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3 Back to School Pain Points with Solutions

(Pandemic Edition)

As we all continue to adjust to an ever-evolving new normal, surviving a back to school season in the time of a pandemic, remains challenging.

From experiencing unexpected school quarantines (e.g. a student in your kid’s class tests positive for COVID-19) to being waitlisted for after school extended care and all the driving around for drop-offs and pickups, here’s how three moms at ActivityHero are managing the chaos.

1. Hacking (Unexpected) School Closures

Meet Kathrine: Mom to a Kindergartener (Los Angeles)

We were so excited to go in-person to the ‘big’ school this year. Just a few days in, school communicated that a child in my Kindergartener’s class tested positive for COVID-19, so the classroom was going to shut down for 10 days. My daughter was sent home with a computer for virtual instruction along with packets of information and materials for next two week’s instruction.

Solution: Register for last-minute online camps with classmates to squeeze in some virtual play dates.  

Distance learning was scheduled for 9-11 am daily. With half the day still remaining, we found online classes to help with the afternoon so she wasn’t parked in front of the TV for all of that time. She really enjoys Minecraft and Roblox so finding social clubs or easy 45~min classes to support her favorite interests was easy. To help support some physical activity, we did also add an online Ballet class.

2. Mind the After School Gap

Meet Tabetha: Mom to a 3rd Grader (San Francisco)

After months of distance and hybrid learning, having school for a 6 hour block of time has been an amazing improvement. We were hopeful at first, then officially waitlisted for after school extended care to get us through to 6pm. As a household with two full-time working parents the 3pm pickup is challenging. With the luxury of school facilitated enrichment programs like Chess and Basketball (and this coveted time for when homework could be done with an on-site tutor) missing this year, panic-mode started to settle in. And then we chatted with some of my son’s friends and realized we could do online classes.

Solution: Find online extracurriculars for your kids so you can attend a meeting and make dinner. It’s a win, win situation for everyone.

Fun classes where learning looks like play is our usual approach for extracurricular activities so our son’s hobbies helped with the selection process. LEGO and Pokemon are his current favorites. Even better, the themed classes we found are actually great for problem solving, building and creativity. Dancing to burn off energy is also a must. Different than last year, only having a small window of online classes has been much more manageable. 

3. Less Driving = More Learning

Meet Kristen: Mom to a 7th Grader & 11th Grader (Sacramento)

We couldn’t wait for in-person school to start this year. For my 7th grader, this meant going to a new school. With two kids at two different schools and two different sets of activities, we didn’t realize all the added back and forth driving until it was happening. 
Beyond the everyday drive to and from school, I now have to make a 3rd and 4th trip, 4 days a week for sports. This is in addition to the same daily drop off to and from school at a separate campus and several evening practices for club sports at least an hour each way. Today, we spent over 4 hours in the car driving back and forth and didn’t get home until after 9pm. The boys had to do their homework in the car and I won’t even mention what they had for dinner.

Solution: Fuel kids’ brains with fun online classes to minimize time spent in the car.

We never thought we’d say this, but we were missing online classes and virtual sports. (We saved so much time and gas last year!) To help offset the in-person activities, we decided to go back and add online classes into our weekend schedule. Online Drawing and Art classes have become our time together to connect as a family. The kids are also now signed up for virtual Martial Arts and Coding classes. All of which can happen in the comfort of our home.  

Find your back to school solution! Create an account and profile for your kid to find even more personalized classes and camps at ActivityHero.

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Online Learning Parenting Resources Schools Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

10 Tips To Make the Back to School Transition with Your Kids Easy

The seasonal change from summer to fall for you and your family can be overwhelming. Here are some quick tips to help make the transitional period more smooth (and even a little fun) for everyone.

1. Bike, walk, or scooter to school.

If you live nearby, beat the morning traffic by walking, biking, or scootering to school together. Start the morning with some exercise and burn some energy before getting to the classroom.

Quick Tip: Find neighbors and classmates to walk with to make it fun both before and after school! 

2. Keep a checklist on the door. 

Create a picture “checklist” on your kid’s door to review before school each morning: brush your teeth, make your bed, check your backpack, get your shoes on, feed the dog, etc. It’s really helpful in building personal responsibility and will minimize your having to say reminders like, “put your shoes on!” a hundred times.

Download our checklist >

3. Wear school clothes to bed. 

Here’s a hack not many people think of! For younger kids or kids who are especially slow in the morning, put on your school clothes the night before. As long as the clothes are comfortable to sleep in, your morning routine will be faster with one less step. Forget about pajama tops and have kids sleep in the t-shirt that they are going to wear to school.

Quick Tip: This works really well in pre-school and before kids could dress themselves.

4. Keep a common calendar.

Make sure everyone knows what’s happening each day. Keep a calendar or schedule somewhere where everyone can see it easily, like on the fridge or the front door. Plan out lunch schedules, after-school activities, and special school projects. Use post-it notes or a whiteboard calendar to easily make changes and add reminders.

Quick Tip: For older kids, have a family calendar on your phone that you can all update!

5. Separate pre-packed bags for after-school activities. 

Do your kids have a jam-packed after-school schedule? Save time by packing go-bags the night before and leaving them in a designated spot, whether that’s at the front door or in the car. If you have time in the mornings, you can add snacks to this go-bag and make the scramble of afternoon activities so much smoother. 

6. Let your kids choose their own school supplies. 

You may be tempted to shop alone and save yourself the trouble of searching for supplies with your kids there. However, bringing your kids along will help them organize their belongings independently and increase the chance that they’ll use all their supplies.

“They’ll be more excited about using the cool stuff they get to pick out.”

Marcella Moran, PhD, coauthor of Organizing the Disorganized Child 

7. Use a portable homework station.
Once you have your supplies sorted, make a caddy or use a wheeled cart to organize all your supplies at home. Easily bring all your supplies between rooms or on the go.

Quick Tip: For DIY options, use a muffin tray to organize small objects or arrange old tins and cups to hold your writing utensils. 

8. Have your kids make their own lunches. 

Let kids choose their own lunches, and they’ll be more likely to finish their meals every day. This is a great way to teach your kids how to be independent and start choosing their food for themselves. To make sure they’re still getting the right nutrients, have a designated food drawer or refrigerator section that you fill with the dairy, proteins, veggies, fruits, and grains that they need! Designate a space in your refrigerator or pantry for your kids to easily reach their snacks for self-service.

Quick Tip: Give your kids input on the weekly grocery list to better minimize food waste.

9. Start a file bin now.

Instead of waiting for the end of the year, start organizing finished projects and old handouts now! Decide which papers and projects are important to keep as they complete work during the school year. At the end of the year, the decluttering of old school supplies will be much easier. 

