The Mess

This is the inside of my third-grader’s brain.  Well, in truth it’s the inside of her backpack, but I tend to think they’re one and the same.  I know I’m not alone in this- I look inside of a little backpack or bin, and I find everything and anything—feathers, hairclips, broken bits of pottery or candles, gum, rocks, little toys, stickers, mementos from holidays past, and tons and tons of pencils.  Furthermore, on any given day, she’s whipping around the house, building a fort, dressing up the dog, doing a “cooking project,” reading, setting up art supplies, and carrying dolls around the house to create makeshift “camps.”  Her ideas come faster than her clean-up skills allow, which means that after a few hours, our house looks like a tornado hit.  And forget bringing her into the car—all of these items get packed into a bag, emptied into the backseat, she takes off her socks and shoes, and somehow by the time we get to our destination, you’d think we’d traveled cross-country and lived in our car.

Raising, and homeschooling, a child with a high level of creativity and energy can be a challenge.   She’s bright, verbal, imaginative, energetic, and self-directed.  I often find myself trying to strike the perfect balance of providing enough structure and consistency without squelching her very free spirit.  My organized, productivity-driven brain screams, “KEEP THINGS NEAT! GET EVERYTHING DONE EFFICIENTLY!  STOP MAKING A MESS!” Then my mom brain shouts back, “LET HER BE! SHE’S ONLY A CAREFREE KID ONCE!  SHE’S CREATIVE, WHO ARE YOU TO GET IN THE WAY OF HER PROCESS?”

In truth, every day is a learning experience, and I’m continually figuring it out.  On some days, I don’t think I’ve figured anything out.  What I have learned, though, is what works on most days, and how much it helps to hear of others’ experiences and talk with other parents about surviving our highly active smarties.  So assuming this may help others, here goes.

Keep Them Informed

My kids (and many others) benefit from an overview of the day, even the week.  Just as school teachers hold a morning meeting, our family runs more smoothly when everyone chats and knows what to expect.  Knowing that your all-day toy parade is going to be interrupted by a dentist appointment after breakfast allows the creative mind time to reign it in.  Whenever possible, giving the little people a say in the schedule is a cool way to share some of the responsibility and sharpen decision-making skills.

Less is More

This one has been really hard for me, and others I know.  There are so many offerings out there—music lessons, every sport under the sun, foreign language, art classes, and Bounce houses galore. Kids don’t like to hear that there’s nothing fun on the agenda, and can be quick to cry, “I’m bored!”  Again, balance is desired, but I am always thankful when our schedule is filled with less rather than more.  Active kids give it their all, and the intensity with which they embrace life can lead to burnout. Burnout leads to forgetting to eat or hydrate, not getting enough rest, or feeling overstimulated.  If you’ve ever witnessed a “Hangry” child (hungry-angry-overtired), you understand.  When I put just a little less on the schedule and make sure to allow for downtime and daydreaming, I find we’re all calmer and less irritable.

Get Outside

Burn off that energy!  Run in the sunshine, play in the snow, roll around in the grass. Collect leaves, ride a bike or scooter, chase your sibling or parent around the yard.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but being outside can reset our brains and our mood.


Engage kids in the world.  Sometimes, all of that energy needs just a little direction.  Do they want to write a letter to grandma? Bake muffins for the neighbor? Take out some craft supplies and create?  As I raise my second child, I notice how much more supervision she’s required than my first, and I truly attribute it to her energetic and creative nature.  She’s more apt to get into mischief through her explorations, or need help coming back to Earth.  While I want to let her steer her own ship, sometimes I see her getting overwhelmed when her passions move faster than her abilities.  In those moments, I step in.  I’ve learned to collect a non-traditional “art” box of random household tidbits.  We also use Pinterest as a project bucket list.  When we’re needing some direction, we’ll peruse our options and sometimes the refocusing is all we need.

How do you engage your creative little people?  Share ideas, tips, and stories with our readers.  Happy July!

