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Socialization is possibly the hottest topic in the homeschool community, especially to those considering the leap to homeschooling.  I have to admit, as I considered pulling my daughter from third grade, I worried about whether or not she’d get enough time with peers.  A very wise friend pointed out that I was comparing all opportunities for socialization to public school as the gold standard.  I began to consider that.  Public school: 25+ kids in a class with one teacher, lots of distractions, kids acting out, barely any 1:1 learning time, short bursts of free time during lunch or recess, but fairly little actual leisure interaction during the day.  I realized I was okay with deviating from that “norm.” So, for those out there considering homeschooling, where DO we get our socialization?  Everywhere!

Socialization

Shopping

In the store, my kids get to ask employees for help, make their own purchases, interact with cashiers, calculate their change before receiving it, and participate in real-life economic relationships.  The other day, my eight-year-old figured out how much change she’d get back before the cashier did!

Field Trips

On field trips, they get to ask questions of museum docents, tour guides, friends on the trip, and other adults.  Everything from participating in a lesson to building a comfort level asking strangers where to find the bathroom happens on field trips.

Activities and Sports

In our extracurricular activities/town sports, they take direction from dance teachers, coaches, music instructors, Girl Scout leaders, as well as constant interaction with classmates and teammates.

Community Service

Participation in volunteer activities is another luxury of the homeschooled child.  There are groups dedicated to just this purpose, with opportunities to help at a soup kitchen, sort and organize food and clothing for those in need, and even design projects for the community.  Along with their friends, my kids have had the opportunity to collect and deliver food and supplies to animal shelters, make sandwiches for a food pantry, collect and sort clothing and toiletries to be handed out at a low-income center, and shop for items for kids in a children’s home.

Co-op

At weekly homeschool classes, kids get to learn in a group setting, learning not only from other parents/instructors, but one another.  Opportunities for peer learning occur in a more relaxed, smaller group settings, when kids get paired  up and work together.  Big kids get a huge boost of confidence when they get to help the little ones grasp a concept, and the younger set can really respect and relate to kids just a little bit older.  The enrichment that results from invested parents getting together to passionately teach kids from their area of expertise, and kids jumping in to teach one another, is exciting to witness.

Family

Kids who learn from home may have many more opportunities to spend time with family.  Two years ago, my then 93-year-old grandma lived with us for two months.  She often joined us at the dining room table while we schooled, and my kids got to hear so, so many stories about the “olden days.”  Lots of homeschooled kids learn a subject from a grandparent or other relative who happens to be knowledgeable in that area.  And many other homeschooled kids get to participate in the family business, since they’re home to do so.  These opportunities are priceless, not to mention memorable!

The richness of social opportunities on our homeschool journey continues to impress me as time goes on. Not only do my kids get to interact with adults in so many community settings, but the breadth of peer interaction is also rich. One unique social dynamic that occurs in the homeschool  world is the diversity of ages that come together. Rarely will you find a homogeneous group of same-age kids.  Groups of different aged-kids blend together seamlessly, with a beautiful comfort and appreciation developing as friendships are made.  Big and little learn from one another, teach one another, and enjoy friendships. The resources in the community are there, and multiplying exponentially as more and more families embrace non-traditional schooling.  If you’re considering homeschooling, rest assured that your social calendar will be more than full. In fact, you’ll find you have to turn down invitations to leave enough time to learn!

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If you have lived in the Hudson Valley for more than five minutes I  guarantee you have run into someone talking about The Catskill Game Farm. I was lucky I made one trip with the school kids I used to work with. So, I was able to see it in its glory. But my kids will never get to see it.

Last year we made the trip to see Trevor Zoo in Millbrook, NY. It is a unique little zoo as well. But once you see the animals and tailgate your lunch in the parking lot there isn’t much else to see or do for little ones. We loved it and it is perfect for small kids.

This year we made our way to the Adirondack Animal Land in Vails Mills, NY. It is about an hour and a half away from us in Saugerties, but worth every minute of the drive! We planned our visit on a Monday to avoid crowds. Here is what we loved:

EASY ACCESS

The paved walkway is perfect for little feet and the stroller crowd. If you have a family member in a wheel chair the path is wide enough to accommodate. The staff is so super friendly and helpful. They keep the area really clean. There are some hilly parts to the grounds, but you can see those on the map areas and avoid if necessary.