Quick Tip: Organize for easy access: separate between long-term storage, frequent use (like a times table), and short-term storage (like handouts for each unit).

10. Sign up for online after school classes. Online after school classes are a great option for busy students. Instead of being shuttled from activity to activity, kids can join live online classes from home. Get access to the best instructors and classes that are available nationwide and have fun working with friends in online groups. 

Create an account and profile for your kids to find personalized after school enrichment classes at ActivityHero.

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

5 Organizing Hacks Perfect for Back to School






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

happy girl with organized folders

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

Photo Credit: IAmNotTheBabysitter.com

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

Source: Momtastic.com

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!

Searching ActivityHero on a phoneActivityHero 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!

Search for after-school classes near you >>

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Fun Activity Ideas for Long Car Rides

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.

See All On-Demand DIY Activities and Printables, including art, science, coding, music, and more >>

The State License Plate Game

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.

Mad Libs

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.

Sewing Cards

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.

 
 
Categories
Cooking Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Kids in the Kitchen: Age Appropriate Cooking Tips






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.

Young child having age-appropriate fun in the kitchen

Kids in the Kitchen.jpgWhether 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.

Find Online Cooking Classes for Kids>>

Think about some of these benefits:

  • Bonding Together ~ No explanation there.

  • 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. Dollarphotoclub_53035402.jpg

  • 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!Dollarphotoclub_62937612.jpg

  • 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 ~

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.27.13 PM.png

  • 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.

Find Online Cooking Classes for Kids>>

Categories
Parenting Resources Science Science/Technology Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms Vacations

5 Kid-Friendly Podcasts for Road Trips






happy child on a road trip

Planning a summer road trip? These 5 podcasts can help keep curious kids entertained.

By Wendy Chou

Your bags are packed, the kids are strapped in, and you’ve hit the open road. As parents, we know all too well that having the right entertainment for a long car trip can make the difference between happy kids and hysterical ones. Whereas we used to have to spin the radio dial or organize our CD collections, smartphones can now fit hours of audio right in the palm of your hand. Podcasts just may be the best thing to happen to road trips since the cup holder. Best of all, more podcasts have come out that especially appeal to kids by offering engaging–and even educational–content. With topics ranging from self-empowerment to science, even adults might learn a thing or two while listening!

Start by Creating a Playlist

If you’re new to podcasts, you’ll need to use a podcast app to help you search for podcasts. Some popular podcast apps (also called Podcatchers) are Apple Podcasts and Instacast (both compatible with iOS), PocketCast (for Google Play, Android phones), and Stitcher (supports both platforms)

Now download your podcast to a smartphone or iPad. Both audio and video podcasts exist depending on your style.  

Download away! If you like a particular program, browse the archives and grab as many episodes as you want. They’re generally free. The only thing limiting you will be the amount of memory on your device.

A Few Caveats

Podcasts are free to listeners because they have regular sponsors who run advertisements. These ads can be off-putting to some. Another drawback to playing lots of podcasts is the danger of running down a phone battery, though with audio podcasts, this generally isn’t a big concern. If you’re worried, pack a spare source of power or plug into your car’s power source.

If you’re used to high-quality stereo sound, consider connecting your phone to an auxiliary input headphone jack, or (if available) even using a car’s Bluetooth capability to play your phone directly through your car’s speakers.

Make sure that you set up a playlist before you turn on the engine. To prevent dangerous distracted driving, only manipulate phones and other devices when you can do so safely!  

5 Recommended Podcasts for Kids

Slip on some headphones and test-drive these kid-approved audio podcasts.

Brains On! 

In every science-filled episode, host Molly Bloom is joined by a different kid co-host who helps interview scientists and field questions from kids across the country. It’s anything but textbook fare; there’s a good dose of silliness and fun. Recent topics have included the science of cooking, how paint sticks to things, and what causes allergies. My six-year-old loves to try to identify the “Mystery Sound” (stumpers submitted by kids across the country). Probably good for ages 6 – 13.

Dream Big 

Hosted by Eva Karpman, current 2nd-grader, who brings refreshing energy and positivity to the show. Eva is also accompanied by her mom, Olga, while interviewing special guests–astronauts, entrepreneurs, artists, authors, and more–and learning about their passions and their life journeys. The message of the show: follow your dreams and do what inspires you. Suitable for all ages.

Pants on Fire

If you like a game show format, try this. Kids try to figure out which adult is truly an expert and which adult is only pretending. Hosted by Debra Goldstein and a sidekick “robot”, there’s quite a bit of musical and sound accompaniment throughout to keep kids interested. The topics are very wide-ranging with something to appeal to everyone. As a concept, it’s smart, creative, and smoothly executed. Probably best for ages 6 – 11.

The Story Pirates

Welcome to storytelling with a zany vibe. The “pirates” are actually actors, comedians, improvisers, and musicians who share a lot of enthusiasm and humor. The stories they tell are written by actual kids who also get a moment in the show to talk about themselves. This is great catchy fun for any age (my kid was hooked after one episode), though if you’re looking for something more educational, there are others more suited to that.

Book Club for Kids 

This new addition to the podcast scene amassed a listenership of 300,000 kids in 2017. The format: a rotating panel of middle-schoolers chats with host Kitty Felde about fiction and non-fiction books. Their conversations encourage introspection, touch on current events, spark the imagination, and more. Each episode also features a celebrity guest reader. This podcast will appeal to older elementary school kids and middle graders who love to read; the website also has a list of books recommended by peers.

 

 

Need more ideas for your curious kid?  Here’s more great podcasts to try: Wow in the World, Pickle, ExtraBLURT, But Why, Ear Snacks, Smash Boom Best, Tumble. And also head over to our blog post on tips for screen-free travel with kids. Happy travels!

Looking for summer activities and camps? Activityhero.com is your all-in-one destination for updated schedules, parent reviews, and registration options.

About Wendy Chou

Wendy Chou is an environment writer and parent based in the Bay Area.

Categories
Parenting Resources Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Score Some “Me Time” this Summer






Photo by Flickr user *michael sweet*
Photo by Flickr user *michael sweet*

Soon the kids will be out of school, but don’t panic — here are some ways to enjoy some much-needed “me time”.

By Sarah Antrim

Remember when you were a kid and summer meant you were totally free—free from the daily grind of homework, free to sleep in until the early afternoon, and free to spend every waking hour splashing in the pool with friends?

Fast-forward some 20 years… now summer means anxious kids bugging you for entertainment and plenty of skinned knees and bee stings to attend to. Their schedules clear which means your only alone time is in the bathroom (if you’re lucky enough to have a lock on the bathroom door).

