Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I hope that today finds you with your families, making wonderful memories.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Very Short Blog Hiatus

Very Short Blog Hiatus

This time of year is very busy for us all. Lots of extra projects and gatherings demand our time and attentions. hopefully we see more of our family as well, so it's all worthwhile.

But since I have more than normal to keep up with, and you probably don't have the time for an extra outing anyway, I'm going to take a short break from my "Fun Places to Go with Kids" posts, and crafty posts as well until the new year.

If it turns out you DO have extra free time, and you want some ideas of places to go as a family, then check out the sidebar for some of my previous posts. there are lots of fun ideas there. And have a great time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

After one of my Halloween posts, I promised to share something fun you could do with the Halloween leftover candy that nobody likes. Here it is: use it to decorate a mini graham cracker gingerbread house.

These graham cracker gingerbread houses are cute, and fun to make. And since they are small, they aren't too complicated. The key to a nice graham cracker house is good frosting. A frosting that is too soft will make the house wobbly, and easy to fall apart as you add other decorations. However, a frosting that is really nice and stiff, and will dry like stone will also be pretty uneatable, so you might want to decide ahead of time if you want to eat them when they are done. I suppose you could also use glue instead of frosting if you don't want to eat them, but most white glues will dry clear, and I think they white joints look nice.

I find that the canned frosting is generally too soft. I like the prepackaged tubes of frosting because they are fairly stiff, and much easier to handle and work with with little mess. If you want to make your own, I found a  recipe for stiff royal frosting here.

For the graham cracker parts of the house, we used two squares (1/2 of a whole big graham cracker) for the roof, and 4 squares for the sides of the house. I have also seen ones made with 2 small rectangles of graham cracker (or 1/2 of a square) for the sides of the house, and the front and back made by cutting a square of graham cracker into a house shape by cutting the corners off one of the smaller rectangles. When I've tried to make those cuts, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I broke a lot crackers, and became frustrated. They do turn out a little cuter that way though.

Use your frosting to stick all the sides and the roof together and then let it sit and dry a little while. When it is dry and fairly stable, you can use more frosting to stick candies on the house for decorations.

TA-DA! Little Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Surprise Trip to San Francisco to See Union Square

A Surprise Trip to San Francisco to See Union Square

A few days ago we took a partial day surprise trip to San Francisco. I thought it would be fun for the kids to visit Union Square all decorated for Christmas, and explore the City a bit. While we didn't do anything all that spectacular, the kids have been talking about the trip ever since. They really had a blast. Things they loved about our trip to San Francisco:

We took BART to get there. 
And unless riding BART is something your kids do often, then they will probably get a kick out of it. From studying the train map, to putting their pass into the entry gates, to picking seats that went 'backwards', the kids loved the BART train. I had a little bit of frustration when I learned that the discounted child BART tickets can't be purchased at the station, but have to be pre-purchased someplace else. I even checked the BART website before our trip to research route prices, and still didn't see that mentioned. After spending 30 min circling the parking garage for a space, I wan't going to leave to find a 7-11 that offered the child passes, so I paid adult rates for them. Naturally, thought, the kids could care less, and their fun was in no way lessened.

We Took Time To Wander. 
The plan for this trip was very open. We wanted to go to Union Square, but otherwise, we explored the blocks right around that area and did some Christmas shopping (very little) in the stores that interested the kids.

We Saw the Union Square Christmas Tree, Menorah, and Ice Rink.
While we only spent a few minutes there admiring it all, but the kids were duly impressed. My youngest was afraid to try the ice skating, so we passed on that this year, but they still had big smiles as they watched some of the skaters while we were there.

We Took A Break for a Soft Pretzel
There are lots of stands for soft pretzels, but we found a spot in the basement of Macy's across the street from the Union Square Christmas Tree that had lots of tables and seats. I'm sorry I don't remember the name of it. But there were plenty of other food court style eating establishments down there if soft pretzels aren't your thing. Lots of walking on Big City hills was hard on my soft suburban kids and their little legs, so we enjoyed the rest and snack.

Street Performers
I'm not a city girl myself, so I actually tried to steer clear at first from most of these folks. But my kids were drawn to some, and enjoyed their talents, and as it turned out, all the ones we stopped to watch were friendly and smiling, and made the day better.

Are my kids the only ones who go to a new place, only to get super excited by stuff there that is exactly the same as we have at home?  We do actually have pigeons in our own town. But somehow, San Francisco pigeons are more exciting.

What other sorts of things do your kids love about a visit to San Francisco?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Play a Board Game - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Play a Board Game

We used to enjoy a weekly family game night. The with unpredictable work schedules, and busy weekend obligations, we lost track of it. Now we don't always manage a board game every week, but we get the whole family together from time to time, and we are always happy we made the effort.

Plus games are one of those sneaky fun learning experiences for kids, especially younger kids. There is counting, sometimes adding, maybe spelling even in games like Scrabble, sometimes strategy and logical thinking.

Here are some of the games that my kids pull out the most often when it's their turn to choose a family board game:

What are your family's favorite games?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book review: Come Back, Cat by Joan L. Nodset

Book review: Come Back, Cat by Joan L. Nodset

ComeBack, Cat by Joan L. Nodset is darling books that both kids and cats will love. There are few words, but the story involves a little girl who wants to play with a cat she meets. However, her attempts to catch and cuddle the cat are met with fear and aggression from the object of her desire. Through the story she learns how to move slower, and speak more calmly in order to win the cat over, and allow it to trust her enough to come near.
Kids often let their excitement about animals override their other judgments about how the animal is responding to them. This is a very simple reminder for children to pay attention to the reactions they get from a cat to help avoid frightening it, or getting bit or scratched themselves. My kids have checked this out from the library more than once, and really love reading it over again. The message seems to be working its way into their brains too, but sometimes excitement still gets the better of them. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sew a Monster Friend – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Sew a Monster Friend – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Sewing is a useful skill to have, for both boys and girls alike. A great way to start learning about sewing is to make something with felt. Felt is very forgiving, inexpensive, comes in lots of fun bright colors, and you don’t need to worry about raw edges. If you just need a good rainy day activity, and are not quite ready for sewing lessons, this can even be done with Tacky glue instead of stitching.

Monsters are fun to make because if they turn out looking a little strange, or goofy – well, that what monsters are supposed to look like!

