UrbanSitter’s Handbook for Family Road Trip Survival

photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Before you hit the road with your kids this summer, we’re arming you with 8 Indispensable Road Trip Survival Tips.

Following these tips will go a long way in creating a memorable, happy time with your family on the road!

  1. An arsenal of Apps for Kids. It’s likely that even your preschooler knows his way around your smart phone. Preload your phone with apps that meet your personal criteria – age appropriateness, educational, or just pure attention-grabbing fun. CoolMomTech offers a whole section on Cool Apps for Kids. What if you have one phone and three children? Work on taking turns and time-telling skills by having the other kids watch the clock to see when it’s their turn or find a game that allows for multiple players.
  2. Road trip games. Go old school with the standbys from your own childhood. Have kids scout and keep track of animals or certain color cars; count state license plates; fill in Mad Libs or play “I Spy” or “Twenty Questions.” Cater to the age of your children by tweaking the games. For example, have older kids log their findings, categorize, and compete against each other.
  3. Gadgets and electronics. It likely goes without saying, but just in case – don’t leave home without videos. Whether you have DVD players in your car, a laptop, an iPad or portable players, the videos they play will buy you hours of peace. Portable game players (Nintendo DS, Leapster, smart phones) are also good bets. Don’t forget the headphones!
  4. Survival Totes. Pack a small backpack for each child. Include paper, printouts, markers, mini dry-erase boards and pens, playing and flash cards and small toys that you can wrap and dispense throughout the trip. Don’t forget hand wipes, Kleenex and, of course, a first aid kit in your own arsenal.
  5. Summer reading programs. Sign your kids up for a summer reading program through a school, local library or an online program such as the Scholastic Summer Challenge. It will keep your kids motivated to read, and what better time to hit the books than during a long road trip. Many programs offer reading lists, making it quick and easy to load up your e-Reader or iPad with something for everyone before you hit the road. Don’t forget to bring board books tots can thumb through and listen to parents read, as well as books-on-tape for longer stories the whole family can enjoy.
  6. No mess snacks. Pack individual servings of age-appropriate finger foods such as pretzels, crackers, cereal, popcorn and nuts (for older kids). To avoid the fast-food meal traps, bring a small cooler with sandwiches, fruit, pre-cut veggies, yogurt or cheese sticks. Giving each child his or her own water bottle to replenish at rest stops makes more sense than hauling a slew of juice boxes and cans.
  7. Journal or scrapbook the trip. Create a scrapbook of your family vacation. Have kids add drawings of places they’ve seen or fun facts they’ve learned along the way, and paste ticket stubs and other mementos. Put your kids on assignment with a small camera. You can print photos at your destination using an inexpensive pocket printer and paste the prints in the book on the return trip.
  8. A sitter to take over when you arrive! Let’s face it. No matter how much you’ve prepared for your road trip and no matter how much you love your children, you’re bound to need a break. Did you know UrbanSitter can help you line up a perfect sitter away from home? Log onto UrbanSitter to view trusted sitters, read local parent reviews and book a sitter in one of a dozen U.S. cities. It’s a much more personalized and often less expensive way to book childcare than booking through a hotel. Think how nice it will be to have a bit of well-deserved grown-up time in your destination city!

Simple Ways To Help Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten

photo by anieto2k

Whether your little one is going off to kindergarten this fall or the big day is a year or two away, it’s nice to know she’s on track and prepared for success. Preparing her is easier than you may think.

You can send her off to big kid school with confidence by taking time to help her practice skills in each of seven areas experts have identified as key aspects of early childhood development: Language Development, Learning and Thinking, Beginning to Read, Beginning to Write, Numbers and Counting, Physical Development, and Social and Emotional Development.

Educators use these buckets to help decide if a child is ready for kindergarten. Yours will undoubtedly be ready to tackle the big milestone with some simple, yet consistent help from you, other family members or your sitter!

Language Development

What you can do:

  • Have frequent conversations with your child. No baby talk  Use complete sentences and lots of good description.  Encourage her to use words to express her feelings and reactions to the world around her.
  • Play games that require listening and following simple directions.
  • Read stories with easy-to-follow plots and interesting characters to talk about.
  • Sing songs and read stories or poems with rhyming words.

Learning and Thinking

What you can do:

  • Help make small collections, such as rocks or toys, and have her sort them using different criteria, such as size, shape, and color.
  • Do simple puzzles together. Tired of yours, trade with a friend or make your own using photos, pictures from magazines or print-outs.
  • Let her help you sort and fold the laundry, matching socks and other clothes by size or color.
  • Play “I Spy” to practice color and shape recognition.
  • Show her how to string beads to make patterns… and beautiful necklaces!

Beginning to Read

What you can do:

  • Set a time every day to read to your child and talk about the letters and words, characters, and what happened first, next and last.
  • Have her put into the correct sequence photos of herself or family members at different ages.
  • Buy magnetic letters and let her play with them on a cookie sheet or other magnetic surface.  Practice the sound each letter makes.
  • Have her cut out letters from magazines to spell her name and other simple words she knows.

Beginning to Write

What you can do:

  • Help her practice writing her name, ABCs and numbers 1-10. Use different tools to make it fun – colored pencils, chalk on the sidewalk, and finger paint.
  • Together keep a summer journal. She draws a picture of something she did each day, and with your help writes a word or more to describe it.
  • Let her help with writing grocery lists or making cards for friends. This helps her to see the different ways we use writing in our daily lives.
  • Make labels for belongings, such as an art box, notebook, or cup.

