10 Low or No Cost Outdoor Family Activities for the Spring and Summer (that AREN'T going to the Beach!)
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost to you, and commissions earned help support my small business. You can learn more about this program here.
When the weather starts getting nice, my family loves spending as much time outside as possible. We are outside on days we work from home (I am writing this from a lounge chair on my deck!), we play outside, eat outside, and generally find every excuse possible to be outdoors. But every parent has had the experience of their child feeling bored with outdoor free play. Here are 10 ideas that are low or no cost, and perfect for keeping the entire family entertained outside throughout the warmer months!
2. Water Play
3. Messy Art Activities
4. Take a Nature Walk
If you happen to live in or around Westchester, I also strongly encourage you to check out Lasdon Park's Dinosaur walk!!! It is an amazing resource available FOR FREE!!! The trail isn't particularly long by adult standards, but it is perfect for little feet. Along the way take time to learn about the different dinosaurs, their environment, and more. The trail also offers a virtual reality experience and stations where you can scan signs to learn more!
6. Outdoor Movie Nights
7. Get Dirty!!
Mud kitchens, dirt play, sand boxes, and mud pies are all great ways to have fun getting dirty! While many parents cringe at the idea (admittedly, I am included in that), kids love it. Warm spring and summer days are perfect for getting dirty, because you can do it in a swim suit. Just spray off with a hose when done!
8. Backyard Camping
Grab a tent, a sleeping bag, and a flashlight; then head outdoors! You don’t have to sleep outside to experience the fun of camping! Get comfy, light a fire in your fire pit if you have one, and roast some marshmallows. When it is time for bed, you can always head inside, but not before taking a long gaze at the night sky! There are some great apps out there that help you discover stars, planets, and constellations.
9. Go for a Bike Ride
Even small children can partake in family bike rides with a balance bike (which is obviously a lot slower than a regular bike, but a great tool for helping kids get ready to use a big kid bike!) or wagon attachment. Biking is great exercise, and allows you to get out and explore faster than using your own feet. My community has some excellent cycling trails, or just take a ride around your neighborhood.
10. Obstacle Course
Want even more ideas? I update my Instagram stories regularly with new activities I am doing with my preschooler, or things we are doing as an entire family. You can also find great ideas from around the web on my Pinterest account!
What are some of your family’s favorite outdoor activities for the spring and summer? Comment below and let me know!
Be sure to share this with other parents looking for creative ideas to stay busy outside this spring and summer!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost to you, and helps support my small business. You can learn more about this program, and all this site's terms and conditions here. Additionally, I periodically receive gifted products from Yum Earth. All opinions are my own. We love their products, use them in our home, recommend them to all our friends and family, and genuinely believe in their brand!
Holidays can be tough for kids with food allergies, and Valentine's Day is no different. Here are some ideas to keep your Valentine's Day school card exchange or party food allergy friendly!
Tips for Food Allergy Families
1. Communication is key! Speak with the classroom teacher in advance. Discuss any concerns about food allergies, and offer to provide information about food allergies for the teacher to send home to other families.
2. Offer to do any baking for the class party, or send in special treats just for your child.
3. Plan ahead. Speak with your child about how to stay safe at school. Make sure your child's epi pens are not expired, and check in with the school to make sure they are up to date on the details of your child's reaction plan. This is good practice ahead of any celebration that may revolve around food.
4. Refer toFood Allergy Research and Education's website for tons more resources!
Tips for Non-Food Allergy Families
1. If you are sending in food items to share, make sure their are food allergy friendly. Or, better yet, provide nonfood treats!
2. Nut free doesn't mean the product will be entirely nut free, either. Always check if the product is from a nut free facility.
3. Nut free does not mean allergen free. Allergen/Classroom Friendly does not mean allergen free.
4. Ask your child's teacher if there are any food allergies in the class you should be aware of.
Ideas for Card Exchange Goodies
These highly rated Amazon choice products are sure to impress your child's classmates!
Allergy Friendly Valentines Candy
We love YumEarth products! They are Top 9 free, which makes them perfect for our family!
Printable Valentine's Cards
Feel free to download this cute food allergy friendly Valentine's card!!!
Or, download one that isn't related to food allergies!
Allergy Friendly Baking
Store bought baked goods are frequently come into cross contact with allergens. As a result, food allergy families like mine usually opt to bake our own brownies, cakes, and cookies. One of our favorite recipes is this nut free brownie recipe (we do not use the frosting recipe, but you certainly can if you choose). When made with your favorite safe flour, butter, and other preferred products, it is easy to modify to be cross contact free. It is not wheat,,/gluten dairy, or egg allergy safe, unfortunately, but I'm speaking to some of my blogger friends to get an amazing Top 9 option that I'll share ASAP.
