How to inject Family Fun into a Summer of Work & Camp

four out of five of the miller & friedlander kids playing cards

Summertime, which we’d so love to think of as carefree fun-time, can too often be an extended period of regret for those working moms and dads who can take few vacation days to spend with the family. But do the post-school hot months necessarily have to translate into drudgery for kids, and a guilt-fest for parents?

Not in the slightest, say Lisa Friedlander and Ilene Miller, DC-area moms who are the founders of class- and camp-booking site Activity Rocket, and between them, parents to five kids. Fun for all might just start with an attitude adjustment: one that enables you to see the summer camp you might inevitably have to enroll your kids in as something exciting and enriching rather than an unfortunately necessity.

According to Miller—mom to sons Mark, age 13, and Max, age 10—“The beauty of summer is it gives kids the opportunity to do something new, that they don’t get exposed to in school, like Claymation camp, or rock band camp, for example,” she says. “But in our area, there are also kids who spend the summer at the community pool, taking swim lessons and being pool bums.” Either way, she says, when kids are happy and tired at the end of the day, that goes a long way toward minimizing parental guilt. Which makes for happier family time all around, when you do manage to wedge some in.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate or expensive prospect, Miller maintains. “I really value the longer days in the summertime, when the kids can stay up later,” she says. “My husband, Craig, and I try to spend a lot of unstructured family time in the evenings with them. We can barbecue outside, have family tournaments that can last the whole weekend—the kids are huge card sharks. We just get back to basics.”

The basics certainly extend to weekends, when camp and work are finished for the week. Says Miller, “We’re so lucky that in the DC area, we have hiking trails, and a lot of rivers that are accessible to us within 10 minutes, that we can kayak on with the kids.” She’s also a big proponent of finding community events, most of which are free. “In the Potomac area, we’ve got all the Smithsonian museums, book fairs, concerts in the parks, festivals—often they have no admission and the only money we’ll spend is on food once we get there.”

Friedlander and family spend weekends at a river house on the Chesapeake (if you don’t have your own, make friends with someone who does, she jokes!). “It’s very much no screens, no electronics, a lot of time spent tubing and water skiing and playing beach tennis and fishing and crabbing the old-fashioned way, with a piece of chicken tied to a rope.” With her oldest child, Jaclyn, age 14, set to head off to sleepaway camp for the entire summer, she says she’s also relishing the opportunity to spend a bit of quality time with Cole, age 11, and Camryn, age 9. As well as taking her own breather from the usual grind. “Those eight weeks of summer go by so fast, it’s important to give yourself a little bit of a break,” she says. “Whether that means not cooking every night, or not cleaning up every day, or just enjoying a walk around the neighborhood—things you wouldn’t do on a regular basis. Just slow down and enjoy the pace of summer.”

Also critical for Miller, “I need time with my husband, too, whether or not the kids are away. We’ll take a picnic and a bottle of wine somewhere, and focus on our time alone.”

But absolutely the biggest opportunity afforded even to working parents and camp kids in the summer: the fabulousness of being outside. “We get really active,” says Friedlander. “We have swimming races, and we bought a Kanjam—literally a Frisbee you throw into a slot, a team game that’s tons of fun; we all love it.”

Says Miller, “Friends helped us build a Gaga pit, which is Israeli dodge ball in a confined space. On weekends we’ll have friends over and sometimes it’s just adults in there. It’s a great way to be outside, get competitive, and work out a little aggression.” Let the summer games begin!

DIY Families: 5 Home Projects You Can Do with the Kids

When you’ve got a lot of projects to take are of around the house, your first instinct might be to send the kids out of the house on play dates, or into the yard with their toys. But getting your children involved in working around the house presents many great learning opportunities and, when taught correctly and monitored appropriately, can actually help you get your work done faster!

Below are five easy home projects the whole family can get involved in, from our friends at HomeAdvisor.

1. Painting the walls. You can paint the high parts of the walls; your kids can help cover the lower areas. It’s a project most of them will love, and it also gives them a beginner handyperson’s education in undercoats and how to place tape to avoid painting the baseboards. You will need to supervise them throughout the process, but the sense of accomplishment they’ll feel when they actually get to see the completed room painted a whole new color is enormous. If they’re too little to really help, let them show their creativity by painting smiley faces, clouds, flowers, that you’ll paint over later.

