50+ Cheap and Free Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids

Just one more week until I’ll have all four of my kids home for the summer. I need a bag-of-tricks ready to keep them occupied, entertained and to avoid the dreaded, “I’m BORED”. I’ve come up with a few summer staycation ideas that I know my kids will love and remember! Sometimes it’s just not in the budget for a big family vacation. The ultimate summer-on-a-budget staycation is easy on the wallet and still full of fun. It just takes a little creativity and planning.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, without any added cost to you, thanks! Updated and republished from a May 25, 2016 post

Summer Staycation Ideas for Kids

Sleeping in. No homework. Warm weather and a wide open calendar! Summer at home with the kids can be a lot of fun. I’m excited about being able to relax but also worried that I’m going to have four bored kids on my hands after the first week! My plan is to get the kids on board and schedule special at-home events on the calendar. Some of these summer staycation ideas could be spread out over the course of the week, leading up to the “big day”. It really gives everyone something to look forward to.

Tons of Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas!

Looking for cheap, free and FUN ways to entertain your kids at home during their summer vacation? There are dozens of ideas that kids of all ages will love with these ultimate boredom-busting summer staycation ideas. #SummerBreak #Staycation, #FreeforKids #Summer #CraftsforKids #GamesforKids #CheapVacation #Summertime

1. Arts & Crafts Show

Kids love to get crafty and it doesn’t have to be pricey. You probably already have some craft supplies laying around that you could dig out. Set up an area outside where the kids can get messy and creative.

  • Local craft stores frequently mail out 50% coupons. Or you could search for one online or shop the dollar store for cheap crafting supplies.
  • Give everyone a Sketch Book and have a thirty minute session where you draw the portrait of the person next to you (this is sure to induce giggles!)
  • Save your glass jars from jelly or spaghetti sauce and use acrylic or Glass Paint to decorate.
  • Make sculptures out of craft Pipe Cleaners.
  • Decorate a plain box and transform it into a keepsake box (see this post with instructions on how to make a Memento Box)

Back-To-School DIY Disney-Style Storage Box is Perfect for Storing School Supplies or Disney mementos!

  • Use torn pieces of tissue paper and a glue stick on velum paper to make “stained glass” images.
  • Using clean paint brushes and bucket of water outside, have kids quickly “paint” a picture on the sidewalk and see if everyone else can guess what it is before it evaporates!
  • Recreate a famous painting in your own style.
  • Pull out inexpensive Washable Watercolors and paint a scene from your backyard.
  • Rainy day? Set up a still life on the table and have everyone draw the same scene then compare your pictures.
  • Read these ideas for how to make two patriotic-themed crafts.
  • Cut out pictures from magazines and Mod Podge the images onto wooden frames or boxes.
  • Make paper bag puppet and have kids create a puppet show with their creations.
  • On Friday, display everyone’s artwork in the house and hang a handcrafted blue ribbon on each kid’s best work!
Art night for a staycation with the kids {Saving up for Disney}

Oh sure, honey, it looks JUST like me!

2. Under the Big Top

After we went to the circus (the animal-free variety) a few years ago, my kids were fascinated with the tricks and skills they saw.  Lots of great ideas here to get you off the couch!

  • Dress up like a clown in old over-sized clothing and costumes.
  • A strip of blue masking tape on the patio makes an acceptable “tight rope”.
  • See who can keep multiple Hula Hoops going at the same time (one around your neck and one around your arm?!)
  • Practice balancing a balloon on your nose…and then walk the tight rope!
  • Create an obstacle course in the backyard.
  • Use Face Paint Crayons to paint each child’s face like a circus animal
  • Enjoy a snack of peanuts and popcorn

3. Enjoy the Great Outdoors

  • Plant seeds into cardboard egg crates with soil. Water gently and watch them grow.
  • Take an early morning “sunrise walk”. This is especially great if you live where it’s very hot once the sun rises.
  • Local campsites have inexpensive overnight fees. You could try to catch your dinner in the lake!
  • Take a walk with Flashlights to explore the sights and sounds after nightfall.
  • If you don’t want to stray too far from home, camp in your backyard instead. Pitch a tent, barbecue dinner over coals, roast marshmallows and fall asleep under the stars.
  • Simply roll out the sleeping bags in the living room and “camp” in the house under the comfort of your ceiling fan!
Looking for cheap, free and FUN ways to entertain your kids at home during their summer vacation? There are dozens of ideas that kids of all ages will love with these ultimate boredom-busting summer staycation ideas. #SummerBreak #Staycation, #FreeforKids #Summer #CraftsforKids #GamesforKids #CheapVacation #Summertime

Enjoying the sunshine with a fishing pole

4. Get Wet 

  • If you don’t have your own pool, perhaps a family member or friend will let you “borrow” theirs for the day (especially if you volunteer to bring snacks!)
  • Our local YMCA has a great zero-entry pool, water slide and play area for just a few dollars per person. Check at your local pools and find out when open-swim time is available.
  • High schools often open their pools in the summer for a nominal fee.
  • Wash the car. There is always an opportunity for a soapy sponge fight!
  • Set the sprinklers or spray the hose and run through the water. Kids get wet & lawn gets watered…win!
  • I’m not crazy about water balloons because of the mess they leave behind. However sponges soaked in water are perfect for a good super-soaking.
  • Little ones love to play with the watering can. Fill it up and let them water the flowers (and themselves!)

Looking for cheap, free and FUN ways to entertain your kids at home during their summer vacation? There are dozens of ideas that kids of all ages will love with these ultimate boredom-busting summer staycation ideas. #SummerBreak #Staycation, #FreeforKids #Summer #CraftsforKids #GamesforKids #CheapVacation #Summertime

5. A Night at the Movies…in Your Living Room

  • Pull out an old favorite and host a themed movie evening complete with handcrafted posters, costumes and a themed dinner around the film. (ie: Watching Mulan? Make Chinese stir fry and rice).
  • Borrow movies from the library. If the library doesn’t have the movie you want, put in a request & they’ll contact you when it’s available.
  • Pull out the floor pillows, pop up some kernels and settle down together after the sun has set.
  • Give the kids a task of recreating a favorite film in their own interpretation. Come up with a script and costumes and present it to parents!

6. Backyard Carnival 

Gather up stuff from around the house for game play in the yard. Kids love to get in the silly spirit!

  • Craft blue ribbons for the winners of the contests.
  • Empty 2-liter soda bottles and a ball for a knock ’em down game. Or fill 2-liter bottles with water and use them for ring toss.
  • Toss a ball into a bowl or a coffee can.
  • Have a watermelon seed-spitting contest.
  • Pull out the face paint for added fun!
  • Have a mini-pie eating contest.
  • Serve hot dogs and potato chips outside, followed up with root beer floats.

7. Sweet Treats

If you have a budding baker on your hands (or simply kids who love sweets!), this is a fun way to get creative and maybe a little messy.

  • A bucket of vanilla ice cream, a few toppings and candy from the dollar store and you can all have amazing sundaes!
  • Find a recipe online for making your own ice cream.
  • Make a delectable over-the-top recipe from Pinterest. Did you “nail it” or was it a Pinterest “fail”?
  • Bake cupcakes and have fun creatively decorating them.
  • Spoon frosting into plastic baggies and snip off the corner for quick and easy pastry bags.
  • Make a summer-time themed “gingerbread house” that requires no baking with graham crackers, store bought frosting and candies.

Looking for cheap, free and FUN ways to entertain your kids at home during their summer vacation? There are dozens of ideas that kids of all ages will love with these ultimate boredom-busting summer staycation ideas. #SummerBreak #Staycation, #FreeforKids #Summer #CraftsforKids #GamesforKids #CheapVacation #Summertime

8. Build a Fort City

When it’s too hot to play outside, take refuge in the house under a homemade fort!

  • Sofa pillows and blankets are fair game for fort making inside.
  • Pull out the dining room chairs, drape sheets and use binder clips to hold them up.
  • If you want to get fancy, a string of twinkle lights would be fabulous.
  • If you have a few cardboard boxes, take the time to paint and decorate them, cutting out windows and a door flap.
  • A quiet evening of reading is in order under your forts because horseplay would make your city fall down!

9. Board Game Bonanza

One of our favorite family events is gathering around a few board games for a fun evening of competition and laughs.

