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Parenting Resources

7 Ways to Prepare Kids for Back to School

Prepare Kids for Back to School
photo by Flickr user nycstreets

School supplies can bend the budget, arranging rides to and from school is a pain, and who likes waking up to an alarm?

Let’s face it, back-to-school time can be a bummer and a half for parents as well as kids. Just when you get used to the lazy summer days, you’re back on a fixed schedule with little to no wiggle room. Sending the kids back to school can be just as nerve wracking for parents as it is for kids.

This year when the supply lists arrive and your child has just tried on her hundredth pair of gym shoes, try not to stress. When your kids see you stress they’re more likely to be stressed too. Here are some helpful ways to get your prepare kids for back to school:

Practice making friends.

New year, new class, new people—this is a big deal for kids.

Their former desk buddies may now be in the class nextdoor leaving them feeling shy and uncomfortable around their new classmates.

Help your kids build their confidence and practice their social skills by doing some role playing. Start by approaching your child and politely introducing yourself and asking a few questions. Then switch and put their skills to the test.

Get them on a schedule.

The laziness and unpredictability of summer can make the first day of school an unwelcome surprise. Let your child know ahead of time exactly when their day will end and begin. Try to ease them back into a schedule a week or two before class starts by gradually making bed time a bit earlier every night.

A good way to do this without it seeming like a chore is by making sure they stay busy all day so that once bedtime comes they’re exhausted.

If you’ve got a late sleeper on your hands, think of some fun activities to do earlier in the morning to get them out of bed.

image from sheknows.com

Teach them to play only after work.

How easy it is to throw the backpack down, plop on the couch and sit in front of the TV until dinner time.

Try to get your kids into the habit of getting their work done before play—fun should not be an entitlement and should be earned.

I have a friend who tells her kids that for every minute they want to play video games, they must first read for an equal amount of time. While she admits that they may have only been pretending to read some of those times, at least their noses were in books and not in front of the TV.

Focus on the positives.

Homework? BOO.

Waking up early? LAME.

It’s hard to see the bright side when the subject matter is school, but try to point out the positives of a new school year. Maybe they’ll make new friends and have tons of fun. Maybe their new teacher will be way cooler than the previous.

And hey, if you’re really searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, Christmas break is just a few months away.

image from blog.dhgate.com

Sign up for after-school activities.

Back-to-school doesn’t have to mean all work and no play.

The fun can continue throughout the school year by signing your child up for a creative outlet like dance or music lessons. Studies have shown that most kids who participate in extracurricular activities perform better in school.

ActivityHero can help you find the perfect activity for your child, whatever their interests may be. Just don’t let them think that their academics can slip if they get too wrapped up with a sport or activity—it is a privilege not a right and kids should have to earn the ability to participate in activities.

Meet the teacher and visit the school.

In a time where everything is new, a little familiarity can go a long way.

See if your child’s teacher will allow you to come in for a visit to get acquainted with their new surroundings.

Encourage your child to ask their teacher questions about the upcoming year—what sorts of field trips, studies, and events will be taking place? They may just uncover something to be excited about! This should help ease your child’s mind a bit and make them feel more comfortable on their first day.

image from gpb.org

Ask questions.

What is your child excited about this year?

What are their concerns?

Sometimes verbalizing worries can make a world of difference—just let them know you’re there to listen. Assure your child that all kids are nervous to start school and if any problems should arise you’re always there to help.

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

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Two and a Half Moms

Two and a Half Moms: Chandini Ammineni

Co-founder of Activity Hero Chandini Ammineni pitches to a crowd of investors and fellow entrepreneurs.  Chandini started off her entrepreneurial career building and selling tools to Industrial Automation companies until she was convinced by Shilpa to join the ActivityHero team.

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Two and a Half Moms

Two and a Half Moms: Co-Founders

Co-founders Chandini Ammimeni, Peggy Chang, and Shilpa Dalmia enjoying an afternoon at the pool. ActivityHero was formed when Chandini joined forces with Shilpa and Peggy, each desiring a less time consuming and easier method of selecting activities for their kids.

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Two and a Half Moms

Two and a Half Moms: Shilpa Dalmia

Co-founder Shilpa Dalmia admits that one of her most challenging and satisfying roles has been raising her two kids and seeking out the best for them. She hopes that ActivityHero will help busy parents find the right after-school activities for their children.

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After-School Activities Parenting Resources Sports

Olympic Activities for Kids: Future Olympians

Becoming an Olympian is obviously no easy task, but getting started in a sport that may eventually lead to podium gold is actually easier than it may seem. Many athletes become inspired and work hard to obtain the elite level of their chosen discipline right in their hometowns.

So dream big – and get your kids excited about a new activity or improving at a current one with a little Olympics viewing and goal setting.

Gymnastics

Gymnastics is one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Games. Watching gymnasts can stir the tumbling bug in your child and fortunately gymnastics happens to be a sport that is extremely accessible to youngsters.

image from spitfireseattle.com

The Easy Route

Purchase a trampoline in the backyard or some thick inflatable air mattresses. Your child can practice flips and split jumps on the trampoline as they imagine soaring high above the ground like a gymnast on the vault in London.

The air mattress is great for crash landings or can also be used to practice somersaults and other tumbling moves. Inexpensive tumbling mats are an even better option and many are available at your local sports supply shop.

A swing set with monkey bars can serve as a high bar and an old saw horse can instantly become a balance beam.

The Path to Greatness

Gymboree is a very popular business with little ones and their parents. Kids come in for “mommy and me” style classes that eventually progress to more independent skill building.

Gymnastics centers also exist in most major cities and almost every recreation center offers at least one tumbling class.

