10 Spring Break Staycation Ideas for Families

If a big trip isn’t on the calendar this year, you might be looking for Spring Break staycation ideas to keep the kids entertained for 10 consecutive, school-free days. Fear not! There are tons of fun activities that feel special enough for a school vacation, and will keep you or the sitter and your kids happily entertained at or near home.

10 Fun, Family Activities for a Spring Break Staycation

  1. Go camping in your own backyard. If the temps aren’t feeling sub-zero, pitch a tent in the backyard or on the back deck and have a family night under the stars. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, check out our round-up of family-friendly camping spots and hit the road!
  2. Turn your home into a restaurant for a day. With kids to feed, you might already feel like a short order cook, but why not get the kids in on the action by pretending to run a restaurant. You can divvy up duties – setting the table, prep, cooking, serving, being the customer and clean up. It’s a fun way to get little ones involved in menu planning, and hands on in the kitchen, which has been shown to open their minds to trying new foods and appreciating the value of good, whole foods. It’s also a nice opportunity to work on table manners and to talk about money.
  3. Dive in! Just because you aren’t at the beach, doesn’t mean you can’t take a swim. Bust out your beach bags and head to a pool for the day. Your kids will love it!
  4. Take a local hike or bike ride. Get outside and get moving with a family hike or bike ride through a familiar or waiting-to-be-discovered part of town. If you don’t already have one, think of investing in a quality baby seat for your bike. You’ll open up tons of opportunities for getting fresh air and exercise with baby in tow.
  5. Play tourist in your own town. Visit a local attraction you’ve never seen before, whether it be a little known museum, a school or neighborhood park in another area, or even an unfamiliar library branch.
  6. Wake up in “Paris” or any other foreign land you’d like to visit. With a little advance planning, you can have make-believe feel quite real by greeting your kids with “Bonjour!” and a croissant, sharing books or stories about the land you are visiting (maybe a Madeline story), doing a foreign craft, watching a movie, and making an easy meal together. It’s a fun way to open their minds to new cultures.
  7. Host a lemonade stand. Even if you don’t live on a street with many passersby, you might be able to recruit some neighbors or friends to come by to buy a cup or two. It takes some time to make a sign, mix up a pitcher of lemonade, set up a stand and wait for your customers!
  8. Do good. A day off is a fine time to volunteer for a local cause, together as a family. Clean-up a favorite park, help out at a food bank or visit a nursery home to teach your kids the value of giving back.
  9. Have a family movie night and sleepover. With no early morning alarms to set, you might feel a little more lax about bedtime. Pile the family in front of the TV for a movie or find a fun family-friendly game to play together. Make it more  fun with a big batch of popcorn or a special sweet treat. If your kids are past the crib stage, try gathering your sleeping bags and sleeping together sleep-over style.
  10. Set up a BBQ. Our last Spring Break staycation idea really sizzles! Nothing says spring like firing up the grill for burgers and hot dogs. Get the kids involved in the cooking, helping prepare the sides, drinks and desserts. It’s a great way to enjoy a spring break together after a long week.

No matter how  you spend your Spring Break staycation, remember there’s always a sitter available on UrbanSitter to give you a break! 

Amy Cahill of More Than Milk is Giving Back to Chicago–A Few Hundred Moms & Kids at a Time

Amy and Logan at a recent More Than Milk volunteer event for seniors

By Lela Nargi

Amy Cahill remembers the afternoon last December when she was shopping with sons Max, age four, and Logan, age 2, at the Target near their Lincoln Park high rise. Spotting two sparkly plastic princess crowns, Max turned to his mother and insisted, “We’ve gotta get those!” They were a perfect match for the princess slippers that had been donated in a toy drive to Cahill’s non-profit organization, More Than Milk—a fact that struck hockey-loving Max with a certain amount of urgency. Says Cahill, “It was one of those times when you begin to see your kids are getting it—that little twinkle of understanding about being kind and helping others.”

