Flexible spending accounts (FSA) can be a great way to reduce your taxes while you spend on child care. You can use money from your FSA to pay for summer camps and after-school activities. Certain after-school activities and care expenses are covered as well. If your company doesn’t offer an FSA, you can also cover some of the costs of camp and child care with the child care tax credit.
There are a few stipulations to consider, one being that only kids under 13 years old are covered. Only day camps are covered, not overnight camps, and both parents must be working or attending school full-time. Also, the same expenses cannot be covered by FSA and the child care tax credit. The child care tax credit covers only a percentage of child care costs and varies between 20-35% depending on your household income. If your adjusted gross income is over $43,000, your child care tax credit is limited to 20%.
Other key points you should know about the tax credit:
Expenses are deductible only if the main purpose is the “person’s well-being and protection.” Summer school, private school tuition, tutoring and overnight camps don’t qualify.
Day care centers or after-school care qualifies if only if the center complies with all state and local regulations.
There is a maximum yearly dollar amount of $3000 for one child, or $6000 for two or more children.
Are online classes and camps eligible for FSA or tax credit?
In 2020 and 2021, many more families enrolled their kids in an online course or virtual camp. Unfortunately, some FSA’s are not approving online courses as an eligible dependent care expense because the parents were at home during the course and thus providing child care.
IRS publication 503 says “Expenses are for the care of a qualifying person only if their main purpose is the person’s well-being and protection.” One FSA administrator states in a recent notice that an online platform with audio and visual functions satisfies the requirement. But some FSA plans state that if the parents are at home, then the parents are providing care for the child.
If I paid for a camp in 2020, but we attended in 2021, what year is my expense tax deductible?
If you paid for camp in one year, but your kids did not attend until the next year, you would count expenses in the year your kids attended.
How can I get the EIN number for the camp or class provider?
When you register on ActivityHero.com, your registration confirmation email will include the EIN and other information you need to claim your tax credit or use your FSA funds.
Please keep in mind that we know a fair bit about summer camps and kids activities, but we are NOT tax experts. There are additional restrictions to this tax credit, so read IRS publication 503 carefully or consult your tax advisor before claiming the tax dependent care credit.
After a year of school shutdowns, schedule disruptions, and social isolation, many families may be looking forward to a fresh start. Here are some ideas for kids to take on 2021 the right way with health, education, and mindfulness.
2020 was a challenge for many families, and for many kids that can come with increased stress and anxiousness. Helping children manage physical and mental health is especially important this year. Look for ways to make 2021 their best year yet!
2021 Goals for Kids and Teens
Here are 5 steps towards a year full of growth and joy.
1) Physical Exercise
Exercising every day can help kids manage their sleep schedule, improve their mood, and decrease stress. This can be a healthy habit for the whole family in 2021 – hiking, biking, going for walks, or other recreational activities are all great ideas to enjoy together.
Other exercise and fitness classes for your child include:
Dance: Kids of any age can participate in a dance class or have a dance party in a fun, safe environment. Many classes are for beginners and explore many different styles of dance, like hip hop, ballet, and jazz.
Martial Arts: Martial arts classes help build confidence, leadership skills, and resilience while providing a fun space to stay active.
Yoga: Online yoga and exercise classes are a relaxing activity for all ages. In yoga classes for kids as young as 4, students learn basic yoga movements and body awareness.
Nutrition and healthy eating is important for all ages. Establishing a good relationship with food is knowledge that kids can use for their whole life.
Getting started with cooking at a young age is a great way for kids to start learning about nutrition. Being in the kitchen can also help with independence, help picky eaters, and spark creativity.
Cooking Classes: Instructional classes with expert teachers bring kids through recipes while teaching kitchen safety, cleanliness, and art.
DIY Recipes: Have fun with recipes on your own time, with video tutorials to help you out!
3) Schedule Relaxing Activities
Along with exercise and nutrition, making time for enjoyable and relaxing hobbies has many benefits as well. A new year is the perfect time to explore something new, whether it be art, music, writing, or gaming.
Art Classes for Kids: Art can be a constructive outlet for children of all abilities to express emotions and relieve anxiety. Drawing, painting, clay modeling, and crafts are all great activities.
Music Classes for Kids: Music is a great activity that anyone can pick up for fun, whether it’s learning an instrument, singing, or dancing.
In addition, any relaxing hobby your child enjoys can help them socialize and unwind. Cooking, theatre & drama, music, LEGO or even making slime could be good options!
Look forward to a year of emotional health and reduced stress. Yoga, exercises to reduce stress, and meditation can all help to prepare for the ups and downs of 2021. Even five minutes of breathing or mindful exercises a day can help to develop healthy emotions and resilience.
Many kids had to learn to navigate technology this year to attend school and socialize with friends. Live online classes or calls are a great time for kids to safely interact with each other and work together on fun activities. After feeling isolated this year, it is important to make time to keep connections this year.
Has social media been sneaking into your brain? Many teens are spending hours scrolling through perfectly filtered photos, obsessing over likes and shares, or encountering virtual bullies. Teens are going down a “rabbit hole” online, experiencing the tricks software developers use to keep people on Instagram, Snapchat, video games and other media.
How can we build healthier relationships with technology?Max Stossel, Head of Education for The Center for Humane Technology, illustrated some of the specific ways technology is designed to be addictive & distracting, provided tools to help combat these designs, and showcased a much needed discussion among peers about the impact of phones & social media on our lives during ActivityHero’s free event, The Teens Guide to the Social Dilemma.
Transcribed from The Teens Guide to the Social Dilemma
Q1: What is the recommended time per day to spend on social media? How do we strengthen the emotional awareness of teens, should we slowly reduce screen-time or just stop?
There is no golden rule for the amount of time. I think it’s far more helpful to look at in terms of life. What role is social media serving for us? Is it entertainment? Are we aware of these mental health challenges? Are we doing other things? Are we doing the things we need to do with our lives? Some people do report saying “I have this one hour a day when I’m not going to just go on in a mindless moment. From 7 to 8 [o’clock], that’s going to be my social media time because I like social media.” Some people like doing it this way.