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PICNIC AND PLAY AREAS GALORE

We arrived at lunch time and had a tailgate picnic in the parking lot. That seems to be our style so I don’t have to lug anything extra with me. Yeah, I know how kids are, “can you carry this for me puhleeheez!” There are several picnic areas throughout the park. All very roomy and clean! There are plenty of little houses and climbers and fun photo ops in each picnic area. Plenty to keep kids entertained.  My kids were a little disappointed I didn’t bring our lunch inside. We were so close to the Zebras we could have had lunch with them.

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ANIMALS WE DON’T SEE EVERYDAY

The highlight of this trip for my girls is their close encounter with real life giraffes. It was such a special moment to document the first time my little animal lovers got this close to their favorite animal. All of the animals are born on the property and remain on the property. None of them are being pulled from the wild, or shipped off to who knows where. Every animal seems healthy and well cared for. You can tell by the way the staff interacts with the animals they are treated well.

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FEEDING TIME AT THE ZOO

Most of the animal pens have a food dispenser nearby. For just a quarter your kid can purchase a small handful of pellets to hand feed specific animals, or send it down the feeding tube. There are labels on the fences near the food dispensers noting which animals bite.

We especially loved getting to hand feed the fallow deer. These gorgeous and gentle creatures were not timid about letting us pet them and offer them food. The feed was $2.00 per cup, but it was a large cup and the kids had plenty of chances to meet a deer.

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AFRICAN SAFARI RIDE

I am typically not a fan of drive through safaris. I think the amount of auto exhaust is not safe or healthy for the animals. And I don’t like the potential to run over an animal. However, for this part of the experience you board a tractor lead wagon. This means only one vehicle driving through which ensures everyone’s safety. We had some very close up visits from the Ostriches, Water Buffalo and Camels. It was all under the safe direction of our tour guides. My girls were thrilled!

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AVIARY

I have to confess I am not a fan of small birds. They kind of freak me out with their little tiny beaks and beady eyes. It never fails when I meet a small bird they want to climb all over me. So walking into the aviary building with what I believe are thousands of tiny birds was no easy feat. (OK maybe one hundred, but it felt like thousands!). However, my little adventure seeking animal lovers walked right in without a care. For $2.00 you can buy a little stick of bird seed to feed the birds with. My girls LOVED this. As soon as you hold out the sticks the birds flock to you for a taste. My kids had 2-3 birds on each hand while I was hiding behind my husband avoiding eye contact with any feathered beasts.

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THE CITY IN THE WILD WEST

This little city is super cute and fun to explore. With its interactive exhibits and period decor, kids are invited to interact with the jail cell, an old barber shop, post office and bank and more. It is a lot of fun for kids and adults.

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SNACK SHACK

We did not purchase our food at the snack shack, although it did smell really good! It wasn’t terribly priced. There is a screened in area for families to eat free from pests. Right next to the seating area is a covered row of ride on machines, like row boats, lions, horses, etc. Each one cost a quarter and is great to keep kids occupied while waiting for the safari tour.

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We spent nearly four ours here from start to finish. We enjoyed every second of climbing and playing and bonding with the animals; from camels to lemurs to zebras and pot belly pigs we loved them all! It was a really easy and fun day trip outside of our little town!

What you need to know: This is a cash only establishment. Children 12 Months and under are free. You cannot feed animals outside food, but  you can bring in your own. The family bathrooms are clean and well maintained and there are porta-potties located all through out the park (also clean). TIPS: Instead of buying super expensive plastic souvenirs we purchased a Christmas ornament for our tree and let the kids each press a penny with the Animal Land logo for $0.50.  Right now you can snag a $2.00 off each admission ticket (until 9/5/16).

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. 

 

One move to work core, shoulders, arms and legs!