Cahill conceived of More Than Milk, which teams up moms and their tots with kid-friendly volunteering opportunities around Chicago, almost four years ago, during a 2:00 am breastfeeding. It’s a grown-up witching hour of sorts, when many new moms feel so acutely alone and disconnected from their pre-mom lives. Rather than give in to those feelings, Cahill used them as fuel for an organization that would give her precisely the opposite—community and connection—with other new moms looking to do something more than just mom, looking for a way to give more than just the milk they were producing for their newborns. She typed up notes and designed the website for More Than Milk right on her iPhone, over the course of several more 2:00 am feedings. “It was kind of crazy,” she admits. “But I wanted an opportunity for continued personal growth, and also felt very motivated to make the world a better place for my son.”

Growing up in suburban Michigan, Cahill had a powerful do-gooder role model in her mom, a school counselor. “She connected with the wild kids and the troublemakers, and impacted their lives with kindness and firm expectations,” says Cahill. “I wanted to emulate her commitment to others.” She began to do just that in 10th grade, when a new homeless shelter opened in her town. She raised the money to furnish one of the rooms and organized weekly events where local high schoolers would come in to play with the shelter kids.

“I wanted an opportunity for continued personal growth, and also felt very motivated to make the world a better place for my son.”



Cahill graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 and moved to Lincoln Park, where she’s lived ever since. Initially, she worked at a sales and marketing consulting firm, and volunteered on weekends at a public school in Englewood, reading and making art with the students as part of an enrichment program. “I came home from those Saturdays excited and energized,” she remembers. She got her teaching certification through Northwestern University and began teaching 6th grade, then high school math, in the Chicago public school system. The experience was rewarding but grueling and made her realize, “We really need to come together as a community to help each child thrive,” she says. “Teachers can’t do it all; parents can’t do it all.”

Around this time, she met her financier husband-to-be, Gabe, at Midway airport. “We were in line at Potbelly’s to get sandwiches and he thought, ‘If she walks over to my terminal, I’ll talk to her.’” They discovered they were not only on the same flight—both back home to Michigan—but that they lived on the same street in Chicago. They were married in 2008, and Max came along two years later. Shortly after his birth, Cahill made the decision not to go back to teaching. “I knew I couldn’t balance those 60 kids, plus my one,” she says. But it didn’t take long in her new role as a stay-at-home mom for her to realize that her life was out of balance, in a different way. Being active in the community had been a huge guiding force in her life, and now she felt a strong need to get back to it. She hoped she could convince other moms to join her.

The More Than Milk soft launch happened on a muggy Thursday in August of 2011. Thirty-three moms and their babies turned out at the Lincoln Park Bubbles Academy playspace for a Mommy & Me Health Fest, in support of the breast and ovarian health organization, Bright Pink. They raised $500. More crucially, they started spreading the word about More Than Milk to the local mom community. “So many amazing, smart women are choosing to stay home and they started coming to us saying, ‘I love being home but I miss doing stuff that involves my previous career.’” The moms who turn out now—staffing two or three events a month, sometimes in numbers in the hundreds—are “completely dedicated,” says Cahill.

Just some of the volunteers, big and small, who turn out for More Than Milk events

To date, More Than Milk has hosted over more than 100 events, teaming up with women’s and domestic violence shelters, NICUs, and senior centers—places where mothers in particular feel a sense of purpose and connection. Cahill and her six-mom board of directors work with a handful of carefully-selected “Featured Organizations” (FOs) to come up with “fun, easy ways for moms and kids to get involved.” Sometimes the kids are actively engaged in singing, or handing out holiday cards to septuagenarians; sometimes they’re just “cooing in their strollers,” says Cahill. Whichever way, “They’re experiencing philanthropy with you first hand. My thinking is, if you have them volunteering with you before they know what it is, it becomes part of their life.” Volunteers sign up on a per-project basis, which keeps the organization flexible and doesn’t scare off moms who are afraid to promise more than they can deliver. Plenty of dads help, too, especially with weekend projects and anything that requires a lot of heavy lifting.