  • Borrow some games that you don’t have from friends or family so you have a nice variety for all ages and host a game day at home.
  • Simple sandwiches make a great meal and have plenty to snack on between turns.
  • Write out your own Pictionary or Charades game ideas.
  • Find “Minute to Win It” games on Pinterest that use items from around the house.


10. Host An Elegant Evening

  • Every kid has a dress up box or can at least borrow something fun from mom and dad for the evening.
  • Have a pre-party pampering, including painted nails or mud-mask facials.
  • Time to pull out the sequins, get glamorous and have a fancy night at home.
  • Light a few candles at the table and elevate even the most boring weekday dinner.
  • Serve up a Shirley Temple (7-up or Sprite with cherry juice) in a fancy glass and the kids will feel so special!

Looking for cheap, free and FUN ways to entertain your kids at home during their summer vacation? There are dozens of ideas that kids of all ages will love with these ultimate boredom-busting summer staycation ideas. #SummerBreak #Staycation, #FreeforKids #Summer #CraftsforKids #GamesforKids #CheapVacation #Summertime

6 Things to Do With a Toddler

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I received product and compensation from Mead Johnson Nutrition to create this post written by me. All experiences and opinions expressed in this post are my own and not those of Mead Johnson Nutrition. You can contact Mead Johnson Nutrition with product related questions or comments toll free at 1-800-BABY-123 (1-800-222-9123).

My third baby was my little “surprise”. Several years ago I was “lucky” enough to be laid off of my full time job. The same month, I found out I was pregnant with my third child. That’s the surprise! It all worked out for the best because now, for the first time, I’ve been able to be home with one of my children. I’m just delighted to spend time teaching her and learning everything about her. Toddlers have such fun personalities with their adorable voices, at times-indecipherable language and all that boundless energy! You know, even the little tantrums don’t bother me (too much!)

Things to Do With a Toddler

It’s been a great few years and I love how we’ve been able to connect, play and grow alongside my toddler. However there are some days when I just don’t know what to do with her! I want her to learn through communication and age-appropriate activities but it can be a challenge to know just what a toddler will enjoy. My daughter has only just turned two, so she still needs lots of supervision and parental guidance with everything. How can you keep your toddler healthy inside and out? I’ve come up with a few simple crafts, exercise activities, brain-building games and ideas for proper toddler nutrition.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

1. Creative Play & Crafts for Toddlers

Many toddlers will insist that you either play with them or at least remain with them while they’re playing. Encourage the use of toys that are “open-ended”. Classic toys like wooden blocks, vehicles, colored silk cloths and stacking cups let toddlers play creatively and in their own unique way. Here are a few suggestions for creative play and crafts to offer your toddler.

  • Finger Painting with Pudding – If your toddler keeps trying to lick off the paint, try using pudding to paint with instead. I set this up outside where I can rinse off the concrete when my daughter is done painting.
  • Indoor Tent – Set up an easy “tent” by draping a towel over two chairs or angling pillows to create a crawl space. Don’t be surprised if destroying the tent each time you set it up becomes the game!
  • Magic Mirror – Sit side by side facing a mirror and make faces. See if your toddler can mimic your expressions.
  • Sponge Stamping – Soak sponges of various sizes with water and show your toddler how to stamp them on the ground outside to leave a wet impression.
Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

Clay is a classic for toddler’s creative, open-ended play.

2. Fun Indoor Physical Exercise for Toddlers

Toddlers absolutely need physical exercise every day. If you can’t get outdoors or to the park, try these indoor exercise ideas with your toddler to help them strengthen their muscles and improve coordination.

  • Balloon Toss – Blow up a balloon and show your toddler how to tap the balloon gently with the palm of their hand to keep it in the air.
  • Stretching – The slow movements of stretching are easy for little ones to learn. Put on some peaceful music and use kid-friendly connotations like “melt to the floor like ice cream”.
  • Dance Party – Play some kid-friendly songs like the “Hokey Pokey” and “Ring Around the Rosy”. Instructional songs like these that teach the lyrics along with movements are ideal. Make up silly moves like, “wiggle like a dog after bath time” or “waddle like a penguin”.
  • Marching Band – Grab an old pot and a wooden spoon to beat out the rhythm. Teach your toddler how to march and clap and then how to synchronize both movements together.
  • Balance Beam – Tape a piece of blue painters tape on the floor and show your toddler how to walk on the line.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

3. Brain-Building Learning Games for Toddlers

Your little one probably isn’t quite ready for board games with lots of rules. Try these basic learning games that help your toddler make brain-building connections.

  • Basket Toss – Use a laundry basket and balled up socks to create a tossing game to improve coordination.
  • Bean Bag Balance – Show your toddler how to balance a bean bag on the back of their hand, their elbow, top of their foot or her head.
  • In and Out – One of my toddler’s favorite things to do is empty the kitchen drawer that holds her sipper cups and flatware. Give your toddler some kid-friendly general use items (like cleaned-out bottles in a variety of sizes with the caps removed) and a small box to let him load and unload.
  • Sing Along – Encourage toddlers to learn lyrics and sing along to a rhythm (you’re going to have to sing along yourself to facilitate this!)

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

4. Toddler Story Time

Turn off the device and television in favor of story books and snuggles. Toddler story time is a great segue between playtime and nap time. Sometimes the books that toddlers love aren’t the ones that you’re usually drawn to! If you’re bored of reading the same books over and over, head for the library to borrow new stories.

5. Restful Time for Toddlers

As much as they might protest, a proper rest and nap time is so important. Not only for your toddler but for you as well! Toddlers that have a nap schedule just seem to have better nighttime sleeping habits too.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

Start by cleaning up toys, indicating to your toddler that playtime is over. I offer a sipper cup with Enfagrow® Toddler Next Step™ and my toddler will sit on my lap while I read, and she drinks. Once I feel her relaxing, I’ll segue into singing some of her favorite songs and she’s ready to sleep. If she’s resistant to lying down in her crib, we’ll often go for a walk in the stroller instead, which usually helps her to nod off.

I’ve been flexible on the nap time lately, noticing that my toddler hasn’t been tired or doesn’t sleep as long with an earlier nap time. I’ve adjusted my nap schedule, pushing it back 90 minutes and finding that she’s falling asleep easier and sleeping longer. It’s all about watching and knowing your own child and what works for them.

Looking for fun things to do with a toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

6. Ensuring Proper Toddler Nutrition

Toddlers are fickle little people, especially when it comes to what they eat. One day they love peas and can’t get enough of them. The next day they’d rather toss peas on the floor than eat them! It can be frustrating and worrisome; when you’re concerned your toddler isn’t getting proper nutrients. My just-turned-two-year old is already a picky eater and I worry she’s not getting enough nutrition from the little amount of food she eats.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

85% of brain growth happens in the first three years of life, so help ensure your toddler is getting important DHA to help nourish this brain growth. Experts recommend that toddlers have 70-100 mg/day of DHA to support early brain and eye development, but most toddlers only get 25% of the recommended amount of DHA, leaving a gap in their nutrition. The main source for DHA is fish and unfortunately many toddlers refuse to eat fish. Most of the foods that appeal to toddlers (like cereal, cheese, bananas, regular milk, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese) have 0 mg of DHA.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

I was excited to find out about Enfagrow® Toddler Next Step™. Enfagrow Toddler is a milk-based drink ideal for kids aged 1-3 years. It has DHA and complements a toddler’s diet to help ensure good nutrition for their changing needs and tastes. I had no idea that there was a product available that has DHA for toddlers! And my little girl absolutely loves the Enfagrow Toddler, she sips it right up!

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

Enfagrow Toddler is available in a convenient 32 fl oz. liquid bottle and 32 oz. powder can. Visit Enfagrow.com to learn more about Enfagrow Toddler, to receive coupons and to request free samples.

Looking for fun things to do with your toddler? Check out these ideas for brain-boosting games, indoor exercise, toddler-friendly crafts and healthy nutrition. #AD

This is sponsored by Enfagrow® Toddler Next Step™.

