of sports that aren’t a good fit before finding the one. As time goes on, kids start to weed out the sports that they’re either uninterested in, or that they might not have the natural talent for. As a competitive swimmer for 10 years now, I went through this process. I started off in soccer, than baseball and than basketball. I was signed up for the conventional list of sports that young boys are subject to. It took me until the age of eight to seriously consider competitive swimming. Although the popularity of competitive swimming is growing (think superstars like Michael Phelps), most people still associate the sport will lounging at the beach during the summer. This article will list the different levels of swimming for parents who are thinking of starting their kids with swimming from a young age.

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Swim Lessons

When considering swimming as your childs main sport, start them out in advanced swim lessons to see if they can pick up the basics of each stroke. Observe the swim lessons, and see how your child moves through the water, and whether or not they enjoy it. Are they picking up backstroke or struggling to stay afloat? Most often, kids will enjoy the feeling of being in the cool water on a hot summers day and will want to get in the pool regardless of their fear level. Everyone loves swimming but not everyone is a good match for a competitive team.

Summer Leagues

If your child aces swim lessons, consider signing them up for a casual summer swim team that you’ll find in most neighborhoods. This is a low pressure environment with coaches that most likely have been involved with the team for several years, and know how to coach children of varying degrees. Most summer league coaches actually swim on the same teams that they are coaching, so the level of dedication to a team is always present and good for your childs morale. I’m currently the head coach of my neighborhood swim team, and the environment that cabana teams creates and fosters makes the sport really fun. Summer league swim teams have practices during the summer only that do not cut into the school year; a major bonus if your child gets a lot of homework. It’s also a good option for your child if they feel burned out after a few months since they’ll have a whole school year to rest. Summer leagues tend to be where many serious swimmers find their passion. You can ask a lot of year-round competitors and they’ll tell you this is where they started to fall in love with the sport.

Year-Round Swimming

If your child/children have already tried out summer league teams and you’re sure that you want to dive in to the world of competitive swimming, you should try out for club team that trains all year-round. These teams are much more intense than the summer league teams since they provide a much larger staff of coaches and are run more like a business. I started swimming on a club team when I was 11 years old and swam with that club team up until I graduated high school. Club teams offer a competitive environment where swimmers can grow individually, but also be a part of relay teams and make friends that they can train with during their whole swimming career. On the flip side, be prepared because these teams are very intense and undoubtedly take up time as well as effort from the whole family’s life. It also capitalizes the most on the psychological aspect of swimming which requires discipline to become a star.

Why You Should Consider Swimming

One of the great things about swimming is that it’s both an individual and a team sport. Unlike many sports, swimming offers independence for each swimmer, since each swimmer is responsible for their own performance, and pushes themselves as hard as they want to. Having one bad day doesn’t lose an entire game, it’s a more independent experience. Each swimmer has to trust themselves and their coaches to be able to achieve the correct amount of training and rest. The team environment is essential to swimming. Having training partners makes tough practices much easier, and the best performances that many swimmers accomplish are when they are swimming on relays with the support of their teammates behind them.

Swimming should be looked at more when deciding what sports children should sample, since it provides both mental and physical benefits. Swimming uses all muscles in the body, and is very popular among adults since it is safer on joints and muscles. Swimming helped me get accepted to college, and undoubtedly helped me to stay on track with school and create a network of friends I will have for the rest of my life. So try out swimming when signing your child up for every sport you can think of. They might love it or they’ll at the very least learn how to swim and have a skill for life.

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After-School Activities Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Acting Classes For Kids: What You Need To Know

Acting Classes For Kids

Many young people graduate high school with a passionate relief that they will never again have to participate in a pageant, exhibit, or production. But a few kids discover that standing in front of an adoring crowd belting out a solo or delivering a monologue is sheer heaven. They can’t get enough, and these are just the kids who could benefit from acting classes.