You can check out our preferred products here, or visit myfood allergy portal to get recommendations for food allergy support groups where you can ask for recommendations based on your individual allergies and comfort levels.
We topped our Valentine's brownies with pink vanilla frosting, Valentine's sprinkles, and delicious Yum Earth Valentine's gummies!
Want more great food allergy content? Check out my food allergy family portal here!
Help keep kids with food allergies safe this Valentine's Day by sharing!
Being a mom is HARD. It seems like there are always competing responsibilities, social engagements, appointments, and activities, and no time to get half of them done. While I can't promise to help you find more time in your day, I can recommend strategies that have helped me feel more on top of life, and it all starts with organizing your schedule. Here is how!
Pick the Right Planner
The right planner makes all the difference! You can buy one, or make one quite easily using printables (such as those in my free resource library) and a binder, or a journal and bullet journal strategies. If you love graphic design and flexibility, choice a blank journal and create a bullet journal. Love the ability to change things up, but want to try a variety of templates? Use printables and a binder (like those in my free resource library). Like things neat, tidy, and easy? A traditional planner does the trick!
You can find many types of planners on the market. I recommend something that you can make your own. I usually pick something with plenty of room for notes, sections for goals and to do lists, and blank space for decorating.
I've found stickers to be one of the easiest ways to personalize my planner, and keep myself on track. With planner design becoming a true hobby (and not just a necessity), there are tons of options on the market. Here are two that I've used and love.
Get Your Key Words and Sections Planned
What key words will you use to keep yourself on track? I like separating my To Do list from my To Contact list and separating those from my To Buy list and appointments. I also like setting goals for the week or day. Sticking with 3 seems to be the sweet spot! I've continued this practice whether bullet journaling or using a traditional planner. Do what makes sense to you, but make sure it is something that is helpful. If you are new to the practice of organizing your week, play around with different ideas. There is no shortage of examples on Pinterest or Google!
Here is some examples of how I've broken up my responsibilities:
Need more inspiration? Here is a list to get you started!
And don't forget to take some time to celebrate your accomplishments or log memories! Think of including some of the following in your planner!
Make your planner your own! Add decorative stickers, washi tape, or draw designs or pictures! Here are some of the products I've used and designs I've done in my bullet journals/planners.
What About My Phone Calendar?
There are a variety of great apps for phones and computers available on the market, including the Google app suite. Don't get me wrong, the automated reminders are SUPER helpful, and I use them. I also use my phone calendar on the go. But when I get home, I transfer everything into my hard copy planner. Here is why:
What are your best planner tips for busy moms? Be sure to comment to share!
I'd love to update this article with YOUR tips! Not comfortable commenting? Feel from to use my contact me form, or reach out to my on social media!
Then, share this with a busy mom who would love these tips for staying on top of their schedule!
Find even more great ideas for your family on my Family Life page!
This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for being included in this amazing web series episode by Food Allergy Research and Education. Check out the entire video below!
Disclaimer: This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. Commissions earned help support this blog. You can learn more here.
Get your holiday shopping out of the way with great gifts for the entire family! This post contains links to all my gift guides, as well as my Must Have Products page. More content will be added throughout the holiday season, so check back regularly! As always, many of the products I recommend are ones we use in our own home, and love (if there is a product we haven't used, I always make selections based on overall product rating, brand, and a review of the product's details).
The Gift Guide Roundup!
1. 10 Great Toddler Toys - Toys my child loves, and your's will, too!
2.Stocking Stuffers (and small gifts) for Toddlers and Preschoolers - This post contains both Christmas and Hanukkah gifts and books!
3. 3 Types of Bath Toys Your Toddler Will Love - These bath toys make for amazing gifts for your toddler, or an addition to a baby registry.
4. Great Nonfiction Reads for Dog Parents - Get the dog lover in your life a book they will love! These are some of my favorite nonfiction books about dogs (mostly...).
5. Fishing Themed Toys and Books - Does your child love the ocean? Is your family big into fishing? These ocean and fish themed books and toys make for great additions!
6. Gifts for Her - Great gifts for the woman in your life. Home spa and self care products, clothing, accessories, and much more!
7. Gifts for Him - These gifts are sure to impress, and with top ratings (and an enthusiastic recommendation from my husband), you will have no problem finding the perfect gift for the guy in your life!
8. Top Rated Gifts for Kids - These 4+ Star gifts (almost all are 4.5 and higher) for kids of all ages are sure to impress!
9. Holiday Deals on Amazon - Find the latest deals on Amazon here!
Nothing on this list striking your interest? Check out my Must Have Products page for tons of recommendations for craft materials, organizational items, decor, books, toys, and much more!
And be sure to check back regularly for more additions to this list! Coming soon: Budget Gifts, The Best Gifts for Book Lovers, and more!
Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by Rhyme to Read. All opinions are my own.