Blueberries at Mead Orchard (1)

It seems the new parenting trend this summer is to give our kids a “70’s summer.” As in the 1970’s. The decade mostly known for crazy fashions, zero child safety laws and an abundance of TAB cola. Back then, parents just didn’t hover in the same way we do today. Kids were left to figure things out on their own. Things like how many rocks will fill that tree stump, or how to cover up a scratch you got after mom told you three times not to climb that fence. All really important stuff.

As I thought about all the near death experiences that taught me survival skills, I wondered how I could give my kids some of the fun experiences I had growing up. I sifted through memories of the crazy things we did while unsupervised when I remembered one of my favorite things to do was pick berries. Especially blue berries.

With that, I woke my little family up one sunny morning and announced we need to find a place to pick our own blueberries. As we made the 30-minute drive to Mead Orchard, I regaled the children with stories of growing up in the country where the kids ran as wild as the blueberries. My cousins and I would be outside in the summer sun for hours, eating more berries than our bellies could hold, and returning home with buckets full of treasure.

There was absolutely no structure to our hauling berries. So it felt odd to me to find a neat parking spot in the middle of a huge orchard, and receive instructions as to where to find the best berries. It isn’t the same as being let loose to fend for ourselves, but picking berries in any fashion is still a valid way for my kids to connect with a food source.

farmer hands

At Mead’s the neatly lined berry bushes are surrounded by a netted canopy to keep the berries safe from hungry animals. My kids did not seem to be bothered by it at all, but it is completely different than my childhood berry experiences.

In my memory there are haphazard bushes lining the far back end of a field and we all race to be the first ones to get our hands on those precious orbs. Our parents were more than willing to let us go. They planted themselves in a circle with all the other parents,  summer beverages in hand as they caught up on life. No one directed us to the best berries. No one outlined the rules on where not to climb or to where watch out for bees. The older ones were coached how to watch out for the younger ones and we were off.


At the end of our day at Mead’s we picked a total of 4 lbs. of blueberries and 2 lbs. of tart cherries (which are now out of season). Blueberries are still available until the end of August. For less than $20.00 we had fresh fruits to show for our labor, and my kids were wonderfully worn out and full of summer sun and fresh air. It wasn’t the rollicking rumpus of my childhood, but it was definitely a satisfying way to connect my kids to where the blueberries in their pancakes come from.

Mead Orchard is located in Red Hook, NY and the staff there are very knowledgeable about all their products. Not only can you pick your own fruits and berries, but you can purchase their honey and jam. Don’t worry if you buy a jar of honey with the honey comb still in it, one of the cashiers can give you a recipe or two on how to use it.

Tips: If you bring a lunch you can tail gate where you parked, or grab lunch at Papa’s Best Batch road stand on your way out. Either place provides plenty of room for little ones to play. Bring some bubbles or story books to make it entertaining. Be sure to bring cash! There are no ATM’s out in the field.

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 Related: Hudson Valley Parent List of U-Pick Farms

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Behavior Chart

My Breaking Point

Last week, I reached my bad behavior breaking point. My kids were fighting with each other over everything. I told them that they were going to bed early and that was the beginning of one of my son’s EPIC tantrums. My son started refusing to go and the more I insisted, the faster things escalated. Before I knew it, we were both yelling and the whole point of the punishment was lost. Instead of serving as a deterrent to bad behavior, it actually became a catalyst. I knew I had to try something different.

The next day, I went do the dollar store and picked out a simple dry erase calendar. When the kids got home from camp, I explained that we were going to use the new behavior chart. They were going to be responsible for their behavior and whether or not they would earn rewards.

Reward System Skepticism

I was always skeptical of behavior charts, despite how well they seemed to work for my son at school because I was terrified it would create a sense of entitlement in my kids. I was afraid that it would become all about cheap dollar store prizes and instead of understanding that good behavior is expected it would become something that warranted accolades. I didn’t want my kids to grow up to be adults who thought respect needed to be rewarded. I want respect, kindness, and courtesy to be something that they just do automatically like brushing their teeth.