But if you’re not experienced in the theatre, it might not be easy to find acting lessons that fit your child, are good quality, and won’t cost an arm and a leg. The following suggestions might give you a few ideas about where to begin in your search for acting classes for kids.

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Local Community Theatre

Most communities have some kind of theatre organization that performs plays for local audiences. If there’s not one in your town, chances are that there’s one in a town within driving distance; try calling the Chamber of Commerce or the local arts council. You can also begin a search for community theatres by contacting The American Association of Community Theatres.

Many community theatres offer classes, workshops, and seminars for adults and youth. It’s to their benefit to do so—it builds good community feeling, it helps train the next generation of performers and crew, and it makes them eligible for grant money. And if they know there is interest in classes, they will go the extra mile to provide them.

YMCA

Everyone thinks of the YMCA as a place that provides family-friendly fitness and athletics, but they also frequently provide classes in the arts, including visual arts, dance, singing and acting. In fact, if you live in the Manhattan area, the YMCA is one of the most important providers of performing arts education. Not every YMCA has the size or the resources of the ones in New York City, of course, but in many places qualified members of the community offer acting lessons to young people interested in performing. And the YMCA is found almost everywhere, so if one facility doesn’t have the acting lessons your child is looking for, another one might. You can check here to find a YMCA that offers acting classes.

Local Schools

Even in this era of slashed budgets, every school has something in the way of a drama presence. It could be a multi-staffed department with state of the art facilities, or it could be a single overworked English teacher putting on Our Town for the tenth time in the school gym, but plays and introductory acting classes are being taught.  It’s very likely that your high schools drama or English teacher can give your child acting lessons. But even if he or she can’t do it themselves, teachers network with each other, and your drama teacher definitely knows another teacher who can give lessons to your child.

Another option is to contact a local college theatre department and hire a college or graduate student to give your child acting lessons. If your child is new at acting, this might be a very good option; acting lessons won’t be expensive, and your child’s acting teacher will be passing on techniques she’s learning from professors with MFAs.

Audition

Whatever path you take to finding an acting coach or acting instructor for your child, the most important thing you can do for them is to encourage them to audition for a variety of roles. Instruction in acting technique is important, but nothing can replace the learning that goes on backstage and onstage, between performers of every level of experience. Every actor brings with him or her every director and cast-mate they have ever worked with—and if your child’s in a show, your child benefits from all that experience. And let’s face it, when someone is learning the performing arts, they really should be performing!

It’s not easy being a stage-mom or stage-dad to a budding actor. Rehearsals are four, sometimes five, nights a week, including some late nights the closer to performance you get. But if your son or daughter has been bitten by the acting bug, getting them up on stage as often as possible might be the only cure!

Check out these schools and camps that offer acting lessons for kids!

Kids on Camera TV/Film Acting School – San Francisco, CA

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After-School Activities Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Fun and Active New Years Resolutions for the Family

Happy New Year! Top ways for your family to make the most of the coming year and stay active.

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My 5 year old son, Isaac, is the type of kid who can get stuck in his ways. Sometimes he is a little anxious about trying new things, so this year, we are resolving to be more adventurous. From trying new food to having new experiences, I’m looking forward to helping Isaac branch out this year while continuing to enjoy what we’ve learned to love over the past few years. New Years resolutions for the family are an excellent way to teach children about setting goals, personal growth and trying new things.

Here are our New Year’s resolutions:

Enjoy The Snow

I’m a big proponent of making lemons out of lemonade, which is why I don’t mind a Boston winter. Snow can be a blast and this year we’re going to try snow tubing, snowshoeing, and I’m looking into places where we can go on a sleigh ride. And, if finances allow it, my husband is dying to have Isaac take his first ever snowboarding lesson. I don’t know how to snowboard and my one and only attempt at skiing was a disaster (imagine me falling down the bunny slope each and every time; the next day I was so sore!) so I’ll be sipping hot chocolate in the ski lodge while providing them with moral support.