As a former educator with extensive training in the science of learning to read, I always have my eye out for products that are aligned with best practices. It seems as though children’s products touting their educational value are a dime a dozen. With homeschooling becoming an increasing choice due to the ongoing pandemic hitting the US, I predict this trend will only accelerate. But as a former teacher, I am frequently disappointed by many resources labeled “educational” that are on the market. Often, these products have no basis in the science of learning, and some even utilize strategies that are counterproductive.
When it comes to learning to read, literacy science suggests there are five core areas of instruction critical to promote (National Reading Panel, 2000). These are: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. An important note to make here, before I continue, is that phonics and phonemic awareness fall under a larger umbrella known as phonological awareness. This is a concept I’ll be returning to several times in this review, starting by letting you know that, from what I have seen from many early literary programs on the market, many programs do not promote critical phonological awareness strategies that contribute to the development of efficient decoding, and later automatic word reading. Instead, many of these programs focus on the first letter of words (rather than what sound that letter makes, that is, it’s phoneme), whole word or sight word reading (i.e. rote memorization of words while relying on the first letter and context cues to predict the word’s entirety), or poorly implemented phonics strategies (e.g. ineffective letter/sound mapping). For instance, you’ll see many programs utilize the word xylophone for the letter ‘x’. Take a moment to say ‘x’, and consider the sound it makes. The phoneme is roughly the same sound that ‘cks’ makes in the word ‘socks’. Does the word xylophone truly highlight that letter’s sound (i.e., the phoneme for ‘x’)? No. A better strategy is to find a word where ‘x’ makes its common sound; words like ‘fox’, ‘six’, or ‘box’. Circling back, problems like this are particularly prominent in products that are computerized, since many aren’t developed by educators, but rather computer programmers. The end result is anyone without a background in the science of education may be fooled into believing that a program is teaching their child to read effectively, when it is not. This isn’t to say these programs are worthless, necessarily (though some certainly are). Just that many programs aren’t quite hitting the mark in promoting effective early literacy strategies.
Rhyme to Read, a program designed by a reading specialist, alongside a PhD in special education, is different.
There are several things I love about Rhyme to Read. First, it isn’t another computer or tablet app that you set your child down in front of, and walk away. It requires effort on behalf of an adult, helping guide the child. Furthermore, while the program does offer an app, it also provides printable copies/ebook versions of the texts via digital download. Reading with your child is known to be an excellent way to build pre-literacy and beginning literacy skills (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020). Therefore, the fact that Rhyme to Read promotes actively reading with your child, and offers several formats sets it apart from a lot of the competition.
Rhyming is a frequently used and effective strategy to promote phonological awareness and support reading development (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020; Anthony & Lonigan (2004); Roberts & Neal, (2004); National Reading Panel (2000), Goswami, 1990; also, author’s personal experiences teaching and utilizing said instruction strategy under guidance of reading specialists and mentors at both Fitchburg State University and on site at the elementary school I taught at, though anecdotes should always be taken with loads of skepticism!), and this program does a great job of utilizing the strategy for the purpose of reading instruction. This reliance one effective literacy instruction strategy is a feature of Rhyme to Read that sets it apart from some other content marketed to parents as educational. No surprise, the program was designed by a team with expertise in reading instruction. By color coding written language and matching letter combinations with correlating sounds, this program also features an explicit phonics instruction strategy.
While it utilizes strategies often applied in classrooms, the program is easy for parents without a degree in education to use. It is also simple and coherently structured. Rhyme to Read builds throughout each short text on concepts from the previous unit. This progressive increase in difficulty while explicitly drawing from prior units is something known as scaffolding. That is, the program provides building blocks to allow a child to develop skills and move from a place of dependence to full independence with minimal frustration and minimal boredom (i.e., the content is neither too difficult, nor too easy; that is, to use the Goldilocks metaphor, it is ‘just right’ in terms of the challenge the content offers). Rhyme to Read starts with simple rhyming concepts and sight words, and uses color coding to draw readers’ attention to specific sound families. Sight words are called out page by page, and there is no unnecessary text. That is, the authors have carefully crafted each story so that it contains nothing but the conceptual building blocks being introduced. Concepts are also clearly tracked and carried over from unit to unit.
Finally, Rhyme to Read offers diverse representation in their texts. In an era where efforts are increasingly being made to ensure all children can see themselves in media, this program does a nice job of incorporating images of characters with a range of abilities and appearances.
It is important to note that rhyming instruction alone is not sufficient to promote future reading ability (e.g. Yeh, 2008; Martin, et al., 2002; Muter, 1998), and segmentation (something not focused on explicitly in this program) is a vital and potentially the most important skill associated with later reading ability (e.g. Muter, 1998). Furthermore, Rhyme to Read has not been scientifically validated; that is, there have been no experimental studies comparing this program's efficacy to that of other proven programs. As a scientist, this is something I ideally like to see from curriculum materials. All that said, I still would recommend Rhyme to Read to families looking to homeschool, supplement school curriculum at home, or get an early start on more formal reading instruction with their children before they start learning in school. I believe the program would best be used in combination with explicit segmentation/decoding instruction, and other direct reading instruction strategies.
