Category Archives: Family

Spend Some Family Time in Nature During National Park Week

Grand Canyon

It’s National Park Week and from now until April 25th, all 392 national parks across America will be waiving entry fees and hosting tons of really awesome festivities and special events to celebrate nature and of course, Earth Day. This is an amazing time to take that hike you’ve been dreaming of, planning a huge family day out at the national park closest to you and experience what’s great about the great outdoors.

I know we are always looking for exciting things to do with the kids and getting them outdoors more, so if you’ve been looking for the same thing, here are some of the most kid-friendly events being held in national Parks this week.

  • Statue of Liberty:

    While the admission fee is usually $12, for National Park week, you can gain entry into the Statue of Liberty at no cost. Take a ferry from lower Manhattan and then walk around the island and inside the statue.

  • Ellis Island:

    Visit Ellis Island and see for yourself where many of our ancestors got their very first taste of America. You can also try finding your own family members in the registry. As someone who has seen Ellis Island before, I can tell you first-hand that this is something every single citizen of this country should see. It is an absolutely amazing experience, so if you’re near the New York City area, you must go.

  • C&O Canal:

    Washington, DC’s C&O Canal is hosting a few Canal Pride Days throughout National Park Week where you can help clean up the area surrounding the canal before the high season begins. On April 24th, instructors will help families learn to fish in the canal and kids can get their Junior Ranger badge when they help the rangers test the water quality. You can also participate in scavenger hunts, as well as a number of other fun activities.

  • Yosemite National Park:

    In addition to the waived admission throughout the entire week of National Park Week, Yosemite National Park is inviting all children to become a Junior Ranger for the day on April 24th where children will have the opportunity to take a special Junior Ranger hike, participate in a children’s photography session and take part in drop-in activities throughout the day.

  • Smoky Mountains National Park:

    Rangers along the Elkmont Nature Trail are hosting a volunteer clean-up day on April 25th, as well as a road race along the new re-opened Cades Cove 11-mile loop. Strollers, runners and walkers are all welcome to participate.

  • Grand Teton National Park:

    Grand Teton National Park is one of the country’s most popular national parks, and on April 24th, they are holding Junior Ranger festivities, including tours of the park ambulances and fire trucks.

  • Acadia National Park:

    Acadia National Park is one of Maine’s most scenic parks and on April 22nd, they are hosting a geology hike.

  • Alcatraz Island:

    Alcatraz is undoubtedly the most famous prison in the country and during National Park Week, they are allowing patrons to tour the cells and learn about the island’s Native American history at no cost whatsoever.

National Park Week will take place until April 25th and wherever you go to take in a bit of nature this week, keep in mind that all of the events listed above are absolutely free of charge, no exceptions or sneaky fine print.

Plan Toys Educational Activity Bus from eBeanstalk

activity bus The Plan Toys Activity Bus (provided by eBeanstalk, a company dedicated to learning toys and baby toys for educational development) is an extraordinary, safe and green toy for children ages 3 and up that is sure to capture the attention of your children. It is a bus that opens up into a classroom and comes with two little people, desks and other school accessories to play with and is a great educational tool.

activity bus inside When we first received this toy it was right around back to school time and since one of my stepdaughters was headed to kindergarten and the other was headed to Head Start (pre-kindergarten) it was a great experience to be able to let them play school and get acquainted with the school bus, since they would both be taking a bus to their schools. This is a must-have toy for small children who are either just starting school in the coming year or who are still having trouble adjusting in school; this makes it fun for them to experience the school environment right in your own home and get rid of any fear, hesitation or conflicting thoughts about the beginning of the going to school process your children may have. The girls just loved this toy and it quickly became something that they regularly wanted to play with, even now.

What I love most about this activity bus is that it is made by Plan Toys, who make green toys and pride themselves on safety and using only natural materials, proving that it is possible to maintain superior quality of toys and safety standards in addition to following a path of environmental and social responsibility. With that in mind, I would definitely recommend talking to your children about the materials that are made to make their favorite toy and introduce this toy as something that is safe and environmentally conscious.

About eBeanstalk:

eBeanstalk is dedicated to providing the learning and educational toys that promote a child’s development…and we go far beyond just toys. Our mission at eBeanstalk is to “plant the seeds that help children grow” while making gift-giving easy and special.

eBeanstalk is a place where you can give expert selected newborn toys, baby toys, toddler toys and toys for a preschooler. All of our learning toys are packaged into a GIFT SERIES, where every three months a new gift arrives that is perfectly suited to the appropriate stage of a child’s development.