Get Sporty

Lots of places offer sports variety classes for preschool and younger elementary school aged kids. The nice thing about variety classes is that the format is a different sport each week. This is a perfect way to try new things because every week is an opportunity to try something new.

Another way to try out some new sports classes is to sign up for trial classes. If your child has an interest in a specific sport, give in a whirl and see how they enjoy the class. If he or she enjoys the trial class, sign up for a session.

Be More Artistic

I’ve always loved arts and crafts. Isaac does, too, and it’s really fun now that he’s older because we can embark on more robust projects together. I don’t have a lot of space in our house, so the kinds of projects we do at home can be fairly limited. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to get in touch with your creative side outside the home. This year, I’m resolving to do a lot more NEW art projects with Isaac.

Art classes can be really fun to get creative under the instruction of a professional, but it’s also great to find drop-in programs and facilities. Pottery and plaster painting places are abundant these days or there are also art studios geared towards kids. What’s nice about drop-in art studios is that it can be adapted for different ages if you have multiple kids. A 2- year-old could go wild with finger paint or clay or a tween could do an intricate project. The possibilities are practically endless!

On a budget?  Keep your eyes peeled for free art projects at places like libraries, Lakeshore Learning stores (if you have any nearby), and local events that might have craft activities for kids.

Spend More Time Outdoors

I am resolving to do monthly hikes/nature walks with Isaac. If the weather’s cold, we’ll bundle up in our winter jackets, mittens, and scarves. (See more tips on happy hiking with kids). If it’s the sticky dog days of summer, we’ll walk by the beach and bring plenty of hydration.

We might look for some more outdoors classes as well. I’ve seen nature classes available or classes at local farms where they can help with the animals or crop harvesting.

Stick With Swimming

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Isaac started swimming a few months ago and for this year, we’re resolving to continue with it. A big regret I have from my own childhood is that I never stuck with anything and I hope to encourage Isaac to continue to swim. I don’t expect him to become a competitive swimmer (unless he wants to be) but I do expect him to be able to stay afloat safely and confidently.

Stay Fit and Active

Staying fit and active is a resolution my whole family agrees on. My husband is a distance runner and lots of the races he does have kids fun runs. Even if you’re not a runner, most of the time kids fun runs are open to everyone and not just the kids of runners. Kids fun runs are really great because they encourage fitness in a really positive setting. At these events, all of the participants will  usually receive a finisher’s ribbon and sometimes there are other games, snacks, and prizes.

This was so important to us that my husband and Isaac started right away with a New Year’s Day 5K and fun run. I’m not a runner — I’ll stick to the elliptical — but of course I was there to cheer them on.

I hope everyone has a wonderful year filled with fun and enriching experiences!

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After-School Activities Super Activities for Super Kids Uncategorized

Finding the Perfect Activities for a 5-Year-Old

Is your little one restless? One mom shares her tips for finding affordable, practical activities for a 5-year-old.

by Kristine Munroe

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Find Classes, Workshops & Camps for 5-Year-Olds Near You >>

5-Year-Olds Have Opinions

I’m not a homebody. As soon as I could find activities for my son, Isaac, I signed us up. It started off as new mom/new baby groups before Isaac could even sit up. Then we graduated to mommy and me playgroups. And after he grew more active, we both loved Gymboree. Living in New England, I particularly grew desperate for classes where he could get some exercise during the winter months. So, I would just pick whatever suited our schedule and sounded fun to me. Easy enough!

But sometime after Isaac turned 2, he started getting opinionated. I signed him up for Soccer Tots through our local community education department. At the time, I thought the idea of 2-year-olds playing soccer sounded adorable. And, yes, it was adorable, but getting my stubborn little Isaac to participate was a challenge week after week. His favorite part was the snack break midway through the class. It wound up being really exhausting just trying to convince him to kick the ball into the goal.