Here are a few tips on how to get the kids out of the house and score some much-needed me-time this summer.

Summer Camps & Classes

Even a camp that takes kids away for an hour a day can save your sanity.

Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once commented on that kids who go away to summer camp have a real opportunity: “[kids] are away from [their] mother and father to make [their] own decisions.” If your kids are new to the camp scene, start small with a class that only meets for an hour or two a day or a few times a week. Sleepaway camp is great for the seasoned camper but make sure that you’re both ready to make that commitment.

Visit Activity Hero and find hundreds of camps featuring dance, music, sports, arts, computers, and more.

Schedule Play Dates

After being trapped in a classroom for 9 months where everything from lunch time to bathroom breaks is scheduled to the minute, some kids become overwhelmed at the thought of having free reign over their routine. Instead of walking outside or hopping on their bike, they’re likely to park themselves in front of anything with an LCD screen.

While decompressing like this might work for a few hours, it’s definitely not a good way to spend an entire summer.

Coordinate with other parents in your area and take turns supervising so everyone gets an occasional break. Schedule a time for the kids to get out and play together. Whether it be at the pool or street hockey, it forces them to get outside for something more stimulating than screens.

Volunteering

Kids cringe at the thought of cleaning up after their own pets, but send them to an animal shelter and they’re a different person. Sign them up to play with the kittens or walk the dogs at the local Humane Society for a few hours every week.

Volunteering builds character and a sense of responsibility, great for kids that are always begging for that puppy but can’t even manage to put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Put Them to Work

Many older kids are mature enough to start babysitting. Check to see if your park district has babysitter certification courses where kids will learn the basics of keeping another tiny human being alive.

If your kids don’t quite fit into that mold of responsibility, just about any able-bodied child can do yard work. Teach them to cut the grass and pull weeds, then send them off to the neighbors. They’ll benefit from the extra money in their pocket and you’ll have a quiet house for an hour or two.

Sleepover at Grandma’s

When in doubt, ship ‘em off to Grandma’s. You know they’ll be safe and she’ll get to fulfill her duty of letting the kids eat ice cream for dinner and stay up past their bedtime.

Don’t limit yourself to doting grandparents, either. Aunts, uncles, and trusted neighbors — it takes a village! Kids who have the support of other loving adults besides their parents have a richer set of experiences and an expanded worldview. Meanwhile, you’ll appreciate some precious moments to recharge.

Exercise

Whether you love yoga, strength training, cycling, or Zumba, try to find a gym or rec class that offers child care options. You’ll have the opportunity for an hour of healthy exercise and come back to parenting feeling more rejuvenated–a definite win-win.

To kids, summer means freedom. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a little bit, too.

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Be a Hero: Review Your Favorite Camps!






It’s the perfect FREE way to say thanks to your kids’ favorite camp counselors and activity instructors. And with these tips, it’s easy, too!

By Laura Quaglio

boy giving thumbs up to his favorite camp
If your kids simply love their instructors, coaches, and other leaders of their after school activities, you probably are more than happy to spread the word in your community! Who doesn’t want to see their favorite businesses thrive and grow? Glowing reviews are good for them — and for the kids (including yours!) who attend their classes, camps, and events. Typically, the more successful a program becomes, the more resources, camps, and classes they can offer.

We know that “word of mouth” accolades feel easier to share … but we’d love for you to sing those praises on the ActivityHero website, too. Doing so means your glowing words will reach more parents and caregivers — and help more kids connect with the camp counselors and activity instructors whose camps, classes, and programs you love.

To make review-writing super-simple for busy parents, we created this quick and easy “template.” Simply answer these 5 questions based on your personal experiences, and you’ve got a great write-up in just minutes! (Remember, all reviews on ActivityHero must meet our review guidelines.)

1. What did you expect when you signed up?

Did you want your child to have fun, to learn a skill, to stay active, or to achieve something specific?

Example: “When I signed my son up for art classes at this location, I hoped he would learn some basic painting skills and do something creative and fun after school.”

2. How did this provider meet or exceed your expectations?
Did the provider do what was promised, or even go above and beyond?

Example: “I was excited to see that this art school taught my son about Da Vinci and the color wheel, and also explained various styles of painting and techniques. He learned so much more than I expected during those four weeks!”

3. Is there someone in the program you would like to thank personally?
Was there a particular person in this program who did something special for your child? Consider thanking them by name in your review!

Example: “When I told Jane Miller that my son had special needs, she worked with us to develop a program that would work for him.”

4. What has your child gained from the experience?
Has your child been able to do better in school? To build a particular skill? To get on a competitive team? To earn an award?

Example: “Today, my son has several finished paintings that he loves — and that now are on our mantlepiece.”

5. Submit your review!
When your review is written, find your provider’s page on ActivityHero. Click on the “Write a review” link just below the provider’s name and description at the top of the page. Then cut-and-paste your review into the window, click “submit,” and you’re done.

Last, enjoy basking in the good feelings that come from helping out an after school instructor or camp counselor who works hard to teach your kids!

What if Your Favorite Provider Isn’t on ActivityHero?
Tell us about them by filling out this quick form. Our researchers will make sure they’re listed on ActivityHero — and then you can post a glowing review to help them build their business.

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

Surprising Secrets About Summertime Sibling Wars






Kids getting on each other’s nerves … and yours? Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., a registered clinical psychologist, shares insights that can help restore peace.

By Laura Quaglio

sisters fighting

Why does it seem like kids argue more often during the summer? Because it’s probably true. “The amount that kids get on each other’s nerves depends on the amount of contact they have,” says registered clinical psychologist Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., who has worked with children, adults, and families for more than 35 years. During the school year, kids are only together in late afternoon, evening, and on weekends. With after-school activities, homework, and weekend play dates, there is even less time for them to interact. “In summer, if kids are hanging around the house and they’re bored, they’ll find that torturing each other is an amazing pastime,” jokes Dr. Phelan, who is author of the best-selling book 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2 – 12, which has sold more than 1.8 million copies in 22 languages.

Knowing you’re not alone in this parenting predicament helps a little … but only a little. When you’re tired and frazzled, you don’t want to listen to your kids’ disputes. That’s why we asked Dr. Phelan for his recommendations on dealing with this age-old issue. His insights may surprise you — and make you feel better about the state of your household. The first tips will give you some reassurance about this common sibling experience, and the latter ones will help you bust up and even prevent some of those squabbles.

Need a break from the battles? See summer camps near you >>

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Is Normal

According to Dr. Phelan, the first step to managing sibling rivalry is to change how we think about it in the first place. Lots of parents worry that there’s something wrong with their kids because their behavior toward each other can seem idiotic, childish, and senseless. In reality, he says, it’s completely normal for siblings to quarrel. “It is basically ingrained — evolutionary,” he says. Sibling rivalry is actually a manifestation of basic competitive instincts like those that enable animals to survive in the wild. Baby birds, he says, will actually try to flip their siblings out of the nest.

