Blog (395)

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 22:28

Unstructured Play: Important but Unremembered

Written by Katie Elizabeth

The political cartoon Doonesbury once ran a strip where two mothers discussed their children’s summer activities. The first rattles off a long list of organizational activities her child did: sports, music, language classes and so on. The second says her child built a tree house and spent the summer just hanging out. The first mother notes that, technically at least, the second mother isn’t guilty of child abuse.

The strip plays with parental involvement in children’s activities: children lead increasingly structured lives. Allowing a child time for free play seems almost irresponsible by today’s standards, as if the mother left her child in a store in Maryland while she went for the breast augmentation surgery Harrisburg, PA is talking about.

Free Time and Unstructured Play

Kids today spend much less time outdoors than their parents did at the same age. Outdoor play tends toward structured sports activities. Even time spent indoors is increasingly supervised and organized, with music classes, art courses, dance and gymnastic lessons. What free time kids do have is often spent with electronic entertainment.

None of these activities, including electronic play, are necessarily bad. Many kids enjoy such activities. But for proper development, children need time for unstructured play. Studies show unstructured play improves a child’s creativity, intellectual growth and problem solving skills. Interacting with peers without adult intervention improves emotional intelligence and social skills. Even conflicts with playmates can prove beneficial, as children learn how to resolve differences on their own.

Obstacles to Free Play

Parents have to overcome a few barriers before they can let children play unsupervised. We’ve been conditioned to believe our role, as parents, is to position children to maximum advantage in a competitive world. We assume because team sports build teamwork skills, our kid will be lost as an adult unless he gets on the best soccer team in the city.

We need to relax a little. If mom chooses to pay for the facial surgery Harrisburg, PA is raving about instead of ice-skating lessons, it’s not the end of the world. Children don’t need an activity for every day of the week.

Stranger danger” is another roadblock to unstructured play. We assume an unsupervised child will fall victim to tragedy. Visions of pedophiles, fatal car accidents and other violence haunt parents. I don’t want to belittle these concerns; they’re real and terrifying possibilities. But it might not hurt to remember violent crimes against children have actually decreased since the last generation.

Finally, there’s the boredom trap. We act as if a bored child wastes valuable potential and jump in with suggestions for activities instead of allowing the child to be bored. Boredom can be beneficial; it stimulates the creativity needed for free play.

Easing in to Unstructured Play

Unstructured play doesn’t mean unsupervised play, such as taking a child to the park and letting her play on the playground equipment. Or, let the kids play in the yard while you garden.

Don’t panic if they drop out of sight for a few minutes and remember you taught them street smarts so they’d be safe. You can even set up informal parent groups in the neighborhood to track children . . . if you are the one having trouble letting go.


Tuesday, 12 February 2013 21:14

How to Plan the Perfect All-Weather Picnic

Written by Katie Elizabeth

Here’s an idea that might sound crazy: Whether it’s snowing or rainy or sunny, it’s the perfect weather for a picnic. If you plan your picnic right, you can have a fun experience in any sort of weather. And eating outside is way too special to reserve for the perfect spring day when the weather is 60 degrees with no breeze – as we all know, that sort of weather is rare to nonexistent.

The key to having a great picnic is to be ready for anything, so follow these tips for a fun experience.

Start with a Good Base

No matter how cold or wet it is, you’ll be okay as long as there’s a substantial barrier between you and the ground. Blankets with soft tops and plastic bottoms are ideal for such conditions, but make sure you choose a sturdy one so that your behinds don’t get wet midway through the picnic. That will ruin your picnic quicker than an invasion of ants.

Plan for the Worst

Whether you work for a qualitative research firm or do quantitative research on your own time, you know to investigate the weather report before you head out. If there’s even a half a percent chance of rain, bring along umbrellas and rain gear for the entire family.

Even if it’s raining, tote sunblock for your crew as well. It’s important to protect yourself from even the slightest UV-ray invasion. And bring extra coats, pants and socks if it’s cold outside. You may need an additional picnic basket to carry the gear, but your cold toes will thank you.

Pick a Good Location

If you’re picnicking in the spring, when storms can creep up quickly, it may be best to find a park with a pavilion that can shield you in the case of a quick shower. If you’re going for a picnic in winter, find a place where you can buy hot food nearby and bring it to your picnic location. Hot food will go a long way to keeping you warm in the freezing weather.

