Monday, October 13, 2008

The Best Printable Halloween Coloring Pages and Activities

I wrote an article on Associated Content while back about Halloween coloring pages. After looking for good Halloween themed coloring pages, and mazes, and dot-to-dots, I found that most of the high Google ranked pages were disappointing as far as quality pictures and puzzles were concerned.

So I dug deeper.

I put all the best websites I found for printable Halloween activities and coloring pages together so you can find great pages without spending so much time trolling through the rest of the garbage that's out there:

Great Printable Halloween Coloring Pages

Monday, September 22, 2008

Our Favorite Books for Learning About Maps

I'm so happy my daughter didn't inherit my lousy sense of direction. In fact, she adores maps and globes. We have a few books that she will sit and study and red for large chunks of time. I wanted to share them with anyone who also has a map loving, or learning kid in their home.

Besides these books, our globe gets a lot of use. I've seen fancy ones, and plain ones, ones with cute little pictures on them, and ones that just show the land with almost no markings, my child loves them all. I don't know if it matters how fancy your globe is, ours is fairly dull, but it shows the oceans, the continents, and it spins, and that seems to be enough for us so far.

Also, if you know of a great book for kids to learn about the world, or about maps, please share it in the comment section. I have a feeling we will always love maps in this household.

Usborne Children's Picture Atlas by Ruth Brocklehurst, and Doriana Berkovic, Illustrated by Linda Edwards

The Usborne Children's Picture Atlas is a great book for map lovers. It begins with some general information about the different regions and climates around the world. Then there is a map of the world, and individual maps of each continent.

The continent maps have little pictures depicting some of the wildlife that's native to an area, and noteworthy landmarks. There is also a small picture in the corner to show where each continent is on the globe, to put it all into perspective.

This is a book for younger children, and is probably too simple for high school kids. Usborne advertises it for ages 9 to 12, but it is a favorite book of my 4 year old too. Granted, she can't read it, so I have to do that for her, but she loves to see where the animals live, and study the other pictures.

Maps and Globes by Jack Knowlton and Illustrated by Harriett Barton

This is a nice introduction to how maps and globes work. It starts with a little history of the use of maps, and then goes into the different types of maps and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Again, the publisher puts this in the 9 to 12 year old age range, but I think it could be used earlier. My daughter doesn't really understand all of it, so 4 is probably too young if you want a full understanding, but I know she'll be ready well before 9.

Rand McNally Kid's U.S. Road Atlas

This is a state-by-state road map of the United States. There is one state per page, so it isn't going to be useful for day to day driving around your city, it just doesn't get to that level of detail, but the major state highways are there, as well as rivers, and other big landmarks.

It is fun to use to talk about where out of state family lives, or if you take a big road trip, or know people in another city.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Frog Bouncehouse and Party Place

Vallejo, California, has a new attraction for kids: a bounce house, play area called Happy Frog, located downtown at 415 Georgia St. They offer the usual selection of birthday party packages, and also an open jump time during the week, but on the other weekdays, Happy frog offers unlimited jumping for $5.00 per child from 10:30 to 6 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Thursday is Toddler Day from 10 to 2, then open jumping from 2 to 6. They are closed on Tuesdays. Happy Frog offers birthday party packages on weekends. The $5.00 price tag for the unlimited jumping is nice compared to per-hour charges at other similar venues.

Read the Full Review: Review: Happy Frog Indoor Play and Party Zone

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Elephant in the Blog

Why there won't ever be a review of Vallejo's Discovery Kingdom here.

Despite the fact that I live in Vallejo, and am a well-known animal fan, I won't be reviewing Discovery Kingdom in this blog. Since it seems a natural fit here, I thought I'd just post a quick explanation (although maybe no one cares or would have noticed the omission.)

I worked at Discovery Kingdom, then known as Marine World Africa USA, many years ago. I was there when Six Flags took the park over. I survived the transition, but everything I loved about Marine World didn't.

We used to be a non-profit, and had endangered animal breeding programs, dolphin communication research, and a lot of other wonderful programs. But we were going bankrupt. Six Flag came in with money to keep the park going, but took away a lot of what, in my opinion, made Marine World special. I guess it just bothers me that it wasn't good enough as a wildlife park, it had to be turned into an amusement park, with all the rides and flash that go with it in order to survive.