16 Ways to Surprise Your Kids (and Tips for When a Surprise Goes Bad)

SURPRISE!! You’re plotting and planning out the perfect way to surprise your kids. Maybe it’s a surprise party with all his friends for a milestone birthday. Or you’re surprising a kid with their first cell phone. I bet it’s a surprise Disney vacation!! That’s always fun, right? Ehh, maybe? Kids can be surprisingly sensitive and emotional about things that aren’t a part of their usual routine. As I’m sure you already know, sometimes the slightest thing can set off a kid’s mood. And that goes for surprises, no matter how amazing that surprise is. Surprises can make some kids cry. Or get mad. Or even be embarrassed or disappointed.

I have the tested and tried tips to surprise your kids, how to handle things when a surprise goes bad and some simply sweet ways to surprise your children.

Please note that I use affiliate links in my posts. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way (without any additional cost to you). Thank you!

The Good and Bad of Surprising Kids

Last week, my daughter’s junior high school teacher sent me an email to let me know that my daughter would be receiving an award. My first question back to the teacher was, “Did you tell her she’s getting the award? We can’t make it a surprise”.

See, I’ve learned over the years that my daughter isn’t the kind of kid who enjoys surprises. Getting called up in front of her classmates to stand on stage and have the teacher offer a glowing review? That would be akin to facing the firing squad for this easily-embarrassed 14-year old. Several years back her 6th grade teacher insisted on surprising her with an award and the poor child stood in front of her schoolmates, crying openly. The teacher felt badly. And now we know: surprises just aren’t the best idea for this child.

Is there ever a good time to surprise kids? Should certain surprises be allowed? Is it a rite of passage to surprise kids and let them deal with it, even if it might upset them?

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Is a surprise birthday party ever a good idea?

WHY Do You Want to Surprise Your Child?

Whether is a surprise trip or a birthday surprise party, the temptation to plan a huge SURPRISE for kids is strong! The question you need to ask is “Why”? If you think that the surprise adds to the celebration, then go forward (after reading the rest of the cautions in this post!). But if the surprise is just your way of sharing the information then the actual event should stand on its own. Don’t diminish the celebration by tacking on the surprise beginning unless it’s adding that-much-more to the emotional punch. And if you think that your child can appropriately handle the surprise as well.

Who’s In On the Surprise?

Secret keeping. Little white lies. Sneaking. It can be hard to keep a surprise a secret. More often than not, the person getting surprised starts getting an uneasy feeling that something fishy is going on. If your surprise relies on being overly sneaky or telling your child a lie, you may want to rethink the surprise plan. No child wants that awkward feeling when the truth is revealed. And many kids won’t appreciate that you planned something special without them. They may have hurt feelings knowing that you were keeping secrets with their teacher/grandparent/friends behind their back. It won’t matter to them the reasoning, they may be upset all the same.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

A surprise trip to the beach after church was a welcome respite.

Know Your Child Before You Plan a Surprise

My 6-year old son is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I could surprise him with just about anything and he’d go joyfully right along with it. I’ve surprised him with a Disneyland trip and he was just delighted. But not every kid is like that.

In fact, most kids (and some adults) are the opposite. Many kids need ample time to process before an event. Only you truly know your child and how they will react to a surprise. There’s no point in planning what’s supposed to be a FUN event and then having the initial reaction put a damper on the celebration.

Easing Kids Into Surprises

Not sure how your child will react to a surprise? Start small with little surprises and see how it goes. Little changes in the regular routine can help your kids to be more flexible. Try something like, “Today we’re doing something different! We’re doing/going to….” and then surprise them with something that’s unusual for your normal schedule. Make it something that your kid usually enjoys, like the park, library, movies, play date, picnic, baking cupcakes, etc. See how your child reacts to the change in routine and you’ll be able to gauge how they’ll react to a bigger surprise.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Everyone’s in the car, but the destination is a surprise!

Surprises That Involve Friends

The very essence of a surprise is the reaction that it ensues. The reaction from your child after a surprise could be a squeal of excitement. It could also be embarrassment or overwhelming emotions that can’t be contained. And no child wants to cry in front of their friends.

What to Do Instead

While a surprise birthday party with your child’s entire class might sound like a blast to you, this may be incredibly overwhelming for your kid. Instead of a surprise, involve your child in the planning process so they have more control over the events. If you REALLY want to create a surprise that includes friends, choose carefully. Invite only one or two very close friends that are more like family.

Some kids even feel awkward opening gifts in front of their friends. The uncomfortable feeling of not knowing “What’s inside?!” and then having to gauge a proper response in front of a crowd can make some kids upset. Consider opening gifts after the party if your child can’t handle the surprise element of opening gifts in front of their friends.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Disneyland or Walt Disney World Surprise

Living just 90 minutes from Disneyland, I’ve had my share of Disneyland surprise vacations. I have a vivid memory of my parents surprising us with a Disney day instead of going to school. I was about ten years old and the surprise was great! I’ve also surprised my son on his birthday with a Disneyland trip. We go to Disney frequently so he was familiar and excited about the day trip. And I think that’s the key. He’d been to Disneyland before so the place, events, rides, etc wasn’t a surprise; just the fact that we were going was the surprise. But once I surprised him with the day’s plans, he was thrilled because he knew what to expect when we got there.

My friend and fellow blogger Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth suggests that parents Don’t Do a Surprise Disneyland Trip. Jessica brings up some great points, including my favorite – Kids should be involved in the Disney vacation planning. I’m totally against making your very first Disney vacation a complete surprise. I always cringe when I hear about parents taking their kids to the airport and getting on a plane to Disney when the kids don’t know where they’re headed. If your kids have been before a surprise may go over better because they know what to expect. But if it’s your first time, I recommend letting kids get involved in the planning before the trip.

A surprise birthday Disneyland trip for my son’s 5th birthday. It went over well because he’s been to Disneyland before.

Disney Vacation Surprise Twists

You can still make the vacation a surprise, if it’s handled in a delicate way. There are tons of cute ways to surprise the kids at home, several months ahead of your trip. If you’re planning a Disney vacation, I recommend ordering the Disney Video Planning Guide (it’s FREE!). Watch it together as a family and plan your trip.


Then check out these other tips:

Is surprising your kids with a Disney vacation ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids! #Disney #Surprise #TravelwithKids #DisneyWorld #Disneyland #FamilyTravel #TravelPlanning #Positiveparenting

Time to Let the News Soak In

Don’t think that you can’t EVER surprise your kids! Surprises are ultimately changes in what’s expected. Kids absolutely need to learn how to be flexible, how to roll-with-the-punches and how to adjust to change. But there are ways of doing a surprise that honors your child’s personality, doesn’t embarrass them and also builds their trust in you.

Make a Surprise Announcement

Instead of making the surprise happen right then and there, make the announcement the surprise. Avoid putting kids “on the spot” by making surprise announcements at home without an audience.

To Video or Not?

I know you may want to video the surprise but we all know kids act weird when we turn on the camera! Consider hiding the camera to show them the video later (and only share if you have their consent).

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Surprise, we bought you a new bike!

Allow Time Between the Announcement and the Event

Processing thoughts and feelings can take some kids time. Personally for my kids, I try to inform them several months before a trip. This allows us to discuss the plans over and over, to talk about our activities, meals and schedule. Fortunately we’ve never had any travel meltdowns and I know that pre-vacation prep is a big part of that reason. When we know what to expect, we can relax and know what’s going to happen next.

When a Surprise Goes Bad

So what happens if a surprise goes badly? Your son screamed when you surprised him with the announcement that he’s going to be a big brother. Maybe your preschooler cried when you said you were going to Disneyland? And your daughter had a total meltdown when you threw her a surprise birthday party.

Resist the urge to admonish a child for their poor reaction. It can be difficult to contain our own disappointment when things do go as we planned! But your child doesn’t want to hear about how much your trip costs, how much work you put into the surprise, etc etc. They just need your reassurance.

A silent hug goes a long way towards comforting your child. Consider pulling them away to a quiet area where they can process and calm down. Later, you can discuss what happened and talk about why you wanted to surprise them.

Fun Ways to Surprise Your Kids

Little surprises are a wonderful way to show love and playfulness. These simple and sweet surprises will surely delight all children.