Participation has been growing in leaps and bounds. The 2013 toy drive for a pregnant teen shelter yielded about 300 gifts, which More Than Milk Volunteers also wrapped and delivered. In 2014, “I got to 1,062 toys and I couldn’t count anymore, because I had to get busy and wrap,” Cahill says. “We more than tripled contributions in one year.”With the success come challenges. Toddler Logan looks at the gifts for the More Than Milk drive and “thinks it’s all for him,” laughs Cahill. Not to mention, “Our greatest asset—namely, our kids—makes everything we do unpredictable. So it can be hard to find projects that are truly beneficial to our FOs, and that can take place in a kid-friendly environment and window of time.”

But both on a community level and within the much smaller nest of her family, Cahill says the challenges are well worth the effort—even if the results in her boys are not immediately or consistently apparent. “As moms, we worry so much: Are we doing the right things?” says Cahill. “When you volunteer, you realize it’s simple: You give them love and you teach them kindness. I want my kids to take time to understand how fortunate they are. I want them to think of other people.”

Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography

Corinne Cannon of the DC Diaper Bank is Making a Difference from the Botton Up

By Dawn Van Osdell

Corinne Cannon, an expert on the effects of care on infant brain development, is more skilled in handling babies than most people. But back in 2009, awake in the dead of night with her inconsolable, colicky first child, Jack, she felt as helpless and alone as every other mother in that desperate situation. She woke up her husband, Jay, asleep in the next room of their Capital Hill home, and handed over the wailing infant to get some relief. “The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly,” says Cannon, now also mom to two-year-old Callie. But what happens to the women who have no one to wake when they’ve had enough, she wondered. And what happens to fussy babies when their mothers have reached their breaking point?

As a result of all those late-night, stress-induced thoughts and feelings, for the last five years Cannon has presided over a cinderblock warehouse in an industrial park in Silver Spring, Maryland, that’s marked with a small sign that reads DC Diaper Bank.  Despite the fact that Silver Spring is Cannon’s hometown, this is an unlikely workplace for a woman who graduated from London’s esteemed School of Economics with an advanced degree in cognitive anthropology. The entrance is crammed with donated packs of disposable diapers waiting to be sorted into piles beside ceiling-high stacks inside the 3,000 square foot space. Next to it, trucks pull up to the large dock, where volunteers load bundles of diapers that will be delivered all across the greater Washington area.

“The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly”

— Corinne Cannon
Corinne Cannon is getting diapers to families who need them

For a mom who studied and rallied to make a difference in the lives of moms less fortunate than herself, the place is unlikely for another reason. Says Cannon, “I was surprised to hear, again and again, that diapers are the thing that mothers most need, not food or formula.”  This is because Safety Net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), don’t cover the cost of diapers. And as any family knows, diapers are expensive. The estimated daily need for infants adds up to about $100 a month—more for families living in poor areas, who have no access to big box stores like Costco. That means that low-income families often have to make a choice between diapers and food. “There are families making do with one or two diapers a day, or worse yet, they are wiping out [disposable] diapers and reusing them,” says Cannon.

So, getting diapers into the hands of families that need them provides greatly reduced stress levels for both mother and child, and proper hygiene and care for the infant. The former, explains Cannon, is especially critical during a baby’s first three years of life, when his brain develops at its most rapid pace. “It’s during this very short and very crucial timeframe when you literally build your brain,” she says.  “We know that the brains of babies who experience prolonged periods of stress, and who have caregivers who are under stress, do not grow in the same way.”

Diapers also open the door to getting even greater aid to families, from health and legal services they may have been previously unwilling to accept. “When a social worker shows up at a house and says, ‘I have diapers and formula,’ doors open ten times faster” than if a social services provider shows up empty handed; in the latter case, the perception can be that she’s come to judge and assess, rather than to help, says Cannon.