A lot of other behind the scenes changes happened that I won't bore you with, but it was enough that I decided to move on. I've been back to Discovery Kingdom recently; my family talked me into taking our kids there, but I just can't write an objective review. I can't see it only for what it is today because my view will always be colored by what it used to be. What it used to be to me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Resources for Babies Everywhere

I have a few articles I wrote over at Associated Content that are on subjects that are important to me: the environment, the wonders of handmade stuff, and babies.

The first is about various Earth-Friendly diapering options. It's called Earth Friendly Diapers: Simplifying the Options for Environmental Diapering. While researching it I became interested in all the disposable options that claim to be better for the environment. I'm doing deeper research into them, and will let you know when I get another follow up piece finished.

The second is about buying custom made personalized diaper bags. I love Etsy for buying handmade items directly from the makers. Most of the sellers there are very nice, and eager to work at creating something super special for you. Here's the article: Have Your Personalized Diaper Bag Made at Etsy

Monday, July 7, 2008

Online Printable Potty Training Success Charts.

A common idea I have seen in just about every parenting and potty training book or article I've ever read is the use of a potty training reward chart. Potty training success charts are simple, there's really not much to them. When the child uses the potty, they get a check mark, or a sticker on their chart. After enough stickers are earned they get a pre-determined award. It's just a little goal to work toward while potty training.

I recently wrote an article about My Favorite Sties for Printable Potty Training Success Charts with reviews of a few charts if you don't feel like making your own. All the site in the article offer free toilet training charts.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Children's Wonderland Park in Vallejo

Children's Wonderland Park is one of our favorite playgrounds to visit here in Vallejo. In fact, it's going on my top 5 playgrounds in Vallejo and Benicia list. It's full of fun stuff, clean, and safe. The downside is that it has a small admission fee (currently $2.00 per person over 2 years old). They do also have other fun activities scheduled from time to time that they don't charge any extra for. I definitely recommend a visit to Children's Wonderland.

For more details about where the playground is, and events, click here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

4th of July Events in Vallejo

Vallejo has some of the best Fourth of July Day Events in the North Bay. Beyond the usual fireworks displays, we have a huge parade, the rubber ducky derby, and a festival on the waterfront.

There is a lot for kids and families to enjoy together. The Ducky Derby is especially a huge local favorite.

Read more

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Oakland Zoo

Don't miss the best stuff on your visit to the Oakland Zoo!

The Oakland Zoo is located on Golf Links Road just off of 580 in Oakland, California. The zoo is open every day from 10:00 to 4:00, and only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There's a children's ride area right out front as well. The ride area opens at 11:00. Children under 2 years old get into the zoo for free, and children 2 to 14, as well as seniors over 55 receive a discounted price. Current admission prices are listed on the zoo's website at There is also a small parking fee.

The Oakland Zoo is probably our family's favorite Bay Area zoo. We've been members for several years. It is easy to get to, with plenty of parking. It's large enough to fill up a whole day, but not so huge that we need to rush to see everything we want. Most of the animal exhibits are well designed, updated, and maintained. The animals generally appear active and content whenever we visit.

Read the full review here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum is an indoor play area for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. It features an art room, a play store/restaurant, a water play area, wiggle wall (a tunnel that kids can crawl and climb through), a baby play area, a short riding toy space, and an area for a changing exhibit - currently, a recycling center.

The cost to get into Habitot is $7.00 for children, and $6.00 for adults. Multiuse passes are also available. They offer occasional free entry days or evenings. We visited on such an evening. Their website lists free entry days for January of 2008, but we visited much later than that. It may be worth a call to ask about upcoming free admission days before scheduling your visit. The phone number is 510-647-1111. We had a good time, but if I'd paid $20.00 for my two children and I to get in, I would have been disappointed.

Habitot Children's Museum is located at 2065 Kittredge Street at Shattuck Drive in Berkeley near the Berkeley BART station. Street parking is available, but tricky to find. There's a parking garage across the street, which is convenient, but adds to the cost of a visit.

Read the full review here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Printable Connect the Dot Puzzles

A Fun Way to Help Kids Learn Numbers and Letters

Dot-to-dot puzzles are a great way for children to learn number recognition and improve their pencil use. Finding great connect the dots to print from home can be trickier than finding coloring pages, but there are some wonderful resources available online. Printable online connect the dot games are also available from many popular Nick Jr., Disney, and PBS kid shows. This guide will help you find the best printable dot-to-dots for your child's learning level.