2. Clean out the drains. Drains get stopped up over time, but there’s no need to use chemicals to un-clog them, unless you’ve gotten something major stuck down there. Baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar mixed together into a paste is a concoction that’s safe enough for children to use, and strong enough to get the job done. Let the kids pour this mixture down the drain, then follow it up yourself with a kettle full of boiling water you pour down yourself. Let it stand for 30 minutes to an hour, then let your kids run some fresh sold water through the drain to finish up.

3. Give the mailbox a makeover. Over time, your mailbox can take a beating. This is a great project to get your kids involved in. Wash the mailbox with sponges, water, and mild soap to remove all debris. Then decide: does the box simply need a fresh coat of paint? A new house number? Decorations like flowers or flags? Let everyone in the family have a say—and a hand in making your designs come to life.

4. Plant a container garden. Kids love to get down in the dirt, so why not redirect that enjoyment towards something with an actual purpose? They can create holes for young plants and seedlings, get them situated, and water them in. You can also let them choose some of their favorite fruits and vegetables to plant in the garden—they’ll be so excited to see the plants they’ve chosen shoot up and get bigger day by day.

5. Get them involved in overall house-cleaning. While this might seem like a big chore, you can help kids find a fun way to get involved in the process. Show them how to swish a feather duster around with flair, and they can dust off your end tables and other low-lying areas. You can also make tidying their rooms into a game: how fast can they stack the blocks, or how many dolls will fit in one cubby? Not only does this help you (a little), it helps your children learn good practices that will benefit them through their whole lives.

5 Ways to Teach Kids the Value of Volunteering

Cooking in kitchen

By Mark Palm

Parents today face an uphill battle when it comes to getting their kids interested in doing anything besides burying their faces in the screen of a phone or tablet. They might put their devices down to eat, play sports, and sleep, but otherwise engaging them in the physical world around them can be a serious challenge. Especially when it comes to generating interest in volunteering and humanitarian work.

Most parents don’t have the opportunity to do what I did; 10 years ago, my wife and I moved with our three young children to Papua, New Guinea, so I could establish a local service organization, Samaritan Aviation, through which I fly emergency rescue missions into remote jungle villages, picking up injured and sick people who would otherwise never receive professional medical care, and transporting them to the only hospital in the region. My wife and children have worked by my side over the years, helping to care for strangers in desperate times of need.

But to inspire yourself and your kids to help others, you don’t have to look any further than your own neighborhood. Here are some tips for getting the whole family involved in volunteering—a great way to start off the New Year!

1. Set an example. It’s hard to expect your children to want to give up their free time to help others if you are not doing the same. Talk about previous experiences you’ve had in helping others, even if it was a long time ago, then take steps to get yourself involved, even if it’s just volunteering to collect cans for a food drive at your office.

2. Incorporate their interests. An easy way to spark a child’s interest in volunteering is to find a charity that involves a sport or hobby they already enjoy. For example, if your child is artistic you could suggest ways for them to earn money to purchase art supplies for less fortunate children. Or, if your child loves animals, get her involved with a local rescue organization that needs volunteers to feed the cats, for example. The possibilities are endless.

3. Get friends involved. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends and find out if they would be okay with you bringing their children along on a volunteer experience as well. Kids can bond with their friends while helping others and having a friend along can help them to be bolder when trying new things—and to have a lot more fun while they are at it.

4. Provide a variety of experiences. Volunteer as a family at a local food bank, help out building a house with Habitat for Humanity, walk dogs at a local animal shelter, or help clean up at the local zoo. By introducing your kids to a variety of volunteer experiences, they can learn which appeals to them the most and find one they will be willing to contribute to long-term.

5. Let your kids take the lead. Help your kids organize a lemonade stand, bake sale, or car wash in your neighborhood to raise money for a charity of their choice. Around the holidays, give them supplies to decorate a wagon and have them go door-to-door, while you supervise, to collect coats and toys that can be donated to clothing and gift drives. Take them with you to drop of the donations, so they can experience the gratitude of the organization first hand.