Especially for younger kids, these mental health challenges are real. To me, it’s just not worth the cost in the younger, middle school-age years. I don’t believe it’s worthwhile. And in terms of developing that emotional resilience, parents know better than me. I believe, especially in schools, looking into those curriculums and focusing on those topics is going to be practical. In this next generation, we’re going to need to know ourselves and our emotions to thrive in the digital world.
Q2: Is there an age where you think it’s ok for kids to be on social media?
I’m one person, with one person’s opinion, but I have spoken to a lot of parents. I have spoken to a lot of parents who have been very glad they have delayed. I have not spoken to parents who believe they wished they gave it earlier. For me, I would wait until at least high school. Our adult brains are hardly capable and it’s doing a number on our mental health.
It doesn’t mean don’t talk about it, or don’t have the conversations about it until high school if you’re on it, like sharing, and using it in your life. I could not build a better self comparison machine than social media.
To be honest, the idea that porn won’t seep in is not honest. People believe, it’s not my kid, but it’s a box with the entire internet on it. Everything that comes with the entire internet is involved with that box. We want the golden bullet – we want to have the good and not the bad. I think a more honest approach is recognizing this is really a lot and we haven’t as a society figured out good guard rails for ways of doing this thing yet. Let’s approach it honestly as a result.
Q3: Can you please discuss the YouTube rabbit hole and how does affect my brain?
YouTube is deciding with it’s algorithm, based on all your information, to figure out what’s the perfect piece of content that will get you watching. It doesn’t particularly care what is good for you, will make you smile, what will make you care, make you any of these things. What it cares about is you watching. Oftentimes that’s just like the most out-there extreme radical idea. And then we start believing what’s out there, not true things, and it messes with our sense making of the world. YouTube DF is a powerful tool so you can just turn off the recommended videos. So you can go to that one video that you meant to watch, and watch it, and then go about doing your best. And we might find now and then, as the slot machine, “I found something I really like!”, but if we turn off the recommendations we will be much happier.
Q4: I recently started my own YouTube channel, how does it affect me? I mostly post my own content.
I am an artist and a filmmaker; I use social media. I use it to promote. At your age, you can probably relate to this – you post something and then how does it feel? You are asking yourself “are people liking this?” “are people engaging with it?” I think one of the hardest things to do as someone creating content on YouTube, is to actually stick to doing to what you want to do. Not let “how many views did this get” drive what you’re making, everything you’re doing, because then you’re not really doing it because you want to do it.
We start [creating content] because I love XYZ and that’s why I’m going to make videos about it – I love it. But, then we start to get more into “this one I liked it, but it didn’t do as well, maybe I shouldn’t do it” like that and then the outside world starts to govern what you’re creating, what you’re making. And you start to care so much more about what everybody else thinks. That’s what to look out for. and it’s hard. It’s hard so get together with some friends and be like “hey we’re going to support each other”. Let’s make sure that we are actually doing this because we want to do it. If we [create content] for getting the likes then it becomes so addictive, literally addictive.
I have YouTube videos with millions of views and it’s endless. If you want to have one you want 5 and 10 there’s no number that is satisfying. It’s an endless treadmill. I want more more more more more and it never ends. So you can beat it by just posting what you actually want to post. Try and do what you actually want to share and not think about how good it does. Doing this is easier said than done.
Q5: What is the right age for kids to start gaming (i.e. Roblox)? Parent says “I’m very confused when my child says he plays for achievements.”
I mean I think that’s a similar example to what I was explaining with Halo. I just needed to get to the next level, I needed to accomplish it! Especially for young boys. Life is confusing for teenage boys and in Halo I know that “I do this one thing that is really hard, and then I get to the next level.” In life everything is scary and hard. Life doesn’t have an experience bar in that way.
What age is right? I think some games can be really educational. Games are obviously really really fun. My best advice would be – I would not compromise on the “just one more game because I’m going to lose.” The systems are designed so that you lose. When it’s dinner, it’s dinner like in the real world. Real world takes precedence over the video game world. And to recognize we are going to set limits because we know how easy it is to fall into the radicals of these games. Set and stick to those limits, make it an open conversation. Kids should have a voice in this. They should say what’s working and not working. It should be not a dictatorship, but a conversation.
Q6: How can you tell a teen is addicted to social? “My teen is says he’s not addicted to social, but he plays Discord and Roblox. I have noticed after he spends hours playing, his personality changes. He does not want to accept he is addicted.”
I am not a mental health counselor. There are many resources on our website that might be helpful. But your child has to be ready and willing and admitting that there’s a problem for any of this stuff to work. So having these conversations – talking about some of these resources, asking those questions, like “notice how it’s making you feel?” Also, they are probably afraid you’re going to take it away from them. This is a real problem that tends to exist.
Opening the conversation is the way to start. Some of these games are really disturbing because there aren’t actually enhancing something on a human level.
Are we learning something from it? Or is this just engaging? We have not approached this well as a society. Social media just happens to be a strong pull. It’s a journey. Hug your kids and tell them you love them. It’s not a solution but I have seen in my work it has been very helpful.
Q7: How can I monitor what they’re doing on their phone without infringing on their privacy ?
That question makes me laugh. Monitoring what they are doing on their phones, is infringing on their privacy. We want the best for them. This is a good example of creating trust and opening conversation.
You can try, you can put all of the monitoring software on there. But they will be able to get around all that software. Conversation can be one of the best. And for me, delay is the answer. Try to delay until high school to start introducing this stuff into lives. For me the mental health risks are not worth it.
Q8: Whenever I play video games and I am done, I always feel like there is nothing else to do and I feel bored. Then I want to play it again.
Try creating your own game, find new things. There are skills in life – video editing, photography, etc that you can choose to try rather than playing Fortnite. Find a replacement hobby, but have the expectation that nothing will hit you as hard as Fortnite.
Stress and anxiety is common for both children and adults. Butterflies before a piano recital or feeling nervous about a big test is a normal reaction to a stressful situation or event. As parents, we can’t eliminate stress in our children’s lives – only teach them how to manage it.
Triggers that can cause stress in children include major life changes such as moving or divorce, family financial problems, peer pressure or bullying, body changes, and worrying about schoolwork. Helping our children form coping strategies at a young age will set them up for long-term success as they encounter education, career, social, and financial decisions.
