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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

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 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.





Many homeschool families don’t follow a typical school year schedule, but instead learn throughout the year.  They schedule breaks around holidays, vacations, and whatever works best for the family.  Others do follow a more traditional schedule and take a summer break, but might continue certain subjects as a way to either get ahead or address a remedial subject.  Whether your family homeschools or not, there are lots of fun ways to keep skills sharp over the summer.  There’s a real phenomenon called summer learning loss; due to the extended break, math and reading skills slip so far back that the beginning of the school year is spent relearning lost skills rather than progressing forward.  On the flip side, summer is a time for fun, friends and family, outdoor time, and relaxing.  No need to sit the kids down with a stack of workbooks and force them to miss out on those lazy days.  Instead, there are ways to integrate learning into life, and make it fun for the whole family.


Get Outside

Incredible learning takes place outside.  Pick berries and notice all the kinds of produce grown locally.  Take a hike or go to the beach, and observe birds and wildlife, collect leaves or shells to to look up at home, watch how a caterpillar or crab explores the ground, take note of the various kinds of rocks, watch the different kinds of clouds roll by, collect some ocean or stream water to look at under a microscope.  One thing that my family has begun doing is nature journaling,  Take a notebook, pencil, good eraser, maybe some colored pencils. Go to a loved spot- your backyard, Grandma’s yard, a favorite hike or park, the beach, poolside, wherever, and spend some quiet time there. Encourage your child to consider- what do you see, hear, feel? What does being in this spot make you think about? Are you inspired to draw a picture of something, describe it, write a poem, or just jot down some thoughts or feelings?  To make this fun, bring along your own notebook and join your child in this activity, so that it’s more about nature appreciation and less about work.

Watch a Movie

Those rainy afternoons, lazy evenings after a day of playing in the sun, or sick days are good for something– cuddle up on the couch with a movie!  Instead of parking the kids in front of another mindless kids’ movie, sit down and join them for something of quality.  An old film, a classic musical, a documentary, it doesn’t matter what.  We find it fun to watch movies based on favorite books, and discuss the differences.  Watch a movie and then look for literary elements like foreshadowing.  Analyze what the character is going through– how did he overcome hardship, go on an emotional journey, develop bravery or courage?  My kids love acting out scenes after they’ve fallen in love with a movie, which often leads to imaginative play, drawing, and skits.


Possibilities are limitless here.  Give the kids of bag of craft supplies and let them go wild, or make a fort out of blankets and pillows, or build a village out of milk cartons and cardboard boxes.  Make a model car, sew a pillow, concoct your own clay or bubbles, build a robot! It can be fun to tap into ideas online such as Pinterest or how-to YouTube videos, but it can be just as worthwhile to let little ones use their own imagination.

Read, read, read

Reading is one crucial skill that should be nurtured year-r0und, and a parent’s attitude and encouragement can make all of the difference. Some kids read willingly, whereas others need a little push.  Sign up for your library’s summer reading program, through which kids can earn prizes and get excited about setting goals.  Go to the library at least once a week.  Let your child pick out books, peruse the “new books” section, and even slip in a few that you think would be interesting.   A variety is great here– some fiction books, mixed in with a book on one of the topics sparked during your outside time, combined with an interesting non-fiction book about a place you might travel to, or your heritage, or animals.  Have family reading time on a rainy day, get in bed a little early after a day outside and let the kids relax and read, or read aloud on a car trip to visit family or friends.


Follow Their Interests

Was there something that really piqued your child’s interest during the year? Maybe learning about pyramids, the snake that served as the classroom pet, the Revolutionary War, or a really cool Picasso painting studied in art.  Use this time as a laid-back way to find out more. Library books, a documentary found online, or day trip to a museum or zoo are all ways to nurture learning in an organic way that will be fun and not forced.  There are so many local community resources, such as museums, festivals, and parks that can be enjoyed as you broaden your child’s mind.

Let Your Child Be an Apprentice

Take advantage of your child’s time at home to teach them some useful skills. Bring them into the kitchen to help bake muffins (fractions! math!), take part in a home improvement project, wash the car, work in the garden, follow Grandma/Grandpa/Uncle/Older cousin around and learn how to do something worthwhile.  We make it a point to never do any kind of a project at home without having one of the kids help, whether it’s changing batteries in the smoke detector or the windshield wipers.

