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UNION

With the warmer temps beginning this week I am looking forward to getting outside! However, it can be a challenge to get my kids outside. Once they are outside they will play, but I typically have to set the stage for them first. As a mom I am totally baffled by this. When I was a kid you could not keep me inside the house. I was happiest sitting outside under a big tree watching the clouds going by, or racing up and down the neighborhood street. Not sure how I ended up with two kids who need to be prompted to be outside.

I have discovered if I set a craft up outside they are more motivated to join me in the back yard and will likely stay outside longer. It can be a simple craft, or an entire project, but it helps transition to spending time outside.

By now you all know the benefits to getting kids outside. But just in case, here are 5 more reasons:

  1. Kids who interact with nature tend to engage their imaginations more and invent their own games. This involves critical thinking and observation of what’s in their environment.
  2. When kids are more physically active they are building gross motor and fine motor skills.
  3. Kids who spend time outside more tend to develop a lifelong love of nature and see the need to preserve it.
  4. Kids tend to develop more visual and spacial skills when learning to navigate natural environments.
  5. Anyone who spends time outside feels less stressed.

You may have heard the benefits of kids crafting. I like to be thorough so again, here are 5 more benefits:

  1. Crafting benefits executive functioning. Having to plan a project or craft and lining up each step helps kids with focus and memory skills.
  2. Develops fine motor skills. This helps with handwriting and coordination.
  3. Helps kids recognize patterns and sequence recognition.
  4. Crafting builds on long term academic skills like math and reading.
  5. Teaches social interactions like learning to share and use manners when sharing.

Why not combine these benefits and craft outside? The bonus is you can make a mess outside and not worry about having to clean it up right away, or any of the materials staining your nice dining set.

Outside crafts to do with your kids

If you are tired of the old standby of bubbles and sidewalk chalk try these 5 things to amp up your outdoor craft time.

Make colorful bubble art. Simply pour some bubble mix into a shallow bowl and add food coloring. Mix well and use the bubble wand to soak up the mixture. Blow bubbles right in front of the paper or canvas to be sure they land and splatter on the surface. This will make a really unique print for your house. Or turn the paper into personalized stationary.

Paint some rocks. You can paint rocks to add some color to your back yard, or create a fun tick tack toe set by painting three similar rocks to look like lady bugs, and another three rocks a solid color. If you really want to make a fun project sign up to paint some Kindness Rocks to leave around your community, or for friends and family to find in your back yard.

Make your own fossils. This was fun when we did it with cookie dough, now I can’t wait to try it with baker’s clay. Simply roll a small piece of dough into a ball and press flat between your hands. Then press a leaf, or pine cone, or blades of grass into the clay to create a fossil imprint.

Design a paint brush from nature. Simply dip flowers into paint and press flat against your paper to make a pretty print. You can also dip leaves, feathers, a bundle of pine needles or stems into paint and use them like a paint brush.

Re-imagine your water table. When my kids were really little we used the water table for more than just water fun. We filled it with things like shaving cream, a bubble bath for dinosaurs and cornstarch with water (it creates a really fun solid that melts into your hand).

Crafting outside has long term benefits for kids, and the combined benefits create life long skills sets. You don’t need to wait for summer vacation to give any of these ideas a try. As soon as the weather is nice enough to be outside skip the chalk and do something a little different! Your kids will always remember the fun you have together, no matter the craft.

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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A few months ago we decided not to throw our kids a birthday party. I know, how horrible. Instead we took a week-long vacation in the Berkshires. I get that sounds all pretentious but I swear we are average folks. I smuggle my peanut butter jelly sandwiches into places just like every other mom. But we decided for the cost of a two hour party we could give our kids some really fun experiences they will always remember.

We visited a lot of great places and enjoyed trips to several museums where we found science, art and history exhibits. We even saw a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle exhibit which made me and hubby feel a little old. Not only do we remember the first time we watched the original movie (which was playing on a continuous loop), but we remember playing a Nintendo game unit like the one now old enough to be on display as a “classic.”