SIDS Awareness and Prevention Tips

SIDS ribbon October is known as the awareness month of many issues, including breast cancer awareness, domestic violence awareness and perhaps the most heart-breaking of all, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS is a medical disorder that baffles doctors as it remains unexplained; there is no known cause or cure and all possible causes of the disorder have been ruled out through autopsy, death scene investigation and medical history. SIDS claims the lives of nearly 2500 babies in the US from one month to one year of age. Luckily, researchers who are dedicated to unraveling the mystery of SIDS have made great strides in identifying deficits, behaviors and other factors that may put an infant at higher risk. Scientists are currently exploring the development and function of the nervous system, the brain, the heart, breathing and sleep patterns, body chemical balances, autopsy findings and environmental factors. People are working amazingly hard at reducing the number of babies who fall victim to SIDS every year; since 1992 when the Back To Sleep advisory was first introduced, the rate of SIDS has dropped more than 50% and has spared the lives of about 3,000 infants every year in the US.

While it’s true that any baby of any race, medical background and class can be affected by SIDS, there are some steps parents can take to reduce their baby’s risk.

  • Place your baby on their back to sleep at night and naptime.
  • Use a firm mattress, covered with only a sheet, in a safety-approved crib.
  • Remove all soft and loose bedding from your baby’s sleep area, including pillows, blankets, comforters, bumper pads, sheepskins, positioners, toys and all other soft objects.
  • Consider using a Halo SleepSack, a wearable blanket, or other type of sleeper as a safe alternative to loose blankets.
  • Do not place your baby to sleep on a sofa, waterbed, pillow, soft mattress or any other soft surface.
  • Keep your baby’s face clear of coverings.
  • Be careful not to overheat your baby with excessive clothing, bedding or room temperature.
  • Do not smoke or allow anyone else to smoke around your baby.
  • Educate babysitters, day care providers, grandparents and anyone else who cares for your baby about reducing the risk of infant death.

Non-Toxic, Natural Craft Supplies for Your Young Artist

children's crafts

Safety is the biggest factor when buying arts and crafts supplies for your children; but parents are not double checking the ingredients used to make some of the biggest-selling supplies on the market. All natural, non-toxic, water-based supplies are definitely the route to go when purchasing new supplies for your kids to dive into (sometimes literally.)

Here are some safe supplies to opt for the next time you find yourself shopping for the supplies to let your little artist create their masterpieces.

Crayons

  • Stockmar’s Beeswax Block Crayons ($29.95)
    Stockmar crayons are made of non-toxic and sweet smelling beeswax. Long lasting and brilliant in color, they are a favorite for parents, children and schools. This set of 16 block crayons presents endless artistic possibilities. Place the crayon on one side and draw endless skies with a single swoop. Use the edge to print letters and numbers. Stockmar wax crayons meet the highest artistic standards. Through the addition of pure beeswax as a binding agent, the light-resistant pigments display their purity and full brilliance. Because they are mixed with wax, the colors are able to be used in a wide range of interesting coloring techniques – more than any other coloring material. The natural transparency of the wax and the lack of additives result in a high degree of opacity like that of watercolors.
  • Artemis Plant Colored Pastel Crayons ($34.95)
    These lovely high quality pastel crayons include soft tints of primary and secondary colors. Colors include carmine red, vermillion, orange, gold yellow, lemon yellow, pale green, blue, dark blue, lilac, purple. These beautiful crayons have been colored by natural plant extract from buckthorn berries, madder root, indigo plant, weld leaves, lac-dye, coreopsis flowers, and catechu acacia. The thick, chunky shaped crayon blocks provide stability when holding.
  • Crayon Rocks Soy Crayons ($10.00)
    Little hands can reach for these cool little coloring tools. The shape actually helps strengthen small hand muscles and gets ’em ready for pencils and pens. Makes for wide, expressive strokes, too. Box contains 16 1″ crayons. Made of natural soy wax (non-toxic and good for the planet).

Finger Paint

  • Speedball “Speedy Kids” Finger Paint ($26.00)
    Exciting fun and entertainment for kids of all ages; 5 oz. squeeze tubes; washable. Absolutely non toxic! Bright fantastic colors! Cleans up easily with soap and water; normal laundering procedures remove stains from most fabrics. This set includes one each of all 9 “Speedy Kids” colors!

While you can buy non-toxic and eco-friendly finger paint, your best bet is to make it yourself. Here’s how:

You will need:

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup grated soap (choose your favorite plain organic soap bar)

1. Melt grated soap flakes into half cup of boiling water.
2. Add cornstarch.
3. Blend well and put aside. Allow mixture to thicken.
4. Divide into small containers and add coloring.