It’s All About the Smile

While my punishments – timeouts or going to bed early temporarily worked for my daughter, they definitely did not improve my son’s behavior. Now we’ve been charting their behavior with simple faces with the kids’ initials next to them.

A smiley face means they had a great day without doing anything that would normally warrant a punishment. A regular face (represented by a face with a straight line for a mouth) means that they did okay. They weren’t misbehaved, but perhaps had some moments where they needed to be redirected several times or weren’t listening as well as they should have. A frowny face means they were not good listeners and didn’t change their behavior after they were warned.

“Magic” Marker Indeed!

I know it’s only been one week, but the change I’ve seen in my kids’ behavior feels like a miracle. My son had one regular face when we first started and they’ve both been great ever since. There have been no frowny faces for either of them. There has been very little fighting between them, and whenever one of them has a stinky attitude or is tempted to slip into selfish behavior that would have typically escalated into fighting, all I have to say is that they are headed toward a normal face and if they continue on it will be a frowny face. So far, we’ve never gotten to a frowny face because just the reminder of their status on the behavior chart seems to get them right back on track. They very quickly turn their behavior around without further warning.

Who knew the key to peace in my house would be found in a little smiley face? My son will even ask me about his status during the day. I usually give a warning, giving them a chance to change their behavior before I demote their status on the chart. They always start with a smiley face and just need to work to keep it. I’m a big believer in giving them a chance to change. After all, we all have days where we’re tired or frustrated and have stinky attitudes.

Limiting Zoned Out TV Viewing

As far as rewards go, I DO NOT want my house overflowing with dollar store toys so they earn things I consider extras. My kids could spend hours watching Minecraft videos on YouTube because we don’t have the game. After seeing how they zombie out in front of these videos I thought this would be a great reward. They love the videos, but I don’t want them to spend hours a day watching them so if they have a smiley face the day before they can watch one video the next day. It’s a win for both of us.

I also promised them water guns for having a week with no frowny faces. My secret is that I was going to buy them anyway because their camp is having a Super Soaker day in a few weeks, but this way they had the satisfaction of earning them. They were so proud of themselves and grateful to get the water guns.

Jay with water gun


Refining the Rewards

I’m still coming up with rewards as I go. I would like to come up with special treats that don’t involve toys or computer time. I want to come up with special outings they can do with either mommy or daddy. With three kids it can get difficult to spend one-on-one time with them so I think this will be a fantastic way to make sure we get that time together. If I let them plan the outing I think it will make it that much more special and they’ll work really hard to earn it.

You can set up your chart however you like. Some families have a point system and some give out play money to reward good behavior. I just kept it very simple because I didn’t want to keep track of points or dollars. Three face choices was the simplest system I could think of and I’m amazed at how well it’s working.

Behavior charts have vastly improved my behavior as well. I no longer press for good behavior like I did before. I simply remind them that their behavior is within their control. They can turn their attitude around or they can choose not to and risk losing a special reward at the end of the week.

Making Them Work out Their Own Disputes

Hannah and Jay had a disagreement over what show to watch on TV the other day. In the past, this had the potential to escalate into yelling or even a physical altercation between them. Instead of trying to deescalate the situation myself I simply said, if you want to keep your smiley faces today you need to figure a way to work it out nicely. Sure enough, they figured a way to work it out themselves.

Bringing out the Best Mom In Me

I’m a much more relaxed person now that I don’t have to raise my voice. When I’m less frustrated, I have the right frame of mind to ask questions about why they have a bad attitude and we’re able to navigate and deal with their feelings instead of having them blow up. Who knew a simple behavior chart could turn me into the mom I always wanted to be!