Photograph by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060596-D

7 Picture Books for Kids Who Want to Learn Something New

By Lela Nargi

Every now and then, a kid stumbles upon some new information that delights him almost beyond reason. And so begins the pursuit to discover everything he possibly can about his latest passion—whether it’s machines, or artwork, or the stars, or an unfamiliar language. And although nothing can take the place of firsthand experience on a building site, or in a museum, or lying out beneath the night sky, or visiting another country, books come in a very close second.

Here we’ve rounded up seven volumes that explore themes that are sure to inspire kids who are fascinated by so much of what they see and feel and hear. Reading them along with your children, we challenge you not to learn something, too!

How Machines Work by David Macaulay.  Kids who are enthralled with machinery know they’re in for something compelling just by looking at the cover of Macaulay’s latest opus, with its moving toothed-gear mechanism that’s operated by a determined-looking sloth. The premise of the whole book hinges on an escape from a zoo that’s orchestrated by two of its unhappy residents, which sets up the introduction of all sorts of simple machines (and shown to delightful effect with pop-ups and foldouts) they hope will get the job done…eventually. Pulleys, levers, screws, wheels—it’s all in here, and then some (ages 7-10, $20).




Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong & John Parra. A welcome twist on the same-old shape and color books, these two rhyming texts offer a primer on rectangles and stars, purple and yellow—as well as introducing things that come in those shapes and hues that are common in Spanish speaking cultures, and in many cases, offering the words in Spanish, too. Thoughtful and full of heart, and centered around family and friendship, these books are certain to make children curious about cultures previously unknown to them, opening up whole new worlds of possibility (ages 3-5, $17 each).

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park & Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Nouns can also be verbs—an infinitely tricky concept to explain aloud, but one that is thoroughly sensical when illustrated on the page—especially when those illustrations are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Word-loving kids will be inspired to bad puns and possibly naughty doings by badgers badgering, parrots parroting, and hogs hogging (ages 4-7, $17available for preorder).


I, Humanity by Jeffrey Bennet. What we know about space and the universe increases, it seems, with each passing day. This photo book backtracks to explain the history of our understanding of such concepts as a round Earth and the pattern of the planets—and how it evolved through science. This is the second in the “Story Time from Space” series—log on to watch videos of astronauts reading to children from the International Space Station (ages 7-9, $15available for preorder).


Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City by Brian Tse & Alice MakEvery aspect of ancient Chinese art is laden with symbolism—even when that art is something as simple and seemingly utilitarian as a porcelain bowl. But colors and images all have meaning behind their beauty and this small and decidedly odd tome from the China Institute breaks it all down in a way that will appeal to visual-minded children, who after exploring its pages, will surely go on to look for greater meaning among the objects in your own drawers and cupboards (ages 5-8, $13).

Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart & Lisel Shlock. The more likely title for this book is “Do Unto Dogs and Cats,” since these are the house pets on which it mainly focuses (although some attention is paid to backyard and farm animals as well). But any child who’s a lover of creatures great and small will delight in the highly expressive illustrations, and thrill to knowledge that lets her become an expert in how to make animals supremely happy. Since this book is written for adults, it’s offered here as read-aloud material—all the better, since you and your tots can enjoy learning together (all ages, $20).

Crafty Kids: How to Make a Woven Yarn God’s Eye

Woven Yarn God's Eye

The ojo de Dios (Spanish for “eye of God”) is a folk toy with origins among the Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre. The four points of the crossed sticks are said to represent the elements of earth, air, water, and fire; the finished eye, replete with alternating stripes of yarn, is meant to offer health, fortune, and long life.

Extremely simple to put together, this bright, festive craft from our friends at Crafting Community forms the base for a great crib mobile—something for an older sibling to make for the new baby in the house. It’s also a super entry point for talking to kids about American history—and for parents to learn a little something, too.

What you’ll need:

  • Two sticks of equal length
  • Brightly colored yarn in 3 or 4 color
  • Scissors

1. Grab two sticks and tie them together in the middle with the end of your ball of yarn. Twist the sticks to form a ‘+’.