I digress.

One of our favorite stops was the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. My kids loved making art in the art studio, reading and relaxing in the library and seeing art work from their favorite authors on display.

Here is what we enjoyed!

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The art studio is a large sunlit room bursting with creativity. The resident artists select a craft project each day to share with visitors to the studio. All the materials and instruction are free. There are convenient drying wracks just outside the studio entrance where you can leave your creations while you tour the rest of the building. If you have kids of different ages and stages there are fun hands on play stations for your little ones to enjoy.

The galleries offer a look at original art work created by Eric Carle and other renowned picture book artists. Our favorite by far was the Brown Bear 50th Anniversary exhibit. We could see different versions of the way the animals were drawn. We immediately found the reading area which provided books and comfy brown bear cushions to cozy up to while reading. There are a variety of ways kids can interact with the art and games to help them talk about what they see. Each of the gallery rooms is minimal with plenty of room to navigate a stroller or wheel chair through. But no pictures are allowed for this exhibit.

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The library was the big hit for my kids. Not only did they have access to kids’ books, but they were obsessed with the giant stuffed versions of the book characters they love. Brown Bear was carried around by just about every kid that came in. There are also lots of learning toys like latch puzzles, magnet puzzles and coloring pages. Hubby and I enjoyed getting to sit down and relax a bit while our kids had a safe place to roam. There are kids story times and other events taking place so be sure to check the schedule before you travel!

The Auditorium offers concerts and educational films. We arrived between movie viewings so we did not get to check out the auditorium. But you can check online to see what film or concert is being offered on the day you visit.

The Bookshop is filled with a lot of fun games, stuffed animals and unique gift ideas. We found some great post cards featuring art from our favorite Eric Carle books. I bought extras to frame when we return home.

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Everything about this museum is designed with families in mind. You can request extra diapering supplies from the front desk, borrow a stroller or wheel chair and the coat room has individual lockers with a key to stash your diaper bag and extra stuff you don’t want to carry. There are activity kits to borrow to help your kids have a more interactive experience (I didn’t see those until we were on our way out). The museum admission price is also family friendly $22.50 covers a family of two adults and two kids.

Since our visit was in November it was a little too chilly to check out the art sprinkled along the walking trails and museum grounds. You can also find picnic tables outside to enjoy that homemade peanut butter sandwich right out in the open.  Or you can stay inside and enjoy a non-smuggled lunch right in The Carle Café where they offer free coffee and organic/natural vending machine fare.

The museum is located in Amherst, MA which is approximately 2 hours from where we are in Ulster County. This is a great place to take your young art lover and little reader. It is a perfect day trip for families and especially accommodating for every age group. Older kids can read and learn details about the art exhibits, create art and there is plenty to keep their younger siblings busy and engaged.

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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Last week I shared the Top 5 Fun Activities my kids enjoyed in 2016. This week I am sharing with you our most favorite places to visit. We did a lot more traveling this year than what I’ve shared on the blog. I just haven’t had time to update you all on the details yet. We tend to stick to local places of interest and make a few day trips through the year. But in 2016 we took a bonafide vacation and squeezed in some amazing museums and art! Keep an eye out for those future posts.

As I was digging through my posts to share with you today, I was reminded of my life with two very energetic toddlers who had two speeds: nap and full throttle. I spent a lot of time scouting safe places we could go and let them roam. Of course it also had to be educational, fun, and help them burn off some energy.  So, I’ll start by sharing our favorite fun local places to go with little ones. We often look for free things to do, but sometimes fun comes with a price tag. With any luck it’s a small price tag. If you click on the name of the place it will take you to my original post about our experience at each location and you can find additional info links there.

LOCAL PLACES

Storm King– has to be our most favorite local place for sculptural art. Not only are the sculptures larger than life, but there is plenty of room for the kids to roam and run free. The paved walk ways make it easy to get strollers and wagons through. There are bathrooms and a café. It is very family friendly for all age groups and mobility. During the summer months they have one free admission day per month!