During 2020, the number of children expressing stress increased with schedule disruptions, school shutdowns, social isolation, virtual learning, and health concerns. According to a parent survey on ActivityHero in September 2020, 86% of children reported feeling anxious during the prior 6 months.
Without healthy stress management, chronic anxiety could lead to behavioral and physical symptoms in children: (medlineplus.gov)
Decreased appetite or other sudden changes in eating habits
Nightmares or Sleep disturbances
Upset stomach or vague stomach pain
Sudden changes in behavior that are out of character
New or recurring fears (fear of the dark, fear of being alone, fear of strangers)
Clinging, unwilling to let you out of sight (separation anxiety)
Not able to control emotions; Aggressive or stubborn behavior
Unwilling to participate in family or school activities
Stress management for Kids and Teens
Here are 5 ways to help your child manage every day anxiety and take healthy habits into adulthood:
At least 60 minutes of exercise a day can have many health benefits for children, including relieving stress. This is a healthy habit for the whole family – hiking, biking, surfing, or other recreational activities are all great ideas to enjoy together.
Other fun, non-competitive exercise and fitness classes for your child to manage stress (and burn off extra energy), include:
Yoga: Online stretching and yoga classes are a relaxing activity for all ages. In yoga classes for kids as young as 4, students learn basic yoga movements and body awareness.
Dance Party: Toddlers to teens can enjoy a fun dance party, connecting in a safe environment led by an engaging instructor. Many dance and movement classes have fun themes and do not require any previous dance experience.
Karate:Introductions to martial arts classes online do not require previous experience, and can be a confidence builder for children.
We’re here to help your child become even more engaged, strong and optimistic during this unique time. We know that grit, resilience and laughter have never been more important than right now.
In addition to exercising your body, scheduling relaxing activities can also relieve mental stress. Art, music, journaling, and other relaxing hobbies all have therapeutic benefits. The most important reminder is to make sure there is zero pressure – these should be purely for fun!
Art Classes for Kids: Art can be a constructive outlet for children of all abilities to express emotions and relieve anxiety. Drawing, painting, clay modeling, and crafts are all great activities.
In addition, any relaxing hobby your child enjoys can help them socialize and unwind. Cooking, theatre & drama, music, LEGO or even making slime could be good options!
If your child is starting to feel overwhelmed, teaching them breathing exercises can help them work through their feelings. Taking deep breaths, visualizing themselves in a calming place, and listening to relaxing sounds are all strategies to help them refocus.
“We started using online classes on Activity Hero after schools closed and I was furloughed. My son especially enjoys Vibras Meditation (now LoveHero). Positive messages and empowerment are so good for kids right now (and always I guess.) The instructor is great and we will continue even after things move to the new normal.”
As parents and adults, modeling self-care and positive thinking is probably the hardest habit to implement. However, our children observe and absorb more of our adult stress than we realize. Some strategies include:
Talk with your children about how you have dealt with stressful situations and encourage dialogue about how they are feeling. Tip: Conversations can be more natural if you engage when your child doesn’t have to look directly at you – riding in a car, walking the dog, or sitting on the beach.
Be mindful of your reactions; take a deep breath before responding to stressful situations.
Avoid negative thinking; Model behaviors of self-care instead of self-doubt for your children.
Be Aware: Children are spending more time online and it’s important to understand (and teach) the dangers of cyberbullying, social media addiction, and predators.
If at any time you feel your child may have chronic anxiety or depression, please consult your healthcare provider. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. If you need help finding treatment, visit MentalHealth.gov
Computer programming isn’t just for college students and hackers. Here are four engaging ways to get your kids started with coding.
By Ashley Wang
It’s pretty clear by now that technology is a force to be reckoned with. Tech companies are ever-growing and demand for programmers has never been higher. Computers dominate our lives right now, and they will dominate the lives of our children, as well.
So it’s not unexpected that many parents are interested in coding for kids. But getting them started can be rather tricky, especially if you don’t have too much experience with programming, yourself. Here, we highlight four ways to introduce your child to code.
Used by millions of children around the world, Scratch is considered by educators to be the gold standard for teaching beginner coders the basics of programming. The reason? It uses blocks-based grammar that has users drag and drop commands rather than typing code. Because Scratch doesn’t require learning any complicated programming languages, even eight-year-old kids can use it.
Using the website, you can create everything from short animations to simple games. It’s intuitive, logical, and familiarizes kids with the computational thinking behind programming without overwhelming them with abstract ideas.
And if you want to get your child started even earlier, say at five-years-old, ScratchJr is the perfect learning tool. It doesn’t even require the ability to read; instead, children only need to connect together icon-based blocks to animate their characters.
Looking for a more hands-on experience for your child? Lego robotics might just be the perfect fit. Lego Mindstorms, a hardware-software platform produced by Lego for children aged 10 and up, combines the fun of Lego-building with the intellectual challenge of programming robots to walk, talk, and even think.
Calvin Grewal, a Palo Alto High School senior who interned at a startup as a web developer over the summer, thinks it’s especially great for keeping kids motivated because of the immediate results it lets them see.
“It’s a good way to make coding not so dry,” Grewal says. “Building a physical robot is definitely a lot more interesting, especially for younger kids.”
Grewal does, however, warn against having children learn robotics and coding without the proper assistance that is provided at robotics camps and classes.
“If you’re in high school then you may be able to study code on your own and be properly self-motivated,” Grewal says. “But for kids, camps are definitely better to help facilitate learning and engagement.”
Camps that teach video game design are another great option for children. Because if your kids can’t seem to peel their eyes away from their screens — be it iPads, laptops, or TV — then why not have them learn how to make a video game, themselves?
Grewal is a major proponent of game design camps, citing them as the reason for his initial interest in coding. He started over the summer in elementary school, where he was taught basic Python to develop a simple computer game. Because he was doing something he was already interested in, Grewal viewed learning something as complicated as coding as more of a fun activity rather than a school-related task.
Game design is also becoming a rapidly-growing industry. Especially with eSports on the rise, specialized software developers are needed now more than ever to help create the next bestselling video game.
For kids that love interacting with their peers, joining a school or online coding club may offer additional benefits. While programming is often viewed as an individual activity done in solidarity, clubs encourage students with like-minded interests in coding to help each other out with tips and advice. Students often find it beneficial to have others help them troubleshoot their issues.