2. Wrapping in a clockwise direction, wind your yarn over and around 1, then 2, then 3, then 4. (See image at right for technique).

3. To switch up your colors, simply snip the yarn you’re working with and tie on a new color. Trim the excess and continue wrapping.

4. To finish your god’s eye, top knot your yarn around your final stick twice. Trim the excess yarn and you’re done!

To add tassels:

1. Loop yarn around your fingers 15x

2. Thread another piece of yarn through your loop and make a knot with long tails. Cut the end of your yarn loop to create fringe.

3. Tie your tassel on, knotting it to your gods eye on the back side.

4. Wrap one side of the tails around the arm of your gods eye several times, then knot it to the other tail to finish.

DC Thrifty Mom Nicole Luke and her Family, North Petworth, Washington, DC

The Luke Family at DC's Takoma Park Recreation Center


By Dawn Van Osdell

Just a few short years ago, Nicole Luke was working for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s now defunct Tutu Institute, where she organized pilgrimages to South Africa for those seeking spiritual renewal, and even met the Dalai Lama. Today, she’s the mom behind the popular community blog, DC Thrifty Mom, continuing what she calls her “civic responsibility” by helping parents find rewarding experiences to enjoy with their kids—without blowing the family budget or even leaving town. You’re likely to find her; her husband Orin, a local real estate agent; and their 9- and 4-year-old daughters, taking advantage of DC’s incredible parks or tinkering on a project at a free workshop. “It’s just about knowing how to find enriching family experiences,” she says.

Here, Luke talks to us about making the transition to a one-income household before starting her blog and discovering that kids don’t care about expensive stuff nearly as much as they care about spending time together as a family. She shares tips for stretching the family dollar in one of the country’s most expensive cites, and gives advice on where to look for inexpensive family fun no matter where you live.

Which DC neighborhood do you call home? We live in North Petworth, a gem of a neighborhood that borders Petworth and Takoma Park, in Northwest DC. It has a wonderful community feel in an urban environment. We truly know our neighbors, which is something we never expected when we moved here 15 years ago. We don’t have our own families here, but we have a lovely 90-year-old neighbor—Aunt Georgia, as my kids call her—who’s always available to help with the kids.

What else does North Petworth bring to family life? We live on the same block as the Takoma Park Recreation Center, which we visit often. We even held our daughter’s third birthday party there. Thanks to a DC initiative to get kids moving and encourage outdoor play, all city parks have been renovated, many with pools and spray grounds—outdoor play spaces with sprinklers and water features. They are beautiful and a lot of people have no idea just how much they offer. For instance, at Tacoma Park, this fall my daughters will take swim lessons, ballet, no-cook cooking classes, and art classes—and I’ve paid just $150 for it all.

Wow! What other local finds have you discovered? We’re between branches of the DC Public Library, so we’re able to enjoy programming—which is often free—at both. When my girls were younger, we attended story time. Now we take advantage of week-long programming. My oldest attended an amazing science camp held by Glaxo Smith Klein at the Georgetown library branch, and has also done make-and-tinker camps. We’ve also enjoyed free tickets to the Nationals game by each child logging just eight hours of reading over the summer. And we have the Smithsonian  in our backyard, which offers loads of incredible programming.

Did discovering all these incredible deals inspire you to start your blog? Yes, I started it two and a half years ago when I became a stay-at-home parent. My job as director of operations for the Tutu Institute was relocating, and while I had the opportunity to move with it to South Africa, I had a three-month-old infant and the time just wasn’t right; I decided to stay home with my children.

I had been used to simply writing a check without much thought when we wanted to do a family activity. When we moved to being a one-income household, I had to make an intentional effort to find and choose activities to fit our budget. I was amazed at what I found, and wanted to share it with others. I had a goal of acquiring 1,500 followers in the first year. I exceeded that goal in our first quarter, and today the blog has nearly 15,000 followers. People want to know what’s available, and I want them to share what they know, too. A thrifty friend—as I call my readers— recently told me that the National Park Service offers free roller skating. Wouldn’t you know—we went to Anacostia Park and found a skating pavilion that even offered free skate rentals!

