Exploring Free Play- Fostering Imagination and Growth

As a Gen X parent, I never quite understood why we “had” to fill our kids afternoons and free time with 10,000 activities (sports, club meetings, scouting, etc.). My brother and I didn’t have tons of stuff each day after school. By the time I was in the 5th grade, both my parents worked, and frequently we were left home alone for a few hours after school a couple times a week.

We did our homework, played, read, and did chores. Even before that, there were plenty of times where we were home without structured activities. We still had scouts, soccer (my brother did AYSO for one season and decided it wasn’t for him), Key Club, Choir, JV Football. Many kids in my generation were latchkey kids and filled their afternoons with free and imaginative play.

Free play is an incredible learning tool for kids. It fosters imagination and gives kids opportunities to discover and explore. There are all sorts of toys that encourage free play- dolls, food toys, blocks, legos, to name a few.

My two love Playmobil. Playmobil is a German company that has been around since the 1970’s. They have so many different sets and types of toys- everything from princesses and fairies to knights and safari sets.

A jungle adventure after preschool. Complete with a feast

Recently, my son and daughter started pulling out some of their people as well as some of the animals and created their own adventure. Enter Carl the Mongoose and Mr. Chicken. Carl is a Meerkat, and Mr. Chicken is a Bald Eagle, but the names have stuck.  Other characters include The Birdkeeper and The Man with the Gray Hat, and Cleopatrick (my daughter named her). All of these people are from various sets, Cleo was the only one that sort of resembles her name, as she came from an awesome set of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

The animals and their people have all sorts of adventures. They have run a food truck, run a zoo, been on a cruise, gone on safari, hunted for wild animals, opened an iron and gold mine, run an orphanage (we have a lot of little kid Playmobil people), gone to college, gone to preschool, and taken a road trip to the “ocean” in Ohio. We paused the game for a bit to look at the US map to discover there is no ocean in Ohio, but they could go to Lake Erie instead. It was deemed the “Lake Erie ocean beach” adventure.

These adventures give the kids a chance to explore themselves and work on interpersonal relationships, even if it’s as a talking Bald Eagle and his keeper.

Even in these crazy times where nothing is certain, give your kids some time to play and explore. Taking a “brain break” (which is what the big kiddos teacher calls them) throughout the day for some playtime may help your kids more than you think.

Right now we are all home together, trying to scramble into some sort of routine of distance learning, being quiet while we all learn/work, breaks, and trying to play after school is over without making too much noise while grown ups work. It’s tough. It’s crazy. The house is messy, we’re frazzled, and we weren’t “with it” last week to follow our meal plan. But we got through it, and we’re trying again this week.

We’re all learning. And that means we should grant ourselves grace.

Be kind to yourself. Wash your paws, wear a mask, flatten the curve. Have a good week!

 

Keeping Kids Active During the Quarantine!

There are all kinds of ways to get your kids active during the best of circumstances. However, life during the quarantine has proven challenging for all of us.

Chuze-RECT-rgb.jpgThanks to the awesome people over at Chuze Fitness, we can get our wiggles out as a family on the daily.

 On Chuze on-Demand new videos are posted each day, so the whole family will be able to break a sweat without breaking out of the house. This workout series was made in an attempt to bridge the gap when it comes to family-friendly workout videos by providing 20-minute classes designed for both big and little Chuzers to get their wiggles out.

On-screen, instructors lead their kids in stretches and fun movements that feel like a throwback to your own P.E. classes growing up – all you need to participate is a big room and a WiFi-connected device to follow along with. To access these Family Workouts, you can find them either on the Chuze on-Demand website or the Chuze Fitness YouTube page.

b0e5d5e05457e2c8a12dc87c9b6eafc7If this isn’t your cup of tea, or your kids need something that’s just for them here are a few other exercise options:

Go Noodle: Either from their website, or their YouTube Page. There are lots of fun videos to dance along to- we like Kitty High Five, Cat Party, Pop See Ko, and Run the Red Carpet.

Cosmic Kids Yoga: Jaime is a fun Yogini! She leads kids on fun asanas that often follow themes of their favorite movies, TV shows, or games. It’s a great way to make Yoga accessible to kids. We love Star Wars Yoga.