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Trevor Zoo– this little local zoo is the perfect size for little people to enjoy. The paved path lends plenty of space and traction for little feet, and the exhibits are interesting. There are animals beyond our usual backyard habitats. Plenty of photo ops and room to burn off some energy!

trevor-zoo

Mohonk Visitor Center– this adorable area is perfect for moms who need a break from chasing kids. If your kids really need to stretch their legs, you can take them outside to the paved trail. Open all year and free to explore. If you want to check out other trails you can get a free one week pass offered once a year to Ulster County Residents. Or, you can sign up for the annual park membership and use any trail at any time.

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Michael’s Farm– this private little farm located in Saugerties has a nice array of animals. There are farm animals, lamas, deer, ponies, emus and chickens. There are a lot of experiences to have in just one visit. They also offer camp sessions during the summer and school breaks. It is located off the beaten path and is very family friendly. We’ve enjoyed many visits and it is always a lot of fun!

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DAY TRIPS

Animal Land– this one is our absolute favorite! The park is so clean, the animals are well taken care of and there are so many play areas for kids to enjoy. It is very stroller friendly, and is mostly covered by trees making it cooler on really sunny days. We traveled just over an hour from home, but spent half a day there playing and interacting with the animals.

animal-land

Lake George – before this summer I had only ever spent an hour or two in Lake George. I was stopping through on my way home from another trip so, I had absolutely no idea how much this area has to offer. Returning with my little family was wonderful experience! We enjoyed local beaches, games on the main strip and found a little hideaway park that is perfect for little ones to burn off some energy.

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Howe’s Caverns– this is a special place for me. I grew up visiting the caves during school trips and just for fun with friends. Before you go you have to read this guide for the inside scoop. There is a lot you should know before going down below. I was excited to see how many new activities they have besides the caves. Plenty for us to go back to experience!

howes-cave

I hope this helps with planning out some fun trips in the new year, or maybe ideas for when you are feeling spontaneous. These are tried and true family favorites. We hope you enjoy them too!

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. 

At the end of every summer I am left with a big pile of ticket stubs, mini golf score cards, park maps and parking passes from all of our adventures. I hate to throw them away because they make a fun touchstone to all the fun we’ve had. I love to look back at them and remember the stories of each adventure or activity. So how do I preserve our summer mementos and keep things tidy? Here’s how:

PHOTO BOOKS

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At the end of each month I upload our photos to a website with photo storage such as Shutterfly or Snapfish. My photos are stored until I am ready to sit down and order prints, or organize into photo books. I try to create a photo book at the end of every season, or big event. We already have a collection of photo books from my kids’ first birthday, our first family vacation and so on. We love to make a night of looking back when the final book arrives.  If you are not someone who likes to keep your ticket stubs, or park passes you can easily take a photo of them to include in a photo book before tossing.

PHOTO DISK

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I like to feel like I have a backup system to our digital memories. I did not grow up with the instant gratification of digital pics and digital storage. We had to wait a week before we could see every blurry shot, or thumb print we captured. Even then we had a negative to hold onto in case we lost any of those printed images. If the Internet crashes tomorrow and my computer melts down, I still have all our memories in hard copy. This also works for a SANS Disk or USB drive.

PHOTO SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE

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I have not yet tried this, but there are several apps available that allow you to send photos from your phone to print. For a small monthly fee, the service mails the prints to you and you can then put them into albums or other storage.  GrooveBook sends 100 bound photos in a small book and Recently sends magazine style books to you each month. Prices vary per service. Order your prints before you head home from vacation and have them waiting for you when you arrive.

MAKE A SMASH BOOK

smash book

This is one I can get behind. I absolutely love the informal and imperfect way to stash our little pieces of summer. It reminds me of the scrap book I kept through high school. I would just tape my ticket stubs, birthday cards, photos and newspaper clippings to a page. And that’s exactly how you make a smash book.