Make it Special

The key to a great picnic is mostly in the food, and so treat this like a special excursion. Don’t just toss the usual PB&Js in the picnic basket. Do something special. Layer ham and cheese and roll it up; make fruit skewers instead of apples or bananas.

The food should have a practical element as well. Your kids won’t be able to balance big plates while they sit, so try to give them finger food that’s easy to make and easy to clean up. And bring your good napkins. This is a celebration, after all.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 21:12

How to Turn a Couch Potato into a Healthy Spud

Written by Katie Elizabeth

Let’s face it, some kids just don’t like to move around. They’d sit on the couch and play video games or watch TV all day if we let them. But as parents, part of our job is to get those kids off their bottoms and into fun, active pursuits that will help set them up for healthy habits now and for years to come.

You don’t have to scream at your kids to do it, either. Here are some ways you can get even the biggest video game buff to do something healthy.

Act Out a Favorite Video Game

My son loves the game “Super Mario Brothers.” When his Wii time is up, we turn off the TV and act out parts of the game ourselves. Soon we’re running back and forth across the basement trying to jump over the mushrooms, turtles and other imaginary barriers in our way. He’s engaged because of the subject matter, but he’s also active.

Challenge Them to a Treasure Hunt

This is a great way to get the kids outside and have them practice reading at the same time (or identifying pictures, if you have younger kids). Give them a list of 25 things they have to find around the yard. They could be as easy as a gray rock or as difficult as a four-leaf clover.

Help them use their imaginations. Ask them to find something shaped like a duck and see what they come up with. Do this activity regularly and they’ll start looking forward to it.

Make a Healthy Snack Together

It’s a lot easier to grab potato chips while playing video games, but if you turn making a healthy snack into part of your daily routine, you’re a lot more likely to get your kids to eat it. Let them choose what they want to make, within reason – if you’re using flour sacks and having to buy wholesale aprons, you may be making too much food!

Challenge Them to an Ongoing Game

When my husband was a kid, he loved basketball. Since he lived in the country and had few playmates, he would play himself in endless games of basketball, making up teams that he played for and playing both sides. He even kept score of these games and wrote the scores in a notebook.

You don’t have to be that elaborate, but come up with a game that you can play every day and try to improve on. Perhaps it’s shooting 10 baskets a day and trying to make more than half of them. Or perhaps it’s shooting on a soccer goal while mom or dad plays goalie. Whatever the activity, record how your kids do each day and look back every month to see their improvement.


A sudden downpour doesn’t have to mean the end of outdoor fun. When Mother Nature (literally) rains on your parade, don’t take your kids inside. Do one of these fun rainy-day activities instead, and see how much fun you can have getting wet. You may even feel like a kid again yourself.

(Note: Children playing outside in the rain should always be supervised by an adult.)

1. Go Puddle Jumping

Grab some boots, put on some old clothes, and take the kids out for a walk, seeing who can jump in the most puddles. You can award prizes for most puddles jumped in, biggest splash, and most mud on boots.

2. Look for Worms

Don’t get squeamish. Hunting for worms can be a lot of fun even for the most slime-a-phobic parents. Have kids count how many they see on the sidewalk, or get down alongside them on the ground to watch how they move around. It’s like a live biology lesson.

3. Play Tag

Yes, you’ll slip and slide and probably get a lot of mud on your clothes. But as long as you’re doing it on the grass where no one can get hurt, your kids will have a blast chasing after one another while also trying not to wipe out.

4. Draw with Sidewalk Chalk

And your kids thought sidewalk chalk was fun in sunny weather. The chalk gets soft and makes dark, interesting designs when it’s wet, giving new dimension to their usual rainbows, stars and hopscotch boards.

5. Listening Game

Sort of like “I Spy,” but this game involves another sense as well: hearing. Encourage your kids to listen to the raindrops hitting the ground, the way birds and animals around them are reacting, and how the car tires sound when they drive down the wet street. Then ask them to describe these things in their own words.

6. Make a Fort

This isn’t your usual fort, however. This one is made of umbrellas, and while it may not stay up very long, your kids will enjoy building and rebuilding it every time the wind knocks the fort over.

7. ‘Cook’ a Mudpie

Whether you’re a professional chef or a social security attorney, you’re qualified to help your kids make mudpies. Dig up the mud and shape it into a circle; boom, you’re done.

8. Watch for Animals

Ever wonder what squirrels or chipmunks do when it rains? Challenge your kids to play detective and try to find these furry friends to see whether they, too, are enjoying the shower.