Do you do behavior charts with your children? If so, share your favorite incentives.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

I’m a firm believer in allowing your kids the chance to serve as an apprentice.  Long ago, it was how kids became adults, whereas now, kids are often disconnected from this process. Whether your sous chef in the kitchen or your tool holder while you do repairs, there is so much to be learned when kids work alongside adults.

Around the House

Everything from changing batteries to actual home upgrades are worthwhile for kids.  My little one has known how to get out the correct screwdriver and replace batteries in remotes, toys, and electronics since she was in preschool.  Not only is this actually helpful, but her confidence in identifying AAA vs. AA and knowing how to use a tool correctly leaves her beaming.  This summer, we tackled a bunch of projects around the house- putting in a new floor, ripping up carpets and staples, hanging shelves.  With each task, one of my kids was the helper.  This is a great opportunity to teach safety- when to wear goggles, closed-toed shoes, long sleeves or pants, how to property circulate air if working with paint.  As is so often true, the child starts out as the helper, but quickly becomes an equal counterpart in the completion of the task.  Not only are you getting actual assistance, but you’re building your child’s confidence and future abilities.


In the Kitchen

I’ve talked about this plenty before, but it is worth repeating.  Letting your kids help in the kitchen is always worth it.  Yes, it’s going to take longer. Yes, they’re going to make a mess.  Yes, they might even make a mistake and alter or even ruin what you’re making.  Once, our finished product was so salty, it was inedible (then again, no one ever confused a tablespoon with a teaspoon).  Once, my little one was helping me put ingredients into the crockpot and she banged the glass measuring cup too hard.  It shattered, and we had to throw out all of the ingredients and start over.  Did it suck, sure.  Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate patience, understanding, dealing with frustration, and overcoming mistakes with grace.  Furthermore, you and your child will both be delighted when he can suddenly make part (or all) of a meal.  These are skills that will be used forever.  Teach about knife and food safety, as well as ensure that your child will be able to survive on her own one day!

In the Yard

Planting vegetables and flowers, wedding the garden, watering and caring for things as they grow- all wonderful experiences for children.  Older kids can be taught to safely use gardening tools and the lawnmower. Not only will they experience pride at the sight of their own flowers or vegetable harvest, but they may discover a passion and appreciation for nature that wouldn’t have been realized otherwise.


Cleaning Up

In our home, we believe in the Buddhist philosophy, “Leave No Trace.”  In other words, don’t leave a mess behind.  I tell my kids (husband!) that if they’ve cleaned up properly, I shouldn’t know they were there.  Nothing like walking into a just-cleaned kitchen and finding the remnants of someone’s last snack!  As your kids (undoubtedly) follow you around the house, teach them to clean as they go.  I try to make it an automatic part of whatever we’re doing.  Sure, have fun! Make a fort, spread peanut butter on apple slices, put fresh batteries in the remote, throw your dolls a parade!  But when you’re done… put it all away.  What’s more, as you do household chores, let your child watch and help.  How exactly do you properly sweep, wash the front door, dust the piano keys?  Before expecting kids to pitch in, show them the way you want it done.

With any luck, you’ll enjoy having your kids home for the summer, and miss their sweet smiles (and helpful hands!) as August draws to a close.  Until then, apprentice them!

Fun FREE Mail for Kids

As a blogger I get a lot of fun things in the mail to review. I can get several packages a week delivered to my door. Each time my kids ask, “is that for me?” Of course I have to break the bad news and tell them, “Nope. This one is for mommy too.” After seeing their disappointed faces a few too many times, I began to wonder how I could get the kids some FREE fun mail delivered to our home.

Last year we tried to create our own city swap with a friend, but unfortunately we sent more than we received and my kids were disappointed. But it was a fun project! My family is too busy to send off a quick letter, or card so we can’t count on that for fun. It would be nice to get a subscription to their own magazines, but that would be a very limited amount of mail.