Dance Party: I’ll put on fun, funky, or silly music and the kids and I will dance for 20 minutes. Family favorite songs to shake our tails include anything by Grand Funk Railroad, Thrift Shop by Macklemore, Last Friday Night by Katy Perry, Rock Party Anthem, Uptown Funk, What does The Fox say.

Talk Back: How are you keeping your kiddos active during this tough time? 

March is National Craft Month! Free Crafts & Crafting Deals!

MyBluprint.comI learned today that March is Craft Month, which is awesome because I am always down for a good craft!

If you are looking for craft supplies on a budget, here are my top five tips:

  1. Thrift Stores are a great place to start scouring for craft supplies. Frequently thrift stores bundle up craft supplies.
  2. Sign up for rewards programs at your local craft stores and/or download their apps. Both Michaels and Joann Fabric & Crafts have apps with coupons to save you more!
  3. Dollar Tree has great craft supplies. Our favorites are their wooden boxes, craft kits, pom-poms, chenille stems, and hot glue sticks!
  4. Craft supply swaps are a great way to trade supplies. I host once a year or so, right before school lets out. Everyone brings their excess/unwanted craft supplies and it’s a free for all swap. Leftovers are donated to a local school or scout troop.
  5. If you have liquid/wet supplies (like ink pads, glue, paint, etc), make sure to check them before plotting out a project. Nothing is worse than sitting down to do a project to discover that your glue/paint/whatever is all dried out. BUMMER!

If you’ve got kiddos, check out the free week of crafts at Michaels, starting today.

AllFreeKidsCrafts Spring Crafts eBook is now available for download here. I found 3 new crafts for the kids to do today- they are going stir crazy because it’s raining here.

I know some of my readers love their wine, and if you are one of them, FaveCrafts has something just for you! Their latest free eBook, 25 Cool Things to Do with Old Wine Bottles is available here.

If you are looking for something different, perhaps learning a new skill or skills, check out Blueprint!

Blueprint has all kinds of online classes, videos, and articles that you can access with an unlimited membership, or you can take a singular class online. They also have a great selection of free articles and patterns here. Whether you want to learn about sewing, cooking, quilting, embroidery, art- Blueprint has classes for everyone!

In celebration of National Craft Month! Get ANY Blueprint class for just $10 with coupon code “CREATE10”!

 

Enjoy Fireworks & Fun at Legoland!

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If you don’t have plans for Thursday, check out the fun at Legoland California!

Don’t miss Fireworks set to a patriotic musical tribute with great viewing in designated locations throughout the Park.

Event activities include:

  • All-American family picnic games: water-balloon tosses, burlap sack races, Family Build Challenge and LEGO Hamburger relay
  • Patriotic costume parade: come dressed in your favorite Red, White and Blue attire
  • Fireworks
  • Character meet and greets
  • Special giveaways
  • Live performances and more!

The celebration lasts from 1:00pm to 9:00pm with fireworks at 8:30pm. All Red, White and BOOM! activities are included in the cost of admission to LEGOLAND California.

And if you are looking for a deal, Groupon has discount admissions here. Or if you stop by a San Diego County area McDonald’s location, you can pick up a coupon for a free child admission when you purchase an adult admission at full price.

If you are looking for more frugal fun at Legoland, check out my post here.  If you have a special needs child, learn more about the Assisted Access pass here.

Giveaway: Summer Fun at Uptown Jungle!

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Henry playing Dodgeball with the Big Kids

Yesterday the kids and I headed over to Uptown Jungle in Santee. If you haven’t been there in a while (or ever) they’ve got a lot of exciting stuff going on right now!

For those not in the know, Uptown Jungle is an indoor playground with a giant trampoline, super slides, and 2-story indoor Mega Play Structure, Obstacle Course, and climbing walls! So regardless of the summer heat outside, kids can run and play.

The Santee location is going to be getting a makeover soon. The toddler area will be getting a wall-sized Light Brite board (which sounds super cool to me), the Obstacle Course is getting a cool ninja makeover, and the parent’s lounge will be reconfigured!

One of the best parts of Uptown Jungle is that the staff is really great with kids and they try to make sure everyone has an awesome time. The staff helps the kids safely get into the climbing wall harnesses and cheers them on as they climb. The trampoline area switches from little kids to big kids frequently, so everyone gets a turn to play safely.

One thing that really impresses me is that Uptown Jungle has Fundraising opportunities!