9. Go on a Nature Hike

It doesn’t have to be long, but going on a hike is a fun way to find new things in nature. The rain adds an unexpected element, and rain could help you uncover something interesting (like a rock that had been hidden by mud) you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 21:01

Grow and Harvest Herbal Tea

Written by Katie Elizabeth

A comfort beverage, tea gives you instant peace and calm. The herbal varieties especially encourage the drinker to relax, unwind and release tension, stress and frustration.

Making your own herbal teas is a rewarding hobby and ensures you know the source of all your tea ingredients. Your kids will love helping with the gardening, harvesting and brewing processes. Before you brew your next cup of tea, learn how to cultivate and harvest the herbs in your favorite herbal tea.

Garden Prep

A large garden plot in your backyard or a small windowsill holds herbs you need for tea. Wherever you decide to grow the herbs, choose a sunny spot.

Remove all the old vegetation, and compost the soil thoroughly in your garden. Your herbs will grow best in nutrient-rich soil. Be sure to use organic compost, though, rather than compost with pesticides. You’ll be drinking the herbs in tea and don’t want your herbs exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Certain tea herbs, including mint, clover and lemon balm, spread quickly into other areas of your garden. Using containers limits this spreading. You could also use the herbs’ tendencies as opportunities to increase your tea supply. Simply transplant the herbs into another area of your garden or give them to friends, local schools for girls or neighbors.

Harvesting Herbs

When your tea plants mature, your mouth might start watering. With your gardening scissors, harvest the leaves and get ready to brew.

The leaves you want to cut are on the side branches that stem from the main branch. After you carefully cut the fresh leaves, bundle them together with rubber bands. Hang the bundles from a clothes hanger or herb dryer for several weeks or use a dehydrator to dry the leaves.

After the leaves dry, remove them gently from the stems. They’ll stay fresh in sealed jars or the freezer for up to two years.

Brewing Tea

Use the dried or fresh leaves to make tea. Simply boil a pot of water and let it cool for several minutes. Cut a cup of fresh leaves from your garden, wash them and place the leaves in the water. Let it steep for up to five minutes. Strain the tea into your mug, and add sweeteners or milk to taste.

Experimenting with different varieties of dried leaves is part of the herb gardening fun. Try mint with orange, lemon with chamomile or clover with raspberry. When you find a favorite mixture, package it for later use or sell it to local boarding schools for extra income.

Everyone appreciates a great cup of tea. You can proudly grow, harvest and brew your favorite flavors as a family in your backyard. With your children’s help, you’ll have plenty of ingredients for a relaxing cup of herbal tea.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 20:42

Turn Your Kids into Healthy Household Helpers

Written by Katie Elizabeth

Some people are really good at keeping their houses neat and clean. The rest of us are, well, not so good at it. But housework is a necessary fact of life, and since your kids will one day have to learn to do it, why not get them started now?

People don’t think of housework as a way to keep fit, but spending your Sunday washing, sweeping, and moving to and fro can burn as many calories as a long walk. Plus, the harder you work, the more calories you burn. So keep your family in shape – and in a neat home – by turning housework into a family workout.


If you have kids, your house needs a brisk cleaning at least once a week. Whether it’s picking up dirty clothes or dusting wooden furniture Williamsport PA parents know that kids can be a big help while getting some good exercise in at the same time.

Little kids shouldn’t be near cleaning fluids, which often have harmful chemicals, but they can help out in other ways. Have them put their toys away, or tell them to put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. Older kids can get their hands dirtier, so put them in charge of things like wiping down kitchen surfaces, vacuuming carpets, and washing and drying the dishes.


Kids might not like keeping house, but they definitely love being outdoors. Helping out around the house is one way to get them involved in cleaning while letting them enjoy the warm sun and light breeze.

Younger children are too young to handle heavy equipment, but they can help with light yard duties. For example, they can put raked leaves in bags, or help keep the garden looking beautiful. Older children can rake leaves, mow the lawn, and pick weeds. Meanwhile, everyone can help keep the yard neat by putting away bikes, skateboards, and other toys.

Quick Fixes and Repairs

When trying to fix a beautiful piece of oak furniture, Pennsylvania residents may consider hiring someone, but with the right tools and a little know-how, they can get together with their kids and do it themselves.

Since many of these repairs involve glues and paints, little kids should only play a limited role, as they might be exposed to toxic fumes. They could help out by handing over tools to the people doing the big jobs. Older kids can be a little more hands-on, taking on small tasks like fixing a bike or painting part of a wall or door.