Don’t bother with private lessons or expensive leotards at first– just bring your child in for the experience and see if their interest soars or wanes.

If your child is showing a fierce commitment to gymnastics, brace yourself for both the time and financial investments required to make your kiddo the next big thing of the competitive world. Private coaching is an essential, as is logging in plenty of hours at the gym.

Ask your child’s current group class instructor for some coaching recommendations, and be sure to check references online. The Internet is your best friend when it comes to researching and confirming the qualifications of someone who will likely begin to spend more time with your child than you will.

Swimming

Swimming is another big Olympics headliner with plenty of budget-friendly ways to get your kids involved.

image from sportsworldreport.com

The Easy Route

For smaller children, a larger inflatable pool (there are ones available big enough to require chlorine and a filter) can help them practice basic moves in the backyard. And yes, maintenance is much easier than an in-ground pool.

You may also consider taking them to meets at your local high school or swim club and gauge their reaction.

The Path to Greatness

During the summer, swim team is on a lot of people’s minds; but as the weather cools many tend to drop out or lose interest. Get your child involved in a team when you’re able to and see if he/she sticks with it.

A good team for youngsters will weigh personal accomplishment over defeating other swimmers, and will also keep your child’s safety and wellbeing in mind. Swimming on even a casual team usually requires early morning practices and plenty of meets on the weekends, so it really does quickly become a sport the whole family is involved in.

Check in with your local rec center to see if they have a community swim team. Or, if you can afford it, join a private cabana club in your region which will allow for nicer resources and more individual attention.

If your child loves the water but isn’t too strong at the majority of strokes, there are plenty of ways to get creative with a swimming passion.

Speed may not be their thing but what about hand eye coordination? Synchronized swimming and water polo are great options for young swimmers who would rather play than race.

Equestrian Events

Tween girls are exceptionally captivated by the grace, strength and agility of horses, which can lead to the persistent request for riding lessons and beyond.

image from sports.yahoo.com

The Easy Route

If you are on a tight budget or unsure of your son or daughter’s long-term commitment level, start out with riding lessons at a local barn in the Western style. Western riding is easier, more affordable and safer.

If your child excels at Western, they may progress to barrel racing or another competitive sport.

The Path to Greatness

If English (jumping, dressage, racing) is their thing, then prepare to spend quite a bit more money. Attire is very specific and entry fees to the various competitions can get expensive. However, it is all worth it when your child brings home that first blue ribbon!

Whatever you do, don’t buy a horse.

This may sound like an obvious and silly thing to say, but many parents get even more carried away than the youngster and purchase one of these massive (ahem, massively expensive and needy) creatures without a second thought.

When it does come time to buy a horse, try leasing one or making friends with someone who can get you a good deal while ensuring you receive a healthy, well-tempered animal.

These are just a few examples of sports that may become a part of your daily life someday. Olympic activities for kids are a great way to figure out your child’s passion!

 

Written by Tamara Warta

Categories
Two and a Half Moms

Two and a Half Moms: Peggy Chang

ActivityHero Co-founder Peggy and her daughter Kaitlyn “traveled” to London while at the Gymnastics Olympic Trial Finals in San Jose, CA. Kaitlyn started training for competitive gymnastics in January and now trains 9 hours a week; but it took Peggy 3 months to get Kaitlyn enrolled in a gymnastics program because she was unsure of where to go! Peggy hopes that ActivityHero will help parents find good activity providers faster so that kids can pursue their interests right away.

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

7 Simple Ways to Get a Home-Cooked Dinner on the Table Every Night

The kids are seated silently and properly at the dining room table with napkins in their laps awaiting that moment when Mom enters the room with a warm turkey, fresh whipped potatoes and healthy green beans. Sounds like the perfect night at my house. Wait, no—silly me, that was a rerun of Leave it to Beaver that was on last night. This has never happened in my house.

Dinner time at my house is whenever everyone can manage to sit their butts down and I can think of something to whip up at the last minute. Chances are if it’s a matter of cleaning up the kitchen, meaning first unloading the dishwasher then reloading it with yesterday’s dirty dishes, we’re looking at a pizza or takeout night. We all want to serve a home-cooked meal to our family every night, but life tends to get in the way, time gets away from us and suddenly it’s 5:30 and we’ve got hungry kids tugging at our sleeves about filling their tummies. Sound familiar?

Busy and conflicting schedules are making family dinners a thing of the past in many households. Soccer practices, meetings running late and play rehearsals mean we are constantly on the run and shoving fast food and granola bars down the hatch whenever we have a free moment. Research shows that families that eat together not only eat healthier, but save money and have stronger bonds with one another. Making time for a home-cooked meal is not always easy, but with some simple planning and preparation it is an attainable goal.

Start with a clean slate.

Nobody wants to cook in a dirty kitchen. If you’re anything like me you might put off doing the dishes until there is nothing clean but a single fork and an old Tupperware container in the cabinet. Walking into a dirty kitchen when you’re already hungry tells you that cleaning up that mess will push back dinner at least another half hour if not more. A great way to make yourself actually want to cook in your kitchen is to clean as you go along. It’s a lot simpler and actually saves time, plus you won’t have to scrape all that crusty cheese off the bottom of the pan if you rinse it while it’s still warm. Simple enough, right?

Plan ahead.

If you take any one thing away from this read, I hope this is it. Planning ahead saves SO much time and leaves the stressful guess work out of getting dinner on the table. Every week, gather together some recipes and plan out your weeknight meals so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. What makes this even simpler is that… wait for it… yes, there’s an APP for that! In fact, there are tons of apps for that. My personal favorite is Food on the Table which combines its recipe database with a shopping list and meal planner so it does basically everything for you but cook the food.

image from siliconangle.com

Stock up on the basics.