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After that, I realized that as Isaac left the baby/toddler stage, he was starting to develop his own interests. It was time to find activities that my soon-to-be 5-year-old would be enthusiastic about. I couldn’t necessarily just pick whatever I thought sounded cool anymore. Activities are supposed to be enriching, but above all, they should be fun — especially at the preschool age. The last thing I wanted was to drag him to weekly classes that he didn’t like. It would just be a waste of time, money, and the stress would suck the fun right out for both of us.

Trial Classes

Soon I discovered that many activities will allow you to do a trial class to see what it’s like. That was how we got hooked on Music Together classes when he was 3. Those classes were lots of fun. We’ve tried various trial classes here and there to see what would work. If we find something that Isaac loves, we usually will enroll for a few sessions.

Advice From Friends

We love to get advice from our friends, too.  Word of mouth is an awesome way to find out which classes are fun.  Ask around!

Looking for Deals

Price is also a big factor. Like many families these days, we’re on a budget. Activities can get expensive, but there are still plenty of options for reasonably priced activities or great discounts. I love to scour Groupon to see what deals I can find. I’ve seen Groupon deals for Gymboree classes, music classes, sports, ice skating lessons, ski lessons, and more. I’ve definitely taken advantage of these discounts. Often there are great sale prices, sibling discounts, and multiple session discounts on ActivityHero, too.

Community Rec Centers

Community recreation departments are other inexpensive places to find fun activities. From art to sports, they’re usually easy on the pocket book.  This past fall, we participated in a super fun farming class through a neighboring city’s community education department. The kids got to plant and harvest all sorts of herbs and hardy plants.

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Mommy’s Priorities

I like to keep practicality in mind as well. It was important to me that Isaac takes swimming lessons because of safety issues. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him going off to summer camp or even playing alongside the Charles River without him knowing how to swim. And since we live in New England, I’d like him to learn a winter sport — ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, or something — because it seems like everyone here knows how to do a winter sport except for me.

Look For Activities With Added Value

I try to look for activities with certain perks beyond the specific classes. Places like Gymboree and My Gym also offer open play times, which is an absolute lifesaver in a Boston winter. The open play times give you and your kid an opportunity for unstructured play in a safe, indoor environment, and it’s covered by the cost of your monthly membership.

We also joined our local YMCA. I use it as a gym, plus it deeply discounts activities. So far we’ve done t-ball and swimming there. Many YMCAs are not just for sports; you can find lots of classes ranging from arts to music to cooking. Our family membership is worth its weight in gold.  You can also use it for discounted prices on after school programs, summer camps, and camps for school vacation weeks.

As for Isaac? Right now we’re about to head out the door for his final swim class of the year at our local YMCA. These swim lessons have been one of his favorite activities and he can’t wait to start up again next year.

Find Classes, Workshops & Camps for 5-Year-Olds Near You >>

Swim Lessons Around the U.S.

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After-School Activities Sleep away camps Super Activities for Super Kids Uncategorized

10 Truly Unique Sleepaway Camps for Kids

Check out these far-flung camps that offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences for kids. Volcanos, roller coasters, chefs, circus performers, zombies and more!

By ActivityHero Staff

Science Camps of America- volcano

How far are you willing to go to find the perfect camp for your children to explore? Let’s take a trip across the globe and “visit” 10 camps that parents absolutely must know about. Of course, camps that offer extraordinary things tend to come with extraordinary price tags. But, as the saying goes, you (or, to be more precise, your kids) only live once!

Shop for kids’ overnight camps near you > >


1. Science Camps of America

When you read the camp description, you may be asking your teenager if you can go with them to explore volcanoes and learn about oceanography. This camp is on the Big Island of Hawaii, where Land & Sea campers will visit Kilauea, the world’s most active (and easily studied) volcano. There is also an Air & Space version where campers get to visit some famous observatories.

thrillcoaster.jpg2. ThrillCoaster Tours

Does your child have a need for speed? Believe it or not, ThrillCoaster Tours offers roller coasters all day, every day. Your teenager will travel the country on a first-class motor coach/van, hitting up theme parks on a daily basis. The counselor-to-kid ratio is 1 to 6, and the staff is as enthusiastic as the campers will be about testing the nation’s best coasters. Kids (ages 12 to 16) are grouped according to their tolerance for vertical spins, 120-mph whirls and upside-down action. They’ll stay in Marriott, Embassy Suites, and Hilton hotels (one teen per bed) to rest up for their daily dose of action. There are several sessions, and they’re a little costly, but let’s be honest: What’s it worth to have your little speed demon consider you the coolest parent on the planet?