I asked around in various mom groups for ideas on how to get free fun mail for the kids this summer. Most everyone suggested a paid subscription, or starting a pen pal group. Since we are working on hand writing this summer a pen pal group will be a fun way to get some mail. But I wonder what else is out there. After a quick search in Google I found some really fun ways to get FREE mail for your kids this summer and through out the year!

Funmail 1


Use this database link to find a list of states that will send out tourism packets of info for their state. We sent away for free information for several different states. The first one to respond is Nebraska! My daughter was super excited to get an entire package delivered in her name. It came complete with a highway map and an adventure guide. Not only will your child be excited to get mail, but they could learn a few facts about different states; and you may find yourself planning your next vacation. Delivery times vary per state but allow 4-6 weeks for magazines/brochures to arrive.


Offers a free 2 year subscription for kids ages 5-13. You will need to provide your child’s birth date. Magazines are mailed 6 times per year January, March, May, July, September, and November. Each volume is full of LEGO news and behind-the-bricks interviews, comic adventures, games and puzzles, building challenges and Cool Creations built by LEGO fans, as well as sneak peeks at the latest sets and themes. Magazine age 5-9 and digital newsletter up to age 13.


Get an autographed photo of an Astronaut!! Have your child practice their hand writing by requesting a letter or signed photo from NASA headquarters!


PETA kids offers a one time Free Helping Animals Guide magazine.

Child Safe Kit

This kit will help you keep important data about your child on hand should they ever go missing. I know not exactly fun mail for kids to ask for, but it is a free kit that you can help your child send off a request for.


Monster Tree House Club ‘characters’ will write back and forth with your child with no form letters ever used.


Receive a free activity tool kit for  your child to enjoy.


Download the free activity book, or select the postal service icon and have a free activity book mail directly to your home.

funmail 3


Help your left handed child feel like everything is right in their world with a free membership to the Left Handers Club. Sign your child up to receive a free certificate and a unique “backwards” calendar.


Johnson and Johnson will send a free coloring activity book about nursing and what nurses do to help people. A great way to teach children about community helpers.

Funmail 2


If you have a dog or cat lover in the family this free issue is perfect. It’s a wellness magazine sharing tips on keeping your pets healthy.


Get 6 free issues for your little car/jeep enthusiast!


Upload a photo of you, making the American Sign Language sign for butterfly, as your pledge to help the Monarch butterfly. The sign for butterfly is made by linking your thumbs and crossing your two hands in front of you at the wrists with your palms facing you. After taking the pledge, you will receive one Butterfly Garden Starter Kit per pledge, while supplies last. Once you have your kit, learn how to garden and watch your wildlife garden bloom!


Just click where it says send me free seeds and get ready to save a bee!



Have your child request a letter from the White House. No matter your political affiliations, it’s still pretty exciting to get an official letter from the White House.



You can have your child write to their favorite Disney character and get a signed post card in return. It is a great keepsake for your child’s memory book.

Disney World will send you an autographed postcard when you write a letter to the following address:

Walt Disney World Communications

P.O. Box 10040

Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

Disneyland will send you an autographed postcard when you write a letter to the following address:

Walt Disney Company

Attn: Fan Mail Department

500 South Buena Vista Street

Burbank, CA 91521



My kids LOVE DT! So I wrote to PBS Kids and asked if they send return letters to fans. They did not confirm a reply, but did give me an address where kids can send their fan mail.

The Fred Rogers Company

2100 Wharton Street ∙ Suite 700 ∙

Pittsburgh, PA 15203


There you have it! A bunch of fun things for your kids to get in the mail for free! Happy writing! Quick Tips: Don’t use your child’s full name on the address. Once you sign your child up their name may be added to additional mailing lists. To limit the amount of junk mail we get from these one time subscriptions, I use a “fake” name or use initials. If new mail I didn’t request shows up with the name I created I can trace it back to the source. Also, allow several weeks for delivery as all items ship differently.


The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

Finding time to stretch can be hard in our busy lives.Here’s a good way to get yourself and your child a little more flexible, and it only takes a minute.