Are you also thrifty travelers? We love going to Shenandoah Valley, which happens to have a lot to offer. We fish and go to the indoor/outdoor water park. We also love Bengie’s Drive-In Movie Theater outside of Baltimore, where my sister lives; and White Oak Duck Pin Bowling.

For our readers who live outside of DC and the surrounding area, what do you recommend for finding inexpensive family fun? There are tons of free family workshops at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and craft stores like Michael’s  and Lakeshore Learning, where each kid can make a craft. Barnes & Noble offers free story time and activities every Saturday. Lego stores offer mini-builds. The National Park Service is also an incredible resource for families. Right now, they are offering free park passes for all fourth graders.

And everyone—kids or no kids—loves annual free product days, including free ice cream cone days at Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, and Italian ice at Rita’s Italian Ice.

You tell your readers to find a balance. Where does your family balance out its thriftiness by making a splurge? I tell people to splurge on what your family thinks is fun and worth it. For us, it’s dining out, attending exhibits, such as the recent BEACH Exhibit—an awesome exhibit with an ocean made with a million plastic balls—at the National Building Museum; and taking the Boomerang Boat Tour in Georgetown. A lot of families will splurge on tickets to the circus or Disney on Ice, which is great because it’s all about the experience that kids will remember forever. It’s the time that really matters—that’s what makes kids the happiest. They really don’t care how much you’ve spent.

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris


How to Have Actual Fun on the Family Road Trip

Cars stuck in traffic

By Meghan Khaitan,

Pretty much every family takes a road trip by car with their kids during the  holidays. And whether those kids are toddlers or teens, the actual trip itself  can be a wonderful bonding and learning experience for the entire family.  With a little forethought and preparation, you can sidestep the dreaded travel  fiascos and keep everyone content through through those stretches of  highway!

1. Make it a Fun History Lesson. Build some excitement around your trip by getting together as a family a  couple of weeks beforehand to plan your road trip path with an old-school paper map. Talk to kids about  the different cities and states you’ll be driving through. Then jump online together and do a little research  on a few that look interesting. Learn about their history and pick some prime sightseeing destinations.  This opens your trip into a journey of exploration—all the more inspiring if you give kids a disposable  camera they can later use to make a trip scrapbook.

2. Expect the Unexpected. Keeping a first-aid kit and tools for a flat tire in your car is a no-brainer, but also be sure to bring along items like a flashlight, garbage bags, paper towels, big pack of wet wipes, and cell phone car charger. If you have young children that are new to potty training, it’s a smart idea to also pack a portable plastic potty in case your little one can’t wait for the next rest stop. Kids also tend to rest better with a few items from home, like a stuffed animal and blanket. You can also pick up an inexpensive travel pillow to make car-sleeping more comfortable.

3. Pack Healthy Snacks & Drinks. Truck stops, gas stations and fast food joints are okay in a pinch, but if you bring a cooler filled with your own healthy foods, you will save time and money on the road. Think granola bars, sandwiches, fruit and nuts, yogurt tubes, pretzels, cheese and crackers, baby carrots, packs of sliced apples, cereal bars, and any of the (non-sticky) foods your family usually likes to nosh on.

4. Create a Road Trip Adventure. Instead of just looking at the trip in terms of its end destination, make the whole trip an adventure. This will give the kids something to look forward to and break up the travel time. Take a family selfie in each city or state in front of a sign with its name or something it’s famous for. Also look for rest stops with playgrounds where kids that can burn off some pent-up energy.

5. Make Each Child a Travel Activity Kit. To help pass the time, buy inexpensive totes and pack them with things like new crayons, coloring books, story books, white boards, magnetic travel and card games, and other small games or toys, like Matchbox Cars and small dolls. Anything that’s inexpensive and new to your kids is sure to please—both of you.

6. Check Out At Your Local Library. Before you embark,  head to your local library and check out DVDs, books on CD, and chapter book collections for your older reader. They’re free! You’ll have new movies to watch that your kids haven’t seen yet, and when quiet time becomes mandatory for saving your sanity, put in a book on CD for the entire family to enjoy.