3. Plantation Farm Camp

Does your child prefer the peacefulness of nature? Plantation Farm Camp, on California’s beautiful Sonoma Coast, offers children the chance to temporarily swap their increasingly wired worlds for front-row seats on a working farm. Campers spend full days doing farm chores, swimming, tending campfires and more. It’s a lovely way for your child to take a break from technology and get in touch with nature. (Note: There’s a generous sibling discount.)

russia5.jpg4. Equestrian Teen Tour of Russia: St. Petersburg and Moscow

Sometimes “one of a kind” is a slight exaggeration. This is not one of those times. After all, how many programs put their campers up in Joseph Stalin’s former mansion? What horse-loving teen will ever forget a Equestrian Teen Tour of Russia: St. Petersburg and Moscow? Kids who experience this remarkable program stay at hotels with first-class equestrian centers and enjoy intimate (and English-speaking) horseback tours of Moscow, includes the Kremlin, museums, Red Square, the ballet, opera and some of Russia’s best restaurants. In the middle of the trip, your child will fly to St. Petersburg and stay in the gorgeous Astoria Hotel. The price tag of $13,500 in 2017 includes luxurious accommodations, gourmet food and flights to and from NYC.

ImageSampleLg_Tall_0018_Layer 8.jpg5. Camp Winnarainbow

 Did you think we’d forget to include a circus performing arts camp? If so, you were wrong! Camp Winnarainbow in Berkeley, Calif., offers your child classes in circus arts, drama, multi-cultural dance and martial arts, play production, trapeze & aerials, tightrope, juggling, unicycling, stilt-walking, gymnastics, magic, music, clowning, art, and environmental awareness! The camp stresses an inclusive atmosphere that’s low on competition and high on support. One-week sessions are $925 and two-week sessions are $1,845 and include meals, lodging, and (of course) a final show for parents at the end.

Shop for kids’ overnight camps near you > >

DSC_0508_8136_Final.jpg6. Teton Valley Ranch Camp

For an authentic ranch experience with incredible scenery, look no further than Teton Valley Ranch Camp in Jackson, Wyo. Campers begin their mornings choosing from a list of adventures that changes daily, and they’ll wind down in the evening with a low-key activities and festive campfires. This is a real outdoor camp, including a full equestrian experience, and campers will need to bring a bunch of items, including rain layers, sleeping bags for different terrains, and roping gloves. Separate sessions are offered for boys and girls. Both month-long sessions run $6,600 (for 2017) and include food and lodging.

kids on a giant tree in big sur7. Camp Chrysalis

For 35 years, this camp has offered kids the opportunity to explore gorgeous natural settings like Mendocino, Big Sur, and the Sierras. There are options for younger kids (8 – 15) and older teens (15 – 18), and 2017 session prices start at $1,207.

zombie_camp_2.jpg8. Zombie Summer Camp

From the sublime to the … well, we aren’t prepared to call zombies ridiculous because, after all, you never know. The counselors at Zombie Summer Camp dress as (what else?) zombies, and the children get Nerf blasters to fend them off. (Nerf blasters are provided, but your child can bring his or her own.) Beyond battling zombies, activities include protecting the land, creating and executing team-based plans, foraging for supplies, problem solving, and learning life skills and basic first aid. The counselor to camper ratio is a terrific 1 to 5, and all have two-way radios to keep the plot going, zombies at bay, and campers safe. Zombie Summer Camp is offered by The Story School at Waltham, Mass. and starts at 1,570 for a one-week overnight stay (if you register by March 31st). There are also multi-week sessions, scholarships and other camp themes, such as Wizards & Warriors and Blackwatch Summer Camp.