It’s really sickening to turn on the TV or go online and see murder splashed across the headlines. It’s happening all the time. One day it’s a black man shot and killed by cops and another it’s a black man killing cops. You know what the common denominator is? People are being senselessly killed; taken from their families. I struggle with how to protect my kids in a violent world, but what I struggle with more is what to tell my biracial son about how black lives matter both applies to him and yet doesn’t all at the same time.

My husband is biracial himself. He’s half white and half black. He’s very familiar with the feeling of not quite fitting in. He’s not considered white, but also not considered black enough, but only by people who don’t know him. People that know him, just call him Will.

It’s even harder to categorize my children by their race as they are very light skinned, but aren’t quite white either. I thought my children would be identified as white by those that don’t know them until I ran a daycare and one of the children told me, “There’s a Jayden in my class. But he’s white.” After that, I no longer have any clue how people will view my children. I actually welcome it when people ask me about my children’s race.

They are both black and white regardless of their skin color, or is that all the world cares about? My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who has even mentioned the race question, but she just assumed our whole family is white. She only sees our sameness, where other people might see our differences.

I read a blog post from another mother of a biracial child. She goes into sorrowful detail about how she’s afraid her son will grow up to be shot for being a black man (no other reason than that). I get the very real concern. I do, but we must be careful not to teach our children that all cops are to be feared.

Fear is the slippery slope that people fall off and they often land in hatred. How is identifying a person’s goodness by the color of their uniform any different than identifying someone’s goodness by the color of their skin?

Daddy and Jay FishingThen there is the added rub for my son in the Black Lives Matter movement. His daddy is a law enforcement officer. Jayden understands him to be a cop because probation officer is a little harder of a concept for him to understand at six years old.

What Jayden knows is that daddy has a badge, carries a gun, and puts bad guys in jail. Daddy is a cop and daddy is also black (both black and white technically). So is daddy good or bad because he’s black or good or bad because he’s a cop?

Whenever we take the actions of some and have them stand for an entire population, stereotypes are born. When we use those stereotypes to propagate the murder of any human being it’s wrong whether it’s a cop or a person of color or any category of people at all. Murder is the epidemic we should be focused on.

My son wants to be a cop someday (at least right now, he is only six). If he does I will tell him to be careful. I want him to protect himself, as well as others. I hope he never has to fire a gun. Taking a life isn’t something you can easily live with. I don’t want people to see his uniform and think he’s one of the bad guys. I don’t want people to look at his skin and assume he’s white and that must mean he’s racist. I will raise him to know that he is both black and white, always one foot in each world.

We should all be in the same world; a world that should be disgusted by the taking of ANY human life. I understand the call to raise awareness that black lives matter, but some people have misinterpreted the mantra to be synonymous with cop lives don’t matter or ONLY black lives matter.

It scares me to send my boy into the world that will struggle to judge him instantly by the clothing he wears or the color of his skin. But I will teach him that no category of people is inherently good or bad. Each person is to be judged by their own character and actions.

I want him to be a person who follows the law. I want him to be a man of strong moral character. I want him to understand that all human life is precious regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, or any other category that can be used to box in people that will never be neatly categorized.

Years of fear and hatred don’t just disappear. I know I can’t change the world my children are living in, but I sure can shape the people they grow up to be. I want my kids to know that we are profoundly more similar than different and that you can never fight hate with hate. It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire, expecting it to act like water.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

I will teach my beautiful biracial boy that every lost life is an affront to all of us. I’ll teach my son that Black Lives Matter is a call to action; a call to recognize an epidemic of black men being killed by police officers. I will tell him that there are people in the world who still see skin color as the easiest way to identify and place a value on people’s lives.