“Siblings are in natural competition for resources that include food and shelter and, with humans, parental attention,” he says. “Don’t expect your kids to have a glowing, warm relationship all the time. It’s not in their makeup.”

Sibling rivalry does not mean your kids are mentally ill either, adds Dr. Phelan. “And it does not mean you did anything wrong as a parent. It’s a horrible burden on parents to think that sibling rivalry is your fault. Parents have to accept that sibling rivalry is chronic and aggravating but totally normal.”

Truth: Siblings Are Best of Friends, Best of Enemies

Most of us behave worse at home than we do outside the house, says Dr. Phelan. Home is where we’re most comfortable and, deep down, we know our family will love us even if we’re cranky sometimes. Beyond that, people show their absolute worst behavior when interacting with siblings, he says. So when siblings are at home together, it’s natural for battles to ensue at least once in a while.

The good news is that most siblings also have wonderful times together. “The way of thinking about it is ‘best of friends, best of enemies,’” says Dr. Phelan. “They will fight half the time and be wonderful playmates half the time.” Try to remember the good times when you see your kids gearing up for another showdown.

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Can Turn Abusive (But It Doesn’t Have To)

Just because tiffs are normal doesn’t mean they can’t turn ugly. If a child is being physically hurt or if there is emotional abuse occurring, it’s time to seek professional help. One of the signs that there is emotional abuse: when one child is always the aggressor and the other is always the victim. Oftentimes, says Dr. Phelan, a younger sibling will idolize an older one, but the older one despises the younger. “Some studies are indicating that this kind of abuse can take a big whack at self-esteem,” says Dr. Phelan.

What to do? Don’t tell the older child that they have to like their siblings; people have a right to their own feelings. Dr. Phelan says this demand is unrealistic, though understandable. We parents feel deep love for each child and want them to feel the same way toward each other. But you can’t dictate who someone likes or loves. What you CAN dictate is how your kids treat each other. “You can tell the older child, ‘You don’t have to like them, but you do have to treat them with respect. You cannot be verbally or physically abusive,’” he says.

Truth: Parents Don’t Have to Stop Every Squabble

Here are a few of the rules from Dr. Phelan’s book 1-2-3 Magic:

  • If you can ignore the battle between two siblings, let them work it out themselves  provided that there’s no abuse going on and that you can stand to listen to it.
  • If you can’t stand to listen to the argument, count both kids. In 1-2-3 Magic, when a child misbehaves, they know they will be counted. The parent says, “That’s 1,” at the first offense, then “That’s 2,” if the child continues to misbehave, and “That’s 3” if they still persist. If a child reaches “That’s 3,” they are told to go sit on the step. (You can learn more from the book or the website 1-2-3 Magic Parenting.) If you absolutely know that one child was the aggressor and started it, you can count that child by themselves. But if you’re not sure, don’t ask what Dr. Phelan calls “the world’s stupidest question,” which is “Who started it?” If you don’t know who started it, both kids should be held accountable.
  • Never expect older kids to be more mature in a fight. “Even at age 50, siblings will have the emotional maturity of 3-year-olds when they are arguing,” says Dr. Phelan.

Truth: Family Fun Is Overrated

“Family fun is a constant dream of parents, especially moms,” says Dr. Phelan. But in reality, he explains, the “divide and conquer” approach works better. What this means is dividing the kids up and doing things separately with them — one parent with one child. “Kids cherish alone-time with a parent,” he says. “You can just see them blossom when they have you all to themselves. And the second thing is there is no chance for sibling rivalry when you’ve divided them up.”

How does this work in real life? Instead of going out to eat as a family, Dr. Phelan suggests having each parent take one child to dinner separately. You can go to different venues or just sit across the room from each other in the same eatery. Do the same one-child/one-parent routine when standing in line for rides at an amusement park or when going to a movie (selecting different rides and sitting in different rows).

You can also split up the family for vacations. Dr. Phelan used to take his son on vacation and his wife would take their daughter, and then vice versa. “We’d stay in a motel room and goof off,” he says. These getaways created fond memories for all involved, and there’s no sibling rivalry when siblings are miles apart!

Dr. Phelan does acknowledge that the more kids you have, the more difficult one-on-one fun becomes, but it’s worth trying to plan for it. You’ll deepen your connections with each child in addition to limiting the time that they can be bothering each other.

One more note: Dividing-and-conquering with the kids doesn’t mean that you should always be separate from your spouse. Make sure to schedule date nights, too. Dr. Phelan reminds us that dating was a time when you and your spouse got together and had fun. When you’re married, however, challenges of everyday life can take precedence, and you could stop seeing each other in the same enjoyable light. Date nights (or lunches or getaways) ensure that you retain some of that original spark, camaraderie, and fun.

Truth: You Can Limit Sibling Rivalry

Some things can aggravate sibling rivalry, while others can reduce its occurrence, says Dr. Phelan.

  • If possible, allow a few years between children. “Competition is based on similarity,” says Dr. Phelan. “Anything that makes two siblings more the same can aggravate rivalry.” If you have kids who are close in age or are the same gender, for instance, that can make sibling rivalry more prevalent. He recommends spacing out when you have children (if possible) to can make things easier for you down the road.
  • Help siblings have fun together. Encourage your children to associate each other’s presence with having a good time. Dr. Phelan suggests sitting down kids together to watch a movie. “It’s almost like parallel play,” he says. “There is very little interaction, but they are having fun at the same time.” They also will have that shared experience, so they can talk about the movie and the characters.
  • But give them alone time too. If kids are going to be in the same house, hotel room, or vehicle for a long time, ensure that they can have a little peace and space. For instance, if your children each have a designated amount of screen time per day, let them watch different shows in different rooms. (This seems to fly in the face of the previous tip, but sometimes your kids may have a shared fondness for a movie but a strong dislike for each other’s favorite TV shows.) In the car, if kids are old enough to sit in the front (or if you have a van with extra seats), don’t seat the kids next to each other. Put a parent or grandparent with each of them, and then switch things up when you get out of the car at a rest stop.
  • Get kids out of the house. Sending kids to summer camps, classes, and workshops like those listed on ActivityHero — even if they go to the same location — will help limit the opportunity for tempers to flare. If kids need a sitter, it might be better to have them go to the sitter’s house or another venue like a zoo or park. (Remember the earlier tip about kids acting their worst at home?) Bringing along a friend for each kid can also keep them from bothering each other; kids don’t want their friends to see them being a pain in the neck … or getting scolded by their parents.
  • Engage in physical activity together. Swimming, biking, hiking, taking a walk in your neighborhood — these kinds of activities will keep kids busy. And the busier they are, the less bored and the less likely to aggravate each other. What’s more, you can keep kids away from each other in terms of distance simply by placing a parent in between them. (Along the same lines, when at church, movie theaters, etc., parents shouldn’t bookend their kids, as we often do. Instead, always keep an adult between the kids to reduce negative sibling interactions.)