Start by having your child make a simple drawing of what they might like their monster to look like. Emphasize for them to keep it simple. While thirty eyes and twenty arms might look cool, actually trying to cut out and sew them may not work so well, you could suggest maybe five eyes would be enough.
Next, you can let your child pick out a few colors of felt to use. Again, try to help them keep it simple.

Using their drawing as a guide, cut out the shapes you’ll need to make the monster. You, as the grown-up will have to make the call if this is a step your child can do on their own or one you’ll do for them. Any parts that you want to stuff, make sure to cut out both a front and a back for, this would include at least the body.
Simple chain stitches can attach any embellishments to the body of the monster. If thin parts like arms or antenna are needed, I would just keep those as a single layer of felt, and sew them into the seam between the two body layers.

Sew around the outside either with a chain stitch or a whip or blanket stitch, making sure to leave an opening for stuffing. After the monster is stuffed to your satisfaction, go ahead and sew the stuffing hole closed.

As an extra little sewing lesson, I like to have the kids use buttons for eyes. It’s always useful to know how to sew buttons on! If you want to make a no-sew monster, just use Tacky glue (it works much better than Elmers on felt) to glue on the decorations, and a line of glue around the edge for the seam. You’ll want to let the body seam dry before stuffing so it doesn’t pull apart once you start to add the stuffing, then just close the stuffing hole with a line of glue as well.

Ta Da! A little monster friend!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Christmas Fun for Families Around the Bay

More Christmas Fun for Families Around the Bay 2012

Friends have told me about some of their favorite places to take their kids in December:

The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland - For three weekends, Dec 1st and 2nd, 8th and 9th, and the 15th and 16th, the Dunsmuir Hellman house in Oakland holds their Christmas event. The Estate is decorated in traditional turn of the century Christmas style, and offers special Teas for both adults and children. There is also a breakfast with Santa, carriage rides and a kids area. They are open from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, but the teas and Santa Breakfast have special times and additional costs. Follow the link above for schedule specifics.

A Christmas Carol at the Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek - This great live stage production of A Christmas Carol runs from Dec 6th thru the 16th 21012. We saw this last year and the kids really enjoyed it. Tickets can be a little pricey - we were fortunate enough to get to go with a homeschool group that got group pricing, and we attended on an afternoon when there were only other school groups there. This led to a more rowdy audience, but much more affordable  I'm not sure what it involved in setting up a group rate, but if you have enough friends interested, it would be worth a call the the Lesher Theater to find out. There is a reasonably price parking garage very close, and the theater is lovely.

Christmas Parade and Holiday Market in Benicia - On Sat, December 8th from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm in downtown Benicia. The parade begins at 10:00 am, and there will also be arts and crafts, and food booths. I've never been to Benicia's Holiday event, but our family has enjoyed ever other event we've attended in downtown Benicia.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco

Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco

The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park at 100 34th Avenue at Clement Street. It showcases ancient and historical European art.

My children were very young when we visited the Legion of Honor, yet I was surprised how much they enjoyed it. What helped, I believe is that we spent a little bit of time learning about ancient art before we visited, so they were able to recognize some of what they had learned about. A trip to the Legion of Honor would go along very nicely with the study of ancient Romans, Greeks or Egyptians, as well as European history from the medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They also have some special exhibits, and you can visit their website (linked above) to see what is current.

My youngest was two when we visited and while she wore out before we’d seen all there was to see, it was a lot of fun to watch her, and see what pieces spoke to her. The elaborate chandeliers in each room may have fascinated my children more than any of the art did, but that was interesting too.

The Legion of Honor is closed on Mondays, and is free on the first Tuesday of the Month, and is always free for children under 12 years old.

We visited on a free day and arrived right at opening, and had no trouble finding parking right out in front. When we left, it looked like parking was more of a problem, so I recommend arriving early or taking public transportation if you have the option.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Take a Hike – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Take a Hike – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Before long it will be too wet to spend much time outdoors here in the Northern California Bay Area. Take advantage of a sunny day and get out for a walk with the kids. If you’re really ambitious and want some serious nature time, you can visit the East Bay Regional Parks website and find your closest park to visit. Be warned however, that even if there hasn’t been any recent rain, the trails can be muddy and slippery this time of year.
Even a walk around the block in your own neighborhood can be a lot of fun though. Have the kids see how many different types of birds they can spot along the way. Or, how many different types of animals – and dogs count!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Some Fun Christmas Events Around the Bay, December 2012

Some Fun Christmas Events Around the Bay, December 2012

Christmas at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont – Anytime is a great time to visit Ardenwood Historic Farms if you have not done so already, but during their Christmas celebration is one of our favorite times to go.

They celebrate a Victorian style Christmas at Ardenwood, with Victorian inspired crafts, volunteers in Victorian costumes, music, and the historic Patterson House decorated in traditional Victorian Christmas style. Father Christmas always has a special spot in the gazebo where kids can find him to share their wishes. The farm’s huge draft horses also usually make the rounds too, either taking folks for a wagon ride, or pulling a horse drawn train instead, depending on the year. Both are fun.

They also have all the regular Ardenwood Historic Farm attractions, the farm animals, and the Patterson house (although it is fancier with its decorations than usual, and the blacksmith shop.

Christmas at Ardenwood this year runs on December 1st and 2nd from 10 am to 4 pm. Bundle up, it’s usually pretty chilly.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco – This is a bigger and more famous Victorian Christmas celebration in the Bay Area. It takes place this year over 5 weekends from November 23rd to December 23rd from 10 am to 7 pm.

We have never personally been to this Christmas fair, mainly because it is so much more expensive than Ardenwood, but it looks just wonderful, and I would love to go one of these years. It looks huge and fun and beautiful. I recommend you check out their website at the link above to see everything they have to offer.

Zoo Lights at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland – After regular zoo hours, the zoo is filled with holiday lights. Some even make a little almost animated show with the way they blink on and off. Some are just there, and pretty.

Zoo lights run from Nov 30th to Dec 31st every night except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 5:30 pm until 9:00 pm.

The animals have access to their night houses, so most of them are not viewable during Zoo Lights, although we have seen one or two wander out into their exhibits and look around. Generally, though, they have gone off to have dinner and sleep and Zoo Lights is not a good time to see animals. What we have done in the past that was fun, was to visit the zoo during the day to see the animals. Leave at closing to get some dinner, then return for the lights at night.