Things like rice, beans, canned tomatoes, boxes or cans of chicken or vegetable stock, and other dried or canned pantry items are called for in most dinner recipes. If you have these basic items on hand at all times you can definitely whip something on a whim. Just remember to only stock up on the things that last, though—things like produce and meats spoil pretty quickly and are better left for a later purchase.

Embrace the slow cooker.

Repeat after me, the crock pot is my friend. I’m pretty surprised at how many people have dusty slow cookers in the back of their cabinets that they’ve never used. I have made some pretty outstanding things in my crock pot—eggplant parmesan, buffalo chicken tacos, tomato and rice soup, not to mention the most delicious pot roast you’ve ever tasted. Slow cookers are especially handy in the summer when it’s too hot to turn on the oven. It’s just so simple—dump ingredients in, turn dial to low, cover and walk away… seriously, it’s that easy. Just make sure it’s plugged in before walking away or you’ll set yourself back a few hours. Yeah, it sounds funny until it happens to you…

image from pbfingers.com

Love your leftovers.

So obviously nobody wants to eat the same old cold spaghetti in the fridge from last night’s dinner, but there are ways to be creative with leftovers. Leftover meats and cheeses can be added to omelets for breakfast, stick sautéed veggies into a quesadilla, and those tiny bags full of halved onions, celery stalks, carrots and whatever else can be thrown into a pot for some delicious homemade stock for soup. Check out Premeditated Leftovers for some fabulous ideas on how to dress up yesterday’s dinner.

Friendly freezer meals.

I really wish I would have embraced this more during my pregnancy like those smart moms did; I would have eaten a lot fewer hamburgers and pizzas! Casseroles, meatloaves, even marinated chicken and vegetables can be prepared ahead of time and frozen until its ready to be popped in the oven. Joelen from What’s Cookin’ Chicago has an amazing list of frozen meals she prepared during her pregnancy and was kind enough to share with the world.

Don’t feel bad calling in the back-up plan.

Some days, no matter how hard you try to plan ahead, time just REALLY gets away from you. Don’t feel bad if you have to throw a pizza in the oven or call for delivery from your favorite takeout spot. Hey, everyone needs a night off every once in a while and as long as it doesn’t become a regular thing it can even become a bit of a treat. In our house we make Friday nights our “special dinner night” where we order in from a favorite restaurant and watch movies. As long as dinner time is spent as a family, the effort won’t go unnoticed.

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources Supermoms in the Spotlight

Power to the Mommies: Who says we can’t have it all?

No matter where you look lately, you can’t help hearing the buzz about Marissa Mayer, former Google exec turned Yahoo CEO. Hey, any news that puts powerful females in a positive light is good news to me. The bigger news that was released shortly afterward is that she is six months pregnant and plans to take an abbreviated maternity leave and even work through its entirety. While it appears to be almost impossible to many, she made a personal choice in wanting to get back to work as soon as possible. So, what’s the big deal?

Marissa Mayer, former Google exec turned Yahoo CEO, announced she is 6 months pregnant and plans to work through maternity leave.
photo from elizabethstreet.com

Many women worry that Mayer is setting an unrealistic expectation for all expectant mothers—work until your water breaks, squeeze the little one out, then back to work, pronto! With enough pregnancy discrimination in the workplace as it is, many wonder if Mayer’s overpublicized choice will pave an even bumpier route for new mothers in the future. However, Mayer is not the first woman who has decided to put her career on an equal pedestal as her child—Ivanka Trump was off on business just 8 days after giving birth. French MEP Rachida Dati was criticized for returning to the European parliament after only 5 days post partum after  saying it was a personal choice. When I found that one of Forbes magazine’s headlines read: “Should you hate Marissa Mayer?” I was perturbed to say the least. Why do we hate power moms?

One point we may be forgetting is that there are many different types of mothers out there—there are those who get so wrapped up in all aspects of mothering that they can’t imagine doing anything else (admittedly I fall into this category), and there are others who see being a mother as just another challenge added to their plate. I had a close friend who was so anxious to go back to her job with the city of Chicago that she barely shed a tear when she sent her 4 month old daughter off to daycare for the first time. No two families are the same, so it sets an unfair expectation of women to be wrapped up in their snuggly new baby for weeks or even months if it’s not where they feel they need to be.

While it may be an easy transition for some, many women feel that the balance between family life and the working world is more difficult than it seems. Personally, I cannot fathom getting any work done just weeks after giving birth let alone days. Heck my son is 10 months old and I still have a hard time finding the time to sit down and start writing—but that’s just me. I also admittedly have very poor time management skills and end up spending an hour on Pinterest when I have a deadline. It can be a big struggle though, take for instance Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli who created quite a stir when she arrived at a meeting at the European parliament with her 7-week-old daughter nestled to her chest in a sling. “It was not a political gesture,” she says. “It was first of all a maternal gesture – that I wanted to stay with my daughter as much as possible, and to remind people that there are women who do not have this opportunity [to bring their children to work], that we should do something to talk about this.”

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli at the European parliament with her 7-week-old daughter.
photo from timesofmalta.com

The real point of the matter is that no two mothers are the same. If you have the opportunity to have everything you want in life and are able to balance it all, then by god go ahead and have it all. No mother, no woman, no person should have limitations set for them. If we tell Ms. Mayer that she is working too hard when she is perfectly happy and capable of doing so, we are only continuing the cycle of discrimination.