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Forget selling candy bars, candles, T-shirts, etc. Host a fundraising event at Uptown Jungle and earn 35% of the group’s admission!

And of course, there are opportunities for Birthday parties or team parties!

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Uptown Jungle has a Customer Royalty Program! When you download the app, you receive an offer for 1 hour of free play added to your paid admission! Find it wherever you download apps.

And they also have an email club! Join the Email Club for a Buy One Get One Hour of Play Time!

I want to share the fun of Uptown Jungle with you! One lucky reader will win 4 90-minute passes to Uptown Jungle. To enter, click here, or visit our Facebook page here (This option may not be mobile friendly).

 

Talk Back: How do your kids get their wiggles out in the summer?  

 

IMG_5970.jpgThanks so much to Ricky and his staff at the Santee Uptown Jungle for hosting the kids and me yesterday! We had a fun time, and they were exhausted after 90-minutes of running, jumping, climbing, and sliding!

 

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“Get my Good Side Mom!”

2019 Free Meals this Summer for Kids!

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Like last year, I’m still pulling together resources at the time that this is published, and I’ll be adding additional sites as soon as I can.

School will be out within a month for most kids in San Diego, and that means there are some parents (and kids) who usually rely on free or subsidized school lunches may find themselves wondering what to do.

Thankfully, a lot of great organizations have stepped up and partnered with local area schools, libraries, rec centers, and civic organizations to provide free breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for al kids 18 and under this summer.

For any of these opportunities, there is NO PROOF OF INCOME OR PROOF OF NEED REQUIRED. You take your kiddos, show up at a location near you during the lunch period (each location sets its own hours), and the kids get a yummy, healthy lunch for free. Menus vary, but all lunches meet USDA guidelines for a healthy lunch (think of the food pyramid).

You can search here for a list of California Department of Education sites that offer free meals (some sites offer breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks).

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 1.52.03 PM.pngFor those of us in Eastern San Diego County, Cajon Valley School District sponsors free lunches!

Menus will probably be available in the next few weeks. Last Summer every Friday was pizza day! And there are usually vegetarian options daily for those of you who have meat-free kiddos (previous options included bean, rice, and cheese burritos, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, cheese sandwiches, nut butter sandwiches, or Uncrustables)!

Last summer The El Cajon Library had lunch and activities (crafts, story time, etc) each day (Monday -Friday).

Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 2.03.13 PM.pngSan Diego Unified School District has partnered with some awesome sponsors to host the Summer Fun Cafe 2019 all over San Diego County! Lunch will be served at over 30 locations all summer for kids 18 and under! The kick-off Summer BBQ (with free lunch for adults too) at Penn Athletic Field on 6/20/19 10:30am-2:00pm! There are all kinds of activities, community resources, and even free produce for families to take home!

Most locations will be serving lunch on June 17-August 16, 2019.

What I love about this program is that there are tons of rec centers hosting these lunches and they are usually adjacent to a playground, which means after a long morning of playing, the kids don’t have long to wait to get a yummy lunch!

Looking for a few ideas of summer fun with a nearby lunch?

  • There is a lunch location down at the Waterfront Park- which is also free (You have to pay to park at the meters)! It has a great playground and a splash area.
  • The Tierrasanta Rec Center has a cool kids splash ground that’s open early in the day. It’s not free, but it’s pretty cheap ($2/ kid, $4/adult).

If you know of more summer lunch programs for kids in San Diego County, I’d love to hear about them! Please leave a comment!

If you aren’t in the immediate San Diego area, text FOOD  (Or COMIDA for a list in Spanish) to 877-877, or call 211 and you can find a list of free summer lunch locations near you.

 

Spring Break in San Diego!

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Spring break is upon us, and I know that without a plan, I’d go nuts for two weeks. Here are some of the adventures we plan on getting into:

Legoland: There is a new 4-D Movie, based on the popular Lego City cartoons! You can check out a preview here. Plus the usual fun stuff, and of course Granny’s Apple Fries. YUM.

Balboa Park: As we have two weeks off, that gives us two opportunities to enjoy two Resident Free Days down at Balboa Park. If you can’t get down to Balboa Park on a free Tuesday, you should definitely make it down for the new exhibits and films down at The Nat. 