Free Time

Most importantly, summer is a time to decompress, bond with family and friends, and relax.  Try not to schedule too many engagements, even fun, social get-togethers and day trips, and instead allow for blocks of laid-back, unscheduled time.  Free time and even boredom lead to opportunities for creativity, self-discovery, and recharging. An afternoon at the pool or lake, digging in the sand, splashing in the water,  and giggling with friends is every bit as worthwhile as any worksheet or chore your child could ever do.  A stack of board games or playing cards can create precious memories, as can the opportunity to make your own jam, read to a baby cousin, or create a fairy castle out of old boxes, scraps of fabric, and paint.

Activities don’t have to be exhausting, costly, or time-consuming.  Simple, wholesome, sweet summer experiences make the best memories, and will give your kids something to share when asked to talk or write about “My Summer Vacation.”  Share your favorite downtime activities with our readers in the comments below.  Welcome, summer!

Create aBack Yard Sumer Camp

The end of the school year is only a few weeks away. The subject of summer camp started floating around in mid-April. I find  that most camps run only one week. And if they run longer it can get pretty pricey, especially for two kids. Even a one week camp for $55 per kid can break our budget for summer activities.

I feel like I am some how letting my kids down by not giving them a camp experience. Then I remember I never spent one single day at summer camp as a kid. And I turned out pretty awesome. 😉 My kiddos have many years ahead of them to get involved with different activities. This summer is our last hoorah before Kindergarten. Who knows if the future will allow me to have summers off every year? This is our last summer to live it up!

This year I am starting a back yard summer camp with my kids and their friends. I am enlisting the help of my fellow parents who are willing to open their yards for different activities. We can each volunteer a day to host, lead an activity, share a snack and just play. Sharing in activities keeps the cost low, makes for less planning and saves us from hearing “we never do anything” and “I’m bored!”  Not to mention the social benefits my kids get from keeping in touch with their friends over the summer.

You don’t have to be a teacher, or have any training to make back yard summer camp fun! You just have to be a big kid at heart! Take a cue from your kids interests and create one day of fun each week in your own back yard! Then ask your friends to do the same.

Get Organized

Gather your friends and decide on a schedule. If you run arts and crafts on Monday maybe someone could offer sports, or music another day of the week.

Play to your strengths. Are you crafty? Do you mind getting messy? Can you sing, or dance, or play guitar? Sharing those gifts with friends can make for some really great summer memories.

Will the host provide a snack for everyone? Or will each family bring their own snack, or lunch? Maybe a potluck or picnic style lunch?

Will you allow the kids to be dropped off, or will you expect parents to participate too?

Decide on A Time Frame

Hosting a group every day would be exhausting. Perhaps one hour every Monday, or every other Tuesday? Decide if camp will run for one week, one month or through out the summer.

Inspiration for Activities

Or should I say, Pinsperation? Hit up Pinterest for activities and ideas. You can also find a little inspiration right here on my blog! See below for related links, and check back each week!

Get Creative

If you are not someone who is crafty, or think you don’t have a special skill to share why not volunteer a time the kids can all run through the sprinklers together? Or host a water balloon fight? Kids can share a snack or lunch after while the adults get to chat.

Take a Trip

I know the title says Back Yard Summer Camp, but it could be fun to pick one day a week to meet at a local museum, a new hiking trail, or visit a new library. It might be fun to volunteer together as a group at a local food pantry, or animal shelter. Getting out of the backyard can help mix things up and see new sights.

Even if you are a parent working a 9-5 you can create a Saturday workshop, a week night camp time, or maybe there is a week during your summer that you can get a group together to rotate back yards. The whole idea of a back yard summer camp is to make it work for you! Have fun and enjoy your time with the kids!

Related links: Create A Mud Kitchen Storm King Art Center Frozen Dino Smash Backyard Pirate Adventure

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. 


Dare I say the winter that would never die has finally passed and we can FINALLY, FINALLY (no for real this time) enjoy some summer time activities? Woo hoo!

For us, summer begins a flurry of travel plans, exciting adventures and new places to see.  I feel like our social calendar fills up so quickly it’s easy to lose track of the simple things summertime offers. My girls are 3 ½ this summer which means they can enjoy a greater variety of activities this year. This age is when those warm memories start to really take hold. I want to share the lazy parts of summer with my kids as well as the excitement of big adventures.

This year we are making a Summer Bucket List!