Truth: Family Meetings Can Help Activities Go More Smoothly

“The worst thing to do is to rely on having a spontaneous discussion of what you’re going to do in the next hour,” says Dr. Phelan. If you’re planning a family vacation or activity, Dr. Phelan recommends sitting everyone down together to discuss it well in advance. Talk about what you’ll be doing and answer any questions they have. Kids should also tell you what they’d like to do (or not). This way, people won’t have different expectations, and everyone is likely to have something they look forward to.

Dr. Phelan notes that most kids will balk about taking part in a “meeting,” but once they start participating and realize they have a voice, they really become involved. If you’re not sure how to run a meeting smoothly, follow Robert’s Rules of Order. This strategy, used in parliamentary procedure, explains how to ensure that everyone is heard and that the discussion remains positive and productive. “You can even have a family meeting to talk about sibling rivalry,” adds Dr. Phelan.

Truth: Sibling Rivalry Diminishes Eventually

“If you have kids who are the best of friends sometimes and the best of enemies other times, that best-of-enemies part starts dissolving,” Dr. Phelan assures us. “That will warm your heart. But you’ll have to wait to have your heart warmed till they leave home.” As a father of two kids who have “grown and flown,” he knows this to be true.

See a list of camps near you >>

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

5 Gift Ideas for After School Teachers & Camp Counselors






Looking for the perfect last-minute present for your kids’ favorite instructors? Here, 5 clever ideas that will melt their heart without breaking the bank.

By Laura Quagliochild giving gift to a beloved camp counselor

“The most thoughtful gifts that I have received from my students are handwritten letters and/or pictures that they have given to me,” says Latasha Casey, Founder of P.O.M. Squad (Positive Outcome Mentoring and Dance, Incorporated), a youth development program empowering girls through the art of dance. Tasha’s programs increase confidence, build social skills, and provide memorable experiences through dance classes, mentoring, and performance opportunities. “Knowing that they took the time out to think about me reassures me that I am making an impact on their lives. It always warms my heart to receive these types of gifts from the girls I work with!”

Here, a few other great ideas for gifts that your kids’ instructors will truly treasure.

1. Liven Store-Bought Gifts with Handmade Labels
Maybe you’ve seen these custom wine labels: “Our child might be the reason you drink, so enjoy this bottle on us!” There’s no shame in copying this cute idea — mimicry is the most sincere form of flattery. You can make a similar label using a computer, or let your child create a hand-made drawing to paste onto the bottle — with or without this funny commentary. Not comfortable giving the teacher an alcoholic beverage? Use the same idea with a bag of fancy ground coffee or a travel mug: Our child might be the reason you need caffeine…

2. Offer a “Moving” Display of Appreciation
Instructors love when students show off the skills they’ve been taught in class! Have your child create a dance for their hip-hop instructor or come up with a kata for their martial arts teacher. Cheerleaders can create a personalized cheer, complete with pompoms. If creating something that complex is too challenging for your child, have them take a few minutes before their next class to show off what they know — and thank the instructor for showing them how to slam-dunk, sprint, kick, catch, or whatever else they are now able to do.

3. Cook Up a Clever Present
Everyone loves cookies and candies at the holidays. You can make your instructor’s cookie tray even more special by creating goodies that are customized just for them. A math tutor might love cupcakes topped with icing equations. Gingerbread people can be posed doing martial arts kicks, or you can find ballerina or football player cookie cutters. You can even make little flags using toothpicks, tape, and paper cutouts of favorite activity-appropriate pictures. Tuck a tiny flag into the top of each cookie, cupcake, or candy before delivering them to the coach or teacher.

4. Give the Gift of Your Time
There’s no time like the present, and there’s no present like your time! Many programs can benefit from an extra pair of hands. It costs you nothing to help out (other than an hour or two), and has plenty of payoffs. You can show your appreciation to your child’s instructors. You can get a personal peek at what your kid’s up to. And you just might find a hobby or interest that you enjoy. Perhaps you’ll decide to become a scout leader or computer coding instructor yourself.

5. Help Them Fill Their Camps and Classes
One of the best things you can do for the programs your child loves: Promote them to your friends. You’ll be offering your favorite instructors some added job security, and your child benefits, too: If more kids join the program, there will likely be more resources and offerings for everyone, including your kiddo. You can also promote ActivityHero providers right online, reaching hundreds of parents. Here, discover tips to help you — quickly — write a stellar provider review!

For additional clever gift offerings, check out Teacher Gift Ideas from Over 50 Real Teachers from Love from the Oven!

Happy holidays!

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

7 Unique Birthday Party Ideas






Your child is special so why shouldn’t his birthday be just as special? When celebrating with friends and family at your home, you can make it themed like a birthday party place. With a little creativity, coming up with unique birthday party ideas can be super easy and super cheap. Most of the party idea decorations can be found at local dollar stores. Not only can you do these super fun party ideas cheap, but your kids will be learning without even knowing it.

Hawaiian PartyDollarphotoclub_52698588.jpg

Most parents just can’t afford to have a birthday party in Hawaii, so instead of trying to go there, make Hawaii come to you. You can usually find Hawaiian skirts, coconut tops and lays at your local dollar store during summer months. Find some Hawaiian music and have a Hula dance competition. Complete your look with orange light bulbs for the sun, blue table cloths for the ocean and and a kid painted mural of a coconut tree. Play pin the coconut on the tree for a fun game. Watch Lilo and Stitch for a fun Hawaiian film.

Under the Sea

Have a deep sea adventure birthday party. With a little creativity, and some construction paper, you can fill your house with deep sea creatures. To give the effect of being under water, cover lamps with blue vinyl table cloths. Create rainbow fish by drawing a fish and pasting tin foil fins on it; make handprint octopuses and different kinds of fish (fine motor skills). Cut your fish out and hang them on the ceiling for a feel of swimming with the fishes. Play sharks and the minnow. Watch a sea movie like The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo.

Camping Party

Camping is always a fun activity for birthdays, but some birthdays just don’t fall at the right time of the year. No worries, you can have an indoor campout. Have roasted marshmallows over the gas stove, put up a small tent or blanket tent and create a fire place with blocks or legos (spacial skills).