  • Host a board game night
  • Serve breakfast in bed
  • Put loose change inside the pocket of their jacket
  • Get out the art/craft supplies on a whim
  • Print out favorite photos of you and your kids and tape them onto their bedroom wall
  • Send them a letter in the mail
  • Cook their favorite dinner without telling them
  • Make a treat for after-dinner dessert

Pistachio pudding is a special surprise treat for my kiddo

  • Have a spontaneous dance party! Put on music and just start moving.
  • Serve their after school snack on a fancy plate
  • Take the kids to the park after school instead of heading straight home
  • Leave a note next to their plate
  • Build a fort in the living room to greet them when they wake up on a weekend
  • Create a treasure hunt at home for a small prize
  • Build a reading nook (a pile of pillows in a corner with a stack of books will suffice)
  • Rent a new movie to surprise them with on a Friday night

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids! #Surprise #PositiveParenting #Family #Kids #Parenting #SpecialNeeds


Restaurant Hacks for Kids That Make Eating Out Easier

Eating out with kids can be an ordeal. You just want an enjoyable meal but often feel rushed and busy cutting food, entertaining the kids and wiping up messy faces (all while trying to eat a hot meal yourself!) What if you have a picky eater and have to pack food that they’ll actually eat? Then there’s the potential for mess. A BIG mess. Is it better just to eat at home? I like to eat out, especially when traveling, but sometimes I dread it with all the kids! Here are my travel dining hacks for kids, including products that can make eating out with kids easier!

I received free product for several of the items mentioned in this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Please note that I include affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you.

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

How to Take Young Kids to a Restaurant – Travel Dining Hacks for Kids

To be fully honest, when we’re at home we don’t really eat out in restaurants very often. Restaurant dining with kids is reserved for times when we’re traveling and far from our kitchen. Being able to enjoy a special meal out is something we don’t do often, but absoutely plan for when we travel. Since we have a toddler, kindergartener and two teens, I have a bag of tricks to keep them entertained and happy until the food arrives! (Hint: This doesn’t have to include electronic devices, keep reading!) I’ve included my travel dining hacks for kids with lots of tips on eating out as well as the must have travel items for babies, big kids and toddlers when restaurant dining is in your plans.

Choosing the Best Restaurants for Kids

Sure, you can take your kid to just about any restaurant you want, but do you really want to? I know I don’t want to eat in a fancy place with my noisy toddler and feel like I’m needing to shush her every 2 seconds when she uses her “outside” voice indoors! Personally when I’m eating in a restaurant with my kids I choose a place that might be just a bit more noisy and more on the casual side.

Before you step inside, check out the ambiance and weigh whether you think it’s a good place for your kiddos. Second, peek at the menu. If there’s something there that your kids will eat, then proceed! If you have a picky eater in the family, see my post with practical dining tips for at home or on the road.

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

What to Order Kids in a Restaurant?

When we go out to eat (which isn’t very often), we usually encourage the kids to order something they don’t usually eat at home. Why get buttered spaghetti noodles when you can order steak and baked potato with all the fixings?!

My middle son always orders chicken nuggets and fries because we simply don’t feed him that at home. For him, that’s his special restaurant meal. I’m not going to spend dinner out arguing with him to try something new, especially if I may get push back. Restaurant dining isn’t the time to pressure your kids. And if nuggets and fries is something he’ll eat (and usually finish!) then that’s what I let him order!

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

Give ’em what they want! If ordering nuggets & fries will get them to eat, then so be it!

1. Table Covers Keep Food From Touching Dirty Tables

If you’ve been eating out with kids before, you know that the food doesn’t always stay on the plate. In fact, if given a plate of food my two-year old will immediately dump all the contents directly onto the table! Instead of giving your toddler an entire plate to herself, dole out a few pieces here and there to minimize mess. I use disposable table covers so I know her food stays away from germs.

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

The moment right before the pizza hit the table – thank goodness for the disposable table cover!

2. Portable High Chair for Babies and Toddlers

Dirty restaurant highchair? Skip toting around the bulky cover and consider the Totseat Chair Harness. Quickly convert a regular chair into a secure seat for babies on the go.

3. Drink Up! Kid’s Travel Cups That Are Easy to Clean

My baby daughter used to make the biggest mess when she tried to drink out of a cup. She never grasped how to drink out of a bottle and drinking from a sippy cup had been equally challenging. Fortunately she learned how to drink out of a straw very early on. But that still didn’t minimize the mess (she tended to let whatever she doesn’t swallow dribble down her chin!)

When we went on vacation, I brought along a set of Silikids Siliskin Silicone Sippy Tops. These silicone tops stretch over your own cup, turning it into a child-friendly sipper. While in the hotel room, I was able to convert a small drinking glass into a sippy cup for milk. And when taking her in the stroller, I placed a Siliskin Sippy Top onto a plastic cup filled with water.

The Siliskin Sippy Top has tiny holes that do not leak out liquid. The child has to gently bite on the top and suck to drink. This made it much less of a mess because my daughter only took in what she was swallowing. I really liked having these on-the-go to convert any cup into a sipper. They are dishwasher and microwave safe, though I just washed by hand in the hotel bathroom sink.

I also have the Silikids Siliskin Silicone Straw Cup. I’ve always been hesitant to purchase sippy cups with straws because of the cleaning aspect (tiny parts are challenging to get totally clean, even in the dishwasher).

This cup is only three simple parts and all can be boiled in water to sanitize. The straw is really quite big for my toddler daughter to use but my preschooler drinks from it perfectly (and I don’t have to worry about spills in the car).

4. Entertaining Ideas for Baby

I’ve taken my baby on a few trips by myself, including traveling alone to Walt Disney World. If you don’t have extra hands, make sure to pack a few things that will make your dining experience more enjoyable. A few toys for entertaining baby and a clever strap that keeps the bottle or sippy cup from falling to the floor.

If your baby is in the loud screaming-at-the-top-of-their-lungs phase request a seat on the patio where the extra noise may be better absorbed. If Disney is your destination, check out this post with additional tips for dining with a baby.

5. Keep ‘Em Clean with Disposable Bibs

Other than taking extra clothes with you (always a good idea anyway, I guess), a bib is the best way to keep clothes clean when eating out with kids. A disposable bib is even better! Pop it on, fold in the bottom to catch any food that falls and then toss it when done with the meal. So much better than toting around crusty clothes!

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

Disposable bibs are a must in my travel bag!

6. Best Travel Snack Ideas for Kids

Despite your best efforts for choosing kid-friendly restaurants, some kids just won’t eat. Consider packing in a few of their favorite snacks that you know they’ll eat. I like the b. box Snack Pack. There are two separate compartments. And it comes with a child-sized utensil that snaps in to the lid!

In between meals or while on the road, try the Munchkin Snack Catcher. I use it in the car with my toddler and big kids! You can fill it up with an age-appropriate snack (fishy crackers for little ones, trail mix for older kids). This really helps to minimize spills and mess in the car when they drop it (because you know they will!)If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families!

7. Kid’s Restaurant Busy Bag (Aka: The Device-Free Dinner)

We went to a restaurant a few years ago and before my kids were even in their seats they were each handed an electronic tablet to play games. We weren’t even asked by the waitress if it was okay. Our kids don’t use devices at home so naturally it was a special occasion. Was the wait for the meal really quiet? Yep. They had their noses pressed against the screens the entire time, silently playing their individual games.

There are times that having the devices come in handy during travel (like on a boring road trip). But for me personally, I’m not a fan of having electronics at the dinner table. We let our kids play with them at this particular restaurant for about ten minutes before removing them and asking the waitress to take them away. My husband and I enjoy chatting with our kids together and while it was certainly quiet, it didn’t connect us as a family to have the kids playing games alone. However do what you have to do – if the kids are bickering and all you want is 10 quiet minutes, then maybe letting the kids use a device is what you need to do.

Waiting for food to arrive can make young diners impatient. Some restaurants will offer paper and crayons but not all. Consider having a restaurant “busy bag” to occupy kids. The contents inside the bag can be items that the entire family would enjoy. Supply a grab-bag of goodies to keep kids entertained while you wait. Here are a few mess-free ideas for different age ranges, from babies to big kids! Grown ups, set your phones down and pick up one of these family favorites.

If your vacation plans include eating out in restaurants, these are the must-know travel dining hacks with kids! Tips include the best products to pack and lots of helpful (device-free!) tips for families! #Restaurant #TravelWithKids #FamilyTravel #EatingOut #Dining

How to Encourage Creativity in Kids

When I was growing up in the 70s, art supplies were always made available to me at home. I had tons of drawing paper, colored construction paper and crayons. I remember raiding my mom’s stock of paper lunch bags so I could make puppets and put on a show. You should have seen the mess in my bedroom! My desk was always littered with art supplies and the floor was sprinkled with bits of cut paper, colored pencil shavings and crayon wrappers. I was a creative slob, for sure. But I was too busy with my art to clean up – I had things to draw, projects to make, art to get on paper!