“It’s a good way to talk with other people who are interested,” Grewal says. “You learn from other people, who then learn from you.”
However you plan to approach coding for kids, it’s important to always keep an open mind. Because no matter how much they may like legos or game design, it’s still possible that coding just isn’t the right activity for them. But starting by gauging your child’s interest with some of these tips wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps they might just become the next tech founder.
Want your child to develop a love of cooking and baking? Here, we share age-appropriate tips to help kids have fun in the kitchen.
Whether we like it or not, cooking is something everyone needs to learn to do in order to have a healthy and fruitful life. It is our choice whether we approach cooking with a great attitude or a sour attitude, but even more importantly, what will be the attitudes of our kids in the kitchen?
Most kids are very open and excited to help in the kitchen, it is usually us as parents that don’t have the patience or feel we lack the skill to teach anything relevant about cooking to our kids. Let me assure you, anything you do in the kitchen with your kids equates to a fun time and great learning experience. So enjoy your time together and let’s go!
The benefits of cooking with your kids are enormous. When you start to think about all of the things that kids learn from a simple cooking lesson, you are going to want to have them with you in the kitchen all the time.
Kids are learning to be self sufficient and independent ~ you may want those kids to live with you forever now BUT trust me, you won’t when they turn 18!
Math Skills ~ Estimating, Fractions, Measuring, Liquid vs Dry Measuring
Nutrition ~ Be sure and talk all about the foods as you cook and how beneficial they are to your body!
Satisfying the Senses ~ Ahhh doesn’t that smell so good!
Confidence ~ That’s a big one. For a child to help with a whole recipe or meal, YES a huge confidence builder which spills over into other areas of their lives.
Picky eaters will eat better! They love to be involved in food choices and meal planning, it helps them to be more in control over what they eat. Let them help (with a little guidance of course)
Imagination ~ Creating and experimenting with foods uses all kinds of imagination!
Don’t you just want to invite your kids in the kitchen now! Here are some activities and foods that you might use to include your kids from the earliest age:
For the very littles, Toddlers ~
Bring a high chair into the kitchen and give them kitchen utensils to play with, NO not a knife! Spatulas, Spoons, Measuring Cups (plastic) etc.
Put a tiny bit of water into a bowl and let them use a spoon to scoop and pour.
If the child is old enough not to put things in their mouths, you can put dried beans into a bowl and let them stir the beans for dinner.
If it’s near mealtime, exchange the beans for cheerios and fishy crackers to keep them happy.
Using these little utensils with food and water is a sensory and motor skills blast. Maybe a bit messy but who cares! Smiles make up for that!
3 to 5 years ~
Pudding Painting ~ Make pudding per package directions (together) then let them paint on a cookie sheet with edges, wax paper or freezer paper. This makes food fun AND tasty!
Pizza Muffins ~ Let the children have a Muffin (cut in half by you) then give them a little sauce (spaghetti sauce works great) and cheese in a bowl. Let them spread and sprinkle onto the Muffin with a spoon! You can also make Homemade Bagel Bites.
6 and Up ~
Make Homemade Pizza Dough or buy it at the store. Let them roll out the dough and top with spaghetti sauce, cheese and any other toppings they love.
Have them fill up celery sticks with their favorite filling; Cream Cheese, Peanut Butter
Cut up some cheese and cut out shapes with cookie cutters (littles can do this too)
As kids get older, you decide when they are ready, start to teach them Math concepts. This does not mean you have to teach them Algebra. Some of the concepts you can teach are; Estimating and Fractions. Show them that measuring dry ingredients is different than measuring wet ingredients. Math can be fun when you cook.
Play kitchen games. Kitchen games? Yes! Some of these might include:
Teaching kids the different smells and tastes of different spices, foods, liquids. Pick a few different ingredients in your kitchen, then take turns blindfolding each other. The person with the blindfold has to taste and smell an ingredient and guess what it is. You have to do this too Mom and Dad, so choose wisely the ingredients you will use. HA!
Use tongs to move ice cubes, cotton balls, strawberries, grapes from one bowl to another. See who can do it the fastest (that is if there will be no tears)
Create different shapes and sizes of Sugar Cookies and Decorate!
The benefits and fun that accompany cooking with kids FAR outway the mess and patience you need to muster up to have your kids in the kitchen. when kids know how to fix easy and healthy foods they are much less likely to reach for the snack foods or beg for fast food.
Big and small the kitchen should be a comfortable fun place for everyone to use their imagination while creating and eating delicious foods.
Does it feel impossible to get your child’s attention? Does your child tune you out when you have something important to say? When you are frustrated because your child is not listening, try these 5 tips to make communicating with kids more productive and get kids to really listen.
By Wendy Chou
Susan Stone Belton is a noted author and speaker on family and parenting issues. Her book, Real Parents, Real Kids, Real Talk, has excellent advice for saving our sanity, one day at a time. Here are some of the tips we learned from the book.
1. Talk less
Fewer words will have more impact and staying power. Remember the saying about drinking from a firehose? Kids are better able to process directions when you prepare your main point in advance and stay laser-focused. For many parents, this doesn’t come naturally. But that’s OK, because –guaranteed — you can get in a lot of practice! Keep trying. And do keep the tone neutral or positive, rather than negative.
2. Listen more
Role model the way you want your kids to listen to you. Don’t interrupt or be dismissive. “If we want our kids to listen to us, we need to listen more. We need to give our kids our full attention. We need to feel that what they are saying is important. We need to be patient and listen to their entire story,” says Stone Belton. She recommends a strategy called “Listen and acknowledge; then respond.” With a billion things running through a parent’s head at any given moment, it’s easy to tune out the things our kids are telling us. Monkey see, monkey do.
Kids who feel heard are more likely to reciprocate. So slow down and really absorb what they are saying before responding. A thoughtful response shows a child that what they said matters to you. The child may not be able to move past their own thoughts until they feel heard and understood. It also prepares them to listen to you.
3. Use non-verbal cues
When children are absorbed in their task and don’t respond to your voice, try another approach. Getting close and putting a hand on their shoulder makes a big difference in getting someone’s attention.
With younger children, get down on one knee to be at their eye level, which can create a better connection.