Overall, I loved this program, and believe you will, too!
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References and Resources
Tips For Helping Your Child Develop Preliteracy Skills:
American Academy of Pediatrics (2020). Resources for Families: Top Tips for Families for Early Reading and Literacy. https://www.aap.org/en-us/literacy/Pages/For-Families.aspx
Anthony, J. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2004). The Nature of Phonological Awareness: Converging Evidence From Four Studies of Preschool and Early Grade School Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 43–55. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.124
Goswami, U. (1990), A Special Link between Rhyming Skill and the Use of Orthographic Analogies by Beginning Readers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31: 301-311. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1990.tb01568.x
National Reading Panel. (2000) Report of the National Reading Panel--Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf
Martin, M.E. and Byrne, B. (2002), Teaching children to recognise rhyme does not directly promote phonemic awareness. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72: 561-572. doi:10.1348/00070990260377523
Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M., Taylor, S., (1998). Segmentation, Not Rhyming, Predicts Early Progress in Learning to Read. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 71(1): 3-27. https://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.1998.2453
Roberts, T., Neal, H. (2004). Relationships among preschool English language learner’s oral proficiency in English, instructional experience and literacy development.
Contemporary Educational Psychology. 29 (3): 283-311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2003.08.001
Yeh, S.S. and Connell, D.B. (2008), Effects of rhyming, vocabulary and phonemic awareness instruction on phoneme awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 31: 243-256. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2007.00353.x
"COVID-19 has highlighted, to an extraordinary degree, my family’s privilege. It is a word you probably hear a lot of right now in the context of systemic racism, but privilege is multifaceted. My family hasn’t lost anyone to the virus. My husband and I haven’t lost our jobs, though they have become exponentially more difficult. We aren’t struggling to keep a roof over our family’s heads or food in our bellies.............. I’m not saying this because I want to brag. Not in the slightest.... No, my summer isn’t canceled. It may be different this year, but I will not allow my privilege and expectations to ruin it. Things don’t always go as planned, but I am lucky that I have the choice to dance in the rain. I’m grabbing my umbrella. What about you?"
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What comes to mind when you hear the term "allergy attack"? Sneezing? A stuffy nose? Itchy eyes? Maybe you know someone with food allergies and think of hives. Perhaps you even understand that food allergies are life threatening. But what about nonfood products?
In my latest piece for Westchester County Mom's Blog, I discuss my child's anaphylactic reaction and how managing food allergies means more than just watching what you eat.
Or, read my other posts about living as a food allergy family and find resources to help your family on The Mindfully Scientific Mama Food Allergy portal.
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Is your family managing food allergies? What is something you would want people to know about living with these conditions?
Be sure to respond below!
Food allergies are terrifying, and trying to protect your child when they suffer from food allergies brings a whole new level of anxiety to the parenting experience. What if my child picks up an allergen at the playground (you’d be shocked how many people leave tree nuts all over the place!)? Can we safely go out to eat as a family? What if one of my child’s classmates brings in food containing one of my child’s allergens (the school is a nut free campus, but is not sesame free, my child’s other allergen)? What if the school uses an unsafe product during an activity? What if one of my child’s friends is wearing body lotion that contains sesame oil? The "what ifs" can feel suffocating.
Until now. Read more about why Social Distancing Helped Ease My Anxiety as a Food Allergy Parent in my latest blog post for The Inclusive Eating Project.
Or, view all my work on food allergies here.
I don't do things like this often. I try to keep my posts to my areas of expertise. But my silence feels a heck of a lot like complicity given what is happening around me. I really don't know what to say, but I'm going to try.
As unacceptable as it is, the color of my skin confers me some level of privilege in the American system. I recognize this, and it is my duty to not shy away from the uncomfortable truth. And uncomfortable it is.
So, to the Black community, your lives, your safety, and your ability to rely equally on the systems that benefit me matter to me. I don't know what else to say. So instead, I am quietly watching. Listening. Learning. Trying to understand, because I don't and can't know what it is like to walk in your shoes. And trying to apply that knowledge to raise my white child to know and do better.
I am sorry. I hear you. And I stand with you.
Yesterday I muted my social media and listened in recognition of #BlackOutTuesday. I've since committed to continuing to keep my social media presence limited, as well as working to amplify melanated voices when I do post. I am going to remain teachable. I'm going to keep listening. I'm going to keep trying to do better.
My colleagues at Westchester County Moms Blog and I have also put together a statement of support. You can read that here.
May 2020 (Prior to 5/31)
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View my author page for Westchester County Mom here.
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