Last week I was helping my kindergartner craft a Valentine’s box for school. I helped him cover a cereal box with construction paper and we talked about the design he wanted. He wanted to make his box look like a hotel and have windows that opened to reveal a heart inside. I made the first one and then was called away by one of my other kids. This boy knows his way around scissors and a glue stick, so I left him to complete the project. And he handily did so, making several other hearts and windows himself. He was beaming when he showed me his completed project!

Unlike my cluttered bedroom in the 70s, my kids don’t have a space inside the house for art. The six of us live in a very small home so my kids have a desk in the garage for projects. And I definitely make sure that we have a nice supply of art tools at their use. It’s important to me that my kids stay creative. My creativity is definitely a big part of the fabric of my personality!

Why is It Important to Encourage Creativity in Kids?

Art allows for healthy exploration. Kids can safely experiment with art supplies in a way that results in a satisfying end product. Art allows children to have emotional freedom as a way of expressing personality, thoughts and feelings.

Figure out what kind of creative outlet is best for your child. Does you child enjoy the textile feeling of paint on canvas or chalk on textured paper? Or does your kid like building with LEGOS or K’Nex as their method of creativity? What about photography, writing, modeling clay or sewing? There’s a creative thing for each child and it’s fun to experiment with everything to help them find their niche.

I’m sharing 7 ways you can encourage creativity in your kids.

Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I was compensated for this post.

1. Encourage Messes (and Reasonable Clean Up!)

A mess is often the result of creative expression. Getting messy is often how kids get deeply into the creative process (think fingerpaint, glitter and glue!) A mess is okay and kids should feel comfortable with getting messy while creating. When hindered by worry about getting messy, children won’t be as creative so make sure they know it’s okay to get a little messy.

Obviously you’ll need to set up an area for messy art making. Use art drop cloth on the floor, washable table coverings, wear old clothing and use easy-to-clean art supplies. If your child loves LEGO building have an area that they can work on projects without having to put everything away each day.

When art time is over, kids should be made clear on the clean up aspect. Kids of all ages should be able to assist with cleaning up their mess. Even a toddler can learn how to swish paintbrushes in clean water to wash off the extra paint.

5 Budget-friendly Patriotic Summer Crafts for Kids

2. Replace Screens with Art Supplies

There are only so many hours in the day. Would you rather your child’s hours be filled with aimless internet games and TV shows or brain-stimulating creative activities? Limit screen time and encourage art and creativity instead. Consider being a good example as well by setting down your phone and picking up a pencil or paint brush!

Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

3. Dress the Colors of the Rainbow


Allowing your child to choose their own clothing and accessories is a way for them to express creativity! Clothing that is comfortable, colorful and fun allows kids to express their personality in what they wear. Gymboree is encouraging kids to “follow your art” with clothing that is inspired by creativity. These bright and playful springtime outfits have so much style. And the high quality and great price you can always expect from Gymboree. Click through to see what’s on sale and find out how to get free shipping on your Gymboree order.



4. Give them the Artistic Resources

Having the proper tools on hand is essential to the creative process. Go through the supplies you already have and see what your child could use creatively. Bits of fabric, scrapbook paper and ribbon might not look like enough to you, but for a child they could make their own greeting cards with these supplies.

Organize the basics like glue sticks, crayons, colored pencils, scissors and craft paper into storage bins for easy access. Extra items like watercolor paint, gel pens, modeling clay and paint brushes can go into additional bins.

Visit Crayola for special savings on all the best art supplies you need for your crafts!Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

5. It’s About the Process, Not the End Result

For toddlers and younger children, art is not about the final result. They couldn’t care less if their artwork looks like it went through a tornado – they’re PROUD of it!! And you should be too. For little kids, creativity is about the process. It’s in the touching and textiles. It’s in the fine motor skills of holding a crayon, drawing a line or cutting with scissors. Don’t worry about what their project looks like because your young kids don’t care.

Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

6. Put Art on Display

While your littest ones don’t really care about the end result, you can believe that older kids who put lots of attention into the process want the best results! And that means your attention to what they’ve created. So if they’ve written a poem, painted a picture, or even just glued cotton balls to a piece of construction paper, put that art on display!

Find a clever way to show off your children’s artistic abilities, even if it’s a magnet on the fridge. I love the idea of a clothesline with rotating art work. We had this wire with tiny magnets in my daughter’s room so she could change things out as she wished. Save a few favorites in a bin each year (don’t forget to write the date on it somewhere!)

Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

7. There Are No “Mistakes” in Art

One of the best rules of thumb to keep in mind when encouraging creativity in children – Art doesn’t have MISTAKES. Kids should feel comfortable creating what they feel without repercussion of doing it “wrong”. No helicopter parenting here. Even if you don’t like what your kids are making or you feel like they could be doing it another way, it’s important in this case to hold your tongue. Being creative is UNIQUE. Let your children be creative without your input, offering only encouragement and praise. You’ll see how their creativity will bloom!

Looking for fun ways to encourage creativity in kids? These 7 ideas allow for freedom of expression in inexpensive and easy ways!

7 Inexpensive and Lovable Valentine’s Day Ideas for Kids

Kids really do get into the Valentine’s Day spirit of love and friendship. Maybe it’s the classroom Valentine’s card exchange at school. Maybe it’s the warm and fuzzy feeling woven throughout the month. But more likely it’s the sweet candy and treats! Okay, let’s give children a little more credit. While the school parties and special desserts are fun, I think that kids just naturally love to LOVE. And Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to express that.

Valentine’s Day Ideas for Kids

I’m sharing some fun Valentine’s ideas for your kids. These 7 ideas will give you inexpensive and lovable ways to share the holiday with your kids. And so not to leave out the littles, I’ve included Valentine’s Day ideas for toddlers, too. There are also some real, memorable ways to create a deeper connection with your kids (with this holiday as the reason to begin a step in that direction).

Please note that I use affiliate links in my posts. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

Looking to make real, meaningful connections with your children this Valentine's Day? These inexpensive and lovable Valentine's Day ideas for kids are practical and fun tips help make your Valentine's lovely.

My son was SO proud of his handmade Valentine! I have it in my keepsake box 🙂

1. Family Card Exchange

So the kids have already exchanged cards and treats with friends at school. Creating homemade cards for family members is a great way to show off creativity and love (especially for little siblings that don’t yet go to school). No need to be perfect, just let the feelings fly.

A simple construction paper card with a sweet sentiment inside is so meaningful. A new box of customized Crayola crayons will encourage the creativity! Draw a picture or paste a photo inside for an added touch. These are the memories to hold in your heart forever. I still cherish the handmade card that my son made for me so many years ago.

Looking to make real, meaningful connections with your children this Valentine's Day? These inexpensive and lovable Valentine's Day ideas for kids are practical and fun tips help make your Valentine's lovely.

2. Valentine’s Day Breakfast

No need to go crazy – even just doing one thing out of the ordinary will make it a special meal to kick start Valentine’s Day. Doughnuts are always a welcome treat in my book! Sprinkle chocolate chips on the pancake batter in the shape of a heart. Add red food coloring to a glass of milk to make a “pink drink”. I love this idea of cutting fruit into heart shapes for the ultimate Valentine’s Day fruit salad!

Click the image to see more on Pinterest! 

Looking to make real, meaningful connections with your children this Valentine's Day? These inexpensive and lovable Valentine's Day ideas for kids are practical and fun tips help make your Valentine's lovely.

Watermelon Heart Salad from A Designer Life

3. Perform a Loving Act

Just like kids love to give presents at Christmas, they enjoy the giving of their affections on Valentine’s Day as well. This is a great time to show your kids different ways of loving. We can show our love for all people with service, including volunteering to help others. Start with your church or ask in your local community for ways that your children can help.

Here’s a super cute loving act that kids would enjoy – making a Valentine’s Day birdfeeder to hang in a tree. Bet the birdies would love it!

Click the image to see more on Pinterest! 