4. Seek out opportunities for communication
Family schedules can get packed, so making connections with each other sometimes needs a little forethought. The classic example is nightly conversations around the dinner table. But even if you’re on the go, parents can still connect with kids in the car — say, on the way to soccer practice or choir rehearsal. Other kids may enjoy talking about the day’s events just before bedtime.
Know your own kids and when they feel most comfortable opening up. Some kids open up more if you’re not even there — for instance, through text messages or written notes — because these forms of communication are more neutral and less emotional. Make a mental note of what works for your family. These everyday moments, especially added up over time, are valuable!
Families: ActivityHero is your convenient online destination for kids’ after-school activities and summer camps. Browse schedules, read reviews, and book your whole summer with our easy registration form.
Wendy Chou is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8th, but kids across the nation aren’t physically in school.
Teacher appreciation is at an all-time high during the COVID-19 school closures, but families may not have an opportunity to show gratitude before the end of the school year. The sudden switch to online learning for kids has not been easy on families or teachers. Here are some creative ideas to say a virtual thank you to teachers from a distance.
Buy a Teacher Dinner
Teachers are learning new technology and adapting lesson plans, many while being parents themselves. Buying dinner for your teacher is a nice gesture during this stressful time. A gift card to a local restaurant or food delivery service such as UberEats are great options.
Virtual Thank You Note
Don’t underestimate a simple thank you note from your child. If you don’t want to mail the card to the school, scan and email to your child’s teacher directly or send an e-card with a photo of your child.
If your kids are older, they may enjoy collaborating with their friends to create a thank you video compilation for their teachers. Bonus: they get to put all those new dance moves and screen time to good use.
Thank You Photo Collage
Coordinate with the other parents in your child’s classroom to create a photo collage. Each child can hold up a sign to say thank you for Teacher Appreciation Week.
Teacher Appreciation Yard Signs
Coordinate with the other students at your child’s school to contribute to outdoor signs thanking the teachers. Get permission from your school administrator to display in front of your school.
Digital Gift Cards
Support small businesses and teachers at the same time! Purchase a gift cards to a local restaurant, retail store, bookstore or even salon. If your child’s teacher is also a parent, give them the gift of time with an ActivityHero gift card for kids camps or classes.
Many families have traditions for Easter that include fun community activities like egg hunts, visits to the Easter bunny or a special dinner out. With stay-at-home restrictions still in effect, the holiday is going to look very different this year. Here are some alternative Easter ideas for kids to still enjoy the weekend.
Easter Sunday Brunch for Kids
Start the day with a special breakfast or Easter brunch as a family. Before the happy chaos of baskets begins, serve up one of these too-cute recipes for Easter breakfast that not only will your kids love – but they can help make too. Our friends over at SheKnows have compiled a list of 15 Cute Easter Breakfast Ideas.
Alternative Easter Egg Hunts for kids
Even if the neighborhood or community Easter egg hunts are canceled, enjoy an egg hunt at your house. Fill plastic eggs with special treats or rewards. Extra screen time or picking the family movie are great alternatives to a midday sugar crash.
Or, get your neighbors to join you for a virtual Easter Egg Hunt. Paint, draw or display eggs that can seen from the sidewalk. Most importantly, spread positivity and enjoyment while practicing safe social distancing. Get the word out by posting on your community NextDoor or create a private Facebook group. Download some fun Easter printables, use colorful window paint or even draw eggs outside with sidewalk chalk.
Virtual Easter Meetings
After the excitement of Easter brunch and egg hunts, check in with friends and family virtually. Set up a family Zoom call or Facetime the grandparents. If your Easter tradition usually includes church, find a live stream service to watch together at home. If you had already picked out the perfect Easter outfit, don’t let it go to waste! Get dressed up and then take pictures for the scrapbook.
Easter Entertainment for Kids
To finish up your Easter during COVID-19, queue up an Easter-themed movie for your kids on Netflix, Hulu or Disney+. Some of our Easter family movie favorites include:
Rise of the Guardians
Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade
Take a Break for Spring
After a fun-filled Easter weekend with crafts, treats and egg hunts you may want a few minutes for yourself. ActivityHero has live, interactive classes every day for kids of all ages. Schedule an online class with expert teachers in art, music, LEGO® building, sports, coding and more.
Extended school closures can be a disruption of routine for many families. Parents are seeking online classes for their children to close the gap of learning, but establishing a new schedule can be a learning curve for all.
As parents, it can be difficult to keep kids engaged during school closures and breaks. In-home lessons can help children stay busy, even when it is not possible to physically be at a camp.
Facebook Live and YouTube are popular for streaming educational videos like the Cincinnati Zoo’s, “Home Safari”, when zoo staff highlights a different animal each day. Local camps and online e-learning websites are offering a wide range of online classes for kids, from virtual dance classes to online coding classes and workshops. Languages and music are also popular online courses for teaching kids at home.
The act of both entertaining and educating children – while sometimes also working from home – can be a challenge. We’ve put together a list of steps you can take to support your child for online learning.
Setting your Kids up for Success Online
Establish a new routine: Keep in mind that your child is also going through a lot of adjustment, regardless of age. A schedule can keep everyone engaged and happy throughout the day. However, be flexible if your kids need a little more time for an activity.
Act as if your child is going to class: Establish a time for the class, whether the class is live or self-directed. Post a daily schedule if age-appropriate, or verbally remind your child that morning. Stay comfortable, but don’t forget to change out of those PJ’s!
Schedule for success: Younger students are often the sharpest in the morning. Start with a more challenging subject early while their brains are most receptive to learning. Each child is different though, so plan accordingly.
Create a quiet, distraction free environment: To help a child focus on their online class, remove toys and electronics from the room. For example, don’t leave out art supplies if they are having an online music lesson.
Consider your child’s age and personality: The younger the child, typically the shorter the attention span. When planning an online course for your child, select a length of time that will keep them engaged. If it’s not a live class, schedule movement breaks. Jumping jacks or a couple laps around the yard can help keep your child engaged.
Plan unstructured play time: Just like at school, it is important to take a break. This is also a good opportunity for parents to check their email, take that work call or finish other household tasks.
Step away from the screens: If you have ever stared at a computer screen for work all day, you know how tired your eyes and brains can get. Plan a craft, science experiment or other fun activity offline.