Start by selecting a notebook. It can be as fancy as you’d like, or simple.  Then when you return home from each adventure you tape all your mementos to a page. You can come back later to add photos, doodles, drawings and stories. There is no right or wrong way to do it! Every member of the family can take a turn adding in their own pieces and writing their own memories on the page.

This process is less fussy than creating an intricate scrap book page. Although I think those are super cute, I personally don’t have the time to scrapbook, or shop for supplies.  A smash book is like a journal meets photo album. So easy!

How do you store your summer memories?

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. 

Summer is the time to enjoy the beautiful Hudson Valley with our families. Unfortunately, when we’re camping, hiking, swimming or just hanging out in the backyard, we have to contend with ticks and other insects. If you’re reluctant to use commercial insect-repellent sprays with their harsh chemicals, try this healthy alternative:

  • 4 oz. distilled water
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin
  • 30 drops geranium or rose geranium essential oil
  • 10 drops tea tree essential oil

Shake vigorously and apply often.

Unlike many other essential oils, geranium oil can be applied directly to the skin (if a rash appears, stop use). Place a drop behind each ear and at the wrist pulse points for extra protection. If using on your dog, put a drop between the shoulder blades and one at the base of the tail.

Enjoy a healthy summer!

We’re in the August lull.  I love it.  Since my husband is a teacher who’s crazy busy from September through June, we spend a lot of July focused on productivity and around-the-house projects that don’t get enough attention during the year.  As a homeschooling mama, I spent mid to late August prepping for the school year- ordering copies of material, scheduling field trips and classes, and organizing so that we can hit the ground running once we begin in September.  I relish early August because it’s the downtime between coming down from the previous year and ramping up for the next.  As I mulled over my blog for this week, many topics came to mind, and I actually started two other posts before realizing that oh, my goodness, it’s summer, who cares!  What’s on my mind right now is downtime, sunshine, watching the clouds glide by, and cuddling with my babies.  So, here are my random musings from August.

Cooking.

My little one loves to bake.  For her birthday, a friend gave her a gluten-free cookbook for kids, and yesterday she woke up begging to make mini chocolate chip muffins.  My first instinct was to say no- it’s too hot to bake, I don’t want a mess, let’s skip it.  She persevered, though, promising to do all of the clean-up herself.  Wouldn’t you know- she made the most delicious little muffins, and put away everything by herself.  Woot!

Swimming.

We have a pool in our neighborhood, which is fortunate since my kids are little mermaids who love the water.  Many leisurely afternoons are spent splashing around in the pool with their friends.  At the beginning of the summer, the kids picked out a giant blow-up lobster, and he has accompanied us to the pool day after day.  He’s too big to fit in the car, so our options are either shove him into the backseat and let his claws and tail hang out the windows as we drive, or creep up the street at 15 miles per hour as he sits on the roof, and the girls hang their arms out the window and hold down his limbs.  This is where memories are made, people.

Lobster

Gardening.

We grew a container garden on our deck this year, with great results.  Zucchini, peppers, three kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, and all kinds of herbs are snaked through the spindles of the deck.  I assigned my kids the chore of taking care of the plants- every day, one of them takes a turn watering, checking for growth, and weeding.  My older daughter really isn’t into it, but my little one is.  She could spend hours examining peppers for color or twisting off little tomatoes and popping them into her mouth.  The most fun has been eating our harvest almost immediately after picking it, and seeing their excitement as they tried a fresh-off-the-vine cucumber or amazingly sweet zucchini.  Most every glass of water is filled with fresh mint leaves, and basil graces pizza and bowls of tomatoes on an almost-daily basis.

Lobster

Family.

With the laid-back days of summer, family-time is a given.  Whether we are chilling at my mother-in-law’s, visiting my grandparents in their assisted-living home, swimming with my squishy-cute nephew, hanging with my parents and sister on the deck, family time is cherished, and we’ll always take as much of it as we can get.