Santa visits Oakland’s Zoo lights each night as well, and it can be a nice time to say “Hi” to him without a long line.

City of Martinez Children’s Light Parade and Snow Park in Martinez – We stumbled upon this even sort of by accident one year, but the kids had so much fun we may try to make it back there if we can.  This year it happens on Friday Nov. 30th starting at 6:30 pm.

The downtown area is all blocked off for this holiday celebration that includes a parade where kids can join in carrying lights. My kids had never gotten to be in a parade before so they really loved this. Then there is a lot of holiday events, including an area with a snow machine creating a little snowy play area for the snow-deprived California kids. The downtown shops are open, and always fun to browse through.

And Many, Many More. . .
These are only the events we have been to in the past of I’ve heard a lot about from friends. I know most towns around the Bay Area must have their own wonderful Christmas and Holiday events beginning very soon. If you know of one I didn’t mention, please tell us about it in the comment section. I’d love to find out about more.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Today we will be spending time with our extended family, watching the parade, and football, playing games, and of course, eating too much.

I  wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Among the many things I am thankful for, I am thankful that you have taken the time to stop by and visit my blog.

If you have a moment to share, I'd love for you to leave a comment so I can learn about your family's Thanksgiving Day traditions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Measure the Rain – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Measure the Rain – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

With the rainy season starting up here in the California Bay Area, and reports on the news of storms in other parts of the country, my kids have been very interested in the weather lately. Weather can be a fun topic to learn about together. Even just tracking the weather can be fun.

Help your child make a simple chart to keep track of the weather for a period of time, however long you think they may be interested. It can be as simple as drawing a picture of what the weather was like each day, or older kids could take measurements of the temperature, or other factors they are interested in. Maybe they’d like to compare the weather forecast to what actually happens.

Making a rain gauge is easy to do, and kids like to measure things. I remember being fascinated with our rain gauge when I was a child. Here are the first two results I found when I Googled how to make a rain gauge (but the later links were all basically variations of these same instructions):

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Markham Nature Area in Concord

Markham Nature Area in Concord

The Markham Nature Area is a hidden little treasure. It's one of those places we stumbled upon by semi-accident and was amazed that we had not known about it before. Plus it's free.

There are three distinct areas or features of the Markham Nature Area:

The Tree Walk – this is an easy dirt walking trail. Along the path are various trees, many of which are marked with numbers. At the beginning of the trail you can pick up a map that will give you the name of each numbered tree.

I was surprised how much my kids liked the tree walk. They loved carrying the map, finding the tree numbers, and looking up the type of tree from their map. Honestly, I think if I took them back today, they wouldn't be able to remember a single tree name, but they still had fun. Plus, my preschooler had been confused about reading two-digit numbers; she tended to read them backward. By the end of the Tree Walk, she was an expert in reading two digit numbers because she wanted to be in charge of the map so much.

The International Garden – This is a shorter walking trail that passes through a garden that has been planted with plants from around the world, and arranged by region. The international areas include: Australia, Asia, South America, Africa, California, the Eastern U.S., the Mediterranean, and Europe.

My kids were less excited about this part of Markham Nature Area than the Tree Walk, but there were enough strange and interesting plants to hold their interest for a quick walk though. I liked that each plant had a little plaque with its name on it.

The Nursery – While a visit to the Markham Nature Area is free, they still need to pay for maintenance and other expenses. One way they do this is through plant sales at the plant nursery. The Nursery is open on Tuesdays from 9:00 to noon. They are also open on some Saturdays, but their Saturday sales appear to be done for the rest of 2012. If you'd like to know when the next Saturday plant sale will be you can visit their website here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Be Thankful – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Be Thankful – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Some people like to keep a gratitude journal for the month of November. In it they write a short entry each day about something they are grateful for. Some keep the practice beyond Thanksgiving month, as it is shown to improve your stress level and mood.

It can also be a fun activity to do as a family. Well, maybe more 'uplifting', than 'fun'. The journal can easily be adapted for any age. Teens and adults, and even older children can just keep a normal journal, or use filler paper. For my younger kids I like those journals that have the bottom half of the page lined for writing and the top half blank for drawing. Even younger pre-writing children can draw pictures for their gratitude journal.

Another nice variation is for the kids to draw a 'Thankful Tree' and each day they write on a leaf something they're thankful for and add it to their tree. We did this on drawing paper, but I suppose you could even get a small tree, or branch and add a ribbon to the thankful leaves and hang them on. The whole family could even share a tree this way. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Websites for Learning to Read

Websites for Learning to Read

When you’d like a change of pace from regular books for your little beginning reader, there are some very good websites out there for teaching early reading and phonics. There are probably many more than I will list here, but these are the ones we have used and enjoyed.

Starfall.com – I list this one first because it has y far been the favorite of both of my kids when they were learning to read. It has a few sections, beginning with learning letters and letter sounds, then beginning phonics, and on to more advanced early reading stories. AS the child tries to read a story, if there is a word they are stuck on they can click on it and the site will sound the word out for them. There are also worksheets that can be printed out to go along with the online stories. In addition to the stories, there are a few games and videos that teach letter sounds or other reading rules.

Reading Eggs – This is a subscription site, and we have not used it very much. I signed my youngest up for the free trial, and she said she liked it a lot, but whenever we decided to do some reading on the computer, she would always ask for starfall. That may be mostly out of habit; however since that’s what she started with. They offer several levels of reading instruction as well, so you can personalize it to your child’s needs. On many of the parenting and homeschooling groups I follow, there are many families who rave about Reading Eggs, and since they offer the free trial, it is at least worth checking out.

While preschool television associated websites like PBSkids.org, and NickJr.com, do have some educational games and content, I haven’t found them very focused on learning to read. They can be fun for other things.

If your family enjoys a learning to read website that I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment and tell us about it. I’m sure there are many other great websites out there that help kids learn to read that we haven’t tried yet.