Natural colorings can be derived from the juice of frozen berries, beet juice, tea, onion skils (boiled) or other natural sources. You can store your fingerpaints in the refrigerator for about a week.

Thanks to The Green Mom Review for the recipe! (If you can call it a recipe.)

Modeling Clay

  • Artemis Plant-Colored Modeling Beeswax ($85.00)
    These high beeswax sheets include soft tints of primary and secondary colors. Colors include green, transparent, pink, brown, yellow, carmine, orange, dark blue. These beautiful beeswax sheets have been colored by natural plant extract from buckthorn berries, madder root, indigo plant, weld leaves, lac-dye, coreopsis flowers, and catechu acacia

Play Dough

  • Eco-Dough ($22.00)
    Eco-dough is an all natural alternative. It is made with plant, fruit and veggie extracts! No chemicals, artificial dyes or metals. The containers are made from cornstarch and 100% compostable. Also it doesn’t dry out like name brands. If it’s left out overnight just add a few drops of olive oil and it comes right back!
  • Mary’s Softdough – Solid Color Set ($17.00)
    6 Solid Colors – Pink, Blue, Purple, Red, Green, Yellow Mary’s Softdough is a soft, non-crumbly modeling dough that’s fun to play with! It holds up well to lots of creative play and when stored in it’s container will last up to a year.

    Also available: Natural Scents Set ($20.00)

Big Eye Dummies: A Big Hit with Kids and Immature Adults Alike

Big Eye Dummies

As soon as I came across Big Eye Dummies’ website I knew I had come across something very unique and very, very fun. Their website alone will make you crack up; from the first glance over the website and you notice that they recommend their designer plush dolls for kids ages 2 and up to immature adults and you know what, they are completely correct in that assessment. I recently had the opportunity to receive Slicka the penguin from the Big Eye Dummies collection and I have to admit, me and my partner played around for it for a good long while before handing it off to the stepkids.

Big Eye Dummies Big Eye Dummies are incredibly cute, incredibly wacky designer plush toys that come with two sets of interchangeable eye and mouth pieces letting you change the way your toy looks by mixing and matching to your heart’s content!

Big Eye Dummies were designed and created in New York City by David Lipson who is a professional Animation Producer and Director. He has worked on television shows like Word World, Lizzie McGuire, Schoolhouse Rock, and also shorts for Sesame Street!

Big Eye Dummies The quality of Big Eye Dummies is incredible; the eyes and mouth are gently sewed down so after you cut the threads you can immediately begin mixing and matching. What I love the most about the toys is that the interchangeable parts are magnetic; they are not Velcro which has the tendency to get pieces of lint, hair, and whatever little easily-stickable things that are on your floors or furniture caught in it and after a while becomes unusable. Because Big Eye Dummies uses magnets to stick the eyes and mouths on the plush toys, they will last a good long time!

Not surprising in the least, Big Eye Dummies have received great recognition for their toys and have even received Creative Child Magazine’s Preferred Choice Award!

We love Big Eye Dummies; the kids had a great time mixing and matching them and I think my partner and I had just about as much fun with them! You can purchase Big Eye Dummies on their website for $19.99 each.

Big Eye Dummies is giving away a free doll every month! If you want to enter their contests, become a fan of Big Eye Dummies on Facebook. Further instructions are provided on the site.

Tips for a Happy Family & Clean House During Your Summer Staycation

More and more families are spending what would be their summer vacations at home this year. Summer staycations are sweeping the country and while parents are looking forward to spending more quality time with their partners and their children, taking advantage of their neighborhood and attractions that are close by. However, spending more time at home also includes more planning, bigger messes, and more chores for everyone in the family.

The reason why so many families are having a staycation is undoubtedly due to the downward spiral of the economy. My partner and I both work from home; I run this website as well as one other website, I am also a freelance writer, and a professional web designer and developer. My partner is a professional guitarist/musician who also plays around with professional web design and development. While many people hold the misconception that those who work with and in the technology field make a good chunk of change as truth, we truly make just about enough to live off month-to-month and as more people crunch their budgets and opt for pre-made website designs or go with bigger web design companies who are continuously offering discounted work due to the economy, we are continuously losing work. Needless to say, we are very familiar with staycations. To have fun this summer, we have been spending a lot of time at our local parks. Just a few houses up the street from our house, we have a great park that was just recently created for the children in the neighborhood, since they have very little else to do in our very, approximately 600-count borough. We have also been visiting parks in the next city over from us, having cookouts, flying kites, playing on playgrounds, and the like. Parks are a great way to spend the day with children of any age, and there are a great deal of activities that you can take part in at a park.