Get as fancy as you want when making your list

Get as fancy as you want when making your list

Making a summer bucket list is a fun way to add new adventures, make memories and keep traditions alive. We made our list by first checking out local sites we keep meaning to try. We added a few new hiking places, some old hiking places and parks/museums that offer free admission days.  I layered in a few summer staples I want to be a memorable part of my girls’ childhood- like making s’mores, snuggling by a camp fire, eating ice cream for dinner and watching fireworks. I didn’t forget about those rainy days that catch us by surprise. I sprinkled in a few rainy day activities to keep us busy and to make some memories with; like dancing in the rain, a puppet show, making a fort and a Disney movie marathon.  I am excited to wake up each day and choose our own adventure!

Display list in a frame and use dry erase marker to check off items

Display list in a frame and use dry erase marker to check off items

Here are some tips for making your own Summer Bucket List:

Keep it simple. If you put too many big adventures on your list that require a lot of planning, travel time and money it may feel more depleting than memorable.

Check your local resources. Are there free hiking trails, picnic areas, beach areas you can use? Many libraries have free museum passes to loan, and they offer free programs throughout the summer. Check out Hudson Valley Parents Places to Go for more ideas.

Set an intention for the season. Are you looking for more family time? Are you looking to slow down and enjoy the simple life? Do you want to start a family project, or get more involved in your community? Maybe take a “staycation” and explore what your local area has to offer. Use a our local trip planner to make your planning easier.

Consider what stage your kids are in.  For the under 2 crowd maybe a simple list of things to accomplish with them. Like learn to blow a bubble, see grandma for the first time, or try a new park. If your little one is more mobile and ready for some action you can try group activities like a new story hour, make a new friend at play group, or try swimming in a pool.  Don’t forget about all the free sample classes at your local Little Gym/Gymboree, Music Together and other “mommy and me” type classes.

The fun part is getting the whole family involved! This way everyone has something to look forward to. Display your bucket list where everyone can see it and take turns checking off completed items.

Display your list or make an interactive list by using cards you pull out of a bucket

Display your list or make an interactive list by using cards you pull out of a bucket

The completed list becomes a great keepsake for any scrap book. Hey make that one of your bucket list items- scrap booking your summer!

Find your FREE printable bucket list here!


Sharon MacGregor

I am a freelance writer and columnist living in Sulllivan County.  My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last year and are raising our two man-cubs with both old-fashioned and modern parenting styles.  Another member of our family is our one-year old, yellow Lab, Maddy.  I look forward to sharing a slice of our family life and family related news with the Hudson Valley Parent community!

Last year, my then fourteen-year old son was invited for a one week vacation to the beach with a family we have known since he was four.  Here are some of the things we discussed with our son before making a decision:


  1. You will be too far away for us to simply come pick you up if you have an argument with your friend so you must be sure you can work out any kind of disagreement


  1. You will have to rise and shine on their schedule.  If they are morning people or sleep in people, you will have to adjust accordingly.


  1. We want you to have a good time, but be safe and follow the same guidelines and rules as if we were with you.


  1. Mind your manners, offer to help, offer to pay and mind your manners.


The trip was a success, but the other family would not accept any money from us, or our son.  In the end, I purchased a gift certificate and mailed it with a thank you note to the mom.  She felt it was worth every penny for her son to have a same age companion.

Many things for you and your family to think about before ruling out or accepting invitations to let your child go on vacation with someone else or come along with you.  Other considerations may be:


  1. What to do in the case of a medical emergency?  Host parents should have a list of child’s allergies, health plan information and a plan to follow should the unthinkable happen while away.


  1. If financial arrangements need to be made, such as contributing a share toward the trip, be upfront.  For example, “We would love to invite John on vacation with us and we can pay for meals and lodging, but for any entertainment or other purchases he would like to make, he will need to have his own money.”  This statement clearly states what you will provide and what the guest will supply for himself.


  1. If a routine and scheduled check in telephone call is agreed upon, ensure the child has access to a telephone with appropriate signal.  Make sure the child checks in with their parents regularly.


  1. If the friends happen to have a disagreement, allow them time and space apart as you would for siblings. 


  1. Have a great trip!



Bringing a friend along or allowing your child to go on vacation with a family you know and trust can be a great experience for your child.  The potential for emotional growth as well as whatever activities they may participate in will help your child be a more well rounded individual.  Wishing you a wonderful vacation – whether it is a day trip or week long event!

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