Creative Connections: During a time of social distancing, kids may feel isolated from their friends. Plan an online class that your child could attend with friends. After an online session, set up Facetime chats so they can talk about it.
As parents, we understand a lot of families are searching for enrichment activities to supplement homeschool and virtual learning curriculum. ActivityHero is here to help! Find free virtual events and online classes for your child on ActivityHero or download our iPhone app for faster and easier searching.
Find various coding schools and programming courses that teach kids python, java during summer or all year-round. Get expert tips on picking the right coding camp to fit your child.
Technology continues to impact our world at an incredibly rapid pace. As a parent, you may be looking for a way to prepare your child for the future. Introducing a child to programming languages could be either a building block for a career or an entertaining option for your young gamer. If your child has an interest in technology or gaming, a coding camp for kids could be a great option. There are also online coding classes and camps that allow your kids to learn from home.
One important note is that coding for kids is not something that can be mastered in a week. It is a process that your child can build on for years, if they are willing and excited to continue learning.
“My son is at the point where he can envision a problem he wants to solve and begin to develop the code to get there. It reminds me of student development in math and languages–it starts slowly but over time you see real progress and suddenly the child is bursting with ideas,” said a parent review.
Scratch Coding Camps
Scratch is a beginner level program that can be introduced to children in early elementary school. The Scratch coding camps focus on making sure children understand the foundational computer programming concepts. The drag-and-drop format of Scratch does not require a lot of typing skills and is suited for children who have never been introduced to coding. Games and animations are designed through ready-made blocks of code to help students build scripts. Scratch projects will encourage creativity, reasoning and problem-solving skills. More advanced Scratch coding camps will build on previous experience and children can develop more realistic and customized games.
If a child leaves camp excited to learn more, parents can visit the Scratch website at http://scratch.mit.edu. Scratch can be accessed free online or it can be downloaded for offline usage.
Minecraft Camps and Java Camps
Does your child love playing Minecraft or spend hours watching Minecraft YouTube videos? If they are curious about how to advance their gaming, Minecraft camps might be a fun opportunity. Introductory Minecraft camps are available starting in elementary grades and are focused on learning the fundamentals of creating fun mods. One important note is that some camps require a Minecraft account, so we recommend checking with your camp director prior to the first class.
Campers will often learn core computer science skills as well as 3D modeling and texture mapping techniques. If your child is an experienced Minecraft user, they may be interested in a more advanced camp where they can create a custom game experience using Java. Java is a widely used programming language, making it a great foundation for students interested in learning more about app development. Java camps are often paired with other coding topics such as Minecraft and Python.
Since Minecraft camps range from beginner to advanced, it is recommended to review class curriculums before selecting a camp.
Python Coding Camps
Python is a very popular, all-purpose language. The lines of code are shorter and simpler than in other languages, making it easier to learn Python for kids. Python is a great language to learn after Scratch. However, you do not need previous experience if a child wants to skip to an introductory Python camp. While there are some Python camps available for children starting in 4th grade, many are designed for middle school children. The ability to type can be helpful for those starting to learn coding.
If a child expresses interest in building on their camp experience, intermediate and advanced Python camps are available to take coding skills to the next level. One of the advantages of learning Python is that it is used in real-world applications such as web and software development.
Web Design Camps
At web design camps for advanced students, Java will be used along with other programming languages such as HTML and CSS. At some camps, students will even learn to program a functional website during the week.
Video Game Design Camps
Roblox is an online gaming system where users create avatars and play games in user-generated 3D worlds. According to Roblox,”the types of gameplay on Roblox are just as limitless as the imagination of the creators themselves.”
Roblox camps can appeal to a wide age range of children because users do not have to have a strong foundation in coding to build a game. Younger campers use the built-in Roblox Studio to create 3D worlds without the need for text-based code. More advanced users can use the popular LUA coding language to create game actions, elements and mechanics. At the end of the week, campers can learn how to publish and share their game to the Roblox community.
Regardless of your child’s age or prior programming experience, there is a coding summer camp that is the right fit for your family. There are a wide variety of options available, whether your child just wants to continue their gaming or explore a future career interest. Kids can take a free trial class to make sure they like it before signing up for a longer camp.
Natalie is a high school teenager who believes she is not smart enough. Her parents noticed her self-esteem is low and want to help her regain her confidence.
Stories like Natalie’s are not uncommon in today’s high achieving environment. Students may be influenced by their classmates and their perception that a subject is hard or challenging. In order to help Natalie, her parents reached out to certified WISDOM Coach, Aditi Verma. Together, they worked through stories and activities to find negative patterns and thoughts. Natalie and Aditi replaced them with new, positive thoughts and Natalie’s self-esteem and self-confidence grew. She was able to overcome the anxiety that she had for tests and even started getting A’s due to her newfound confidence. In fact, all of her grades improved.
Low self-esteem is a thinking disorder in which an individual views him/herself as inadequate, unlovable, and/or incompetent, according to Dr. Neuman in his post on Psychology Today. To learn more about how to help families improve their child’s outlook, we spoke to Aditi, who is also the co-founder of EmpowerandHelp.
What happens when a child compares themselves to others?
When kids continually assess whether they are “better than” or “less than” others, it creates either low self-esteem if they see themselves as “less than” or can create arrogance and entitlement when they see themselves as “better than”. Parents and educators can discuss why differences are good and we need all different types of people with different gifts to thrive. Particularly when self-esteem is low, we can help them identify their special gifts and honor their uniqueness.
Why does self-esteem and self-confidence need to be taught?
Self-esteem and self-confidence are like the air we breathe; we need it to feel alive, happy and worthy. Children with high self-esteem have a higher value of themselves and their capabilities than those with lower self-esteem. They naturally have higher self-confidence in their abilities to do things and are more prone to try to new things and take risks, they feel loved, confident, accepted and heard. Even when they make mistakes or face failures they will know how to cope with them and move on.
What are ways that parents can help kids with self-esteem and self-confidence at home? For example, if my child says “I’m not good at math” is there a way to respond to this?
If a child says, “I’m not good at math”, dive deeper into why he or she feels that way? Is he comparing himself to other kids who got better scores? Is he getting frustrated when he is not able to solve a problem even though he is at a higher level math? Or there is something else?