According to a recent Clorox survey, over 60% of the moms surveyed reported an increase in cleaning around the house as their families now spend more time at home. Mom Central teamed up with MommyDocs and came up with a list of five tips for Summer Staycations to keep your family safe and your house cleaner during the summer!

Staying Safe at BBQs. According to a recent survey, 70 percent of Moms are cooking more at home and many are likely switching up their meal routine with an outdoor BBQ. Make sure your kids have a safe BBQ experience by keeping them away from the flames and any sharp knives. Also, don’t forget to check that your child’s hamburger is fully cooked. Always keep a thermometer on hand to be sure all food has reached the appropriate inside temperature.

Keep the Pool Cool and Clean. If your kids love to spend hot afternoons in kiddie pools, you know the importance of cleaning the pool area. Dump out water after each session, and keep the pool clean by disinfecting it with a solution of ¾ cup bleach* to one gallon of water. Don’t forget to rinse well and dry thoroughly after each cleaning (never leave any water in the pool). Be sure to always supervise children when they are in or around any water. (* Always remember to read and follow precautions and usage directions before using cleaning products)

Staying Healthy and Hydrated. Spending time in the heat means kids will be more prone to becoming dehydrated. Remind kids to take frequent rest/drink breaks in the shade when playing outside and try to avoid activity during peak sun hours. Encourage fluids before, during, and after outside activities.

Having Peace of Mind at Playgrounds. Sometimes just getting out of the house is the best way to keep it clean, but before letting kids loose at the playground, ensure the safety of the equipment. Swing seats and slides can really heat up in the sun – test them out before your kids hop on to avoid burns. Be sure the playground surface is composed of a soft material to help prevent injury. All playground equipment should be routinely checked for any broken or loose parts. As always, adult supervision is a must at all times!

Saving on Spills. Spending extra time around the house, especially with kids, often means more spills to clean up. Synthetic sponges and kitchen cloths can start to smell and carry bacteria, but you don’t have to toss them out after a few uses. One option to reduce bacteria is to sanitize sponges and dishrags by soaking them in a bleach solution (¾ cup of bleach* to a gallon of water) for 5 minutes in the sink. Don’t forget to rinse and dry when done. A wet sponge can also be microwaved to get rid of bacteria. (* Always remember to read and follow precautions and usage directions before using cleaning products)

Leslie Patricelli Offers Up a Series of Bright & Delightful Books for Children

Leslie Patricelli is the author and illustrator of a series of bright, silly, engaging, and delightful books for children.

Baby Happy Baby Sad is perfect for toddlers and goes through the two most definitive emotions a baby has every single day–Happiness and sadness. It is a thick board book, full of color, highlighting scenarios that may occur in a baby’s day such as playing in mud, which of course makes the baby happy and getting a bath, which makes the baby sad.

However, my personal favorite of the two books is Higher! Higher! Higher! Higher! is an adorable tale of a young girl on a swing pleading with her father to keep pushing her higher and higher. It is a particularly silly but charming book that truly takes hold of a child’s imagination and the little girl continuously goes higher and higher on the swing. She goes higher than a giraffe, higher than a building, higher than the mountains, into the sky, and lastly, she meets a little alien and they high five. I absolutely adored this book; it is a definite must-have for any young child.

What I especially loved about this book is the fact that the book involves a young daughter and her father, rather than her mother. I am a stepmother of two young girls and in the society we live in, we so often see images of children and their mother’s and while that is important, we often overlook the importance of a child’s father in their life.

These are not the only books by Leslie Patricelli; she is also the author and illustrator of other books for young children including Binky, Blankie, BIG Little, Quiet LOUD, Yummy YUCKY, and The Birthday Box; all of which are sure to be hits with your children. Patricelli’s books can be bought on Candlewick Press’ website.

Bella Sara Expands Line with Treasures Series & Mini Horses Collection

Bella Sara

Attention, all parents with horse-loving young girls, I have a treat for you! If you have never heard of or introduced your young girls to the magical, whimsical, safe and adventurous world of Bella Sara, now is the time to do so.

Bella Sara is the leading trading card product ever created for girls ages five to twelve. The World of Bella Sara is a magical place full of beauty and joy that offers positive, inspirational messages from horses from North of North. Selling over 80 million cards to date, Bella Sara is expanding their line even further with two new exciting features for girls who love Bella Sara.

Not only are Bella Sara trading cards horse-themed, you can now start collecting, trading, displaying, and cherishing miniature, palm-sized velvety horses from the Bella Sara Miniatures Series 1 Collection. These horses are absolutely adorable and brings your children a three-dimensional toy to complement their collectible cards. Each miniature horse is just $1.99 and will be available March 3.