Looking to make real, meaningful connections with your children this Valentine's Day? These inexpensive and lovable Valentine's Day ideas for kids are practical and fun tips help make your Valentine's lovely. Valentine’s Day Birdfeeders from Wine and Glue

4. A Lovable Outfit or Accessory

Let kids wear their heart on their sleeve (literally!)

ShopDisney has some adorable Valentine’s Day tees. There are also sweet love-themed accessories that can be worn all-year round, like these cute socks and Mickey & Minnie Love Alex and Ani bangles (perfect for tween and teen girls!)

Before I had a million kids, I used to make them a special shirt for every holiday! They really loved wearing their handcrafted creations. If you have a sewing machine and basic skills, you can put together this adorable Valentine’s Day heart tee in about two hours. Click through for the DIY tutorial.

5. Valentine’s Homemade Crafts

Take the time to sit down and create something together with your kids this season. Okay, so I haven’t gotten into the make-your-own slime thing but I know that kids LOVE it! There are lots of other crafty things you can do with the kids during Valentine’s. This paper heart wreath is adorable (and what kid doesn’t love to wield the stapler!) Best part? Totally mess-free!!

Click the image to see more on Pinterest! 

Paper Heart Wreath tutorial from hello, Wonderful

6. Read a Loving Story Together

My littlest kids especially love to snuggle with mom and dad to read stories. Those are special memories for sure.

A Valentine’s Day themed book (like our favorite, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch) is a great bedtime read-aloud for young elementary.

My baby daughter thinks that this book, Disney Baby I Love You This Much! is the best.

Tweens and teens may love having a journal for writing down their thoughts (since actually expressing them outloud might prove to be too challenging!) There’s a plain version (JAM Paper Notebook with Elastic Band) and also one with an embossed heart (Writing Journal with Gold Heart).

7. Give Your Child the Gift of YOU

Ever read about the The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts? There are additional books in this series that help you to love children and teens more deeply. I can’t think of a better Valentine’s gift from a parent to a child than your time, your attention and a deeper and more connected love!

Looking for a few more ideas? You might like this post about Cheap Ideas for Valentine’s Day!

Looking to make real, meaningful connections with your children this Valentine's Day? These inexpensive and lovable Valentine's Day ideas for kids are practical and fun tips help make your Valentine's lovely.

The Great Kindness Challenge – Incorporating It Everyday

At the end of the year my family and I were recovering from a messy stomach flu. Messy as in projectile “stuff” from both ends for four out of six family members over the course of five days.

This stomach flu is not to be confused with THE FLU. You know, the one that has a death toll on the local news. The urgent care nurse set us straight when we brought our son in. With a lack of fever, his illness couldn’t technically be classified as THE FLU. After three Otter Pops (blue vomit, green vomit, yellow vomit), he whispered to the nurse, “No more popsicles”. Thankfully an anti-nausea tablet halted the vomiting and a four hour nap the following day had him feeling better.

My son was the last to get hit with the bug. Earlier in the week, we’d already been to urgent care with our toddler daughter (Otter Pops & an anti-nausea tablet did the trick for her too). Both my husband and I had gone through the ick and now, our 6 year old guy was getting hit hard. We’d debated going to the urgent care, but he’d been sick all day and wasn’t keeping down any liquids. We got grandma to stay with the other kids and put him in the car with a trash can, just in case (yes, he needed it).

My husband and I were worried. We were still recovering ourselves and feeling edgy. It was late in the evening, when we usually had the kids in bed and we were headed to sleep soon ourselves. Our minds were distracted with our son in the backseat, holding on to his trash can and saying his tummy felt okay right now. So when the car in front of us tapped his brakes after turning a corner, we were startled.

“What’s wrong with his car?”, I said aloud. “Who brakes like that after a turn?”

My husband shrugged. We went down several blocks behind the car until we both came to a red light. As my husband slowed to get behind, we saw someone open the driver side door and turn to face us. My husband immediately stopped our van about 20 feet back.

The man took a few steps towards our car and then stood for a moment, his body lit in our headlights and then he screamed, “TURN OFF YOUR HIGH BEAMS! YOU’RE BLINDING ME!” Then he turned swiftly, got back in his car and drove away through the green light.


My husband fumbled with the knobs and gears on the dash. He’d only driven our van a few times after dark and didn’t realize that the high beams had been bumped on. I was able to help him turn them off and we were on our way.

My husband was surprisingly calm. The shock of what had happened soaked in and he said, “I thought that guy was going to come to the window and punch me in the face!”

I was decidedly more livid. I could feel the anger of that man’s delivery bubbling to the surface.

“Why did he have to get so MAD?! Couldn’t he have handled that in a different way? Seriously, all he had to do was say, “Your high beams are on, buddy”, he didn’t have to scream like that”.

I was riled up. For weeks the memory of that man and his aggression for what was purely a distracted mistake bothered me.

The Kindness Challenge

My kids are all celebrating “Kindness Week” at their schools this week. Similar in tone to “Red Ribbon Week” there are organized activities, like “Crazy Sock Day”. The kids are working on classroom projects that revolve around kindness. There are assemblies and contests that focus on being kind. My kindergartener has a checklist of kind things he needs to accomplish this week including smiling at others and helping at home. I did notice that without prompting he cleared his dinner dishes and was helpful with his little sister.

The event is THE GREAT KINDNESS CHALLENGE.  I love the idea of incorporating more kindness. Naturally I encourage my kids to be more kind with each other, but spreading that ripple of kindness to others outside of the circle is more important. I like how the challenge gets kids to think of others in a positive way. Less of “what do I get out of it” and more of a “how can I help” attitude.

How can you adopt the kindness challenge to make big changes in your life everyday? Find out how to incorporate kindness into your life each day.

Another Test of Kindness

Yesterday morning I was driving my kids to their respective schools in the family minivan. It was just after 7 am and I stopped at a 4-way stop along with another vehicle. We’d both reached the stop at the same time and paused. I was turning right, so I turned around the corner and was met by a blaring horn.

I glanced back in my mirror at the owner of the horn, the man in the other vehicle. He’d just started moving straight through the intersection and was apparently peeved that I’d moved through the intersection first. He was gesturing and yelling (thank goodness we couldn’t hear what he was saying!)

I hadn’t cut him off. He was still 2 yards back from me. We’d both gotten to the intersection at the same time. Why was he so angry that I’d turned before him?

He was still posturing when we reached the next stop sign. I looked at his face in the side mirror, still hollering at me. I mouthed, “It’s not a big deal”. To which I was greeted with an inappropriate hand gesture when I turned the corner and he flew straight through the intersection.

My teenage son, in the front seat was witness to it all and I vented.

“What in the world is he freaking out about?! Seriously. It’s not like I cut him off, we both got to the intersection at the same time”. My son laughed and nodded. It was all stupid, that was obvious. A grown man having a temper tantrum because a woman in a mini-van with 4 kids went ahead of him.

Putting Kindness Into Play

It’s easy to be kind to someone when they are being kind to you. So easy to smile at someone when they hold open the door. Easy to say, “Thank you” when someone offers you a treat. Easy to compliment someone when they are clean and nicely dressed.

What’s hard is putting out kindness when it may never be reciprocated. Hard to be kind when someone flips you off in front of your children, though you’ve done nothing wrong. Hard to offer forgiveness when someone screams at you for an unknowing mistake. Hard to give a compliment when the person on the receiving end might say something mean back to you.

I realized that during both of the recent interactions my kids were present and watching. My reaction to those types of encounters are obviously shaping the children I’m raising. I needed to show them how we can deal with people in kindness. Yes, even people who are mean. Yes, even people who are inappropriate. Yes, even when you did nothing wrong and they’re mad about it. And yes, even when you just want to be mean and angry back. That’s the most important time to be kind.

Trying to get the kids to do housework? Here are the tips I use with my four kids.

Making a Choice to Be Kind

I could have had some choice words for these guys in their vehicles. I could have flipped them off too. I could have jumped out of my car to confront them, screamed back, freaked out. But instead I put kindness into play.

I said, aloud so my kids could hear, “He must be having a really bad day already! Maybe something is bothering him and he’s taking it out on us. All we can do is pray for him”.

I was able to take the strange, tainted experience and paint over it with empathy and kindness. I can’t say that I do that in every situation but it’s definitely my goal. I’d like to take the kindness challenge and make it more of who I am on a daily basis. Allowing myself to get swooped up in someone else’s anger only makes me angry. And I can honestly say I don’t need more anger in my life.