Indoor Obstacle Course

When the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor activities on birthdays, friends will enjoy a little indoor competition. It isn’t everyday that you let your kids run through the house, jump on pillows or scream and holler like their outdoors, so why not let their special day be really special with an indoor obstacle course. If you have stairs, a basement or an easily accessible attic, use it. Use every part of your house as a fun course to get through. Have friends and family line up to relay race through hula hoops, dive under blanket forts and hop from pillow to pillow. Create your obstacle course and give winners a handcrafted, gold olympics necklace.

Hula hoops, pillows and couches what more do you need?

Lava Party

Instead of having specific activities, invite your kids to use their imagination with a lava party. Cover your floors with orange and yellow table cloths, blankets or construction paper. Tell your party animals that the whole floor is lava and if they fall in they will burn up. Have a goal to get to the treasure as a group. Every time one of your team mates falls in, everyone must start over. Or, have them storm the castle surrounded by hot lava and save the captured princess. Have a volcano cake and make a volcanic eruption with a pop bottle by adding vinegar, dish soap, red food coloring and baking soda.

Bubble Party

Bubbles are fun for everyone no matter what the age. You can get some dish soap and glycerin from your local dollar store and have a bubble making party. Use pop bottles, water bottles or containers to shake up your bubble mixture and make a pool of foam. Have a bubble making contest for the biggest bubble. Do experiments to see how much soap and glycerin to use to make the best bubbles. Have an outdoor bubble bath to swim in or if you must bring the party indoors let kids swim in their suits in a bathtub filled with bubbles. And, of course, a container of bubble party favors are sure to make a big hit.

Homemade Pizza Party

Everyone loves pizza, so why not let your party kids make their own. There are two ways of doing this:

-Buy pre-made pizza crust: Most local grocery stores will sell individual pizza crusts.
-Make your own pizza crust: Self rising flour and greek yogurt mixed together is a great two ingredient pizza crust.

Get enough pizza sauce, pepperoni, veggies and cheese for a whole army of hungry kids. Once pizza is cooked and cooling, have a best pizza competition where they have to vote for someones pizza. Play pin the pepperoni on the pizza by using a poster board cut in the shape of a pizza and round, red construction paper (peperoni) to tape on. Enjoy pizza, cake and ice cream, good games and fun times.

Unique birthday parties don’t have to be expensive. They just take a little creativity and a lot of imagination. Let your mind wander and give your special kid a unique party every year.

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Holiday Break Camps Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Create a Boredom-Busting Spring Break Bucket List!






Are you ready for spring break? Here’s a bucket-list plan that will keep the kids occupied and won’t break the bank.

happy father and little girl with colorful kite

Whether spring break is right around the corner or months away, it’s never too early (or late) to start planning what you’re going to do to keep the kids occupied, engaged in activities, and (shhh … don’t tell them) even learning. That’s why starting a Spring Break Bucket List today is a great idea.

Wondering why you need a special bucket list just for spring break? Isn’t one bucket list enough for a lifetime? Creating a specific list of spring break activities will help you be more intentional about your use of time. To put a finer point on it: You’ll be less likely to wind up glancing at the clock halfway through Day 3 and wonder how it got to be 4 p.m., what on earth you actually did for the last few days, and why you have virtually noting to show for it. Plus, your kids’ “what I did on spring break” essay can include more than a Netflix mega-marathon and junk food fest.

One last note before you let the kids in on your plan: While children love the idea of generating ideas for this bucket list, it’s probably best if parents have the last say on what makes the final cut. That way the elements included are more likely to be doable, affordable, and enjoyable for the whole family.

Shop for kids’ holiday camps near you > >

What Should Be on a Spring Break Bucket List?

Get your creative juices flowing with the following guidelines and ideas.

Mix it up. Choose a variety of activities that will be fun for the whole family. If you’ve got kids that span a wide range of ages, maybe have one parent do something with the older ones while the other takes the younger kids elsewhere. For instance, half of the clan might go to a local playground, while the older family members go roller skating.

Keep tasks short and less expensive. That is, compared to what you’d put on a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list. So, for instance, a three-day stay at Disney is perfect for your “lifetime” list, but “visiting three parks” might be a better fit for spring break.

Don’t take on too much. Depending on how time-intensive your activities are, you shouldn’t aim for more than three a day. Since kids still will have to do all the usual things — meals, baths, maybe even homework — consider how much time you actually have before making any promises. You might also consider devoting a day or two to chores and schoolwork (if needed) and then designate other days for bucket-list adventures.

Give back to the community. You’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who doesn’t want to teach their kids to do random acts of kindness for others. And many schools, clubs, and religious programs require a certain number of hours of volunteer service. When generating your bucket list, include activities that allow your family to help others and give back to the community. To get started, check out the ideas in Volunteer Options That Teens and Tweens <3 (Love) right here on the ActivityHero blog.

Continue to collect ideas. Tack a paper to the fridge where kids and parents can write down a new bucket-list idea when they think of one. You certainly can’t do everything during one spring break, but you’ll have plenty of ideas to stay busy during summertime or on the next three-day weekend.

Ideas for Your Spring Break Bucket List

  • Fly a kite or teach kids another low-tech activity you loved as a child.
  • Choose one bookshelf and read all of the picture books on it.
  • Research authentic cuisine from a foreign country, then prepare some of the dishes as a family.
  • Bake cookies and take them to neighbors.
  • Make homemade cards and deliver them to a nursing home.
  • Go through a drive-thru and pay for the car behind you.
  • Try a new-to-you restaurant or cafe.
  • Park the car on the main street of a nearby town, and take a walk to discover hidden gems.
  • Stay at a hotel in your own town. Choose one with a pool, if you don’t have one at home, and ask the concierge for local activities to try.
  • Have a family slumber party, complete with pizza, games, and movies at night … and chocolate chip pancakes in the morning.
  • Invite grandparents over for a meal made by the kids.
  • Deep-clean closets and dressers in prep for a family garage sale.
  • Host a neighborhood ice cream social.
  • Go to a state or national park.
  • Plant seeds for a garden — veggies, herbs, and/or flowers.
  • Visit a zoo or aquarium.
  • Play mini golf.
  • Create a music video to a favorite song and upload it to Youtube.
  • See what special programs the local ski resorts and other tourist spots are offering during break time.
  • Take a class as a family, in art or cooking or something else you all enjoy.

How to Display Your Spring Break Bucket List

Instead of writing down your ideas on a sheet of paper, you can boost everyone’s excitement by typing up the list using fun fonts in bright colors. Put a small check-box beside each item so you can X it when it’s complete.