7. Don’t Forget the Electronics. If ever there was a perfect time to bust out the electronics, the  car trip is it. Load up iPads and Kindles with new apps, books, and movies, making sure you put different apps on each child’s device so they can swap with for more options. And whatever you do, don’t forget the headphones! A few of my family-favorite apps: Waze (the superhero of navigation apps for parents), RoadsideAmerica (find the weird and wonderful across the U.S.), (the Netflix of audio books), MadLibs (old school road trip fun meets the digital age), and VisitedStates (kids can mark the states they’ve been to and upload photos they’ve taken).

8. Pack Classic Travel Games. Electronic games are fun, but don’t forget about the old school travel games to help fight boredom on the road: I Spy, 20 Questions, The Alphabet Game (work together as a family to find things along the road that start with each letter of the alphabet), Who Am I? (take turns trying to guess the famous person in history or pop culture), and the good old License Plate Game.

9. Pick Mile Marker Treats. If you’re okay with a little bribery, plot a few places on the map for the kids to get special surprise treats. Among other things, this will encourage them to learn to read a map. The treat can be something small, like sweets or a little something they can play with in the car. The only requirement to earning them is that kids be kind, get along with each other, and be patient for the trip. You might be handing out fewer of these than you’d feared!

10. Consider an Overnight Stay. If the trip is long enough, consider an overnight stay halfway through at an affordable hotel with a pool. If you book the stay right before you leave or on the way, you’ll find the best deals.

Photograph by Nabeel Syed, via Unsplash

Around the World & Back to Brooklyn with Samantha Brown

Samantha Brown

By Lela Nargi

On October 4, jet-setting TV hostess with the most-est Samantha Brown will launch “50/50,” her latest show on the Travel Channel. In putting the first season together, she spent weeks filming around the world—everywhere from Abu Dhabi to the Philippines—in each episode taking two random folks plucked off the streets on a quest to spend $50,000 in 50 hours, on the getaway of a lifetime. How does this Brooklyn-based mom of 2-1/2-year-old twins juggle her dream job—and her family? We caught up with her to find out.

Obviously, you love to travel. Have you had a chance to do much of that yet with your own kids? The first thing I did after Ellis and Elizabeth were born was sleep for a very long time! But when they were 8 months old, we got them their passports. So far, they’ve been on a cruise, and they’ve been down to Florida many times, and they go on many road trips with my husband and me— anywhere from a nice weekend away to 12 days in various hotels and relatives’ homes. They are already amazing travelers and have lot of patience, which I don’t see when they’re home. I think they love the newness of airports, and running down the hallway of hotels. It’s not too complicated yet, and we don’t have to do much to entertain them.

Where do you think you’ll go to use those passports of theirs for the first time? Probably somewhere close, like Europe. It would be tough to take them on a 15-hour flight to Asia; I wouldn’t want to put them through that yet.

Is there a stand-out trip from your own childhood that made you want to see the world? I think it was going to California when I was 12. It was my first time on plane, and it’s interesting for me to think about that. Now, kids get on a plane almost as soon as they’re born; everyone sees a plane as the main mode of transportation. But when I was growing up, it was the car. We’d think nothing of driving eight hours to Pennsylvania in our station wagon. So going to California, it was a big deal to get on a plane and go to Sea World, and Disneyland, Beverly Hills.

A lot of parents are afraid to travel with their children. Do you have any words of advice for them? I always sympathize with parents who are scared. I was scared the first time, too. Going through the security line can be scary, and it can bring you to another level of stress. But I do think it’s very important not to show them you’re stressed. And it’s important to remember that the purpose of traveling is not to get things right, but to have an experience. Things can go not how you planned: a place is closed, or it’s raining. But then you have the chance to say, What can we do now? It helps kids develop problem-solving skills.

Also, adults can feel weird talking to strangers, but children are conduits to other people. On our cruise, we had a wonderful cabin operator from Indonesia. We asked, How do you say hello in your country? And everyday we greeted him with that. We also learned how to say thank you. It was just two words, that was all we could handle, but that made him feel welcome, and we felt like we were learning.