No matter what path a mother chooses, she is still a mother. Many mothers get this idea in their head that they need to be there for everything, but even if you’re not the one to kiss them goodnight every day you’re still a mother—nothing will ever change that.  “It’s a very personal choice,” says Ronzulli. “A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible… Everyone must decide for themselves.”

So who says women can’t have it all? “Having it all” is merely a perception. A single woman with a great career like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw could think she has it all. At the same time, a suburban housewife with 3 kids might feel as though she has it all. So those who say “women can’t have it all” are putting unnecessary limitations on themselves. If you really want something in life, you’ll figure out a way to get it. If we all lived under the perception that we can’t have it all, what would this world be like?

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources

The Difference between Mom and Dad

You’ve seen it plastered all over our website—“Moms are Everyday Heroes.” Here at ActivityHero, we are a company run mostly by moms, for moms to help them find the absolute best resources to help raise their child into being a smart, successful, healthy adult. Some of you have asked, what about dad? Well, fret not fathers, we have not forgotten about you.

Let’s start from the top—we believe that any parent who strives to give their children the absolute best is a hero, whether it be mom or dad. The reason that we gear our site toward moms is that they are, generally speaking, more likely to be the family planners and researchers. It’s in their nature; women take longer to make decisions, whether it be which color shoes to wear or which after-school activity best suits their child. This is in no way a strike at Dad—I know a handful of people who were raised by single dads and turned out to be amazingly successful and compassionate adults. There are plenty of Super Dads out there, and we welcome them with open arms!

Parents tend to dish out roles to one another without even knowing. Mom might be the rule enforcer while Dad is the problem solver, or vice vera. In many homes of single parents or military families, Mom or Dad might have to play the role of both parents. The point is that no two households are the same, just as no parents are the same, no kids are the same, and no situation is the same. That being said, we thought we’d take a few moments to thank Mom and Dad for doing what they do best, whatever it may be.

Mom, thank you for nurturing.

“Mothering has been associated with compassion and affection and particularly been attributed to women,” says Andrea O’Reilly in The Encyclopedia of Motherhood, Volume 1. Most mothers will report sharing a bond with children much earlier than fathers do. It makes sense; mothers can feel this person growing inside of them for 9 months. They are the protector from day one as they create a warm and safe environment to nurture their child in during gestation. That’s not to say that fathers can’t share this bond as well, but many feel that the first time they felt like a father was when they actually held their child in their arms. Mothers will often tell you that they felt it from the start. Because of this, moms tend to be more nurturing and have a deeper understanding and compassion for their children.

Dad, thanks for being fun.

Dad usually wins at play time. Mom’s activities tend to be more routine-based while Dad can come up with a spur-of-the-moment silly game or tickle fest that lights up the room. Men are more likely to get down on hands and knees and play or wrestle with the kids which is something that all kids, especially boys, need from time to time. Dad’s ability to come up with things on a whim often makes him more fun in the eyes of children as Mom tends to put too much thought and planning into her activities.

Mom, thank you for being the ultimate planner.

Women take longer to make decisions than men. Why do you think department stores have two and a half floors dedicated to women’s products and a measly corner of a floor for men? When women want something, they do their research; they want options and want to make sure that they are making the right choice. Men are more likely to act on impulse, it’s just how they work. Mom usually wins at planning the ultimate family fun day like a water park or a trip to the museum.

Thank you, Dad, for being the enforcer.

Mom can get angry and yell all she wants, but something about having to sick Dad on you is just downright scary. “Just wait until your father gets home,” might be the most frightening phrase a child can hear. Who knows what it is—the deeper voice, the (generally) more intimidating stature, or just the fact that you’ve managed to piss off both Mom and Dad at the same time; whatever it is, Dad wins at enforcing the rules.

Thanks, Mom, for always knows the right thing to say.

Women tend to speak straight from the heart and are more emotionally driven which is usually exactly what a child needs. Men think more logically and tend to navigate conversations toward a goal which works great in many other situations, but not when a child just needs someone to listen. Mom always seems to know what to say to ease a worried mind or solve a dilemma.

Dad, thank you for always knowing how to make us laugh.

Mom might know what to say, but Dad can always put a smile on your face. Whether it’s cracking a joke when you need a smile or just being his silly self, Dad has a way of lightening the heart and making everyone a little jollier. Dad is usually the first one to let out a belch or toot which usually gets a chuckle and can ease the tension in a room, no matter how stinky it may be.

Thanks for remembering, Mom.

I don’t know about all you other parents out there, but after I had my first child my memory went down the drain. I’ve left the keys in the car, in the door, in the mailbox, in the fridge (it was a long day) and most of the time can’t remember why I’ve walked into a room in the first place. One thing that Mom tends to have the upper hand at is remembering the important things—birthdays, appointments, etc. Men will surely agree with this, especially those that have felt the wrath of forgetting an anniversary. Mom doesn’t disappoint with the important dates, even if she does forget about the pot of boiling water on the stove from time to time.

Thanks for supporting us, Dad.

Before I go into this topic, let me clarify that most households nowadays share financial burdens and require both parents to work to support the household. Remember, this written in a “generally speaking” manner. Traditionally, fathers have been known as the breadwinners while mothers are the homemakers. This may seem like an ancient concept to many, but it was a way of life for centuries. Let’s face it—women do not have the same opportunities in the working world that men do. Even with the huge strides that have been made over time, there is still a long way to go until women and men are treated equally in the work place. That’s why generally men are the workers and women are the homemakers.

No two homes are the same, that’s what keeps life interesting and fun. No matter who fills the roles in your house, we thank you for being super every day!