SpaceCamp.png9. Space Camp

Located in Huntsville, Ala., Space Camp is known throughout the world as the premier destination for would-be astronauts to learn about and experience outer space. Kids from the age of 9 to adult will experience a gravity chair, build a rocket, plan a mission to Mars, learn the history of space exploration, and launch their rocket at the end. Teens aged 15 to 18 can even earn one hour of freshman-level general science credit from the nearby University of Alabama-Huntsville and. The five-night summer program is $999 in the summer of 2017, and scholarships are available.

homeimage4.jpg10. Camp Jam

Does your child appreciate Led Zeppelin? If not, shame on you, and rectify this oversight immediately by sending them to Camp Jam. Aspiring rockers start by learning how to tune their instruments and create beats and, throughout the week, they will enjoy performances and advice from local indie bands, create their own music video, perform at nightly open mics and, at week’s end, join their fellow campers to put on a show to remember. There are 10 locations throughout the U.S. to choose from. Check their website for details on locations and fees.

Shop for kids’ overnight camps near you > >

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After-School Activities Friends of ActivityHero Guest Posts Sports Uncategorized

Fencing builds physical and mental strength for kids!

Fencing Class

As parents, we want to give our children every advantage in life we can afford.  I love fencing because it can help your child build their strength on so many levels.  How many sports do you know of that can give your child a physical and mental challenge while building their confidence, social skills, and academic future?  Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?  But this is exactly what fencing can do for your children. 

With its rapid footwork and thrusting, your child will get a high-impact aerobic workout.  He or she will build stamina, strength, and coordination.  I like to think of fencing as a type of dance, because we use the same sort of skillset – understanding timing, tempo, measure and velocity. 

Likewise, in the dance of fencing, the student has to develop a sense of body awareness, not only knowing how their own body is positioned, but how they are positioned in relation to his or her opponent.  This body awareness is something that transcends beyond fencing – it’s a huge part of healthy living!  At Academy of Fencing Masters, we encourage our students to be aware of one’s body and the awesome machine that it is; adopting healthy attitudes and eating habits.  Fencing will instill in your child the idea of treating their body as an instrument and a temple … and taking care of it! 

Fencing is also a terrific stress reliever.  Your child can release their aggression and frustration through fencing in a controlled environment.  When they go to the strip, nothing else matters.  All problems and worries melt away – as they concentrate on technique and strategy.  Some of our high school students say that fencing is their escape from the pressures of peers and school. 

Improves your child’s strategic thinking and academic discipline

Fencing is obviously a very physical sport, but what most people don’t know is that there is a whole other mental layer that goes with it.  It’s like a game of physical chess:  Every move by the opponent spurs a reaction and response.  The key is learning to think strategically so that you can score a hit, or point.  While coaches provide a lot of guidance and training during practice, the real mental challenge comes on the strip when the fencer is squaring off against his/her opponent.  There, all the thinking that goes on is independent.  Your child has to learn to focus, be intuitive, and stay in the moment.  Fencing will teach your kids to think on their feet – a valuable skill that will stay with them all through their lives, helping them academically, socially, and in the workplace.      

By the way, colleges LOVE fencers!  Many colleges actively recruit applicants with fencing backgrounds, even going as far as to offer fencing scholarships.

Confidence booster

Fencing is a wonderful tool to bolster confidence.  To meet an opponent’s attack, the fencer has to be quick on their feet with their defensive strategy, this means there’s no time for second-guessing oneself.  Fencing requires bold moves and self-assuredness both in defense and offense. 

This is the one sport where size doesn’t matter, only skill.  I’ve seen fencers win competitions against opponents twice their size because they had the skill and talent to do so.  It’s an amazing thing!  This is one of the few sports that events the playing field between size, age, sexes, ethnicity and personality.

