Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Newsletter is Here!

Hot off the keyboard--our summer newsletter is here. Check it out for tips on colic, screen time struggles and gift ideas. If you don't want to miss a post or newsletter, sign up for our list in the bar on the right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

20+ Ways to Keep Summer Fun, Relaxing, and Easy (for Parents and Kids)

The countdown to summer is on! In our area, school ends next week. For most people around the country it will end sometime in the next few weeks. For me summer means looking forward to a lot of fun activities--pool time, playing outside, and family trips.

However, if you are a stay-at-home parent like me you know that summer can also be kind of exhausting. I'm used to being at home with my 3-year-old, but somehow the addition of just one more child (age 7) really ups the activity level around the house. My older son will be doing a few day camps for some weeks this summer, but the majority of the time it will just be the three of us during the day, exploring and trying to stay busy.

I glanced at some of the day camp agendas for some of the full-day camps for kids in our area. At first glance, they seemed like every kid's dream day every day of the week. Days were filled with visits to museums, splash parks, movies, tours, amusement parks (!), and pools. If you are like me, I thought, maybe I should just send my 7-year-old to some of these camps. Besides being price-prohibitive for a single-income family,
I realized the underlying reality of this idea--a summer of over-stimulation. 
My kids, probably like many of yours, can get over-stimulated and "overdone" pretty easily.
I think this points to an unseen but present feeling in our culture right now.
We often feel the need to entertain, direct, organize and otherwise "enrich" our kids lives to the point of exhaustion. 
I have caught myself in this trap all too often. I attempt to create a great weekend outing to some big kid-friendly attraction, only for it to end in tears and frustration (theirs and mine). In reality, many of the best times we have had as a family were as simple as flying kites at the park. The kids love it and they love spending time with us (although they may not always admit it). They more we try to distract and entertain, they less cooperative they become.
That being said, this summer my goal is to not be the "cruise director" for my children's summer. 
I'm more than ready to retire from that job. Yes, we will do activities, we might do some crafts, but it's going to be at a pace and style that is all our own. If we decide to spend most of the summer with friends, playing by the neighborhood pool and really doing much of "nothing" then I'm okay with that.

So I am included some ideas for activities and crafts in this post, but they are just ideas. If you're kids are feeling creative and want something to do, these might be fun ideas, but there's no pressure.
This is not one of those "bucket list," we-must-do-everything-before-summer-is-over kind of posts. 
Let's all make this summer one of relaxation, free play, and fun memories.

**This post contains affiliate links

Old-Fashioned Classics

Lemonade Stand--this can turn into a great lesson in entrepreneurship (earn extra money for treats). But you could also use it as a great example of charity as well by supporting Alex's Lemonade Stand to end childhood cancer.

Tie-Dye T-shirts (or dresses)--easy, fun and you have something wearable at the end. You can't beat that.

Shaving Cream Extravaganza--when my older son was a toddler, this was one of his favorite activities. Anything that can keep a toddler occupied for more than 10 minutes is a miracle in my book. We often spread the shaving cream on a slide in the backyard. Fun!

Mud Pie Kitchen--okay I admit I haven't done this yet, but it's on the top of my list. My little guy loves mud and earthworms so I think this is a must this summer.

Ice Cream in a Bag--it's not summer without ice cream. Plus this little experiment actually teaches a bit about science.

Board Games/card games--all the classic ones are still great. We love Monopoly, chess, and checkers. Some popular newer ones include Robot Turtles, Bounce Off, or Three Little Piggies.

Camping (backyard or elsewhere)--even if you are not into camping in the forest, you can set up a tent (real or made of sheets) in the backyard. Kids love cozy little places in the shade. Bring in some books, snacks, card games and make an afternoon of it.

For the Creative Crowd

Water Balloon Pinata--these look so fun! I just have to find water balloons big enough to make it work.

Marble cards--lovely project, plus kids learn a little color theory along the way.

Puffy Paint--cool little project that's easy and it involves a neat transformation in the microwave.