Numbers and Counting

What you can do:

  • Go on treasure hunts to collect things to use for counting.
  • Use coins or items around the house to experiment with adding, subtracting and the use of “more” and “less.”
  • Together look for and point out numbers in her world, such as addresses, page numbers, recipes, and price tags.
  • Read stories and sing songs about numbers, such as “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Physical Development

What you can do:

  • Help develop large muscles by playing with balls, hula-hoops and bean bags, and riding a bicycle or tricycle.
  • Build simple obstacle courses to practice jumping, walking a straight line, and climbing.
  • Help develop fine motor skills by practicing with child-safety scissors. She can cut out shapes you draw on paper or pictures from magazines.

Social and Emotional Development

What you can do:

  • Create an “About Me” notebook for your child. Together add personal information, such as her name, age, address, favorites, and names of family members. She can decorate it with drawings that tell more about her.
  • Build independence by rewarding the things she can do for herself, such as brushing her teeth, washings hands, getting dressed, and zipping a jacket.
  • Play school to help her practice saying goodbye, meeting new friends and packing up to come home

Looking for childcare help? Find babysitters with advanced degrees in child development and elementary education at UrbanSitter.

12 Ways to Avoid the Summer Junk Food Trap

Summer gives us a chance as parents to loosen up, take a break from routines and schedules, and live a little more spontaneously with our kids. But, according to a study recently released from the University of Texas, the lack of routine, decrease in activities, and disruptions in the way we eat during the summer are to blame for our kids gaining weight 2-3 times faster than they do during the school year.

There are simple ways to keep your family’s health and nutrition on track and still enjoy the carefree spirit of summer living:

1. Keep a consistent meal schedule, much like you do during the school year. Kids should eat three square meals with two snacks in between, and they should know that mindless eating throughout the day isn’t smart.

2. Rather than giving into the ease of convenience snacks that are often processed and loaded with sugar, transform ordinary foods into special summery treats by freezing them. Try frozen grapes, cups or sticks of yogurt, homemade juice pops, and fruit smoothies.

3. Prepare and keep meals in the fridge for the sitter to feed your kids or for you to pull out instead of hitting the fast food drive-through on your way home from the pool. Having simple meals ready to go means you won’t have to cut a fun day short so you can rush home to make dinner.

4. Teach your kids about balance. It’s okay to have an ice cream sundae, as long as it’s balanced with healthier choices and plenty of exercise.

5. Limit sedentary activities like TV and electronics, and get everyone active with activities that take advantage of summertime weather. Get outside to ride bikes, go swimming, and for the little ones take the ride-ons and push toys for a spin.

6. Together, search your own kitchen for foods to make an easy, healthy picnic to take on a day-trip or eat in your own backyard. You can build a meal without turning on the stove or pushing buttons on the microwave.

7. Give everyone in your family a personalized water bottle to stay hydrated and stay away from the sugary juices, sodas and energy drinks. Research shows that even very active kids never need sports or energy drinks.

8. Sign your kids up for mini sports camps to stay active and have fun.

9. Get your kids involved with good food. Take them on a trip to the farmer’s market and use the outing as an opportunity to talk about healthy choices. Show them the beautiful array of local produce and let them choose some to try at home.

10. Start a garden – even a small container garden for the patio or windowsill – to get kids involved with growing and caring for fruits and vegetables.

11. Research proves kids are more likely to eat foods they help select and prepare. Let your kids help make a grocery list, find items in the store, and help prepare a meal by cleaning, prepping and cooking with you. Make the tasks age-appropriate so they don’t get injured or overwhelmed.

12. Find indoor activities to keep your family active when it’s too hot to head outside. Living room dance parties work just as well as indoor inflatable play centers, and are even more fun if friends are invited to join in on the fun!

Search & find sitters who will help cook healthy and nutritious meals for your children on UrbanSitter.

Show your Patriotism and Get Crafty this Fourth of July!

Your kids know the Fourth of July as the day to wear red, white and blue, watch fireworks, see a parade, and maybe go to a family or neighborhood BBQ. Do they know the true meaning of Independence Day?

Give your kids a quick history lesson and celebrate your national pride with these fun facts and simple, patriotic projects.

Independence Day Fun Facts:

  • Known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
  • It is the day we became an independent nation, declaring our independence from Great Britain.
  • Our flag – often called Old Glory or the Stars and Stripes – has 50 stars to represent the 50 states of the United States of America and 13 stripes to represent the British colonies that became our first states.
  • Fireworks are often accompanied by patriotic songs, such as our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner;” “America the Beautiful;” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”  Download the songs or print the lyrics and sing-along with your kids!

Patriotic Crafts:

Mini American Flag

1. Paint 4 popsicle sticks red, paint 3 white.

2. Turn the sticks over to show backside facing up and alternate red, white, red, etc.

3. Apply glue and then place a piece of paper cut to size on the glue. Let dry.

4. Turn over and paint a blue square in the upper right.

5. Apply glitter glue dots, let dry.

6. Glue a popsicle stick as a flag pole (optional).

*Craft from Projects for Preschoolers.

Patriotic Pebble

1. Choose a smooth, flat river rock. Mark off the area that will be the stars.

2. Use blue paint to color the area that will be the stars. Paint the rest of the rock’s top white. Let the paint dry.

3. Paint red stripes in the white area (in the real US flag there are 13 red and white stripes, with red stripes on the top and bottom – these stripes symbolize the original 13 colonies).

4. Paint some white stars on the blue area (in the real US flag there are 50 white stars that represent the 50 US states).

5. If you’d like a shiny finish, coat with an acrylic varnish after the paint has dried completely.

*Craft from Enchanted Learning.