Likewise, fencing is a sport where parents and children can compete together.  At Academy of Fencing Masters, it is not unusual to meet a parent and son or daughter fencing in the same competition.  At a recent Senior Mixed Foil tournament, we watched a father and his teen son compete together.  We also had a mother and her teen daughter in the same competition.  It’s a great way for a family to bond together:  sharing the same passion and vision in a sport – especially during the teenage years when the ties with our kids can become strained. 

Expanding your child’s social circle

While many people who aren’t enthusiastic about team sports may enjoy the individuality that fencing offers, I think one of the biggest benefits your child will appreciate is the ability to make friends.  Fencing bridges the gap between age differences, sexes, size, and ethnicity – opening the door to a network of friends that might not have been available through everyday venues such as school.  This will give your kids exposure to many different types of personalities and experiences they might not have otherwise faced. 

Fencing is one of the few sports where kids can compete not only on a local level, but nationally and internationally as well.  Fencers often have the ability to meet — and even compete against — professional fencers on a regular basis. 

Guest writer Irina Chirashnya is the founder of Academy of Fencing Masters in Campbell, CA.  

Find fencing classes and camps on ActivityHero.  

 

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After-School Activities Friends of ActivityHero Parenting Resources

A Bejeweled Birthday Experience

bejeweled birthday party

Sometimes the idea of hosting the perfect soiree can put any mom into a tailspin.  In the era of Pinterest and the perfectly crafted birthday party, it’s a daunting task to try and create a memorable day without wanting to pull all your hair out.  So, how about this year you throw your unique girl a fashion friendly jewelry themed birthday party and let her imagination soar!

Self-expression is a crucial part of every young girl’s development. She is on a constant search for ways to not only express who she is, but to feel confident about that expression. Her birthday is the perfect opportunity to provide a way for your young lady coming into her own to really explore the depths of her creativity, vision and style.

dragonfly2Treat your young lady to a day of creativity, style and fashion on her special day with a few of her closest friends creating pieces of jewelry that they can be proud to wear!  You can let girls choose from different jewelry styles such as earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, hair pieces and more!  A wide variety of beads will allow the girls to have endless fun creating custom designed pieces of jewelry to suit their own styles and color palettes.  Also, with the recent surge in loom bracelet popularity, guests can also explore the limits of the rainbow and their imagination with their own loom and a wide variety of band colors.  Whether they want to work with wire and glass beads or create a piece with a loom and colorful bands, the creative options are limitless!  There are few things more exciting than creating a beautiful pair of earrings or a stunning necklace and being able to wear it proudly knowing it was crafted with your own vision and skill.

dragonfly3Dragonfly Designs can help you throw a jewelry birthday party with a staff of creative and skilled instructors in the SF Bay Area, or you can order supplies online. With the skills they will learn in this experience, they will be able to create new, professional looking pieces for years to come!  Watch the confidence of your young lady flourish with each new project she takes on, displaying her originality and true style.

dragonfly4

Dragonfly Designs also has a line of handmade jewelry pieces you can browse online or at the birthday party.    Everyone can walk away with something beautiful, colorful, and made with love! If a party isn’t enough time for your daughter to make her creations, find a jewelry making class or camp.

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After-School Activities

Take the Stage: Kids Drama & Acting Classes

drama-friend

What they’ll learn: Some kids were born to shine on stage while others may be too shy to pursue drama & acting. Luckily, drama classes can help kids at both ends of the spectrum! Kids who belong on stage learn to channel their energy in the right direction, and shy kids can build their confidence and find their voice.
Age: 4 & up
Time Commitment: 1 hour per week + rehearsals
Cost: About $200 for an 8-week session

Acting classes help improve a child’s self esteem and sense of imagination. Drama programs for younger children begin with basic acting techniques. Classes get more advanced around age 6 or 7 when kids are able to memorize lines and put on productions.