Day Trips.

We try to hit the drive-in movie every summer.  This year we went with friends, and I felt like it was 1950 as the kids cuddled in the back of my friend’s truck while we grown-ups sat in camping chairs and shared snacks.  Awesome.  We also hike and picnic throughout the Hudson Valley, spending at least one special evening at a favorite spot right on the Hudson River, where we eat and chill on a beautiful dock.

House Projects.

This was the summer of house projects- we ripped up carpet, put in a new floor, refinished and painted stairs, relocated our laundry room, and put together furniture.  It creates chaos, but the end results are better organization, less clutter, and lots of opportunities for my kids to grab tools and help us improve our home while learning how to do something useful.

The Library.

We’re there year-round, and take advantage of cool programs that local libraries hold over the summer.  The kids have tie-dyed, touched and learned about exotic animals, examined banana DNA through library classes, and participated in the summer reading program.  We’ve listened to books on CD, cuddled on a blanket and read aloud under the blue sky, and spent car trips delving into exciting new novels.  It’s awesome.

There’s so much more to summer, but these are the moments that stand out right now.  What are some of your favorite summer memories?  Share below with our readers- maybe there are new traditions waiting to be discovered!

Tucked away on a tiny lot which you probably pass every time you make your way through the village of Catskill, is the Catamount. This kooky little people’s museum is fun for all ages. It is quite unique and if you pass by too quickly you will miss it. It sits just above street level and blends right into the greenery and the remains of an old brick foundation. The Catamount is completely hand built and the brain child of local artist Matt Bua. You can read Matt’s blog to see conceptual sketches, ideas and events held at the museum.

Catamount

What makes this museum truly unique is that it is a “people’s museum.” All the exhibits inside the belly of the bobcat are donated by members of the community, strangers stopping by and local historical organizations. You will find maps, water color paintings, a carved wooden cat puppet, newspaper articles and much more. Even you are welcome to leave behind a little work of art, a map, or a note. Have fun signing the guest book and looking through to see how far people travel to visit.

Catamount 1

Catamount 2

Catamount 3

The bobcat was installed in 2010 and it was only supposed to stay for one year. But this heart warming feline has grown on the city of cats and folks here have let it stay. Would you believe I drove passed this spot for a year to schlep my kids to preschool and I never noticed the 15 foot cat?!

We found out about this amazing little place through the Follow That Book program at the Catskill Public Library. Librarians Miss Jennifer and Miss Crystal put together a wonderful tour and story time. My girls even enjoyed a game of ping pong using a wooden plank for a paddle. Why not? The entire Catamount is made out of recycled and found objects. Even the eyes are made from old plates and light bulbs. At night you can see them glowing. So it is only fitting we used planks of wood we foud lying around to create our paddles.

Between ping pong and story time we enjoyed a lovely picnic inside the bobcat. Then it was time to chat with the artist himself. He was really great with helping the kids build their own sculpture from found objects. He let the kids take total control of the project and simply guided them with, “where do you feel that piece belongs?” It was educational, interesting and different than your usual story time.

Tips if you plan to visit: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the table inside the museum, or spread out a blanket on the grass nearby.

Bring plenty of bug spray. Even though it is a small lot it is quite lush with greenery.

Be sure to stop by Coney Island just up the street (walking distance) for ice cream and fun kiddie rides. Take your picture with the tiny Statue of Liberty.

Bring a camera!

Bring a small piece of history or your own hand crafted artwork to leave behind.

If you just can’t get enough cats in your visit, be sure to find parking on Main Street and take the walking tour of painted cats. You can find a map at the Greene County Arts Council, or just walk on your own. If you stop by the arts council check out the latest exhibits!

Check out the secret gardens planted between buildings on Main St.

Cool off at the library in the kids books section and pick up your calendar for Follow That Book.

Stop for lunch at Village Pizza or the Garden Gate Deli. Both places are kid friendly, affordable and really yummy!