Tide Pools: The Pacific Ocean is still too cold to swim in during April, but it’s never too cold to explore the Tide Pools. My favorite Tide Pool is at Cabrillo National Park. Here is a list of the 6 best Tide Pools in San Diego.

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The Big kid and his friends at the Tierrasanta Pool back when he was a little guy.

Swimming: While the ocean may be cold, our local pools are not. The Cameron Family YMCA has a great children’s splash pad/pool, The Ned Baumer Pool in Mira Mesa has a kids pool/splash pad, and the Tierrasanta Pool has a fun splash pad for littler kids.

San Diego Zoo: As I’m sure most of you are aware, the Pandas are going back home to China at the end of April (April 27th to be exact). I’ll be taking the kids to the zoo at least once to say goodbye to the pandas and see the other animals. But, no trip to the Children’s Zoo Playground. The Children’s Zoo is closed while they remodel the area.

Play dates at the Park: We’ll be playing with our friends at the park, investigating the creeks, and doing crafts with our friends. I’ve ordered a couple craft kits, including a suncatcher kit, and a Bouncy Ball making kit.

Being Lazy at Home: I can’t be expected to run all over town for 2 weeks, right? We’ll for sure have (at least) one day at home where we will hang out in our PJ’s, eat popcorn, and watch movies.

Talk Back: If you haven’t already had your spring break, what will you be doing?

Kid K’Nex- Creative Play for Smaller Hands!

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 5.33.36 PMWOW! We were lucky enough to be selected for a Tryazon Kids K’Nex Play Time Party, and today was the day!

The kids had a blast! It was hot already at 10 am at the park, but there were a few kids out, in addition to our guests who came over to check out these awesome toys and play.

38804508_10106054182526514_4093103128713363456_nAnd for those who couldn’t attend, but want to check out all the fun of Kid K’nex, here is a sweet coupon code TRYAZONKK. It will allow your friends to purchase the Budding Builders Tub for 70% off here.

 

About K’Nex: Founded in 1992, K’NEX, part of the Basic Fun! Family of brands, wanted to show kids that the only limit to building was the size of their imagination! 25 years later, K’NEX prides itself on connecting Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math with imagination. STEAMagination can be found in every K’NEX set and with it building dreams become a fun-powered, 3-D reality! Winner of over 390 awards and recognitions, the K’NEX product line has building toys specially designed for every age group and skill level.

In addition all this fun play, the kids and I gave away two of the KID K’NEX Zoo Friends Construction Toy Sets.  Recommended for Ages 3-5 , each set includes eyes, ears, paws, and more! It comes with 30 building ideas in a cool handout, and includes 55 colorful parts!

Here are a few of our creations:

If, you’ve never heard of Tryazon (pronounced Try-uh-zon ☺), Tryazon is a service dedicated to getting innovative products into people’s hands and mouths, in fun settings like the party we had today. They offer excellent product samples and savings for all who participate.

We had a great time and can’t wait to party again soon with Tryazon! We received free items to facilitate this event, however we were not financial compensated to hold this event. All opinions are mine solely. Please review our Disclosure Page for more information.

Exploring Legoland:Assisted Access Pass

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“No Mommy, I don’t want to have my picture taken with a shark, I want to pick my nose.” Margaret

Recently, the kids and I got a sneak peak of the Lego City: Deep Sea Adventure ride. It was great fun- it combines a submarine ride, a treasure hunt, and Legos! The kids had a blast. Henry loved getting his picture taken with Lego “Sharky”, and of course the building station to entertain the kids while we waited in line.  I like that the building station has directions and information about real life fish and ocean wildlife that kids can build with the Legos found at the building station.

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Henry loves Legoland, and so does Margaret. I love taking them. In addition to fun rides, there are tons of areas for kids to play, run, build Lego, and splash (in addition to the water park). What I really like is that they offer an Assisted Access Pass.

A lot of readers don’t know this, but Henry is ASD (That’s Autism Spectrum Disorder). So going on rides, waiting in line with a lot of people, loud noises, and weird smells can trigger him and lead to meltdowns, or just shutting down (sensory overload). Thankfully Legoland offers the Assisted Access Pass. For anyone with a disability, pick one up at Guest Services near the entrance. The pass entitles the pass holder, plus up to five additional people in your party to by-pass the regular line, and wait in a shortened line.