Also available March 3 is the eighth series in the Bella Sara line, Bella Sara Treasures. Treasures features rare jewels, educational amazing natural wonders and historical artifacts, and magical items. It also brings new elements to the Bella Sara website, www.BellaSara.com, with more printable activities, bonus codes, coloring pages, wallpapers, a Bella Sara poster, and jigsaw puzzles.

With each miniature horse and pack of playing cards, you receive a code to redeem online. The Bella Sara website offers fans of the trading cards a safe, private online experience where your children can play Bella Sara and North of North-themed games and create their own magical world.

From February 27 through April 30, BellaSara.com is giving fans a chance to win an exciting Treasure Hunt Party of their very own! So make sure you head on over to their website and enter for your chance to win.

The World of Bella Sara is simply extraordinary and your young girls are sure to fall in love with it and the entire collection. Bella Sara products are available on BellaSara.com, Target. Wal-Mart, Toys R US, KMart, Barnes & Noble, Block Buster, among other places.

Get Your Kids Interested in the Environment

Remember the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax? We may have had no idea what it was about when we read it on our own, but if you had a parent who read the book to you and explained that it was about the steadily decreasing environment or you figured it out as you got older. I still love that book and it is now more than ever before where we really need to pay more attention to the world around us. More importantly, as we become more and more passionate about the environment, we will want to instill those same priorities in our children and the most exciting and fun way to do that is to share the love of books.

Children learn a great deal from books, including books that are read to them when they are younger. There are a great deal of books written specifically for children about the environment.

First and foremost, we have The Lorax:
Definitely inspired by the “save the planet” mindset of the 1960s, The Lorax is a warning of ecological deterioration of clear-cutting, pollution and the complete disregard humans have for the environment.

A Walk in the Rainforest:
An ABC book that presents ecological information for young audiences featuring animals and plants found in the rain forest accompanied by a paragraph of each with warnings about endangered species, deforestation and the harm to native people.

I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle:
A book all about how children can do their part in saving the planet by being more eco-friendly featuring a little monster named Max who, after being an environmental nightmare, learns how he can make a difference in the world around him.

Planet Earth Gets Well:
A book that encourages kids to think about the world around them and pinpoints how to initiative meaningful change in order to make the planet a healthier place.

Follow the Line Around the World:
This book follows the line through the Sahara Desert, Greenland, Kenya, Australia’s Outback and many other places to take young children around the world and see animals in their natural habitats with a subtle environmental message.

Eco Babies Wear Green:
A book specially for babies and preschoolers about babies going the extra mile to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Say Goodbye to Couch & Kitchen Chair Forts

When I was young, I remember going to a friend’s house after school nearly every day and of course, we didn’t have all the cool technological toys that are out now for children’s amusement and so we made due with normal, everyday, household objects that may have looked completely ordinary to our parents, but to a child, a couch, a couple kitchen chairs and a few bedsheets were paradise. In our heads, we were anywhere we wanted to be and we could do whatever we pleased; it was very Narnia-like.

Crazy Forts The times really haven’t changed for children too young to care about what video game system is out or what “must have” toys are out on the market; young children still have that magical essence about them where they believe that a couch, a couple kitchen chairs and a few bedsheets mean creating their very own, personal haven. While we absolutely love the creative minds and imaginations children have, putting the couch and kitchen chairs back can certainly be a pain in the butt, especially if you find yourself doing it nearly every day. The makers of Crazy Forts thought the same thing!

Crazy Forts is a genius idea to allow your child’s imagination to soar and to allow a little freedom for parents from having to pick up the house all over again at the end of play time. They aren’t battery operated and they aren’t something that your child will play with for a day and be done with; they are kits containing plastic building materials–25 geometrically precise balls and 44 sticks that connect to create countless structures for play time. By simply tossing a few bedsheets or light blankets,

Crazy Forts building Crazy Forts are one of the very, very few toys out there that promote collaborative play between boys and girls, just as long as your children aren’t in their “No boys allowed” clubhouse phases. While Crazy Forts are meant to be an assembly-by-child toy and are very easy to build into a variety of different structures, especially when the kits are combined, their website also has convenient design ideas and downloadable building plans for a castle, house, igloo, rocket and tunnel, which may be a great way to start warming your child up to creating their own forts if they’re not sure of the toy at first.

Crazy Forts are great kits, especially if you have more than one child who are close in age; this is a phenomenal way to get all of your kids to stay in one room, out of your hair and actually get along–If you’re lucky. It can also be educational, giving children a grasp on rudimentary engineering and physics concepts in a strictly fun way.