One of the great things about dot-to-dot puzzles is that they come in a variety of levels of difficulty. Children can start with very simple puzzles that only include the numbers 1 to 5, or 1 to 10, and gradually move up to more complicated pictures with as many as 100 dots. Some add an extra level of challenge by counting by 2s or 5s. Dot-to-dots also come in upper and lower case alphabet variations to help with learning letters.

I have a four year old with an insatiable appetite for dot-to-dots. From my experience, these are:

The Best Websites for Printable Connect the Dot Games

This website has a nice variety of connect the dot games of various levels of difficulty: from 1 to 5, 1 to 10, to 30, 40 or 50. They also have some that count by 5s, or use the alphabet. It is also the only site I've discovered that have spelling dot to dots. The child connects one letter to the next in order to spell a simple word. While my child isn't ready for these yet, I know she'll enjoy then when she's ready.

The printout doesn't quite fill the whole page, but the numbers are still clear and easy to read and follow, even for young children.

This site provides a nice long list of dot-to-dots, including many seasonal and holiday themed ones. Most are more advanced games that go to higher numbers. There are a few that stop in the 20s, but there are no simpler ones for children who are still beginners with their numbers. Alphabet versions are also available.

A word of warning about this site: there is an annoying audio ad that plays when you enter the site, so keep that in mind if you click in from work or someplace public.

There is a large selection of printable ABC dot-to-dot puzzles in both upper and lower case letters available here. There are also number dot to dots from a complexity of 1 to 9 up to 1 to 45. Two games are available that count by 2s.

These pages print out the best, with games that fill a whole page and nice, big numbers.

Nick Jr., Playhouse Disney, and PBS Kids

If your child has a favorite character, or show, finding character themed connect the dot games may provide an extra level of motivation to them to learn those numbers. These sites do have dot-to-dot puzzles, but don't make it all that easy to find them. The quality of the pictures and the printing, however, is far superior to any of the other sites mentioned. Also, these sites are updated often. If a favorite character isn't mentioned here, just wait awhile; new printable pages will become available from time to time.

Nick Jr. conveniently has all their pintables in one place: Under 'Learning', and then 'Numbers and Counting' there are connect the dots for Dora, Go Diego Go, Wubbzy, and Wonder Pets.

Playhouse Disney also has a page just for their pintables: There are 15 shows listed, and by clicking each one you can see thumbnails of the available pages. Currently available are Charlie and Lola, and Mickey (It's a picture of Daisy Duck).

As for PBS Kids, right now they only have printable connect the dot games for Clifford: There is an online Dragon Tales themed dot-to-dot game that can be played by clicking on the numbers in the right order. However, your child won't get any practice using a pencil with this method if that's one of your goals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sonoma Traintown Railroad

The Sonoma Traintown Railroad Park is a little scale model railroad world. Located in the city of Sonoma on Broadway, between Napa Road and MacArthur Street. It is a family attraction that is sure to thrill any small train enthusiast. In addition to the train, there are old-fashioned carnival rides, a few train displays, snack bar and gift shop. The cost to ride the train is $4.25 for anyone over 15 months of age. Those under 15 months are free. The carnival rides require tickets (many require two) that run $1.25 each or 10 for $10.00.

The main attraction is a train ride aboard the small Traintown rail line. The cars are open with low bench seats. The ride lasts for twenty minutes and only one train runs at a time. Sonoma Traintown has several small train engine replicas that take turns pulling the train. The miniaturization doesn't end with the engine and cars. Scaled down tunnels, trestles, buildings and figures appear all along the train tracks.

Read More

Monday, April 7, 2008

What Will Be Here

The California Bay Area is full of really wonderful attractions and places for both adults and kids. As a new mom, I was always on the lookout for things to do with my toddler, but sometimes it was hard to tell just from a website what ages an activity was best for. We ended up spending money for admission to attractions that were too advanced, too dull, or otherwise not what we'd hoped.

On the flip side, we learned about some really wonderful and fun activities for our kids by talking to other moms. It seems there are some great secret spots for kids hidden around the bay area. I would have loved a guide that gave me honest reviews of various attractions and what ages of kids would best enjoy them.

I'm not an authority on every single thing for kids to do in the bay, but we've visited many places, and continue to do so. I hope my lists and reviews help you and your children find something fun to do together.