National Random Acts of Kindness Day

I had no idea there was such a thing, but National Random Acts of Kindness Day is observed on February 17th. The day is celebrated by individuals, groups and organizations nationwide to encourage acts of kindness.

So what random acts of kindness could you do each and every day to improve not only the life of another, but your own?



Top 7 Family Goals – Making New Year Resolutions with Kids

Raise your hand if you had a resolution to make a change last year. Yep. And if you’re like most people, you didn’t get through the month of January before your goals were long forgotten, right? Or maybe you just don’t even bother with making new year resolutions because you never can seem to stick with them long enough to make a difference. Yeah, been-there, done-that too. I’ve found that the only way I’ve been able to keep to my resolutions is by getting my kids involved in the goal making. Let’s talk about why it’s a great idea to make New Year resolutions with kids.

According to data pulled from Google by iQuanti, these were the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2017:

  • Get Healthy
  • Get Organized
  • Live Life to the Fullest
  • Learn New Hobbies
  • Spend Less/Save More
  • Travel
  • Read More

For each of these categories that were searched, there’s a way to get your kids involved. I’m going to share some tips on how your kids can help you keep your New Year resolution goals (while making and sticking to their own resolutions as well).

Please note that I use affiliate links in my posts. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

My resolution? Little changes throughout the year!

Making New Year Resolutions with Kids

Start by sitting down with your kids and talking about the things they would like to accomplish in the new year. Even kids as young as four can come up with a few goals (however random and obscure!) When I asked my six-year old his goal, he said, “To spend the night at grandma’s more”. My teenager son would like to improve his basketball game. And my teen daughter wants to do more art.

We each jotted down our own resolutions and then shared how we can best keep each other on track. This is not about “nagging” but rather ways that kids can encourage their parents and vice versa, keeping the ultimate goal in mind. Here’s how you can tackle each of the top 7 New Years resolutions together as a family.

1. Get Healthy

Good health is more than just hitting the gym. Getting healthy is a balance of food, exercise, relaxation and well-being that satisfies the whole body. And it’s something that you can get the entire family involved in. If eating healthfully is a goal, then it’s best to get all family members on board with choosing better foods.

My older kids know that I’m choosing not to eat certain foods on my diet plan. When they ask me if something in particular is on my diet, it’s a good reminder to me that they are observing and encouraging me towards my goals! Truly, I need the reminder and if my kid says it, it’s not nagging.

In this past year, I kick started my weight loss goals (you can read about my journey here).

14 days on Personal Trainer Food program. Find out the food, plan and how much I lost after week 2! #spon #PersonalTrainerFood

Instead of sitting around watching TV after dinner, encourage family to go for an evening walk. Plan weekend activities that get everyone moving, like ice skating, swimming or even just kicking a ball at the park. We try to go out for a long walk as a family several times a month. It’s a great way for us to get exercise and connect, chatting while we walk.

Don’t forget to work in relaxation and fun, too! Schedule game nights on the weekends. Choose a family-friendly chapter book that you can read aloud to everyone. Get older kids involved in a family Bible study. Work out a crossword puzzle. Have a dance party in the living room!

2. Get Organized

If kids are great at anything, it’s the opposite of organized! But all is not hopeless. There are a few ways you can get kids to help with organizing. Have a conversation about how much easier it is to handle things right away than letting them pile up to deal with later!

I have a few great ideas on organizing small spaces on this post.

Start by being a good example. Begin with organizing small areas of the home that can be done quickly (like tackling that pile of mail by the front door or in a kitchen drawer). Give each child a daily task that helps with keeping organized, like having one child sort the mail when it comes in the house, recycling the junk right away. Or have an older child help with organizing drawers and using a label maker. Having designated bins for certain toys makes clean up easier.

Budget-friendly & Practical Organizing Solutions for Small Spaces

3. Live Life to the Fullest

Have an open conversation about what it means to live life to the fullest. For you, that might mean not missing any opportunities. Or it might mean taking chances and not shying away from all the good things in life. If you openly share your thoughts, worries and fears with your older kids, they can help to encourage you in the areas you struggle.

Ask your kids what they think living a full life means. Maybe they’ll come up with some ideas that will spur changes, like volunteering more or attending church. Encouragement from our kids can help guide us towards living a full and meaningful life.

4. Learn New Hobbies

While kids are usually the ones with the new activities, it’s important for parents to learn new things as well. Kids should see their parents trying new things, sometimes succeeding and sometimes with mixed results (Pinterest fail, anyone?) I want my kids to know that I’m never going to stop learning. And if there is something I want to do, I’m open to learning something new!

I even have a post about teaching yourself something new! There are lots of ideas and tips on where to start when choosing a new hobby.

5. Spend Less/Save More

When we’re tightening the budget at home, my older kids are able to understand (through, they aren’t always happy with it!) We’ve been able to explain why we’re spending less and over the years, have come to understand the reasoning. Even now when shopping with us, they’re able to determine which items are the better value and why we choose to spend our money on certain things and not others. Before making drastic changes, chat with your older children about ideas on where the budget could be cut. They may be more open to cutting expenses than you’d think and may have some creative ideas.

Little kids most definitely need to have a goal. Saving money just to save isn’t enough for them, they need something tangible to look forward to. Start saving change in a clear jar (where they can watch the money “grow”), with an end goal for where the proceeds will go. Even something like a quart of ice cream is a special treat that little ones would enjoy pitching in for.

This post has tips on teaching kids how to save, including a cute DIY for this vacation money jar.

Kids Can Save Money for Disney

6. Travel

I’m all in for more travel! And I love to travel with my children because the memories are always incredible. Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or an extended trip, make it your goal this year to add travel to your life. While last-moment trips are fun, you’ll get the most out of planning ahead of time. This way you can involve the kids in the travel planning process and hear their input on destinations and possible activities.

If you think you can’t afford a trip, check out these tips for taking a family vacation on a budget.

Pre-trip purchase travel maps, books about the area and do your research online with the kids. Buy each child a travel journal in which they can jot down their thoughts during the trip. A camera is another great purchase so kids can capture memories from their point of view.


Our first time on a surrey bike while visiting Monterey

7. Read More

In order to make time for reading, you’ll need to cut the time from something else. Several years ago we cut out cable television. At the time I thought I’d really miss it but I don’t! Television watching only happens when we’re intentional about a particular show or movie, instead of just being background noise. With the extra time, we encourage reading. Sometimes I’ll read a family-friendly chapter book aloud to everyone. But usually everyone has their favorite book that they pull out in the evening before bed. Check out this list of 100 best books for kids.

I haven’t been able to get much into novels lately but I still read. I’ll choose to read my favorite blog posts online during my reading time!

Share your resolutions with us in the comments! I’d love to hear how you’re involving your kids too.

Considering setting family goals? These are the top New Year resolutions, with ideas on incorporating your children towards reaching the goals! Here's how to make New Year resolutions with kids.

7 Tips for Teaching Gratitude and Thankfulness During the Holidays

What better time to discuss thankfulness and gratitude than during the holidays? With four young ones to raise, I’m constantly worried that I’m raising unappreciative brats! Not that my kids aren’t well-behaved and courteous in public, because they are. But at home, it’s another story. There is a streak of entitlement running rampant and I want to nip that in the bud!

Thankfulness During the Holidays

My mom’s group at church recently discussed how to raise grateful children and it got my wheels turning. Am I doing enough with my four kids to teach them gratitude and thankfulness? And what about good manners? Don’t those go hand in hand? Of course saying, “Thank you” is important, but I think that true gratitude goes beyond good manners. And with the season of giving, there are so many beautiful ways to foster a feeling of gratitude. Here are a few key thoughts I have about teaching gratitude and thankfulness, especially during the holidays.

Please note that I use affiliate links in my post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

1. Age Matters

Naturally I expect the best manners from my teenagers. And of course, my six year old knows how to properly behave…for his age. But I wouldn’t expect the same behavior from my toddler that I do from my kindergartner! Discuss with your partner ahead of time what behaviors you each expect from your children, with consideration for their ages.

This starts with teaching “please” and “thank you” from a young age. If your toddler receives a treat from someone, you can speak on their behalf to offer the “thank you”. Or if they are able to speak, remind them to say it themselves.