If you'd like information about a good ole paper book for helping kids learn to read, check out my earlier review of Alpha-Phonics.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

North Bay Athletic Association – Gymnastics Lessons in Vallejo

North Bay Athletic Association – Gymnastics Lessons in Vallejo

It has been many years since my kids took gymnastics classes at North Bay Athletic Association, but they still remember it fondly. They offer a variety of ages and levels of classes, and options about how many classes a week you would like to take. There is also a small sibling discount. When we attended, we didn’t have any difficulty with availability of the times and days we wanted, and the classes we a nice size so that each child could get a good amount of individual help.

Because North Bay Athletic Association is a non-profit, their classes were less expensive than some other similar gymnastics studios, but I wouldn’t call their prices dirt cheap. For the high quality of instruction we received, however, I do feel it was an extremely good value.

There are also more advanced programs for kids who want to take gymnastics to a more serious level, or perhaps start toward competition. The instructors watch for kids who may be capable of more, and will invite these families into the advanced programs if they are interested.

While our family is not athletically gifted, my kids ha d a great time. In fact, I think they had so much fun with a handful of the activities that they almost didn’t notice that they don’t really like gymnastics that much. When we left, they missed their instructors the most.

While I’ve had friends tell me that they have had great, and awful instructors at North Bay Athletic Association, all the ones we had, and we had about three and a handful of substitutes, were all wonderful. Like most classes, there is probably a personality fit that needs to be found between instructor and student. As I mentioned before, though, since they have so many class offerings, it isn’t hard to move to a different time or day if you want a different instructor. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Leaf Rubbings – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

While we may not get the dramatic seasonal changes here in the Bay Area that much of the rest of the country experiences, I think it is still fun to stop and notice the seasons, the California way.

We still get a nice and beautiful fall here, complete with leaves on the ground. Take a short walk and let the kids pick up a few of their favorites. Leaf rubbings are simple, and fun. When you get home, all you need to do is lay the leaves on a table, with the more-textured side of the leaf facing up. Place a piece of white paper on top, and with the side of a crayon, rub back and forth over the leaf until its impression shows up on the paper.

For very young children, making the rubbing is probably enough. If your kids are older, or you want to add a little more learning to your leaf rubbing project, you can use a magnifying glass to examine and observe your leaves. Group them into leaves that share traits that the child observes, then pick a different feature, and sort them again. For instance they might sort by color the first time, then by simple vs. compound leaves the next time, or by bumpy vs smooth leaf edges, and so on.

To take it even further, here are a few books about leaves that you and you children may enjoy:

Also, if you have some Halloween candy left over that you don't care for (we all get some less exciting candies in our bag every year), don't throw it away. Save it in a ziplock baggie, and I will have a fun craft in a few weeks to use it in. The more colorful the candy, the better. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Parents who grew up in the Pac-Man, Q-Bert arcade age will enjoy this movie as much as their children will. The games that provide the central settings for the movie: a first person shooter with vicious destructive bugs, a candyland racing game, and Fix-it Felix Jr. – Wreck It Ralph's own game, are all fictional games (so far). Yet, the old classics make lots of amusing cameo appearances in the surge protector that serves as a passageway for the characters from one game to another.

There are good messages about friendship and being true to yourself, while also stretching to do more then you thought you could. What follows includes some spoilers for content to help parents judge if the movie would be a good fir for their own kids and family.

Overall, while there are scary moments, and sad moments, they felt milder than many kid movies. My kids said they shed a few tears.

Violence: The first person shooter game, and the character that comes out of that game use lots of over the top firepower. All the shooting is directed solely at the enemy giant bugs. Ralph causes lots of damage to objects and buildings, and occasionally uses his strength on the bugs, but there is no other violence toward other people. (People in the video game sense which is very diverse.)

Romance: Fix it Felix is quickly enamored with the character from the shooting game and makes frequent innocent romantic remarks to her.  They also kiss a few times.

Language: Ralph and the Candy racing girl exchange a lot of personal insults along the lines of ‘stinking breath’, ‘stupid head’, and so forth. As their friendship progresses, these are clearly used as terms of affection, but they are frequent. They also have a discussion of “Duty’ as a pun on ‘doody’, ie: poop.
Drugs/Alcohol: A character makes himself a martini. I didn’t notice any other references.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book review: Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire!

Book review: Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire!

Fancy Nancy was my own wake-up call about not judging a book by its cover. I avoided these books for my girls because I assumed they were about being pretty and having the right clothes, and things that I didn’t want my girls to get caught up in.

One day, my youngest found “Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire” at the library and asked to check it out. I do my very best to let them pick out whatever interests them at the library, so I let her. Naturally, then she needed me to read it to her. I was happily surprised by the story.

It turns out that Fancy Nancy like fanciness in all aspects of her life. Yes, her clothing and appearance is one aspect of her fanciness, it is also treated in the book as somewhat of a given, and not discussed. I suppose the illustrations do that part. She also loves fancy words, and this it turns out is the theme of this book. Fancy Nancy is trying to write a poem, and read other poems in her quest to write a great fancy poem. She learns new fancy words along the way, and their meanings. It reminded me more than a little bit of the “Martha Speaks” book and television series in that way.

More importantly, my daughter loved it, and wanted to talk about some of the words she learned. So it has been a lesson to me. My original rule to myself – to not judge what books my children pick out to read – has served us both well again. And making assumptions about a book I haven’t read or bothered to learn anything about almost cost us a wonderful read, and vocabulary building experience. I don’t know if all the Fancy Nancy books follow this same theme, but I do know that I will no longer be hesitant to check out more to read with my daughter and find out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Draw with Sidewalk Chalk – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Draw with Sidewalk Chalk – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Those big pieces of sidewalk chalk can be found very inexpensively.  Whenever we are with a group of kids it's always a surprisingly big hit. Toddlers love making marks on the ground, and even the teens in the group enjoy making more elaborate or artistic drawings. I love activities like this that appeal so well to all age groups, and are just so simple, and pure fun.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Golden Skate in San Ramon

Golden Skate in San Ramon

It made me kinda happy to see so many kids enjoying roller skating at our recent visit to Golden Skate in San Ramon. Just like when I was a kid, you could tell that some had spent quite a bit of time on skates, and others appeared to be trying it out for the first time, clinging to the rail for dear life as they scooted around the ring. I was impressed how clean and new the inside of Golden Skate appeared. We haven’t been roller skating in a very long time, but the rinks we visited were older, word and dingy.