After all the traveling you do, it must be nice to get home to Brooklyn. I travel all the time so I’m always a cat on the wrong side of the door. I can’t t wait to be home in my comfortable bed. I’ve lived Park Slope for 10 years and we have great neighbors with twins who are in the first grade. Every summer they go to Europe, and they also do a home swap, where they pick a different place and swap homes with another family. It’s a very affordable way to travel, and it’s so important to them to travel with their children. They’re the perfect neighbors for us!

What are you most looking forward to sharing with your kids about traveling as they get older? What I love most about traveling isn’t all the must-sees, like going to Rome or Paris. It’s the chance to spend time in the everyday lives of people around world. It is extraordinary, simply because it’s different from your life, and that’s where I find joy. Shooting the new show was high octane, but I made a point of spending time in the mundane: getting coffee in the same place every day, going to grocery stores and parks, to be with the people who live there. That’s what fills me up.

But also, the U.S. is phenomenal. I would love to take my kids out west to ride horses, wear cowboy hats, and see the big sky.

Photographs courtesy of Travel Channel

10 Family Activities for a Sweet Summer

For most of us, summer provides a less restrictive schedule with a little more time to spare. There are no school bells to beat, carpools to shuffle, homework to deal with or early bedtimes to make. Take advantage of some of the extra time and freedom, even if it’s just having a longer evening thanks to Daylight Savings Time, by enjoying these top 10 summer activities to do with your family. You’ll be glad you did!


  1. Attend a baseball game.
    Whether it’s a MLB or a little league game, nothing says summer quite like rooting for the home team at a ballgame. Grab a few hot dogs for the kids and find a spot on the bleachers… even if your little ones are too young to last more than a few innings.
  2. Splash with friends at a pool party.
    If you don’t have a friend’s pool to crash, find a local public pool or private swim club and arrange to have a few friends and their kids gather for a fun afternoon in the water.
  3. Throw a BBQ.
    You don’t need a backyard to host an outdoor summer BBQ. A park with accessible grills or a spot for you to bring your own will work just as well. Check out our Pinterest board, Party Food for fun outdoor dishes to share.
  4. See the stars.
    Loosen the reigns and let your kids stay up late enough to see the night sky. Pack a blanket, load up the car and find a spot dark enough to see for miles.
  5. Get away without the kids!
    No matter how much you cherish the extra hours with your kids during summer vacation, everyone needs a break from each other. Log onto UrbanSitter to find a sitter who will stay the night, or better yet the weekend. You don’t need to spend a fortune or go far to rejuvenate and recharge.
  6. Enjoy an outdoor concert.
    Even families with infants can manage and appreciate a concert in the park. Kids will love camping out on a blanket and listening to the music. Just be sure to bring snacks.
  7. Get wet!
    Come summer, you gotta hit the water. Find a local spot to rent a paddle boat, tube down a lazy river or get drenched at a water or kids splash park.
  8. Go camping.
    Our post last summer on camping hot spots was a reader favorite for good reason. Camping is perfect for families! Check out our post for super family-friendly sites, coast to coast. If packing up the car and hauling your kids to the woods seems like a daunting task, pitch a tent in the backyard for a slumber party under the stars.
  9. Get together with school friends.
    Back to school transitions will be easier if there are familiar faces to share the new routine. Take the time now to schedule play dates with school friends and host an afternoon at your place for your child to meet new friends who will be together in the fall.
  10. Have a picnic. A picnic is the perfect way to enjoy a relaxing afternoon with your family, and knock out dinner, too. We have just the menu for you to do it right and with little effort.

Before the hectic routine of the school year starts again, take the time to enjoy the season with your family. Sharing these fun, memorable summertime activities helps to build happy memories that will stay with you and your kids a lifetime.

 What’s on your summer to-do list?

5 Special Back-to-School Traditions to Start this Year

IMG_0374Even if you are sad to see the summer go, there’s no denying the excitement a new school year brings. You can get your kids motivated for a fresh start and build lasting memories by starting back-to-school traditions you can repeat each year. These fun, memorable traditions will have everyone raring to go!

To help you create traditions that are just right for your family, we’ve pinned loads of great back-to-school ideas, tips and products to our Back-to-School Pinterest Board and included links below. We hope they are helpful!