After you get into the by-pass line, the Model Citizen (that’s the staff member) will sign your pass and give you the next time that you can utilize the pass again. You can use it all day. We usually use it 3-4 times to go on the rides the kids really want to go on and have a long line. The wait time to use the pass again can be passed at a splash pad, play area, or building station. There is lots to see and do besides rides. There are quiet areas where kids (and adults) can decompress and relax at both First Aid and The Baby Care Center.

469ABCF7-367C-4837-BF98-445D13D1A387.jpgI also like that you can bring your own snacks into Legoland too. I pack our backpack full of snacks and treats, and our reusable Camelback bottles , (which you can refill with ice and water for free at anyone of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines throughout the park).  But- the kids and I do love the goodies and treats at Legoland. Especially, Granny’s Apple Fries.

If you and your kiddos are ravenous after 5pm in the park, check out this deal:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 8.56.38 PM.pngKIDS EAT FREE AFTER 5 PM THROUGH 8/18/2018 * Fun Town’s Urban Kitchen, Wok ‘N’ Bowl Ramen, Garden Deli & Café, Pizza Pasta Buffet and Smokehouse BBQ only. Offer is available for a limited time, see locations for availability and details. Kids receive one FREE Kids’ Meal with the purchase of one full-price adult entrée. Offer is available after 5pm at Fun Town’s Urban Kitchen, Wok ‘N’ Bowl Ramen, Garden Deli & Café, Pizza Pasta Buffet and Smokehouse BBQ at LEGOLAND® California. Adult entrée purchase equals one FREE Kids’ Meal. Cannot be combined with any other discount or offer. Restrictions apply. The right of final interpretation resides with LEGOLAND California Resort. Prices, times and schedules subject to change without notice.

The kids dig the Pizza and Pasta Buffet.  I dig Kids Eat Free.

And here are photos of Henry pretending to be Arthur- The king, not the aardvark.

 

For our family, Legoland is a great way to spend the day together on our schedule, with little to no stress.  Talk Back: What is your favorite way to spend time with your family that low key and enjoyable?

 

 

Kids, Schedules, and Summertime!

file000981824153.jpgWe keep to a schedule at our house, even in the summer. I know summer is a time for lazy days, playing it by ear, and fun adventures, but when you have a kiddo on the autism spectrum you need a little structure in your life at all times.

Here is a copy of part of our daily summer schedule, I’ve cut off the afternoons as it contains our therapy schedule, as well as lessons/classes. Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 9.00.47 PM.png

Ok, so first of all, I know you are thinking, “Who the hell gets up at 7:30 during the summer?!?!”, well, us. My kids are usually up by 7:30am in the summer, and that’s sleeping in (ugh, 6:30am, you come too early during the school year).

I’ve included the analog clock  because the big guy is learning to tell time and it helps him visualize on the clocks in the house.

Despite the structure, there is room for creativity and flux. We have freedom in choosing breakfast, what to wear, and there is a 2-hour window of play time, where the kids can do whatever they want: free play, crafts, read a story, watch cartoons.

When my buddy was younger, we frequently went without a schedule, and honestly, I was nuts. Just wandering all day without a plan, I frequently had a headache at the end of the day, and would be dreading the next.  Now we have a loose overview of what to expect each day, and we fill in our time with free or low cost events. Check out your local library branch- they frequently have fun classes or events.

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The menu for El Cajon, CA free lunch locations. Pizza and salad twice a week!

And for some reason, kids are bottomless pits in the summer, we try to check out some of the free lunches for kids a few times a week. It helps keep our grocery budget in check, but most importantly, it exposes the kids to trying new foods, and new experiences.  I try and find out the menus ahead of time and expose the kids to 1-2 new foods per week in an environment where there are peers who already like to eat the “new food”.  When kids see peers eating something that’s new to them, often times they try it, even if they may give mom or dad some resistance. I’m not saying that peer pressure is always a bad thing.

In addition to free lunches, I try to keep our family snack bag well stocked. I tend to visit Grocery Outlet and 99 Cents Only for most of our snack needs. $25/week is my budget for lunches and snacks for the summer.

I try not to set our schedules in stone- We get invites to hang out with friends, go to events, or maybe some relatives will come out for a surprise visit (who knows). We want the kids to have fun over the summer, and I do my best to make sure they get a balance of fun times, learning, and relaxation.

I’d love to hear about what you do in the summer: Do you wing it, or have a schedule?