The Golden Skate was colorful, and bright. Carpeting lets less confident skaters get their bearings while putting on their skates and when they are off the rink. The exception, reasonably, is the restrooms which have traditional linoleum flooring. This became a bit of a problem for my youngest, which was unwilling to get on the rink with her skates at all, preferring to scoot around on the long stretch of carpet. In retrospect, I would have had her take the rollerskates off before going to the restroom, but it felt like a hassle at the time.

While we were there, they played a group skating game, had shout-outs to the birthday kids, played a few songs with the lights out and colored spotlights and the disco ball going, and even did one traditional playing of ‘YMCA”, even though the rest of the time they stuck mainly to modern pop music.

They also have a nice large snack area with lots of seats for anyone not skating, or for skaters to rest and snack. A dozen or so video games and ticket games are also available with the usual little plastic prizes for tickets.

The party rooms are small. For the party we attended, parents couldn’t fit into the room at all, although one or two squeezed themselves in and stood by the wall. There was another slightly larger party room next door to ours, but I noticed that parents in that group didn’t really try to fit themselves in there either.  The two young men who were in charge of facilitating the birthday party we attended were wonderful. They had constant smiles, and I saw them constantly offering assistance or helping or tidying up. All the employees I interacted with seemed to really enjoy their job, and that was so refreshing and pleasant. 

The cost seems to depend on the session you want to attend, with most sessions lasting around 2 hours. They are only open for roller skating on Fridays thru Sundays, with an adult skating session on Wendsday nights. You can visit their website to see their calender of upcoming skating sessions and prices. 

My kids has so much fun, they have been asking to go roller skating again ever since. So I hope to have other roller skating rinks to review for you soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpkin Patch Review: Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm

We like the Clayton Valley Pumpkin Patch partly because it is not too far from us. Even so, it is a very nice pumpkin patch, with lots for kids to do.

The Clayton pumpkin patch seems to have expanded somewhat this year since our last visit a few years ago. They have two separate play areas for kids now instead of the one they had at our last visit. With a separate charge for each one, although they do offer a combination charge that saves you all of $1 if you do both. We decided against going down to the play areas this year due to the cost. It felt overpriced the last time we were there to me, although the kids loved it.

There is also a very small train ride for a smaller cost that makes a loop around the upper patch area. We did take a train ride this year, and it was what one would expect for that type of ride, although there were some cute decorations set up along the route to look at and even a tunnel to go through.

Even without spending much money, there was enough to keep our kids busy and happy for the hour or so we spent at the Clayton Pumpkin Patch. There was a small hay tunnel that they went in and out of over and over and over again with enthusiasm. I understand there is a much larger version of this in the pay-to-play area.

There are also a few farm animals to look at. Two pigs and two goats that we could see the day we visited. While the kids can't go in with the animals or touch them, they have a neat contraption for the kids to feed them with. It is sort of a stationary bike connected to a pulley. They can buy animal feed for a quarter, put the food into a can, and then peddle the can up where it will tip over the fence into a bowl before coming back down. My children were a little disappointed that the animals were not interested in the food pellets they peddled into their bowl, but not disappointed enough to keep them from asking to do it again.

Then there are the pumpkins. They are divided into piles by size. They even have piles of the more exotic green and white pumpkins some folks like. There are wheelbarrows in the pumpkin area to load up your pumpkins to take to the payment counter. The wheelbarrows are small and easy enough to handle that I never touched it, my 5 and 9 year old kids could maneuver them on their own. My husband learned that they don't actually grow the pumpkins there at the Clayton Farm; they are brought in from other places in California.

They also have a shop with other nice fall items, such as gourds, Indian corn, and Halloween decorations. The prices were not the lowest I've seen, but they are reasonable. The workers were all very helpful, and did their best to keep anyone from waiting for help.

We visited in mid-morning, and never had to wait in a line except for the train, and then not more than maybe 5 minutes. However, by the time we left, parking was very full, and I noticed that the train line was easily 5 times as long as when we had taken our ride. So aim for an earlier visit if you want to avoid the more crowded parts of the day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Storytime at Your Library - Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Storytime at Your Library – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Most libraries offer a storytime for young children. All the libraries that we have lived near offered three different storytimes, one for babies, one for toddlers, and one for preschoolers. We have also visited other libraries that only offer one storytime for all ages together. Several times, I have seen evening storytime hours for the whole family, although we haven’t had a chance to attend one of these yet.

Regularly attending library storytimes has benefited both my children and me in a number of ways. When I was a new mom, with no friends who had babies, library storytime is how we made connections with other families with new children close in age. Some of the friends we made there, have remained lifelong friends to this day, over 9 years later.

It also established what I consider a very healthy habit of regular visits to the library. The kids love to pick out a book or two (or six) to bring home. I got into the habit of checking out parenting books that I had heard about without spending a lot of money. One or two were useful enough to me to buy my own copy of, but without the library, I would have given up before I found them.

While libraries don’t usually offer storytimes for school aged children or teens, they do have a lot of other programs for the older kids too. Some have book clubs, movie afternoons, read-to-dog programs, or other regular activities for older kids and teens. And, the programs are all free. Check out what your local library has to offer. Most libraries post their offerings online at their websites.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek

Our only visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek was recently during their Fall Festival. While I enjoyed wandering around the beautiful garden, and the kids had a great time with all the activities and crafts that were set up for the festival, it was hard for me to envision what a visit might be like on a regular, non-festival day.

A few of the plants we saw sparked the kid's interest – especially the large variety (and large in size!) cactus we looked at. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much interest they would have had in our visit without the festival going on.

However, the Ruth Bancroft Garden website has a calendar of events that includes some events, like an upcoming fruit tasting, that kids might also enjoy. The garden also offers tours, and special children's tours that could well make things much more interesting for kids to visit. We have had friends attend these children's tours, and they reported that everyone had an enjoyable and educational time.

I did not see any labeling plaques on any of the plants, so a tour could be really helpful to get a full appreciation of what you are seeing. There were several handouts that we didn't take that may have also provided more information about the plants.

We had not visited The Ruth Bancroft Garden before because, while children get in for free, admission for adults is $10. However, I just learned that on the first Tuesday of each month, the garden offers free admission to everyone. So that would be a great time to check them out. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Visit a Pet Store - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Visit a pet store

I’m always surprised how much my kids love visiting a local pet store. For me, it’s an errand that needs to get checked off my to-do list. But for them, it’s almost like a free mini visit to the zoo. So now, every once in awhile when we are nearby, we’ll go to a pet shop just so they can look at the fish and the mice, and the adoptable kittens.