I’m sure he’ll figure out on his own one day that it’s going to be problematic for people to classify him in this simplistic way. His race will probably be questioned. If he grows up to be a police officer, his intentions and integrity will probably be questioned as well. But honestly, the only thing I can teach him that will make any real difference is that the categories we fall or don’t fall into will never supersede the most important one of all – human being.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Children are drawn to technology- most toddlers know how to operate their parents’ devices.  My kids can do more on my phone than I can, and I frequently find the wallpaper changed, or new apps.  Many kids also love video games, and streaming online.  It’s easy to steer this love of screens to beneficial learning time that kids enjoy.  All but the last one are free to play, so check them out!

Math Playground

Math Playground is a great site.  You can find so many mathematical topics, broken down by both subject and grade.  Everything from simple operations to telling time to logic can be found here.


Prodigy is a fun game lets your child explore a virtual world, having duels with wizards and other creatures, interspersed with math questions.  Even though it’s a math game, my daughter looks at it as a wizard game, and she really loves this one.  The levels continue through eighth grade, so it appeals to both big and little ones.

Teach Your Monster to Read

Super cute Teach Your Monster to Read engages kids with monsters and space ships while working on phonics, putting together sounds and eventually words.  There are a few levels, so they can grow with this program for a little while.

Dance Mat Typing

A really wacky typing game, Dance Mat gives kids get the opportunity to work on proper finger placement while quirky creatures cheer, “Click on me!!”  This has really helped my two learn how to type correctly, but it’s fun enough that they don’t mind the practice.

Khan Academy

Holy cow. Khan Academy is another awesome site where you can find videos and practice exercises on everything from music to math.  We’ve used this often for learning more about a certain technique or topic that we’re studying.  The instructors explain the lessons in ways that are easy to understand, combining visual demonstrations with explanations.

IXL Math

Another math site, IXL offers extra practice over the summer to maintain those skills. Everything from pre-K to pre-calc is covered in a fun way.

Touch Develop

Touch Develop introduces your child to beginning coding through a variety of activities.  In one link, Turtle Drawings, kids get the opportunity to direct a cute little turtle around the screen, giving him commands to go up, down, and sideways.  The tutorial helps understand the process, which may be confusing at first.


From my experience, a parent needs to be present during web surfing that involves YouTube.  Things can go from PG to crude or scary pretty quickly.  With supervision, however, the world becomes your oyster.  We’ve used YouTube channels to view the world as we study geography, documentaries as we study history, a never-ending stream of videos on scientific concepts, even pronunciation when working on foreign language. An engaging video on the Doppler effect does a better job than I could, especially when they’re developed with kids in mind.

Bill Nye the Science Guy

You can find Bill Nye on Netflix or at your local library.  Thirty minute videos on so many topics, presented in a truly innovative way.  They’re in-depth enough for middle-elementary kids, and always include a music video that will leave you singing along about clouds or energy.

Magic School Bus

In this animated book and video series, an elementary school teacher and her class board a “Magic” school bus which transports them around the world, sometimes inside the human body!  They’re cute but informative, and hold kids’ attention long enough to teach them a thing or two.


BrainPop is the only site listed here that requires a paid subscription, but it is truly well worth it.  BrainPop encompasses science, history, ELA, math, and so much more.  They have a daily video that’s always free, and you can view their selections without logging in.  Many schools and libraries have subscriptions available for the community, so check with your local resources.

If you have a favorite online resource, share it here with our readers.  Happy learning!

Better Gifts for Less Crap

Lately, I am feeling really bogged down by how much stuff we have. More specifically, how much stuff my kids have.  It seems I have become the keeper of the stuff as I am the only qualified person to manage the 10,000 pieces of art my kids create and find a home for the millions of stuffed lovies they bring home. I spend a lot of time purging and finding storage solutions for all their stuff.

I recycled literally 17 different character cups the girls received from different birthday parties last year. We don’t need that many cups for only two kids. Having more than one kid means coming home with double, or triple the stuff from birthday parties, street fairs, library events or anywhere the freebies are being handed out. Don’t people ever think of the poor parents who have to now schlep this stuff home and find a place to keep it? Blerg!