Start a New Back-to-School Tradition:

1. Super Star Shopping Date

Remember the thrill of picking out new school clothes when you were a kid? Maybe you got a new backpack, lunchbox or some fresh kicks.  No matter how much or how little was on the shopping list or what’s on your list for your own kids, everyone loves  starting the year with something new.

  • Take advantage of pre-fall sales and hit the stores with your child. Make him or her the center of attention by arranging to send siblings on a playdate or hiring a sitter to take over while the two of you are on a date.
  • Stock up on school supplies, gear and clothes for the new year.
  • Keep budgets in check by first doing a closet and drawer assessment with your child, deciding together what’s needed. Organized Home posts helpful strategies for Back-to-School Shopping.
  • Make shopping a fun event by including a stop for lunch and using the time with your child to talk about highlights of the summer, and plans and goals for the new year.

2. Meet a New Teacher and Host a New Friend

For a child, walking into a new classroom can be a scary thing. Seeing a familiar face in the room always makes it a bit a easier. Take advantage of opportunities to meet the new teacher and visit the classroom to build familiarity and calm first-day anxieties. It’s also helpful, if you have a class roster or know of a child who will be in the same class, to schedule a playdate with a classmate who happens to be an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile or make an introduction to a new friend.

Turn it into a fun tradition by making it an annual project to find a new or long-lost friend to meet up with after orientation day. You can make it extra special by meeting at a local park and bringing a treat to share or at a local ice cream shop for Back-to-School cones.

3. Tweak your Routine and Refresh your Homework Station or Quiet Time Spot

morning routine
Photo: IHeart Organizing

Being organized feels fantastic and  gives everyone in the family a sense of control and preparedness. Have a tradition of holding a family meeting to discuss with older kids what could be improved from last year and to share with everyone what the routine will be once school starts.

This is the time to roll out new calendars, introduce new sitters and make sure kids know what to expect. There are lots of free printables that will help you organize expectations, including chore charts, weekly planners, lunchbox planners you can create with your child, and even simple This is Our Morning Routine and This is Our After-School Routine printable charts that will help kids stay focused and limit the number of times you’ll be barking orders, such as “Put your shoes on!”

If you have school-age kids, now is the time to refresh supplies for homework and organize them in a location that’s easy for kids to access. For younger kids, you can perk up the quiet time area, maybe adding a few new books to the collection or making a space more inviting by seeing that it has a comfy spot to rest and plenty of light for reading.

4. Share a Story and a Craft

Get kids excited about school and address concerns and worries by sharing a book about starting school. Picture books can help to reassure kids about starting school or going to a new school, and they also serve as catalysts for better communication at home. Check this handy list of top children’s books about starting school, including books that talk about first day jitters, how to make new friends and simply what to expect so the day is not so scary.

If you have a crafty crew, get them excited for the big day by spending time together on a Back-to-School project.  Red Ted Art has a popular round-up of back to school craft ideas that are sure to get school spirit soaring.

5. Make the First Day Extra Special

first day of school sign
Photo: Just Imagine

Create a tradition of great fanfare on the first day of school! This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours planning menus and creating DIY decorations. It just means putting a little extra TLC into the day to turn it exciting and memorable. Here are some simple ideas you can do each year:

  • Get up earlier to set a pretty breakfast table with fresh flowers and a favorite breakfast that you don’t typically serve on a week-day morning, such as these French Toast Roll-ups that are so easy, they could easily become a week-day staple.
  • Have each child pose for a First Day photo you can save in special photo album. Take it up a notch by having your child hold a small sign or chalkboard  marked with the date and a personal note, such as his favorite activity or what he wants to be when he grows up.
  • Pack a special lunchbox treat with a note reminding the recipient that you are thinking of him all day long.
  • Pick up a special after-school snack, such as these Chocolate Coconut Graham Crackers that take good’ole graham crackers to a new level,  or a all the fixings for First Day sundaes. Take time out of your day to either sit with your child or call them to hear the highlights of the big day.

One more tradition to start (just for mom and dad): The occasional night out! Find a trusted babysitter at