It helps to have some ground rules established ahead of time. For us, this is namely that we will NOT be getting a pet to bring home. Any requests to get a new pet means the pet store visit is over and we will leave. I’ve found this is a good place to enforce that kind of rule. Leaving the pet store is no big deal to me – we didn’t pay to get in or drive a long way to get there.

Also, if you can get a small group of kids together, many pet stores will set up a tour for you. We’ve been on one such tour at a PetCo, and it was more fun than I expected. The pet shop employees brought several animals out of their enclosures to let the kids hold and pet them, and we learned a little about what type of care they each needed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tilden Park in Berkley

Tilden Park in Berkley

Tilden Park in Berkley is a very big place. The first time we visited for a hike, we could have easily come and gone without ever knowing what other fun places there were for kids and families to visit there.

The hiking alone in Tilden Park is wonderful. It is a wooded area, and tends to be fairly cool compared to many other places around the bay. Our preschooler didn’t have any trouble with the trail we hiked, but since we have only hiked twice here, I am sure there are places with much more challenging trails. However, if you want to hike with little ones, you won’t have trouble finding a good place to do so in Tilden.

In addition to the lovely hiking trails, Tilden Park also has a small train that can take you for a short ride through the woods, and even smaller trains that can take kids for a ride around the miniature train yard. The train runs on weekends only and parking is fairly limited in the lot right by the train. The trains open at 11:00 am, and it is best to get there a little before they start if you want to park close by.

There is also an Environmental Education Center. Inside there is a room-sized model of the Bay Area, and a few other displays to look at. Naturalists also occasionally bring out some of their educational wildlife ambassadors and give short talks about them. We were fortunate enough to get to see a small snake and a tarantula on our visit.

Right next to the Education Center, is what they call the “Little Farm”. It’s basically what it sounds like, a small area with farm animals. There are cows, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks, and rabbits. It isn’t a petting zoo, but if the animals happen to come up to the fence, they can be touched.  When we last visited, guests were allowed to feed lettuce or celery that they had brought from home to the animals. My kids were a little sad that we had nothing to feed because we didn’t know ahead of time. I know from experience that the feeding rules can change at these places depending on the health needs of the animals, so if you bring something, please make sure to check the posted signs to make sure what you brought is safe to feed before you give anything to the animals.

While we have never visited it ourselves, there is also a merry-go-round, a botanic garden, and something called the Brazil building at Tilden. We hope to go explore these other area soon. Most of these attractions are not grouped together, but spread around the park, so we haven’t been able to see more than one or two areas at each visit. To see a map to plan your trip, and check hours of operation and costs, you can visit the Tilden Park page of the East County Parks website.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween Crafts

Halloween Crafts

Kids love Halloween. Most grown ups too for that matter. While decorating for Halloween can be fun, it is even more fun when you make the decorations yourself.

Pumpkin painting:
Supplies needed:
Paints (we used washable tempera paint but you could use fancier acrylic paints if your kids can be trusted with them.)
Paint brushes

My kids are still to little to do any pumpkin carving on their own, so they usually draw a design, and we do the carving for them. Painting is another way they can decorate a pumpkin on their own. These little pumpkins are usually fairly cheep, and the kids love painting them.

Lolly Pop Ghosts:
Supplies needed:
Lolly pops
Ribbon or twist ties
Black marker

This is a old classic too, but still fun. Put a tissue over the lollypop, tie with a ribbon or twisty tie. Draw eyes on. Ta-Da!

Let The Kids Invent Their Own Halloween Craft

Supplies needed:
Possibly, but not limited to: pom poms, pipe cleaners, glue, googly eyes, markers, construction paper, sequins, fabric scraps, feathers. . . etc.

Today, the kids dragged out all our craft supplies on their own and started making Halloween decorations. They made ghosts out of construction paper and craft foam. Spiders our of pipe cleaners, and other spooky critters out of pompoms. Sometimes, giving them a pile of stuff, and letting them create all on their own can be the most fun (and least work for Mom!)

I'm going to try out this neat pumpkin art project with my kids this week:
There are many other absolutely wonderful art lessons and projects on the Deep Space Sparkle site. I suggest subscribing to the RSS feed there if your kids enjoy art. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Make Cookies - Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Make Cookies

Another good activity for those days that are too icky to spend outside. Plus we’re headed in to that time of year when it’s nice to have cookies around to share and give out.

While it can still be kind of fun to make cookies if you buy the premade dough, I think making them from scratch is the way to go. It takes longer, which is good if part of your goal is spending time together with your kids doing fun stuff. It’s easier to accommodate special diets: you can lower the sugar content using Splenda or Stevia, you can use egg replacers and vegetable shortenings for vegetarians, and so forth. Plus, the kids get to measure and see real ingredients – so much learning can happen over a batch of cookies.

You can decide on a simple cookie or a more fancy variety based on your families tastes and the age of your kids. There are great recipes all over the internet, but often we just use whatever recipe comes on the back of the package of chocolate chips. One of our favorites is to use a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe, but use M & Ms instead of the chips, or mix chips – like half chocolate chips, and half butterscotch or peanut butter chips. You can allow the kids to get creative with the chips, as long as you stick to the recipe for the dough, and they will feel very creative and the cookies will still turn out great.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Western Railway Museum Pumpkin Festival in Suisun

It has been several years since our most recent visit to the Western Railway Museum in Suisun, but it is a trip we remember very fondly each time, and it is on our list of pumpkin patches that we are strongly considering returning to this year.

The Western Railway Museum is open on weekends year round (except for major holidays), and some weekdays over the summer. They have restored electric trains and streetcars on display.

During their Pumpkin Festival, which runs weekends from Oct 13th thru the 28th this year, they also add a hay bale fort, tractor ride, music, and games. They also have pumpkins for sale of course, but I wouldn't consider the pumpkin selection to ever have been the strongest point for the Railway Museum's Pumpkin Festival on the times we've been. Even so, they have pumpkins available, and when we go this counts as our pumpkin patch visit for the year.

The hay fort and tractor rides are nothing amazing, but they are nice, and the kids love them. They always ask for a few more minutes in the fort, or another ride on the wagon, so these are winning features in their eyes.