Cannon spent years dealing with similar maternal and family issues when she worked in health communications, helping to spread the word about HIV/AIDS prevention and programs and creating curriculum around environmental health for children, for management and policy consulting firm ICF International. She admits that as a working mom with a rewarding career, she had no intention of starting a non-profit. But, “There was a such a need for a region-wide solution for getting bare necessities to those who need them the most,” she says, that she couldn’t ignore the fact that her knowledge and expertise in infant development and family care could help affect a significant change.

She started DC Diaper Bank on Jack’s first birthday, in 2010, without any outside funding. She was still working full-time at ICF, piling cases of diapers in her basement that had been donated by families who had leftovers, or through diaper drives; or that she’d purchased wholesale with donations that typically came in $25 to $50 increments. “It was, and remains, a shoestring affair,” Cannon says. In 2011, she secured a corporate donation commitment from Huggies and became a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, a non-profit organization that provides local diaper banks with hundreds of thousands of diapers, in addition to support, technical assistance, and connections to similar non-profits all over the country. She also partnered with Capital Area Food Bank, one of the largest distributors of food and aid in the DC area, which agreed to store the diapers and distribute them to social service organizations and food banks that already helped families in need. She started out distributing about 5,000 diapers a month and within two and a half years, that number rose to 50,000. In 2013, DC Diaper Bank moved to Silver Spring and Cannon quit her job to fully commit to the work, pro bono.

Corinne Cannon and her kids at the DC Diaper Bank

Today, the DC Diaper Bank space is more than a warehouse. It’s a welcoming community hub of do-gooding for families throughout the DC area and beyond. Families, mothers’ groups, scouting troops, meet regularly to bundle and sort diapers, organize and clean the space. Toddlers whizz down the aisles between the stacks on ride-along toys while their mothers volunteer. There’s a colorful play space, too, where kids can spread out with snacks and juice boxes, scribble on an easel, chase balls down the aisles of diapers, and maybe even lend a hand.

“Families are hungry to volunteer and to talk about issues like poverty and need, but it’s a hard conversation to start with a child and there’s nowhere to comfortably do it,” says Cannon. The Diaper Bank provides a forum for that conversation, and a gentle place where children can begin to understand the meaning of need. “Kids remember when they wore diapers, they see their siblings wearing them, and they can understand how all babies need them,” says Cannon. “They just get it.”

Last summer, the Diaper Bank added a baby pantry to their space, to collect other non-essential baby care items that are not covered by federal aid, like baby wipes and diaper rash cream, as well as formula and baby food. In a star-studded ceremony, Cannon was named a 2014 a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth and honored with $10,000 for her charity for her remarkable—and growing—legacy: To date, the DC Diaper Bank has distributed more than 1.5 million diapers and helped an estimated 2,600 families per month.

For more information about how you can help with the DC Diaper Bank or find a local diaper bank in your area, check out dcdiaperbank.org.

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris

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

5 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Give Thanks

Giving thanks and helping others isn’t just for Thanksgiving Day. You can incorporate simple, daily ways to instill and cultivate in your kids a sense of gratitude and a readiness to help others throughout the year. Before the holidays throw you into a frenzy, adopt these 5 everyday ways to practice thankfulness in your house.


1. Make “thank you” mandatory
Kids need constant reminders before a desired action or response becomes automatic. Continue to remind your children to always say thank you and explain to them that the response is expected whenever necessary. Similarly, make writing thank you notes a mandatory part of receiving a gift or a way to express appreciation to anyone who has gone out of their way for them. Little kids who can’t yet write can benefit from talking about what they like about a gift and why it was thoughtful, and can help you create a note by adding a personal drawing or even signing their name to it.