Another option: Write down each idea on a small slip of paper, fold the papers in half, and place them in a clean bucket or sand pail. Then when someone says that they’re “boooorrrrrrrrrred,” tell them to go to the bucket and select an activity.

Shop for kids’ holiday camps near you > >

Need a Little Break Yourself?

Check out ActivityHero for kids’ holiday break camps in your area! There’s something for everyone, and you can find options that last for a few hours, a whole work day, or a few days at a stretch — whatever suits your family’s needs!

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Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Making Your Own Music






Brief History of Music

Music may very well have existed even before man. The first musical instrument was likely to have been a hollowed out stick that one could blow through to make sound. There are 6 major periods of Western Music:

Middle Ages (400-1400)- This period consisted of mostly chants and church music. Some greats included Hildegard and Machaut.

Renaissance (1400-1600)- Music became more sophisticated and a variety of different styles emerged. Some greats included Marcello and Monteverdi.

Baroque (1600-1750)- Music became even more complex with lots of experimentation with instruments and form. Some greats include Bach and Vivaldi.

Classical (1750-1800)- Music now follows well defined forms with the main form being the Sonata. Some greats include Beethoven and Mozart.

Romantic (1800-1900)- Music shifts to emotional and expressive as it tells a story. Some greats include Tchaikovsky and Brahms.

20th Century (1900-2000)- This period took on a rule of “no rules”. Lots of new styles and ideas. Some greats include Stravinsky and Bernstein.

The collaboration of all these periods makes up the roots of music. And, it keeps on growing and growing.

Making Your Own Music – Instruments

Maracas

maracas.jpg

Supplies Needed:

-Empty and rinsed 20 oz. soda bottles
-Sand, dry beans, rice or small pebbles
-Low temp glue gun
-Decorations such as stickers, ribbon or yarn
-Funnel

 Instructions:

1. Using the funnel, fill each bottle 1/3 full with your sand, beans, rice or pebbles. (You can easily make colored rice by mixing rice in a bowl with some food coloring)
2. Secure the lid on with the hot glue.
3. Decorate your maraca with ribbon, yarn, stickers, anything you like.
4. Shake!

 Drums

drum.jpg

Supplies Needed:

-Empty tin cans, various sizes (bottom end should be removed with can opener too)
-Leather laces
-Decorative fabric
-Low temp glue gun
-Large needle or hole punch
-Pen
-Dowels (3/16” x 12”): 2 for each drumstick
-Spools (3/4” x 5/8”): 2 for each drumstick
-Piece of leather (large enough to cover both ends of your tin can)

Instructions:

1. Start by cutting your decorative fabric to fit around your can. Glue in place.

2. Next, place your can onto the leather and trace with a pen. Measure 1 inch from your traced circle and draw another circle. Repeat this process so you will have a covering for each end of your drum. Cut out your circles along the outside line.

3. Go around the outer circles and mark holes where you will string your laces through. Make sure not to get too close to the edge. Use a large needle or a hole punch to poke out your holes.

4. Run your lace through the holes like you are sewing and place over the top of your can. Cinch up tight and tie. Turn the drum over and repeat the process for the other end. String some laces diagonally from the top to the bottom of the drum if desired. Your drum is now complete!

5. For your drumsticks, put hot glue on one end of the dowel and poke into the spool. Set aside to dry. Repeat the process for your second drumstick. Once dry, you are ready to start drumming!

6. If your child can’t get enough, they can learn drumming at a number of locations!

Kazoos

kazoo.jpg

Supplies Needed:

-Paper towel or toilet paper tubes
-Scissors
-Wax paper
-Markers
-Rubber Bands

Instructions:

1. Decorate the tube by coloring designs with the markers.

2. Cut a piece of wax paper about 4” x 4”. Place the wax paper over one end of the tube and secure it tight with a rubber band.

3. With your scissors, poke a small hole in the tube near the end with the wax paper. (The hole should be no bigger than the end of a pencil)

4. Play your kazoo by blowing into the open end.

Techniques

-You can play your maraca in several different ways. Shake it once per note, twice per note, play every note of the song or try every other. You can shake it in the air or shake it against the side of your leg.

-For your drums, try making different sounds depending on where and how hard you strike the drum. You can hit the drum once per beat, or a couple of times. Try some drum rolls too!

-For your kazoo, experiment making different tones by changing the form of your lips or changing how hard or light you breathe into your kazoo. Make distinct beats by saying “to” as you blow into the kazoo.

Song List

Familiar songs that everyone knows work the best and provide the most fun (and laughs). Consider some classics like:

-Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
-Yankee Doodle
-If You’re Happy And You Know It
-Mary Had A Little Lamb
-You Are My Sunshine
-Skip To My Lou
-When The Saints Go Marching In
-She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain

Categories
Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

How to Find the Perfect Nanny






Finding the perfect nanny for your family can be a difficult task. You want someone whom you can trust with your child that has similar beliefs and lifestyle, someone that is capable of taking care of your child but also at keeping them entertaining and helping them learn. Depending on your intentions, a nanny can also become like another member of the family. Children are highly influenced by those they spend a large amount of time with and your nanny will definitely fall into this category.

However, though some effort is required, finding a nanny does not need to be difficult, especially in the San Francisco Bay area. Hiring a nanny in San Francisco is a very common thing and therefore there are qualified nannies abound.

Below is a general guideline on how to find the perfect nanny.

Where to Find A Nanny

There are 3 ways to find a nanny – online, through an agency, or via recommendations.

There are several sites dedicated to connecting families with the perfect nanny, such as UrbanSitter and SitterCity. Both sites allow both families and nannies to create a profile about themselves, their lifestyle, and what they are looking for. Families are able to post a specific job for their family detailing the position and expectations and are also able to search through the available nannies in the area to reach out directly.

The upside to such sites is that there is often a wide range of nannies to choose from, allowing you to connect with multiple people. Many of these sites also offer a section for nannies to post references and offer a free background check. Additionally, previous employers are able to leave feedback based on their experience with the nanny.

The next option is city-based nanny agencies. Utilizing agencies allows you to do less of the work – they often vet the nannies and work hard to make a match for you. The downside, of course, is that you have to pay an agency fee.

The final option is to reach out to friends and family for suggestions. Whether they are able to recommend a past babysitter or have a friend looking for work, this can be a great starting point. Nannies looking for work often reach out to “mommy groups” as well.

Interviewing Applicants

At this point, hopefully you’ve found a few potential nannies. I’ve always found it important to set up interviews with several people as occasionally people won’t show up or will find another job. Plus, there’s always the chance that the person you anticipate to be your Dream Nanny won’t be so great after all.