Listen to the child’s needs and brainstorm ideas together to support that need and implement the solution that child feels more comfortable with. It could be hiring a tutor, going to additional support classes, creating a routine at home for child and parent to sit together and practice some math, etc.
How does your course help kids understand these topics?
We teach skills through a fun short story. Kids connect to different aspects of the stories, which helps them open up about challenges or questions that they may be struggling with.
We also create some real life scenarios that kids go through to understand how to apply what they learned. Sometimes kids provide a scenario that they faced and as a group everyone provides feedback on how to handle that. By working with the instructor, kids develop an amazing problem solving attitude that they can use on their own.
Our goal is to increase self-esteem and self-confidence so kids feel capable of facing life’s challenges and don’t give up. They learn to achieve their goals, make progress, to help and give.
Having a hard time finding child care during school holidays? Here are four great options to consider.
By Anita Sharma
It is holiday season, which means that there are lots school breaks coming up. For kids it’s exciting they do not have go to school or do homework for a short period of time while they spend time relaxing. But what happens when parents have to work during the school holidays and there is no one to help them watch the kids?
Here are some choices that parents face when school is out:
Parents can try to entertain kids by using screen time to distract them and keep them entertained while they work. This way parents will not have to pay extra money for child care and they will get to spend more time with their kids. We’ve all seen kids with iPads at store and restaurants in an effort to keep them out of trouble while their parents shop or enjoy their dinner.
Cons: Kids may only be entertained for a limited amount of time. Phone meetings may be challenging if the child needs your attention in the middle of the call. According the American Association of Pediatrics, there are concerns around too much screen time use because it is addicting, increases BMI, and makes children lose valuable sleep.
Many local activity providers host day camps on the school holidays such as Veterans Day or Thanksgiving Week. They usually offer full day sessions that allow parents to work from 9-5. You can find a wide variety of day camps for school holidays on ActivityHero. These camps are guaranteed to excited and engage children whatever their interests might be and give them useful skills for the future. At camp kids will make friends with other kids who have the same interests and are a similar age. ActivityHero makes it easy for parents to find and book camps for their kids, making it simple for parents. Parents can even pay for the camp through the ActivityHero website.
Cons: Parents will have to drop off and then pick up their kids.
Price: $8-18 per hour
Sitters will take care of your kids at your house, which will make it easier for you to run out of the house while your kids are eating breakfast in their pajamas. Neighbors and friends can be a good source for sitter recommendations. And the babysitter website Urbansitter taps into your network to find recommended sitters that fit your needs.
Cons: The sitter you like may not be available for the dates and times you need.
Price: $10-20 per hour for one child. Prices vary by region.
Day care is the middle ground between camps and sitters. The caregiver may be hosting several kids at a home or center, and there are usually fewer kids per caregiver than you’d have at camp, which may be a plus if your child is less than 5 years old. You can often find daycares through your local county resource center, such as Children’s Council in San Francisco. The Children’s Council even helps families pay for childcare if they cannot afford it themselves.
Cons: Parents will have to drop off and pick up their children from day care. Not all day cares will accept new families who need care for only a few days or weeks.
Prepping for back-to-school means juggling after-school activities and loads more stuff. These 5 organization hacks will keep your family organized and ready for anything.
By Jillian Chamberlain
Where are my shin guards? Did you sign that permission slip? I can’t find my sheet music! When you’re trying to get kids out the door and to their after school activities, time is at a premium. Taking a few minutes now to modify your organization process can help streamline things when you’re in a rush. Here are some of our favorite ideas from parents and caregivers who’ve been there, organized that.
1. “Stuff Station” — The One Place to Keep Everything
There’s so much to keep track of during back-to-school season, it gets overwhelming. When school is back in session, so are all of those music lessons, soccer practices, and martial arts classes. As parents of active children, you are guaranteed to be dealing with more STUFF. How do you keep it all straight and teach your children to be responsible for their things on any given day? Keep it all in one place, and color-code it! Your kids’ activity station can come in many different shapes and forms, but here is one ‘stuff station’ idea we thought was appealing to the eye and highly functional. Check out this and more organization hacks from IAmNotTheBabysitter.com
2. There’s a Bag for That
Once you create a ‘stuff station’ for homework, permission slips and projects are sure to add a hook for an after-school activity drawstring bag. If you have a child with a lot of various interests, consider making an individual drawstring bag that is designated as the one place to keep any and all equipment for each sport or lesson. On Mondays and Wednesdays, your child knows to grab the yellow drawstring bag with their shin guards and cleats for soccer. On Thursday the red bag is ready at the door for martial arts. Momtastic.com has a great DIY tutorial for customizable drawstring bags. So simple!
3. Car Homework Station
Homework happens. If there’s one thing to dread with the start of the new school year, it’s the renewed battle over nightly homework assignments. Convincing kids to sit down and do their work is one of the hardest parts of a parent’s job. One way to get them excited about homework is a comfortable and creative space dedicated to them…even if that is in the car. Consider creating a homework station in the car so that your little ones can knock out some homework while you’re on the road.
4. After-School Snacks on the Go
Kids start school relatively early in the morning each day. That means a big gap between lunchtime and after-school snack time. Kids need to refuel, and every parent knows how difficult it can be dealing with cranky, “hangry” youngsters. StuffedSuitcase.com has made it easy to steer clear of junk foods and other unhealthy quick fixes by gathering some easy-to-assemble snacks to keep ready in the car. After-school snacks can be healthy, fun and mobile!
5. Organize Your After-School Schedule, Too!
ActivityHero can help you find local activities that work with your child’s calendar — and nurture his or her interests! Whether your child likes to dance, sports, outdoor recreation, music, or computers, ActivityHero makes browsing and registering easy.
Getting organized is about clearing the space and time for your family members to meet their needs and find focus, in whatever way works for you!
Beat backseat boredom! Here are 7 fun ideas to keep your kids entertained during your next road trip, while boosting brainpower and bonding with family.
By Sarah Antrim
Road trips can be really exciting … for about 20 minutes, until the “are we there yet” and “I’m bored” comments begin to roll in. Sure, you could let kids fire up a game or movie on their tablet, but let’s face it: Kids get enough screen time these days. Besides, gazing out the window means they will get a better sense of going on and adventure as they watch the scenery change and spot buildings and landmarks that are unfamiliar.