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Best Apps for Busy Moms

Lists get lost, sticky notes lose their stick, handwritten notes end up looking more like chicken scratch than the useful reminder they were intended for… and let’s face it, if you can’t remember why you walked into the kitchen in the first place you’re probably not going to remember to pick up the coffee filters from the grocery store.

Thankfully, the technology of smart phones has made all of these a thing of the past and puts organization right at your fingertips. With thousands of apps available for download, many on the cheap or even free, your life can be a lot easier and more organized with the simple swipe of a screen. Here’s a few of our favorite apps to make Mom’s life easier.

Get Organized

Doctor appointments, hockey practice, birthday parties—it takes some sort of magic to keep everyone’s calendars straight.

Winner of the 2012 best family/parenting Appy award, Cozi might just be the magical solution your family has been searching for. Cozi—a family calendar and planner, shopping list, magical all-in-one organizer—allows you make personal event logs for each member of your family and sync them into one handy organized schedule. Each user can see the events for the entire family day by day, and each week a summary of events is sent to you via email.

Not only does it organize family events, but it also includes a shopping list, to-do list, journal, and even a meal planner. Say it with me now, Hallelujah!

Keep track of Baby’s Schedule

How many times has this happened to you—visit the doctor with the kids and you’re asked questions about their eating and sleeping habits but can’t seem to find the right answers?

That’s where Baby Daychart comes in. More geared toward mothers of infants and toddlers, it tracks your child’s eating, sleeping and elimination schedules on a daily basis. You can also track their mood to see any patterns related to possible food allergies or habitual fussy times.

The lite version is free if you want to get a taste of how it works, but it is well worth the price tag of $2.99.

Cook a Yummy Dinner

Those four words that seem to sneak up on your every day: “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Well let me offer you three comforting words: Allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner—it even sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I can’t even begin to stress how much I love this app; it’s like playing a slot machine every time you’re looking for a recipe which helps take the edge off of the WHAT THE HECK IS FOR DINNER fiasco. Simply turn the dials to the desired ingredients (pork, beef, vegetables), dish type (appetizer, soup, sandwich), and the amount of time you have (from slow cooker to less than 20 minutes) and you’ll have a list of great recipes right at your fingertips. A recent update also includes a grocery scanner and list making this app pretty close to an entire meal planner.

Try it for free or upgrade to pro with a $2.99 investment.

Financial Organization

Don’t let bills sneak up on you every month and start spending smarter with the help of this app.

It seems like such a simple concept—gather all of your bills and put them in one place so you can see exactly where your money goes every month. My only regret is that I didn’t start using Mint sooner.

First step to financial organization—grab this free app and get started. Mint allows you to sync your bank accounts and bills, visually organize your money, set budgets for life categories such as dining and shopping, and offers tips on how to start saving for the future.

Get Budget Savvy

Cutting costs where you can doesn’t mean you’re cheap, it means you have learned to be smart with your money.

Getting the best deal on the things you need takes some time and a little guidance—enter the Coupon Sherpa. With coupons from over 5,000 retailers like Old Navy and Walmart right at your fingertips, you’ll feel like giving your frugal diva a high five.

Your budget savvy self will also appreciate its pricetag—free in the iPhone app store.

Capture Memories

Camera phones have come a long way, and with a few adjustments and edits can produce some pretty decent pictures. Do yourself a favor and save a little time capturing beautiful memories; suck it up and join the hipster crowd by jumping on the Instagram bandwagon.

Instagram can turn any ordinary picture from a camera phone into a beautiful photo—think a pocket-sized Kodachrome—with a single click. Easily upload photos to a personal album or share with Facebook and Twitter.

Available for free for iPhone and Android, this app is well worth the time.

busymom

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources

Public, Private or Charter: Making the Right Decision for Your Child’s Education

photo from theupbeatdad.com

Deciding where to send your child on that first day of school is a big decision. To help calm your nerves and know that you’re making the right decision for you and your family, it’s important to first weigh out all of your options. From charter schools to public or private, there is no single right answer but depends upon your child’s personality, personal needs and educational goals. For some, public school works out just fine. For others, it can be a difficult journey. Knowing the facts can get you on the right track, whatever that ends up being for you.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are often described as public schools that have been “reinvented.” They fall under the same funding as public schools, but offer various educational options and often require more parental involvement than the typical public school. Established in the 1990s, charter schools were very controversial at first, but now they tend to be wildly popular in a world where traditional public schools continue to fail in the U.S.

It is difficult to say whether your local charter school is a good or bad fit for your child versus your public school, the reason being that all charter schools are different. There is no foundational guideline – there can be a huge spectrum of different charter focuses from American Patriotism to Performing Arts. Truly, if there is an interest or a sentiment of something someone feels is important to impress upon kids, chances are a charter has been written and proposed.

The best way to describe charter schools is to say they’re public schools free of any standard district rules and regulations. They are usually also much smaller than public schools.

If you are wondering whether or not a charter school is right for your child, research the ones near you and explore what their emphasis is. Would your child fit in well with that focus? If you have a little wallflower, would a performing arts charter school be a help or hindrance in his life? Are you willing to put in the mandated volunteer hours, or do you prefer to let teachers teach and enjoy your child in non-academic ways? Does the charter school you have your eye on have a lottery? Almost all do – so be sure you know the deadline date. Lotteries are usually extremely competitive, especially in areas where the public schools are exceptionally bad.

The pros of charter schools definitely come through personal attention and finances – should your child land a spot in a class, you will likely get a better education for no additional cost.