Perler Beads--some people love them, others can't stand them, but we have fun with these at our house. You can find a lot of cool patterns online for new ideas. These saved me last summer when my then-6-year-old would spend hours working on new projects.

Field Trips

Museums--look for museums you may not have visited before. Here is a helpful list of museums across the country. Keep an eye out for free days or special summer programs for kids.

Library (summer reading progam)--this is another classic activity we do every year. Even little kids can sign up for the summer reading program. Many libraries have lots of fun summer activities like concerts, magic shows or game time.

Local Farm or dairy--summer is the perfect time to check out what's harvested locally in your community. You might be surprised at the variety of fruits and vegetables grown close to you. Somehow when kids pick out a vegetable themselves at a farm stand, they seem more likely to actually eat it.

Zoo--of course summer is not complete with at least one trip to a local zoo. Some zoos offer special programs for summer, even overnights at the zoo.

Bowling--check your local bowling alleys for Kids Bowl Free. It's a great summer program that makes bowling more cost-effective. It's a nice way to cool off when the summer heats up.


Theme day--for a fun change of pace, how about let the kids pick a theme day. It could be superhero, backwards day, funny hat day or anything else you can think of. You could read books around that theme, dress up, and/or make fun food.

Ice skating--if you are lucky enough to have an indoor ice skating rink in your city, take advantage of it during the summer. I just realized our local YMCA has one, so this is definitely on our list for the summer.

Chef day--need a break from cooking? How about let the kids "cook" or prepare the food for the day. Of course, you may need to set a few limits (candy is not a major food group) but it could be a great learning experience for the kids. I found these great kid-safe knives that actually help them learn some useful slicing skills.

Keep the Learning Going

Reading Log--we do try to keep the "summer slide" at bay by doing some school-like learning activities during the summer. Reading is a priority. My 7-year-old has just become a real reader and I'm hoping we can keep up his skills over the summer. Reading logs or reward cards seem like a good approach to make it fun with a little reward at the end.

Educents--I'm also planning to do some paper-and-pencil learning activities too. I just ordered one of these workbooks for my rising second grader. I know he won't make it through the whole book, but it's a good start. We might plan a fun outing (ice cream?) if he finishes the majority of it.

Coding Workbook--I just saw these at a store the other day and I'm thinking it might be a good investment. My son likes video games and he says he wants to make his own. What a better incentive to learn some computer coding. Good thing my husband is an engineer so he can help him!

Bramble Box--these fun boxes involve learning, but your kids will just think they are having fun. Unlike some subscription boxes that involve crafts that you will likely throw out in a few weeks, this box focuses on pretend play. Pretend play is such a crucial part of children's development and it is so fun (for them and us). The themes include play scenarios that most kids love--doctor, mail carrier, ice cream shop. Learning fun!

I hope you all have fun and relaxing summer with your kids.

Photo credit

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Are More Babies Born During the Summer? (Plus Baby Gift Ideas)

Spring is here and the countdown to summer is on. For my household summer means no rushed mornings getting to the bus stop and a lot of time enjoying the outdoors. It also means a lot of celebrations--birthdays, Father's Day, and Independence Day. I have noticed that I usually also have a lot of friends that have babies in the summer months. Have you noticed that too?

It turns out there is some research to support this observation. The highest rates of birth tend to happen in July, August and early September. Most researchers think this is because romance is more likely in those cold, short days of winter.

When you think about it, however there could also be an evolutionary reason for this bump (pun intended) in summer births. Back in our ancestral hunter-gatherer days, it would have made most sense to have babies in the summer or early fall when there was a more plentiful supply of food. Maybe there is some hormonal remnant of those days still left floating around in our bodies.

With this summer baby bonanza coming up, I like to keep in mind some ideas for baby gifts. If you have a child, you know that baby gifts are a wonderful treat for new parents. For first-time parents especially, the cost to set up a nursery can get expensive, so it's nice to have a few items from friends and family to help out. When I am looking for baby gifts I often try to find something meaningful and perhaps a little unique that the new parents might not be receiving from someone else.