How to get kids to set down the tech for at least a good part of your trip? ActivityHero gathered these 7 great games and activities that kids love — and some are even fun to play well into their teen years! Don’t tell the kids, but these activities also improve their powers of awareness and observation, memory, and fine motor skills. Be sure to play at least a few of the ones that involve the whole family, such as the Alphabet Game. They allow for some silly interaction between parents and adults that is sure to start your trip off with miles of smiles.
Heading down a highway? That can make for boring viewing, to be sure, but it’s a great forum for this car game, which enables kids to practice geography, memorization, writing, and more.
In this game, passengers check out the license plates of vehicles nearby and attempt to find at least one plate per state.
To begin, have kids make a list of all 50 states. They can hand-write it during the trip, or you can prepare sheets ahead of time at home. To make it more challenging, see if the your kids (and you!) can name all of the states without looking them up.
Next, give a copy of the list to each child. If you have little kids who can’t read, you can print the photo shown here and have them look for states by their first letter and their license plate color and image.
As each child finds a plate from a new state, they cross it off their list. The first one to complete all 50 states or get the highest number crossed out is the winner.
Alternate version: Instead of a worded list, give kids a printed black-and-white map of the states (widely available online) and have them color each state as they spy a license plate from there.
You can also use the map to point out where you’re headed, as well as the route you’re taking, so your child can track your progress.
BONUS POINTS: Download one of the many “50 States” songs (or states and capitals songs) to play in the car, too. By the end of the trip, you all might be able to name them quickly … even it it’s off-key.
The Alphabet Game
This game can go fairly quickly, but it’s one your kids can play over and over until they tire of it. It’s especially fun for little ones just learning their ABCs, since they’ll be proud to show what they know.
To play, kids will try to find each letter of the alphabet — from start to finish — by looking at street signs, billboards, highway markers, license plates, car or truck logos or artwork, and any other item with wording or letters.
For example, a sign that reads “Albuquerque” would count for letter A. Another that says “Bus Stop” would count for B, and so on.
The alphabet must be completed in order, which means it can be challenging when you get to Q and Z, unless you do happen to be near Albuquerque or Zion National Park.
It’s more challenging if you can accept only first letters of words, but you can also allow kids to find consecutive letters within the same word. In this case, Albuquerque could count for A and B. Alter the rules as you like, but be sure everyone knows them!
Kids can either work together to finish one alphabet or each complete their own in a race to see who finishes first.
Who can resist the silly stories that ensue with Mad Libs?
A tried-and-true favorite for over 50 years, Mad Libs can still entertain every generation in vehicles, at rest stops, in the lobby of a restaurant, or in a hotel room while waiting for a turn to brush teeth.
Purchase your own book of Mad Libs at your favorite book store, visit the website (Madlibs.com) for free downloads, or add the Mad Libs app to your iPhone or iPad.
Kids will practice language and terms, such as identifying the difference between a noun and an adjective. If you’re traveling during the school year, encourage them to bring their vocabulary books or lists from school and find the funniest uses for new words.
Make a Travel Journal
Give each child a notebook and crayons. Or create a homemade travel journal using construction paper and office paper, punching holes in the spine and linking them with yarn.
Each time you enter a new state, encourage your child to draw a picture of something they spot, and ask them to write a few memorable things that they liked about that state.
Older kids can log the trip in greater detail. Did you stop somewhere for lunch or dinner? How was the food? What sort of things did you see there that are different from those back at home? Not only will this help you recall good times when you review them a few months later, but it also will allow you to return to favorite spots if you make the same journey again.
The Alphabet Memory Game
This is a great activity for the whole family, except perhaps the driver who should save their attention for the road ahead.
One person starts the story with a noun that begins with the letter A, for example, “I went to Atlanta.” The next person repeats the story and adds on with the next letter of the alphabet, such as “I went to Atlanta to see a buffalo” and so on. See how long you can keep the game (and the story) going.
Kids will exercise their memory and concentration with this game.
If you complete a particularly funny story, one of the older kids can write it down after the fact, recording it in their travel journal so you all can have a good laugh later.
BONUS POINTS: On the way home, see if anyone can remember one whole story that you created during the ride to your destination. (No peeking in the travel journal for help!)
Destination Wheel of Fortune
Can I get an F for fun? There’s a reason that this game show has existed since 1983!
In this travel version, everyone chooses one thing that they are excited to see or do at your destination. Then each person puts that thing in the form of a phrase, just as the game show does. Examples could be “going miniature golfing” or “hiking a new trail.”
Next, have passengers take turns trying to guess one letter at a time to reveal the answer. If they can solve the puzzle first, they win!
Kids will practice reasoning and spelling with this game. This is also a good way for parents to learn what each child is hoping to do, so everyone will have a fond memory when the vacation is over.
BONUS POINTS: It’s always nice for parents to have one “date night” during a vacation! You can use ActivityHero to help you find a drop-in session or a day or evening class at your destination, where your child can a special activity while you savor a meal and some couples-time at an upscale eatery.
If you’d like kids to practice fine motor skills, pick up some of these colorful cards at a craft store or toy store. Or work together with your kids to construct some homemade ones prior to the car ride, using these instructions.
All you’ll need is a hole puncher, some thin cardboard, a thick plastic needle, and some colored yarn.
Have your child trace a figure that they’d like to “sew” on a piece of cardboard. For instance, they may choose a teddy bear, a dinosaur, or a cartoon character. They may draw it themselves or you can print it out from a website photo. (If using a printout or a drawing of the item that’s on paper, use glue to mount it to the thin cardboard before moving on to the next step.)
Next, use the hole puncher to place holes around the outline of the picture, locating them about an inch apart and an inch from the edge.
Take these cards, along with the plastic needle and yarn, along on your trip. If you don’t have a plastic needle, simply wrap some tape tightly around the end of the yarn … or use a thin shoelace, which will be easy to thread through the holes.
What fun games do YOUR kids love to play during road trips?
Share your ideas in the comments to help other parents keep their kids happily amused! And for more car activity suggestions, check our recent posting on kid-friendly, screen-free podcasts to keep little ones entertained.
ActivityHero has updated schedules on popular kid’s activities – including in-person, live online, and on-demand. Customize your search by your child’s age and discover convenient providers near you.