Housework is a never-ending chore, but doing it with your family can make the job go faster and keep everyone healthy in the process. During your next spring cleaning, don’t take it all on yourself – round up the kids and give them a to-do list of their own.

Kids love to have spaces and structures that are all their own. A treehouse can be a clubhouse, a pirate ship, a gathering place for friends or even just a space to get away from things and relax in private. A swing set can easily become a spaceship in the eyes of a child. With this in mind, spending money on a playhouse or a jungle gym seems like a no-brainer – they get the kids outdoors enjoying physical activities and expanding their minds.

However, there is a way to make these items even more special and bond with your kids at the same time. Instead of buying these items pre-made and manufactured, why not design and build your own in consultation with your children? A playhouse that has the exact window-frames that your child imagined is one they will really cherish.

Design and Inspiration

Your child will almost certainly already have a wish-list for the perfect playhouse or jungle gym. While you may have to gently explain to them that you can’t actually manage to acquire the materials that will let it fly off into the air, you will most likely be able to fulfill many of their requests.

Maybe they want a porch with a light so they can sit out with their lemonade, or a particular shape of roof for the playhouse. They might have a strong desire for a plank set on the jungle gym so they can more easily play at being pirates. Just ask them to draw you a picture of their ideal creation and see how you can translate it to reality.

There are numerous tutorials available online that show you how to easily design and construct children’s play areas and jungle gyms to the highest safety standards, as well as books from experts with step-by-step guides.


This isn’t something you necessarily need CAT heavy equipment for. Depending on your design you may be able to get away without using any power tools at all. If you are less experienced, it may be better to start off with a design that you can follow easily and later add on modifications and customization.

Your children’s ages and personality will play a big part in what tasks are safe and appropriate for them to perform, but all kids can help with digging holes, carrying nails and pieces of wood, and painting the finished creation. They can also keep you well-supplied with cold drinks as you work.

Working together on the project will help you to forge a deeper relationship with your child as well as providing them with a unique jungle gym or playhouse that matches what they have been dreaming of.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 19:03

Winter Outdoor Fun on the Cheap

Written by Katie Elizabeth

If you’re lucky enough to live in a region where Jack Frost makes annual visits, don’t spend every day huddled indoors by the fire. Maybe you have fond memories of sledding and snow play as a child, but once you become an adult, you realize how expensive this can be. Skiing (or simply getting to the mountains) can take a lot of money and work. Fortunately, there are many tricks to getting there on a budget.

Maybe you remember your parents putting chains on the tires and braving the winding roads to the best snow spots. The great news is that there are now many more stress-free options. Just like an Anchorage seaward shuttle, there are numerous shuttle services from cities to the great outdoors. Let someone else worry about navigating slippery roads.

Take Advantage of Nearby Services

You don’t need to only consider Anchorage tours as inspiration for getting outside. All you really need for winter play are warm, water-proof clothes and a little imagination. Snow pants and jackets can cost a pretty penny, but not if you start shopping ahead of time. Beginning in the autumn, many thrift stores have an influx of snow pants for under $10. Start browsing for these finds before everyone else realizes winter is around the corner.

It’s especially important to save money on snow gear for the kids, who will likely outgrow these duds by next year. Many of these clothes can simply be washed, but remember that it’s much more affordable to pay for dry cleaning than to purchase brand-new clothes that will only be worn a few times a year. Save that extra money for a few sturdy inner tubes.

Free and Low-Cost Play

When little ones are really little, making snow angels and building a massive snowman is all the challenge you need. A family snowball fight or building a makeshift Eskimo hut is a great way to enjoy the winter and tire everyone out for post-play hot chocolate. It doesn’t have to be a sunny summer day to pack a picnic. Head to a safe, snow-rich spot and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the snow.

Thermoses of hot chocolate or soup are perfect complements to a picnic in the snow. There’s no need to stop at expensive restaurants geared towards vacationers. Go prepared and you won’t have to spend anything more than gas or the cost of a shuttle service. After all, everything tastes better in the great outdoors.

In Your Own Backyard

Some people are fortunate to have a winter wonderland in their own backyard. You can also head to a local park for tubing or sledding, whether with a real sled or a recycling bin top. Make sure you check any hills for hidden hazards, such as poles or tree stumps. After you get the all-clear, this is a truly free outdoor winter playground.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 04:29

Enjoying the snow

Written by Margarita


Enjoying the snow.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 04:19

Winter Fun

Written by Margarita

Winter fun