Find Drama & Theater classes and more activities near you on ActivityHero!

Looking for more activities? For the time strapped parents who want a one stop shop to plan and book kids classes and camps check out ActivityHero. Find camp and class schedules and ratings, sort by ages, prices, proximity, and co-plan with other parents & kids.

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After-School Activities

How Young Should My Child Start Dance Classes?

Considering dance classes for your little ones? Find out how young they can begin taking classes, and what to expect.

dance classes for kids

What They’ll Learn: Dance is a fun activity for kids that exercises both the body and mind. In addition to increasing fitness levels, dance classes for kids also help with better posture, flexibility, creativity and even cultural understanding.
Ages: 3 & up
Time Commitment: 1-2 hours per week

When to Start: Some studios start enrolling toddlers in dance class as early as 3 years old; any younger than that and kids lack the attention span and strong bones needed for basic dance lessons. A general rule of thumb might be to consider signing up when your child expresses interest in taking dance class.

Find Dance Classes Near You >>

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After-School Activities

Parents Guide to Cooking Classes for Kids

cooking classes for kids

What they’ll learn: Kids who learn to cook are not only gaining a love of food, but also learning to measure, count, and explore their own creativity. Got a picky eater? It has been shown that children who take part in the preparation of their meals are more open to trying new foods.
Ages: 3+
Time Commitment: 1 hour per week
Cost: $20+ per class

Cooking classes and camps usually begin around age 3 with basic measuring, stirring and food preparation techniques. Classes get more advanced and specialized as children grow older. Whether it’s Italian cooking class or cake decorating, the benefits of cooking classes for kids will be apparent the first time your child says, “I’ll make dinner tonight, Mom!”

Find more Cooking classes & camps on ActivityHero!

Looking for more activities? For the time strapped parents who want a one stop shop to plan and book kids’ classes and camps, check out ActivityHero.com. Find camp and class schedules and ratings, sort by ages, prices, proximity, and co-plan with other parents & kids.

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After-School Activities

Masterpiece in the Making: Parents Guide to Drawing & Painting Classes for Kids

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports
Photo by Flickr user Ernst Vikne

What they’ll learn: Art is an activity with a great deal of benefits across the ages. Children especially can gain a great deal from expressing themselves through art as their communication skills are still developing. When creative thinking like visual art is introduced early in life, it can help kids relate to the world around them. Artistic expressions such as painting and sculpting help develop fine motor skills.
Ages: 2+
Time Commitment: 1 hour per week
Cost: $20 per class

Kids art instruction usually begins around age 2 with basic instruction and simple tools like fingers, sponges and thick brushes. More advanced instruction begins around 5 years of age where they begin to explore different mediums, tools and styles.

Find Drawing & Painting Classes for Kids on ActivityHero!

Looking for more activities? For the time strapped parents who want a one stop shop to plan and book kids classes and camps check out ActivityHero.com. Find camp and class schedules and ratings, sort by ages, prices, proximity, and co-plan with other parents & kids.

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After-School Activities

Vocal Coaching for Kids: Ready to Sing their Hearts Out?

vocal coaching
Photo by Flickr user warp speed

What they’ll learn: Does your child dream of the American Idol stage? Know all of the words to the latest radio hit, and belt it out day and night? Not only can vocal coaching and singing lessons perfect a natural skill, but they also help build confidence and allows them to express themselves creatively.
Ages: 8+
Time Commitment: Once weekly, plus practice
Cost: $50+ per lesson

Although some kids with natural born talent are ready to take the stage at just a few years old, it is best to wait until children are at least 8 years old to start formal lessons. Memorization skills are necessary for successful singing classes.

Find voice lessons for your children on ActivityHero!

Looking for more activities? For the time strapped parents who want a one stop shop to plan and book kids classes and camps check out ActivityHero.com. Find camp and class schedules and ratings, sort by ages, prices, proximity, and co-plan with other parents & kids.