For the grown-ups in our group, the highlight instead is usually the ride over to the play / pumpkin patch area on board one of the historic rail cars. I don't recall how long the ride takes. It is more than a few minutes, but not long enough to drag on. Maybe 15 to 20 minutes? You ride the train to the area with the fort and pumpkins, stay as long as you like there, and catch another train back to the museum when you are ready. Trains run every 30 minutes starting at 10:00 am.

The actual museum part, including the restored streetcars and rail trains was probably more of a hit with the adults in our group, again, but the kids did look around and seemed to really enjoy seeing the trains. They were just "done" sooner with that part of the visit.

The last time we visited, one of our favorite bands, The Hip Waders, was playing, so we spent extra time watching them. They often let the kids perform along with them onstage with toy instruments. I checked, and they will be at the Western Railway's Pumpkin Festival again this year on Oct 21st, 27th, and 28th starting at 11:00 am.

The admission cost for the Pumpkin Festival is slightly more than the regular Railway Resume admission cost. It is $12 for adults, and $9 for kids, $11 for seniors. You could easily, however, take a picnic lunch with you and make a whole day of it in the pumpkin patch / play area.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

City Park in Antioch

City Park in Antioch

The City Park in Antioch is at the corners of 10th St and A St, and has a number of nice features. The play structures are a lot of fun: they’re colorful, and well designed. There is a separate are designed for smaller kids. Picnic tables are available, but there aren’t really any clustered in a group if you plan to be there with a lot of people. The view of the playground from the tables isn’t great, but there are benches closer if parents want a place to sit and keep an eye on their kiddos.

While the playground itself is out in the sun, there are large trees boarding the playground that provide nice shady areas, and I often see kids go play around the trees if they need a break from the heat. Also, in the corner near the trees is a beautiful rose garden created by a gardening club that specializes in roses. Each type of rose is labeled, which helps folks like me who would never know they were different types without the little signs.

There are restrooms available, which is always a plus, but they are across the parking lot from the play area, so small kids still need a grown up to walk with them for safety.  Also, across 10th St is a snow cone hut that is who knows how old – but my husband remember getting comes there when he was a kid, so it has been around awhile.

We don’t visit often on weekends, but when we have visited, we have never had any problem find a parking spot.

While the beautiful playground at City Park in Antioch isn't all that new anymore, I remember a time when that park was not a place most people would take their children. I love that the city cleaned up and turned the park into a fun place for families once again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Make Thumb Print Critters - Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Make Thumb Print Critters

I think we first did this thumb print craft in a preschool group, but we’ve done it a few times since then and it’s always a lot of fun.

The main idea is to make a thumb print, then with a marker or pen, add details to turn it into a critter. I bought a special stamp pad with washable ink to use for making thumb print critter art, but you don’t have to do that. Washable markers can be used too. Just cover the pad of the thumb with the ink and then press that spot onto the paper, and wash the ink off the thumb. Or you can keep some wet wipes at the table with you to avoid the kids having to get up and wash over and over again.

One thumb print makes a good spider or owl. Two together can give you a body and a head for a critter. A whole line of them could be a caterpillar. Just let the imagination go. It didn’t take long for my kids to start  using whole hand prints in their thumb print art creations.

You don’t have to have great art skills to make cute pictures. They kids like that it feels kinda messy (but if you make sure to stick to washable inks, it isn’t really messy). It’s a fun way to spend some inside time when the kids need help for ideas of what to do.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blackhawk Car Museum in Danville

Blackhawk Car Museum

When I thought of fun places to take my kids, a car museum did not come up in my mind. Yet when we were invited to attend a tour with a group of kids at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, we agreed to go. My girls enjoy playing with trucks and wheeled toys as much as the next kid, but they aren’t nuts about cars and neither am I. I was therefore, very happily surprised how fun the Blackhawk tour really was.

Our docent was so knowledgeable, and also seemed to really love kids. The museum is beautiful. The cars are spotless and just gleam in their spotlights. Having my littlest one running around this place made me cringe, but our docent was relaxed and encouraging to the kids. She had great stories to tell about the cars, and pointed out some very interesting historical details. Then at the next car, she would ask the kids to look at it a moment, then tell her what they noticed so the kids had a chance to use what they had learned along the way during the tour. The docent did a superb job of keeping the kids engaged.

While anyone who visits the museum can join a docent led tour as part of their museum admission, I don’t know how the routine tours might vary from the one we got that was focused for children. If this is a place you’d like your kids to see, I think it would well be worth taking the extra step and getting a group of kids together and calling ahead to set up a tour special for children.

There was a lot of history in our tour, as well as some very strange looking prototype cars that never went in to production, and the kids loved them all.

Just outside the Blackhawk Museum there is a very pretty little shopping area that also has a small pond, and stream with ducks and a small playground. Luckily, we were not in a rush, so we spent some time there as well. It would have been hard to drag the kids away once they saw it, so you may want to factor this into your planning as well.

As of this writing, the Blackhawk Museum is included in the Discover and Go discounted museum pass program through a number of public libraries. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Take a Bike Ride - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Take a Bike Ride

I often see kids out riding their bike. Sometimes to get somewhere, but more often they’re just riding up and down their street. My kids like doing that as much as the next ones, but when I pull out my bike and ride with them; it always takes the fun up a notch for them.

For starters, they don’t have to stay in front of our hose if I’m riding with them. They can actually go someplace. Maybe it’s just a few blocks up to the park. Even if it’s only to the empty parking lot of the church on the corner, it’s an extra special ride. There’s a fairly busy street between our house and that parking lot, so they don’t get to go there without me. Maybe that alone is enough to make it special.

I can certainly use the extra exercise myself, and riding together is giving me a better chance to help them understand and learn the rules of the road. This can only serve them well later in life, both on their bikes, and later when they are ready for driving. We’ve begun riding more together, and I’m seeing benefits for all of us.

If you ever get the chance to rent one of those big bikes that fit six or more people, go for it. They often have them in touristy areas. We rented one once in Old Sacramento (but I believe that bike rental place is no longer there). Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents and kids all rode it together, and it was a blast. A memory we all still talk about years later. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free and Discounted Museum Passes with your Library Card

Free and Discounted Museum Passes with your Library Card

A program called ‘Discover and Go’ available at libraries all over the bay area offers free or discounted museum passes to tons of great museums around the Bay.