Private Schools

Many parents choose to send their children to private school for one of two reasons: religious belief or discontent with the public school system. If your child does not get into a charter school, or you aren’t interested in the public school format, then private school is a great option for certain families. It can also be a pricey one; prepare to spend thousands of dollars per year on your child’s education, which can be difficult for many families who have more than one child.

Catholic schools are likely the most prolific of private schools. Some students are plugged into the church parish (which, heads up, usually does not yield any sort of discount), while other students will come from all over. Some will also not practice the Catholic faith, but are placed there by parents who just appreciate the family-friendly moral ground when it comes to school.

Secular private schools tend to be even more expensive in particular regions of the country, but if reputation and quality of education are among your top priorities then that may be the best route for you. Even with charged tuition, you will still likely be asked to fundraise, just like in public or charter school.

Private schools also usually require a school uniform – this may seem a moot point, but when you’re exhausted at the end of a long day, it may suddenly become a big pain to have to do a load of laundry.

Public Schools 

While public schools tend to get a bad rap, many are quite excellent. It all depends on where you live. Santa Clara, California has an elementary school district that continuously receives a 9 out of 10 when it comes to everything from standardized test scores to parental satisfaction. But in Washington D.C., right where our nation’s capital makes all decisions, some of the absolute worst schools are found.  Ask friends and family about the different schools available in your district and read reviews online.

If you choose to send your child to a public school, whether it’s good or bad in reputation – be sure to stay involved. Being engaged in your child’s education is the best way to ensure a quality school experience wherever you go.

 

Picking a school that fits both your child’s and your family’s needs is a big decision. Doing your research and weighing your options is an important part of the process. Unfortunately there is not one right answer and varies upon your area, financial situation, and most importantly your child’s needs. In the end, you determine the academic world your child has to draw from – you will be their primary teacher from preschool through well past college.

Written by Tamara Warta

Categories
Parenting Resources

5 Keys to the Ultimate Date Night for Parents

Photo by Flickr user TandLeosGreatAdventure!
Photo by Flickr user TandLeosGreatAdventure!

The saying “two’s company, three’s a crowd” never rang more true than in a house with a child or two… or more. Once parenthood hits, the focus on you and your partner dwindles and shifts almost entirely to the kids.

Putting your relationship on the back burner for a while is bound to happen, but beware how long it sits there as you could be entering dangerous territory—how long can love simmer until the flame goes out? Neglecting to make one another feel special and loved can create unnecessary stress in a relationship and lead to more frequent arguments and the feeling of being alone and unhappy.

Taking the time to spend a night out with your loved one is something so simple, yet seems to get so overcomplicated it in our heads. It doesn’t have to be a big event, some simple alone time with just the two of you might be just the refresher that your relationship needs. Here’s some simple tips to make date night a little easier.

Schedule it

Making time for yourself is hard when you add kids to the equation. Finding time for just you and your partner is even harder. Chances are, if you don’t physically schedule a date night you’ll never get one.

The older you get, the faster time goes by and before you know it you’ll have gone months without a single night alone with your partner. Take that time for each other to nurture your relationship. The best thing you can do for your kids is love each other.

Don’t feel bad checking in

The first time my husband and I went out for a date night post-baby, I sat my phone on the table beside my plate on full volume so that if anything should go wrong there wasn’t a chance I would miss the call. He must have seen me glance at the phone screen every minute or so and said, “Stop worrying, if anything is wrong she will call.” Ok, but what if, just what if the emergency is SO TRAGIC that she has to call the paramedics first, then consult the neighbors, and she hasn’t yet had the chance to call me?! Yes, these were real thoughts going through my brain.

The point is, don’t feel bad checking in, but be reasonable. Listen to your instincts. Maybe an hour or two into your date shoot a quick “Everything ok?” text, or give a quick call right after bedtime to see if everything went smoothly. Trust me, that simple affirmation will ease your mind and allow you to fully enjoy the night.

Savor every minute

So you’ve got a babysitter for the night. Chances are they haven’t made other plans to go out after their sitting duties so don’t rush yourself too much. Make sure you are enjoying the time that you’ve waited so long for.

Eat your food slowly, actually take the time to taste and enjoy it. Once the kids have gone to sleep it’s time for the sitter to relax anyhow, so that extra half hour surely won’t push them over the edge. Don’t get too crazy though, if you’re planning on making it a late night give your sitter a courtesy call. After all, you want to have another date in the future, right?

Treat it like a date

You’ve got jobs, kids at home, and have probably heard one another’s stories at least a hundred times. How do you keep the conversation fresh?

Treating date night like a real date is very important, otherwise what’s the different from any other night? Date night isn’t just a regular night out where you discuss work problems or how badly the dishwasher needs to be fixed, get to know one another more and remember why you fell in love in the first place. Ask each other questions, talk about goals, and make one another feel special.

Spice it up

Intimacy is key in a lasting relationship, although it’s one of the first things to fade once kids make their appearance. I know you’re tired, he’s tired, we’re all tired; but try to make being intimate with one another a priority.

Getting physical, even if you’re not “feeling it” at the moment, is proven to increase happiness, closeness, and a feeling of safety in a relationship.

Your relationship with your partner is the foundation of which a happy home is built. Everyone deserves to feel loved and appreciated. No matter how busy your schedules are, taking even the smallest amount of time to nurture your relationship will pay for itself tenfold.

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Family Frugal Living: How to Live with Less & Get More

Photo by Flickr user Matt Johnson
Photo by Flickr user Matt Johnson

We want it all—the big house, the fancy car, all while juggling happy kids and getting a home cooked meal on the table every night.

Unfortunately, life can get in the way—especially with kids—and we lose track of spending and end up in a rut.