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A strange phenomenon occurs wherever women gather with their children. There is a bonding that forms immediately over the exchange of labor stories. We can’t seem to get enough details about other women’s labors and we excitedly share our stories. It’s like we all fought in the same war in slightly different locations and we all have our battle scars, along with stories of fear, pain, and triumph.

I was at the pool with my children the other day. Sydney was splashing in the kiddie pool, while two women sitting with their toddlers were already engaged in their war stories. It was sort of amazing. Women who might otherwise have nothing in common were bonding over stories of epidurals, contractions, and pushing. I found myself ready and willing to find an easy place in the conversation to join in with my own stories.

It’s amazing to me that it doesn’t matter if you gave birth two weeks ago, two years ago, or two decades ago you still have your stories cued up at the ready whenever you see a fellow mom. I was volunteering at church in the toddler room with a woman with adult sons and my toddler was playing at my feet. We easily talked about our labors like they happened yesterday.

I think part of it is what I call Post Traumatic Labor Disorder and the other part is simply recognizing that we lived through some of the most difficult, painful, and miraculous moments of our lives. Each child is a stripe on our mom-iform, usually in the form of stretch marks or C-section scars. The stories of their lives are etched on our bodies.

Most of us, no matter how old our children are, look back at this point in our lives with wonder and admiration. How did we do it? How did we survive? How did we find strength we had no idea we possessed? How did this little miracle become mine?

The stories of how our children got here are all different, yet we are bonded together by the collective experiences of motherhood. Our children are different, we are different, but we all carry the same rank of “Mom.”

Beyond the stories of how we became mothers, there are some universal truths of motherhood most of us can agree on.

  1. You have no idea that you can love a person you just met. I never believed in romantic love at first sight so it took my breath away when the doctor placed my child on me for the first time. Love at first sight is real, but I think that’s because motherly love starts before your child is born and when you see them for the first time that’s when all that love bubbles up to the surface.
  2. You know with certainty that you are screwing up at least some of the time. I’ve found that knowing you are messing up with your kids isn’t nearly as hard as forgiving yourself for it. There are a million things we’re doing right every single day, but instead of seeing those things, we remind ourselves of our poor decisions and we agonize over the hypothetical consequences.
  3. You know that you would lay down your life for your child’s.When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I told my husband that if a complication were to arise during her birth and he was forced to make a choice between her life or mine, he was to choose hers. It’s not that I had a complicated pregnancy, but I just wanted my wishes to be clear – that even though she wasn’t here yet, her life was to come before my own without question.
  4. You are exhausted by just how much you care about EVERYTHING.Details you never thought about in your life have this new weight because everything you say or decide will shape another person into who they will become.
  5. The feeling of helplessness at not being able to control what will happen to your child(ren) is paralyzing.You have to put it out of your minds long enough to feed them breakfast, get them ready for the day, and carry on with your everyday lives.

The world seems so full of horrible stories these days; stories of murder, conflict, and injustice both here and across the globe. It’s so depressing and terrifying. In order to cope, I have come to seek out these miracle moments of strangers forming instant connections, sharing stories, advice, and encouragement to remind myself that the world can be beautiful too.

We can’t control much of what happens in the world, but we are the band of mothers and we can shape the future a little every day. We can teach our children better ways. We can show them how to love and respect themselves and others. We change the world in small and quiet ways when we raise our children to seek out the light amidst the darkness.

I like to think that when women come together to share our war stories of labor and the battlefield of parenting, we are saying, “I stand by you. Even if your journey looks different than mine, we ultimately want the same thing – to create amazing people that make the world a better place.”

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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

STATE TRAVEL BUREAUS

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.

LEGO JR. MAGAZINE

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.

NASA

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

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 TREEHOUSE COMMUNICATION

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

DINOSAUR TRAIN

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

EPA ACTIVITY BOOK 

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

funmail 3

THE LEFT HANDERS CLUB

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.

NURSE COLORING BOOK

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

ANIMAL WELLNESS MAGAZINE 

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.

OFF ROAD ADVENTURES

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

BUTTERFLY GARDEN KIT

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!

FREE WILDFLOWER SEED PACKETS 

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

 

A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT

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.

 

DISNEY CHARACTERS

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

 

DANIEL TIGER

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. 

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