Interviews can be held in your home or somewhere public, like a local park. If only interviewing one or two potential nannies, I recommend holding the interview in your home and introducing the children as how someone interacts with your child the first time is a big indicator of how they will be as a nanny.

Prior to the interview, create a list of exactly what you’re looking for in a nanny. Divide the list into “non-negotiables” and “strongly desired”. Include things like CPR/first aid certification, non-smoking, drivers license, experience, availability and flexibility on the list. Remember that the ideal nanny may have most but not all of these qualities so it’s important to decide right away what is a deal-breaker and what you can potentially work around.

Create a list of questions around your requirements as well as other important questions like –

Why do you want to be a nanny?
What is your previous experience (in detail)?
What would you do in X situation?
How do you handle punishment?
Do you foresee any obstacles (family obligations, etc) that may prevent you from arriving at work?
Do you foresee any schedule changes?
When are you NOT available?
Also remember to inquire about driving record and insurance if the nanny will be required to drive the children around.

When interviewing, there are a few red flags to look out for – they reschedule the appointment several times, acts disinterested when introduced to the children, provides vague answers, etc.

However, perhaps the most important part of the interview is introducing the potential nanny to the children. If you are interviewing several nannies and plan to do several rounds of interviews, this can be saved until the last interview so that the children do not become confused but if you are interviewing only one or two nannies, bring the children in right away.

After all, they will be the ones spending all of their time with the new nanny and it’s important for both you and the nanny to decide whether or not your children will be the right fit.

Making the Decision

Prior to making the final decision, request and call at least 3 references. Be wary of references that are overly positive – too often people provide fake references in the form of relatives.

Finally, after references are checked there are a few more things to consider:

How did the child(ren) react? Does the nanny fit into your lifestyle? For example, if you live a very active lifestyle and eat all organic, it’s probably best to not hire a nanny who prefers to cook boxed meals and let the children watch TV all day.

At this point, it’s best to have one nanny that you believe would be the absolute perfect fit but also hopefully one or two back-ups, in case the first doesn’t work out.

The final step is to call the potential nanny and let them know you would like them to be take care of your children. Make an offer regarding pay but be open to a little negotiation -after all, isn’t it worth a few extra bucks to know your child is in good hands? Be super-clear on what the expectations are so there’s no confusion later.

Hopefully at this point you’ve found the perfect nanny and can look forward to leaving your child in good hands while you work.

Categories
Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

5 Cookie Recipes to Make With Kids

Letting kids help out in the kitchen is the first step toward teaching them to cook on their own. One great thing about kids is that they naturally want to help out, especially when the job seems fun and new. Even the smallest of your kids can find jobs to do in cookie baking: dumping ingredients into bowls, smashing down balls of dough, and other simple tasks. If you’ve got school-age kids, they can be equal partners with you when making these five simple, tasty recipes.

The World’s Biggest Cookie

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This tasty version of the classic chocolate chip cookie is baked in a pie pan or skillet, making one very large and thick cookie. Serve it warm with ice cream for dessert, and pack small wedges of leftovers as a treat in their school lunches the next day.

1 cup light brown sugar
¾ cup softened unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg plus one egg yolk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with nonstick cooking spray (butter flavored or plain)
  2. Use a stand mixer or handheld mixer to beat the butter for one minute, then cream in the brown sugar. Mix this on medium speed for one minute.
  3. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Mix this until it’s all combined.
  4. Mix together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in a separate bowl. Beat the dry ingredients into the wet mixture slowly until completely blended. The dough will be very thick.
  5. Stir the chocolate chips into the dough until it’s evenly mixed.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cookie is golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan.

For extra variety, use milk chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, chopped walnuts, or chopped pecans, substituting them for part of the semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Super-Easy Nutella Brownie Cookies

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This recipe makes a small batch, so if you’re watching your kids’ sugar intake, this makes a nice treat without leaving cookies around for days. These soft treats taste like a combination of brownie and cookie, soft and chewy.

1 extra large egg
½ cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup Nutella

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all four ingredients together in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon.
  3. Have your kids form balls about the size of a walnut, and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, and allow them to cool completely before eating

Cake Mix Cookies

This simple recipe allows kids to choose their own unique cookie flavors. He loves lemon? Check! She’s a butter pecan fan? You can do that, too. The cookie flavor depends only on their imagination.

2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 15-ounce box cake mix, any flavor

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Measure the oil in a measuring cup and add the eggs on top of it. Stir the mixture with a fork until it’s well blended.
  3. Pour the dry cake mix into a large bowl. Add the egg/oil mixture and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s thoroughly mixed. The batter will be stiff and glossy.
  4. Scoop the dough by tablespoons onto two cookie sheets, placing 12 cookies per sheet
  5. Bake for 12-14 minutes until they look puffy. They won’t look done when you pull them out of the oven, but they will flatten and firm up once they begin to cool

Be careful not to leave the cookies in the oven too long, because they dry out and get hard very easily when over-baked.

Filled Cookie Cups

Sometimes you want to bake some cookies with your kids, but you don’t want to measure out a ton of ingredients. These fancy-looking cookies look like they took all afternoon to make, but they’re simple enough for even your smallest kids to help with.

1 package cookie mix
Eggs and oil according to cookie mix package list
Miniature peanut butter cups or chocolate-cover caramel rolls

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix the cookie dough according to the package directions
  3. Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray
  4. Allow your kids to make 1-inch balls of the dough, and drop one into each muffin space
  5. Bake for 10 minutes and remove immediately. The cookies will look puffy and not quite done.
  6. Push one unwrapped candy into the center of each cookie. The center will squish down, forming the cookie into a cup shape that cradles the candy
  7. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the pan

This recipe is also great for getting rid of dozens of tiny candy bars after Halloween.

Classic Cut Out Cookies

No cookie-baking year with kids would be complete without making and decorating cut out cookies. Between the fun of using cookie cutters to the pure artistic creativity of using frosting and candy decorations, no cookie allows your kids more free expression while making a sweet treat. Plus, this cookie is a natural gift for proud grandparents.

2 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1 cup (two sticks) room temperature unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  2. Cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer. Beat them for several minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the egg, extracts, and lemon zest.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients, then add them to the egg and creamed mixture, one cup at a time, until completely blended. You will be left with a soft dough.
  4. Divide the dough into two balls, and roll each one out ¼ inch thick between two sheets of parchment paper. Stack the layers together with parchment between them and refrigerate them on a cookie sheet for at least one hour
  5. Cut cookies out of chilled rolled dough and place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-12 minutes until lightly brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Frost with commercial frosting or your favorite frosting recipe, and let your kids go wild with the candy decorations

Do your kids enjoy cooking and baking? Find cooking camps and classes on ActivityHero that will help them expand their skills.