Having twins means I am doubly blessed, and doubly blessed by all the extra stuff they own. Birthday’s mean double the toys and gifts. This also means I will have to find homes for all of them. As soon as the novelty of new toys wears off they leave them sitting in a corner somewhere.

As I was purging all the little plastic toys and notebooks and left over favors from our toy bins and toys my kids have outgrown, it got me thinking about our own gift giving. If I am annoyed at getting all these “things” I have to take care of, surely other parents are annoyed when I give these things too right?

So, here is my Gift Giving Guide for Less Crap for Parents to Take Care Of! Consult this list before the next birthday party you attend and I promise everyone will think you are a gift giving pro!

  1. Buy a kid an experience. Pick up a gift certificate to a local craft store or a bouncy place, adventure park or ceramics studio. Kids can cash in their gift certificates for a day of fun with no tiny made in china plastic toys left over! Think about the places you visit often with your kids and buy them some time there.
  2. Make A CD. Seriously, go old school and make a hit-list of fun songs that you and your child will enjoy dancing and singing along to. It is travel friendly and requires very little space. Pop it into your car CD player, computer or play at home. Make a unique cover with their picture on it, or include a treasured photo.
  3. Get a gift certificate to the popular local ice cream shop. Most kids love getting ice cream any time of year and it saves the parents a couple of bucks when buying their kid a fun treat.
  4. Send them to the movies. Going to the movies requires a second mortgage for most families. Buying tickets for the birthday child means one less ticket a parent has to pay for. Add in some bonus bucks to cover a snack at the concession stand (totally optional). Treat your child to a date day at the movies.
  5. Get them museum tickets. Not a super fancy grown-up museum, but a children’s museum. Again, the birthday child will get hours of entertainment and fun memories without cluttering up an area of your house.
  6. Contribute to their favorite activity. Many families cannot afford to send their kids to places like the Little Gym, or a music for tot’s program. Purchasing a gift certificate, or contributing cash they can apply toward the tuition cost will be a great help to parents and kids will get months of enjoyment! (That’s longer than they’ll play with that brand new toy).
  7. If gift certificates feel too impersonal and you feel like you really need to buy something for the birthday child a gift basket with a theme is a great idea. If the child is really into art maybe some simple art supplies or a nice set of pencils. A movie night with a DVD and snacks. Make it something they can actually use.
  8. A personalized t-shirt they can wear. Kids grow out of clothes so quickly parents can hardly keep up. So extra outfits for birthdays and holidays goes a long way. Make a fun t-shirt with a picture of you with the birthday child, or maybe a silly saying on it. Personalizing it means it is truly one of a kind and no one else will give the same gift!
  9. Give them a coupon book for adventure. This is really great for your own kids, nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Life can get so busy and hectic that we forget to just stop and enjoy simply spending time with our loved ones. Create an adventure coupon book and set a date the child can cash in!
  10. Make a Memory. Have a favorite baby outfit or favorite sports jersey turned into a keepsake. Memory bears, or even a pillow or quilt they can grow up loving and take with them when they set out into the world is an amazing gift that will be treasured forever.
  11. Buy them a piece of the moon. You can purchase a small plot of “land” on the moon. Your child can hang the framed certificate of ownership on their bedroom wall.Or, you can have star named after them.
  12. Make a donation to an endangered species. Most kids have a favorite animal. If it falls into the endangered species category you can pay to adopt one of the animals. Or, you can make a donation in their name to a zoo that does have their favorite animal.
  13. Skip the gifts entirely. When my girls were babies we didn’t need much for them. They were more entertained by cardboard boxes than light up toys. So, we asked friends to please bring a gently used coat or snow suit their child has outgrown to donate to our local foster care department.

You may be worried there is nothing left “to show” for a birthday gift. I assure you a plastic toy has a limited lifetime of enjoyment, but the memories kids make out of an experience will last a lifetime. And parents will thank you for not giving them something extra to take care of.


The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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