Elementary aged children can be expected to offer thanks without prompting. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes get wrapped up in the moment and forget though! Elementary aged kids do love to give, so make sure they have the opportunity to create something special for someone over the holiday (like a hand-drawn card).

Older children can show their gratitude in larger ways, both verbally and in physical action. Older kids and teens are able to think outside of their own small world and will often come up with their own ideas during the holidays. This may include donating their time volunteering.

2. Laying Out Expectations

Before we head out for a holiday-themed event, I run through my expectations for each child. When kids know what is expected of them, it’s easier for them to know their boundaries. I tailor topics to each specific child, depending upon their age and abilities.

Discussions might include:

  • Encouraging them to remember their manners during a holiday dinner when they are a guest (not wiggling at the table, using a napkin, etc.)
  • Chatting with the adult party hosts for a few minutes to say thank you for the invitation before running off to play.
  • Not whining about what foods they don’t like at the party.
  • Helping to clear their plate.
  • Offering to help the host to clean up.
  • Not asking for seconds of dessert, at least not until everyone else has had a first serving.
  • Saying “Thank you for inviting me” when leaving.

3. “I Want”

I told my mom’s group that I was having some issues with my six year old acting entitled to certain things around our house. Seems like the holidays brings out the sassy attitude even more! And what can we expect, when we ask our kids, “What do you want for Christmas?” With the focus on getting stuff so heavy during the holidays, young children can really get wrapped up in what they “want” and not what they can do for others.

Instead of asking the kids what THEY want to receive for Christmas, I’m twisting things a bit. I’ve been asking them what they think their siblings would like to receive. Instead of focusing on what they’re going to get, I can see that my kids are more excited to be involved in making decisions and helping choose gifts for others. We’re taking it one step further by making gifts instead of buying (easy things, like laminated bookmarks).

4. Role-Playing

What’s more cringe-worthy than a kid who receives a gift and says, “I hate this”. How embarrassing. And of course, hurtful to the person who gave the gift.

In our house, we do a lot of role-playing before parties and gatherings. It’s good practice for kids and a reminder of your expectations. Ideas for role-play is to ask, “What would you say if you received a gift that you didn’t like?” or “What if you received a gift that you already have?”

My son celebrated his sixth birthday recently and we did some role-play on the way to his play date birthday party. I asked him, “What if someone gives you underwear?!” His response was, “Thanks for the undies!”

So yes, the correct and easiest answer is always, “Thank you for the _____!” Even if you don’t like it. Even if you already have it. Even if it’s a weird present. Thank you is always the right comment to make.

5. Volunteer and Give

There are always going to be a lot of ways to volunteer your time during the holidays. Places like churches need extra help in the kid care area, which is usually something that teens can help with. Younger kids can assist with bagging up canned goods in a food bank.

There are also organizations that accept special items for donation during this season. When we donated food to our local food bank, I made sure that my 6 year old knew we were giving and explained where the food was going. He was so excited to tell everyone how many items he’d donated! We also made up boxes for Samaritan’s Purse this year. He helped me choose the items for the two boxes we filled and went with me when we dropped them off. He was able to see how grateful the volunteers were when we came with our donations and they prayed with us over the boxes. It was something he’s not forgotten and I know that it had a big impact on him.

6. Take the Focus Off Stuff

If you sense your kids are too focused on the stuff this holiday season, find ways to move the focus on experiences rather than things. That’s really what the holiday is, spending time with family and making memories. Things like baking and decorating cookies, watching a Christmas movie on TV, walking through the neighborhood to see decorations and singing along to songs on the radio are favorite ways to celebrate without spending a lot!

7. Keep It Simple

Figure out what things are most important to you and your family. From there you can decide what to do and what to skip this holiday. I find that when I try to cram too much good stuff into the season, it becomes not only stressful for me, it’s hard on the kids. And when the kids are having a rough time, it tends to come out in crabby behavior. And then we start to think, “Ungrateful brats!”

Be sure to work in plenty of downtime between holiday celebrations. Pick and choose only what you most love about the holidays and do those things. Don’t feel guilty about skipping over other things. Perhaps you can alternate years? Do what brings you and your family the most joy, incorporating gratefulness and thankfulness about being together!

Fed up with "ungrateful brats" during the holidays? These 7 practical tips can help teach you children about thankfulness during the holidays.

Get Ready for the Holidays – Dress-Up Guide for Kids

There’s only a few times a year when I have veto power on what my kids wear. One of those times is Christmas and you can be sure, I’m making sure the kids look great! Bye-bye sweatpants with holes in the knees – hello, adorable sweater with a snowflake design! Of course the baby never complains so she always has her hair and outfit on point. But during the holidays I can doll her up even more!

I have two teens and two littles, ages 6 and 20 months. My big kids are picking their own outfits, of course. But I still like to choose something special for  them to wear during the holidays. My six year old is in kindergarten this year, which means his first school holiday concert! He’ll need something nice to wear for that event. And then there are several cookie decorating parties, a few family events, a live theater show and a big Christmas party.  The kids will need something to wear for each event, ranging from Christmas casual to dressed up. This is my dress-up guide for getting the kids holiday ready!

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I was compensated for this post.

New Holiday Outfits

Every kid knows that the holidays are the best time of year! Delicious treats, fun activities at school and cozy new clothes. You want the kids to look cute but you don’t want them revolting because something is itchy or “feels weird”. That’s why Gymboree is my holiday clothing go-to. My kids dressed in coordinating Gymboree outfits last year and everyone from the baby to the big kids looked fantastic. And comfortable clothes for kids are important. If they aren’t comfortable, they aren’t going to want to wear it!

You’re going to find adorable and cozy outfits from Gymboree that are easy to wash and wear. Right now holiday styles are 50% off, while supplies last!

The girls in their coordinating Gymboree holiday outfits in 2016

I love these Fair Isle designs where little sister can coordinate with big sister. They are similar but not matchy-matchy.

And the brothers can’t be left out either. I’m a sucker for a holiday plaid shirt and my boys tend to wear one from Gymboree every year! Give them some cool accessories like boots or a beanie and the boys will be happy.

Don’t forget the pajamas! We give our kids a “Night Before Christmas” box with a new holiday book, cocoa and a pair of jammies. These adorable holiday-themed Gymmies are perfect for Christmas morning photos.

Beautiful Hair Care

If you want a head-to-toe look for the kids, start off with a good sudsing! We’re already a fan of Fairy Tales Bug Bandit. I was recently sent hydrating shampoo, conditioner and styling gel in the Fairy Tales Hair Care Curly-Q line. My baby daughter was blessed with amazing curls and I confess, that I’ve not really known how to properly care for them! She usually wakes up with a matted mess that I have to untangle. And then of course, she’s left with a frizzy halo instead of curls.

I have been washing, conditioning and using the styling gel spray on my daughter’s curls and wow, the difference is incredible. Not only are the curls more defined, her hair is also much softer, shinier and easily managed.

Curls by Fairy Tales Hair Care & outfit by Gymboree!

Ingredients like quinoa, rice amino acids, Mururmuru butter, aloe, and avocado butter combine to keep curls bouncy and frizz-free. Products are also sulfate, paraben, phthalate-free as well as gluten, soy, dairy and nut-free.

If you have a curly-headed kiddo, I can’t recommend these products enough. Or try the Tangle Tamers, Sun & Swim or Rosemary Repel hair care lines. Check out Fairy Tales Hair Care for all these products (and the must-have, Lice Good-Bye Survival Kit!)

Dressed Up Head to Toe

I’ve talked about how much we love Pediped shoes here before. My kids have been wearing them since before they could walk! Look at my cute squishy last year, wearing her elegant Pediped originals. They have big kid shoes too, from dress-up styles to cold weather boots.

Pediped shoes are high quality and a great value for how well they are made. Want to save money on Pediped shoes? If you enroll in Ebates, you can get 6% cash back when you shop through the link for Pediped Outlet and 5% cash back through Pediped.

Accessories Round Out the Look

If a full head-to-toe outfit overhaul isn’t in the budget, look to accessories that can dress up your kid’s holiday look. Things like a new hat, holiday themed socks, a neck tie or sparkling stockings can brighten up an older outfit. And kids love using accessories to personalize their style! Shop Gymboree for these on-sale accessories.