Frugal living doesn’t mean making sacrifices to save a few pennies, it’s simply learning how to make smarter decisions with your money so that you can live the life you really want.

Saving a little bit here and there will allow you to save up for that family vacation you’ve always wanted to take; and easing the worry of financial troubles will allow for a more stress-free and happy household.

Make a budget & stick to it

Yes it’s tedious and sometimes a hard conversation to have, but take the time to sit down with your partner and break down your budget.

Pull all of your bills, bank statements, and other expense records for the last 3 months and separate your necessary expenses from your leisure expenses. Come up with a total number for your monthly bills then figure out where else the money goes. Seeing it on paper can make a big difference. If you spend $5 on your favorite coffee drink per day, that’s $35 per week or over $1500 per year! Imagining all of the things you could do with that extra money might make coffee at home a lot more appealing.

Just be sure not to sell yourself short; try to round your numbers up to give yourself a little more cushion—for example, if groceries vary from $250-$300 per month, give yourself that extra room so you’re not feeling stressed at the store.

Check out deal-a-day websites.

There’s a reason that sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are so popular—they offer great deals on everything from produce delivery to kids music classes. You may even discover an exciting idea for a much needed date night!

Deal-a-day sites allow you to treat yourself to something you wouldn’t normally buy by offering it at a fraction of the price. Sites like Deals for Mommy and Zulily offer huge discounts all things mommy-related like name-brand diapers or designer kids clothes.

Keep Summer Camp Costs Down
Photo by Flickr user javi_indy

Shop the sale papers.

I’m not telling you to go out and be the next featured star of “Extreme Couponing,” but you’ve got to admit that they’re onto something.

Coupons are everywhere nowadays and if you really need that one specific brand or item it’s a great way to get it on the cheap. Coupons.com offers free printable coupons every day. Some grocery stores even have double coupon days which can really bring in the savings.

Reward kids with experiences, not material things.

Kids want stuff, there’s no avoiding it. Taking a kid to the store is like… well, taking a kid to a store.

Grocery stores cleverly line the aisles with little trinkets and overpriced plastic junk that just screams out to every bored child stuck in a shopping cart. To avoid tantrums and save money, don’t give into the marketing ploy and offer the reward of an experience. Offer to stop by their favorite park on the way home or play their favorite game before bedtime.

Cheap plastic things lose their luster quickly if they don’t disappear under a couch first, but memories last a lifetime.

Don’t get stuck on brands.

Does the top-selling peanut butter really taste all that different from the store brand?

Stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi can offer lower prices because they sell their own brands. Just a little secret insider tip, many of the off-brand products are actually overflow of name brands that are sold under a different label. This varies by store, but just goes to show you that you can get the same quality products for a lower price.

Don’t forget the list.

You’ve made your weekly grocery run, put everything in its place and realize—crap, you forgot the milk. It happens more often than we’d like to admit—you make a list on a sheet of paper and either leave it on the counter or lose it before it hits the store.

Avoid wasting time and money on several trips to the store by using a grocery list app for your smart phone. My favorite is Cozi, which combines a calendar, to-do list, grocery list, and even a journal to jot down notes. Keep everything organized and in one place and you’ll never forget the milk again—well, at least you’ll be less likely to.

Photo by Flickr user NessieNoodle
Photo by Flickr user NessieNoodle

Buy in bulk.

When you come across a good deal at the supermarket, stock up. Things like rice, canned vegetables, and dried beans can keep in the pantry for years, and meat can safely be kept in the freezer.

Be sure you stock up on staples, not fad or phase foods that kids may grow out of. Once you create a stock pile for yourself, you’ll spend less time and money on grocery store trips.

Shop the Farmer’s Market.

Alright, so it’s not always most cost effective to shop the farmer’s market, but when you weigh out the pros and cons it can add up.

The produce in the grocery store has been coated in petroleum, shipped from another country, and been sitting on the shelf for days or even weeks. Farmers are likely to have an oversupply of what’s in season in your area at harvest time (read about the Dirty Dozen to see what’s worth buying organic—basically anything you which eat the peel/outside).

What better way to get your kids to love produce than giving them the absolute best?

Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz
Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz

Learning to embrace the frugal live by saving a few dollars here and there because of smart shopping and proper planning can help you live the life you’ve always wanted. 

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources Supermoms in the Spotlight

Just a Mom

“I couldn’t do it, I would get too bored.”
“What do you do with all that free time?”
“I would miss my job too much, I like having a separate life.”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve received in response to my decision to stay home and raise my son. I never pictured myself being a stay-at-home mom. I hate cleaning and can barely remember to take my keys out of the door—how could I manage to keep another person alive? Well, like most stay-at-home moms will tell you, it just happened.

I’ll be the first to tell you that many perceptions of the stay-at-home mom are extremely untrue. First of all, I don’t have the time to get bored. Even my partner, who bless his heart works full time to keep a roof over our heads, has repeatedly offered to set up the old video games we used to play before parenthood so that I can “be entertained” during the day. What he doesn’t understand is that my “free time” during the day is spent showering, doing the dishes, and tidying up after a crazy crawling tornado. If I’m lucky, I may sneak a chapter or two of a book in but that’s pretty rare.

Many moms choose to go back to work after having a child and I think that’s great. If you have a job that you look forward to going to everyday and helps define you as a person, bless you and stick with it. I, on the other hand, have never experienced that until I became a mother. I also don’t have the luxury of having a retired mother nearby aching to take a baby off my hands so day care was out of the question. Motherhood is the only thing that has ever come naturally to me, so I choose to do it full-time. I too like to have a separate life but mine just comes in small doses.