2. Model grateful behavior
Show your kids, each and every day, that you are grateful by making it a point to express your gratitude in simple statements, such as “Look what a beautiful day it is!” or “We are so fortunate to be together today,” or “That was so nice of your babysitter to take you to the park.”  Also remember to always say thank you to the people you and your children encounter throughout your day, including the checkout clerk at the grocery store and the mailman who brings your mail, rain or shine.

3. Give to others
Routinely giving to others provides opportunities to talk to your children about the needs of others and to instill and nurture their compassion and sense of giving back to their community. Have the kids help with grocery shopping by having them choose a few canned items to donate to a Thanksgiving food drive or a food bank, or choose personal care items to donate to a shelter. Prepare for the holidays by cleaning out closets and encouraging your children to donate toys they no longer use or clothes they’ve outgrown, explaining that they can make a difference by sharing.

4. Volunteer as a family
Volunteering teaches social responsibility and helps children develop empathy and a belief that one person can make a difference. Research from the United Way shows that volunteering can benefit a child’s psychological, social and intellectual development. What better way to spend time together as a family than by working together to help others in your community? There are ways to volunteer as a family including, but not at all limited to helping at food banks, shelters, environmental clean-ups and visits to the elderly or those who are hospitalized. Organizations such as Idealist or Volunteer Match can help match your family to a need in your community.

5. Create holiday traditions that show thanks
Holidays are a wonderful chance to show thankfulness. Creating holiday traditions around gratitude and giving ensures that your kids see the holidays as special for reasons beyond the commercial. Make kids part of Thanksgiving celebrations by having them share what they are thankful for, and make their own decorations to show thanks. A thoughtful project to do together is to create cards for your holiday guests that include a simple statement about why you are thankful for them. Take it a step further by showing your appreciation for those outside of your family, including teachers, sitters and your neighborhood police and firefighters. A wonderful tradition is to take a plate of homemade cookies to your local fire station each holiday season or to bring treats to a children’s hospital or nursing home.

According to the experts, showing gratitude is a critical factor to building compassion, empathy, and even to overall happiness. Grateful kids tend to be much more satisfied with their lives, do better in school, are less materialistic and less envious. As if you needed convincing that teaching your kids to feel and express gratitude benefits everyone involved!

18 Ways to Volunteer Outside of the Classroom

Finding time to volunteer in your child’s school or classroom can be tough, especially for working parents and those who are home with infants and small children. Rather than wreak havoc on your schedule by attempting to squeeze in classroom visits or hiding from the Room Parent who’s looking for volunteers, opt for a way to help on your own time. There are many ways you can help from home, contributing and making a difference just as much, if not more, than you would be if you were in the classroom.

Here are ideas for lending a hand outside of the classroom:


  • Volunteer to update the classroom blog, website or social media
  • Offer to help with projects that you can take home, just such as cutting, pasting, assembling booklets, or copying materials
  • Help make decorations for the classroom bulletin boards or parties
  • Organize and head a campus Clean Up Day
  • Bake or buy treats to send in for a class party
  • Help at weekend event, such as a School Carnival
  • Make a digital flier for a class project
  • Recruit parents and coordinate volunteers for events and field trips
  • Handle Scholastic Book ordering for the class
  • Find out what supplies the teacher needs and collect from parents or purchase them (don’t forget to submit receipts for reimbursement)
  • Make phone calls or send emails to coordinate field trips or speaker visits
  • Create a Walking School Bus by coordinating with families to walk by and pick up kids who want to walk to school with a parent-led group
  • Collect funds and purchase teacher appreciate gifts, including gifts for the holidays, teacher’s birthday and Teacher Appreciate Week
  • Make play dough
  • Wash dress up center or dramatic play clothes and art smocks
  • Make a scrapbook for the year
  • Organize a food or clothing drive to help a less fortunate school
  • Conduct research for the teacher, such as finding a craft on Pinterest to coincide with a topic or unit

There are so many ways to share your time and talents to support your child’s teacher and school. For the times when you’d really like to be in the classroom or chaperone a field trip, call on UrbanSitter for childcare back up for little ones at home.