We’ve personally used the Discover and Go program to visit the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkley, and the Lindsay Wildlife museum in Walnut Creek. Both times getting and using the passes was a simple and straightforward process.

We visited our library’s website, found the ‘Discover and Go’ link, then followed the instructions to find the museum we wanted to visit, and chose from the available days.  We printed the pass at home and presented at the admissions desk at each venue. That’s all there was to it.

Some museums have a limit to how many Discover and Go passes you can print each year. Some only offer free or discounted admission for 1 or two people, so if you have a larger family, you would have to see if you’re able to reserve the same date on multiple library cards, or pay for admission for some of the members of your group. Still, it is a really wonderful deal.

I could not find a complete list of participating libraries, but here are at least some of the libraries that offer Discover and Go:

Despite some of the venues being located in Solano County, I was unable to find Discover and Go passes on the Solano County Library website. If someone else finds that information, please share it here in the comments.

I don’t know if, or how often the museums in the Discover and Go program might change, but as of this writing, these are all the wonderful places you can visit with a Discover and Go discount:

Aquarium of the Bay
Asian Art Museum
Bay Area Discovery Museum
Bedford Gallery
Blackhawk Museum
California Academy of Sciences
California Historical Society
California Shakespeare Theater
Charles M. Schulz Museum
Children's Creativity Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
GLBT History Museum
Golden State Model Railroad Museum
Habitot Children's Museum
The Lawrence Hall of Science
Lindsay Wildlife Museum
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
The Marine Mammal Center
Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
Napa Valley Museum
Oakland Aviation Museum
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Zoo
Pacific Pinball Museum
Peralta Hacienda Historical Park
Ripley's Believe it or Not! ODDitorium
Saint Mary's College Museum of Art
San Jose Museum of Art
The Tech Museum
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
USS Hornet Museum
Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read Aloud - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Read Aloud

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of reading aloud to kids. Not just little kids who don’t read on their own yet. All kids. No matter what the age of your child is, read aloud to them. A picture book, a novel, a poem, a news article. Whatever.

In my opinion this should not be a one time, fun thing to do. This is the time to start a habit. If you’d like more inspiration to read aloud to your kids, or want to be convinced about the multitude of benefits that reading aloud to your children can provide, I highly recommend the book “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hap McGee Park in Danville

Hap McGee Park

Hap McGee Park in Danville has everything kids could want: a big playground, a water play area with sprinklers, and a sand pit. As a mom, I loved the shaded picnic tables, and the clean restrooms right next to the play area. If your family includes a dog, they can have fun too at the adjacent dog play yard.

The water play area at Hap McGee isn’t just one or two small spray spouts like many other playgrounds have. This area is designed to get kids wet. Really wet. Swimsuits are necessary, in my opinion. There are big spouts that shoot out from the ground, and tunnel sprinklers that spray a finer mist that the kids can run through.

Right next to the fun water area is a sand pit. There is a stationary digger that kids can use to move sand around. The favorite activity of all the kids in the sand area as I observed, though was to bring buckets full of water over from the sprinklers and pour it into the sand, then dig trenches and mounds designed to create a pathway for the water to flow. Then they would move the sand to get the water to go a different. It was a lot of fun, and I was only watching!

The playground is farm themed, with the play structures in the shape of barns and tractors, with silos and cows to ride on. ON the hot day we were there, the water area was much more popular than the playground, but I imagine that is probably a seasonal preference. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Play Follow the Leader - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Play Follow the Leader

You’d be surprised how much even older elementary kids will get a kick out of playing follow the leader with you. They’ll have fun leading you to do silly things, and they’ll also enjoy copying any silly moves you make. This can be a lot of fun at a park, or just around your own house. More kids can make it even more fun. You don’t have to play for long. I like to play at the park, so I can bow out of the game after just a few minutes, and they can continue without me, or play on the playground. Still, that few minutes is fun, and the kids remember it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading to Dogs at the Library

Reading to Dogs

One of my daughter’s very favorite activities at the library is a program called “Paws to Read”. Volunteers bring their certified therapy dogs to the library, and are paired off with a child, and the child spends 20 to 30 minutes reading to the dog. At our library, the program is not ongoing, but has several sessions throughout the year, and my daughter watches the notices for when a new session is ready to begin to make sure I sign her up for a space.

The idea is that dogs are wonderful listeners. If the child is having difficulty with a word, or read awkwardly, the dog won’t care. It won’t correct them, or be disappointed in any way. Plus, kids love dogs. If your kid does not love dogs, these programs are not for you. They aren’t a way to get kids over a fear of dogs. They are just a way to encourage reading.

I’ve since learned that there are many different, but similar programs all over the bay, run by different groups. The groups I’ve found are:

Paws to Read

I expect there are others as well. If you know of another, please leave a comment. These programs are very popular at all the libraries I’ve seen them offered at. Usually, they are so popular that advanced registration is required to get a reading spot. The dogs and their handlers are all volunteers, and there are just so many to go around.

Various libraries work their dog reading programs in different ways. I mentioned that ours has several sessions throughout the year that usually run for two or three months. Each child can sign up for a maximum of 3 reading appointments during a session. I’ve seen other libraries that have an ongoing program on an assigned day of the week.

Not all libraries have dog reading programs, but they are becoming more popular all the time. I suspect, one of the factors preventing the programs from expanding is the lack of dog and handler volunteers. The dogs have to go through training and certification to be eligible. It’s a big dedication on the part of both the dog and owner to take part in these programs. If you have a friendly dog, perhaps you’d be interested in looking into the requirements at the program links listed above. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Make Pancakes - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make Pancakes

Kids love pancakes. Grownups do to, even if we don’t let ourselves partake that much. Pancakes are also super easy to make, especially if you use a mix. The perfect cooking project for kids to help out with. Obviously, an adult should do the riskier parts, like the actual cooking, but kids can measure and mix, and get the table set up with plates and butter and syrup.

I’ve seen some internet photos of some fancy pancakes, made into interesting shapes. If you’re brave you can try those too for extra fun. I’m lucky to pull off a normal round pancake, and want to make sure to make a pancake my kids will actually have fun eating, so I stick to the traditional.