There’s a certain amount of guilt that I felt about not bringing home a paycheck and not being able to help with the financial burden so I guess I had a hard time justifying it. I’ve always been the type of person who works hard for what she wants and tries to have everything be as equal as possible in a partnership. You can only imagine the amount of guilt I would feel when my partner would come home from work to a sink full of dirty dishes and a disaster of a house. Where did the time go? How couldn’t I find 20 minutes to wipe down the counters or even do a half-hearted vacuum job?

When my son was 6 months old, I went out to dinner with a few friends one night. The waiter was making small talk with some friendly questions and happened to ask each of us what we did for a living. “I’m a social worker,” replied one. “I’m an elementary school teacher,” said the other. I paused when the eyes were on me—well, I USED to be a yoga instructor and writer, now I’m a full-time spit-up crusted food source and diaper zombie at the beckoning call of an infant. “I’m just a mom,” I said. To my surprise, both my friends and the waiter looked at me with sharp eyes. “JUST a mom?” replied the waiter. “Honey, do not discredit yourself. I commend you for your responsibility. You are raising another human being—that is no small feat.” As shocked as I was to hear his reaction, a smile immediately came to my face and I felt an extraordinary amount of self-satisfaction.

It’s no secret that along with parenthood comes an immense amount of judgment. We watch how other parents handle their kids and wonder if perhaps they know something we don’t. If we breastfeed, we are embarrassed to do so in public; if we bottle feed we get the guilt trip about the benefits of breastmilk. All judgment aside, we alone are our own biggest critics. Why are we so hard on ourselves as mothers? We strive to have a clean home, a delicious dinner on the table, and smiling children every day—but life gets in the way. Kids are unpredictable, as is life. So take a deep breath, ease your worries, and tell yourself that you’re doing a good job. When your family looks back on this time they will not remember how many days that dirty pot sat in the sink, how long that coffee stain has been in the carpet, or that you wore that same pair of yoga pants three days in a row. They’ll remember the love you gave them and the smiles and laughs you shared.

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
After-School Activities Parenting Resources

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports

You may have had dreams of your son being a football star or your daughter competing in the Olympics, and now that your child is in elementary school it’s clear that goal is not likely to be achieved.

While our culture does place a distinct level of importance on being athletic and exceptional at sports, in actuality there are great things for your kids to be passionate about if they don’t happen to be athletic. Be honest with yourself if you’re disappointed and then get to work finding a great activities for kids.

Drama

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

While many boys find dancing to be “girly” (though if your son doesn’t, great!) and singing involves a certain “it” factor to get great opportunities, drama tends to be a great experience for both genders. Theater, film classes or even pantomime – there are plenty of ways to absorb the art of acting into one’s soul and your non-athletic child is sure to love it.

Look for a summer camp program that offers a wide variety of creative arts but also focuses on method acting. Or, pick a community children’s theatre – some accept all participants even if they play a background role. If your child falls in love with the stage, any part will be thrilling.

Drama can also help a shy child by teaching them to speak clearly and confidently both onstage and face-to-face with peers. Likewise, if you have a class clown on your hands, he may thrive in an improv comedy class.

Scouting Groups

scouts

Scouting is much more than cookie sales. Both the Boy and Girl Scouts of America challenge children in all arenas including not only outdoor life, but valuable skills like public relations, independent project completion and compassionate actions toward others.

Boys will enjoy pinewood derbies, campouts and learning survival skills. Girls will similarly learn about the great outdoors but also receive great resources when it comes to building self-esteem and knowing how to be prepared for the work force as an adult. Both genders can receive merit badges for almost any activities for kids you can dream up including fire prevention, sewing, and working as a team.

Best of all, scouting requires parent volunteer hours, so you will be able to get involved with your child’s newfound passion.

Visual Art

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

If your child isn’t athletic or particularly outgoing, try handing him a pencil and paper. You might be amazed at what your introverted youngster can conjure up in a visual art form.

Sketching, painting, sculpting and computer design are all valuable skills that can turn into not only an extra curricular but perhaps eventually a paid job.

When your child doodles away in his notebook while all the other kids are eager to go outside and play, take notice. There may be some uptapped talent within those pages that could benefit from some genuine interest and encouragement.

Student Government

Photo from sheknows.com

She may not be a born athlete, but could she be a born leader?

Even many elementary schools have some sort of student government activities for kids to get involved in. From being a class secretary to running for president of the student body, your child’s political options depend upon age and school rules.

However you’ll be hard-pressed to find an area that doesn’t encourage at least some sort of student government. This may be a non-profit club that teaches children to write letters to their local congressman and gets them involved in local fundraisers and benefit causes, or it could be a competitive high school that gives away scholarships and awards for those who exemplify leadership.

If your child is a problem-solver who tends to also be a good listener, then student government may be a great alternative to playing sports.

Spirituality and Faith

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

Spirituality is something your child will carry with them their entire life, and many believe also beyond this world. No matter what their age or personality, every child can benefit from a rooted faith.

Check out local vacation bible school programs during the summer months – almost every Christian church has them. Usually only a week long, it can provide an avenue to get involved with other activities for kids down the road, as well as make plenty of new friends.

Church youth groups, outreach trips locally and overseas, as well as special events on holidays like Christmas and Easter are opportunities your child will have if they get involved with a local church. Other denominations sponsor prayer or meditation days, teen dances and even carnivals.

Only your unique and individual child can determine what they’re passionate about. Ensure they are not overshadowed by a jock older brother or excellent athlete of a sister by asking them regularly what they’re interested in. Chances are, they’ll have at least one idea you can then indulge.

 

Written by Tamara Warta