Uncommon Goods sent me a couple of items to review that definitely fall into this category. The Kid Quotes Memory Book is a nice way to keep track of all those cute phrases your toddler or young child will inevitable say at some point. In the age of technology, we often try to catch these phrases on video, but good "old fashioned" pen and paper really work well for all those times your little comedian won't perform on demand.

I also really liked the Personalized My Alphabet Book. Preschoolers beginning to identify letters often love to learn about the letter that begins their name. In the case of my son, this was one of the first letters he learned, simply because it started his name. This book is personalized on the front cover with the letter and name of your child (or gift recipient). The illustrations are wonderfully colorful and whimsical. A wonderful gift that any new parent can read to their child from a very early age.

Uncommon Goods also has a wonderful selection of gifts for Father's Day. Many items are unique, or personalizable and great for guys that are difficult to buy for. Our family loves games so I have my eye on this Portable Table Tennis set or this Backyard Tic Tac Toe Set. Both would be great for summer family fun.

As a company, Uncommon Goods represents ideals most of us parents can feel good supporting. They offer health insurance benefits to all full-time (and most part-time) employees. Additionally they primarily offer products that are made from organic, recycled materials, and/or are handmade.

Enjoy the warming days of spring and get ready for the summer celebrations ahead.

**Uncommon Goods provided me with several products for the purpose of reviewing them on this site.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Free Comic Book Day! Reading Development and Comics

Did you know that Free Comic Book Day is coming up on May 7? Of course I keep up with these things being the mom of two boys. Many girls love comics too, though. Check out your local comic stores to see if they are participating. Although some comics are not appropriate for younger ages, some places are beginning to have events to cater to a younger crowd. Your local library might also have good comic options for younger kids. You might be surprised that #free comic book day is actually a pretty great way to encourage literacy.

If you have a young son, like I do, you are probably familiar with what I call the “superhero phase.” We are just in the beginning stages at my house, but the idea of superheroes, “good guys” vs. “bad guys,” and all things Superman has taken over my son’s imagination. As a corollary to this, he has also recently been introduced to the comic book. At a recent play date outing to a restaurant, the kids received little comic books with a cow-themed superhero as the main character. It has really made an impression. He doesn’t even care that the superhero is a cow; he loves me to read it to him over and over. This made me wonder, however, if comic books are really considered useful reading when it comes to helping young children development literacy skills. Let’s turn to some research and see what the experts have learned.

University of Illinois researcher Carol Tilley has found evidence that reading comics helps increase students’ vocabulary and instills a love of reading.  Although in the past some parents and teachers have dismissed comics as “fluff” reading, Tilley and others argue that they can be just as complex as any other form of literature. Readers of comics must combine pictures and words in a logical fashion to understand the story. All of this helps them learn visual literacy and vocabulary. Researchers point to worldwide reading assessments which show high reading scores for students in countries where comic book reading is common. For example, Finnish children received the highest reading scores on a recent assessment and typical nine-year-olds there read a comic book almost every day.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for comic book reading is how it can help boys overcome the gender gap in reading proficiency and enjoyment. Most of us are aware that girls tend to outscore boys on reading assessments and generally are found to enjoy reading more than boys. Researchers say this is due in part to the fact that boys prefer reading more non-fiction or informational texts, along with books centered on fantasy and gross details. These types of text, unfortunately, are not always as common in school libraries as traditional fiction texts that tend to appeal more to girls. Comics, along with their longer counterpart graphic novels, seem to be a possible way to engage boys more in reading. Research is showing that boys who read comics do tend to make the “leap” to other types of reading, and just as importantly, they grow to enjoy reading more than boys who do not read comics.

Anecdotally, it also seems that comics have a way of inspiring a lifelong love of reading and writing. Some of the country’s most prolific authors, such as Ray Bradbury and John Updike, have noted their love of comics as children.

So parents take heart; if the only thing your son seems to enjoy reading is comics, go ahead and add to his collection. Hopefully this love of comics will be just the spark to fuel a love of reading that will benefit him for a lifetime.