For a really small village there sure is a lot of free art to see and fun things to find! The girls and I truly enjoyed the day. We can’t wait to make a trip back to leave behind our own piece of history.

 painted catsPainted cat 2painted cat 3

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. 

 

 

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.

blueberries

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

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!

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It’s been a crazy, busy, week-and-a-half since my kids started summer break. I just love the summer and all the things we get to do as a family from swimming, boating, BBQs with family, trips to county fairs, and of course vacation. But there’s one thing that is most definitely NOT on my summer agenda – homework.

My neighbor showed me a great big folder of worksheets her son’s teacher gave her students to do as homework this summer. I looked at her and said, “I won’t make my kids do homework this summer.” Before you go crazy on me. I’m not anti-learning over the summer. What I am is anti-homework.

Even though my kids are still in elementary school (my son just finished 1st grade and my daughter finished 3rd) they honestly work their butts off all year long. My third grader completed her state tests without a single anxiety attack, which is quite honestly a miracle. I guess my years of experience being a sensitive person are actually helping me teach my sensitive daughter that tests don’t define her. She also participated in the science fair.

I spent every week night sitting at the table with my son while he either sailed through his math worksheet or struggled and occasionally shed a few tears over his reading packet. Not only did they work so hard all day long, but they came home to more work. Frankly, so did I.

Now that it’s summer, I have no intention of sitting down with worksheets for homework time. That doesn’t mean I don’t want them to learn over the summer. Here are four activities we’ll do that are both educational and fun.

library kits

The library is always one of our summer destinations to encourage their love of reading.

1. Go To The Library – We’ve already been to the library twice in the short time school has been out. My kids love picking out books. They’ve each read between ten and twelve books, not because I said, “Okay let’s sit down and do homework,” not because I put the timer on like I had to for Jay each week night during the school year, and not because I want them to learn anything in particular. I let them be their own guide.

My daughter devours chapter books and my son alternates between fiction and non-fiction. I want them to have the joy of reading just for pleasure and no “homework” is going to give them that same joy. Books are also portable. We can take them along on our summer adventures. Our library also offers a summer reading program with lots of fun activities and outings.

2. Play Board Games – My son LOVES board games and I think many people overlook the valuable learning tools that many of them are. Scrabble is great for practicing spelling, Life and Monopoly are awesome for learning about money management and counting, and Battleship teaches logic and deduction. So many board games involve counting, problem-solving, and strategy. Games are a great way to keep their brains sharp, while having fun.

3. Go On Field Trips – I love raising kids in the Hudson Valley with so many great places to visit from nature museums, playgrounds, to historical sites like the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park. The summer is also filled with festivals where you can teach your children about different cultures while trying new food. Summer is the perfect time for all those field trips you couldn’t take during the school year. Get out and explore your community by planning a trip with MyFamilyTripPlanner.com or check for great events on Hudson Valley Parent’s Community Calendar.

 

Hannah Experiment

Hannah experimenting with food dye to see how flowers draw water up from their stems.

4. Let Them Play I think we underestimate just how important play is to children’s learning. My daughter loves to write and draw. She and her brother love to go through and pick out experiments to do from a book I bought for $5 at Aldi that contains 101 simple science experiments for kids. I love that they are exploring the wonders of the world through play. It also gives them a chance to explore their own interests, free from curriculum.

I’m a big proponent of education, but there are so many different ways that children learn. I will probably have my son practice his addition and subtraction facts this summer using educational websites because that’s his favorite way to practice. Beyond that, I plan to be out of the house every nice day, enjoying the many wonderful things the Hudson Valley has to offer.

They only have so many summers before they graduate high school and are off to college or thrust into the real world and I want to make as many memories as I can. I want every day to be filled with dirty feet, sun blown hair, wet bathing suits on my clothes line, and little people passed out in the backseat after a long day of amazing memories they’ll cherish forever (I know I will).

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.

 

 

 

 

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