6 Ways to Clear Your Inbox and Get the Messages You Want

management-1137648_960_720Does opening your inbox make you sick and tired?  Maybe it’s time for a detox.

The average person gets 88 emails a day. Between business, mailing lists, product offers and straight up spam – if you let a weekend go by, it takes an hour of your life to sort through it, and that’s before you’ve even read anything!

It’s time for a cleanse of your account, a reckoning, if you will, so as to move through the experience with as little friction as possible. Yes, this does require a slice of time, but once you do it, you will feel like you just took a virtual bath.

  1. Ditch your outdated platform.  Take a deep breath, and know that it is time to let go of the clunky old email service you’ve hung onto for way too long. If you are on Gmail or Outlook, or any other platform recommended for its efficiency, then great, one less thing.  But if the platform is part of the problem and you are hanging onto that old, personal account because you are afraid someone you haven’t heard from in 15 years might write, just migrate your contacts, notify whomever you can and keep the other account open for a few months just to clear away the possibility of stragglers.  Then you can shut it down.
  1. Set up a High Priority box. For Gmail, utilize a feature called Priority Inbox. This feature puts new emails in two different places within your inbox.  Personal messages go in one, and the other is for “social” mail, based on the sender and subject line. This saves you time skimming for the messages that need attention, rather than getting lost in a sea of daily deal offers and pleas for non-profit donations.
  1. Set up filters. Many email providers allow you to filter for certain types of emails. You can use these filters to do lots of things: apply a certain label to an email, automatically delete it, forward it, archive it and so on. So if you feel like shopping just go to that folder, peek at your messages and delete the rest.
  1. Discover Boomerang. If you aren’t using it, this plug-in for Firefox and Chrome with Gmail allows you even more elasticity, like scheduling when you send off email, bounce an email back to the top of your list (like when you get an invitation to a party) or bring an email to your attention if you have not received a reply to it after a certain number of days. In other words, Boomerang allows you to combine scheduling and your reminders more fluidly.
  1. That said, you can also use your calendar rather than your inbox. Not to tout Gmail too fiercely, but when you get an email that requires action, you can easily migrate the appropriate info over to Google Calendar, set up a reminder and then delete the email. 
  1. We’re sorry to see you go. Here’s where it gets tedious, but going through all those emails wouldn’t be necessary if you weren’t getting them in the first place.  Sit down with a really enjoyable beverage and unsubscribe to all the stuff you know you aren’t ever going to read, buy, or participate it. 

Just imagine how relaxing it will be to open your email, if you just do a bit of healthy, self-focus and assert a little more control over your messages.  Then you can treat yourself to a massage! 

5 Reasons and Ways to Thank a Teacher

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It’s without a doubt one of the most important jobs in the world, so let’s make sure they know we parents appreciate them.

Every single one of us, no matter where we grew up, can likely look back to a ‘eureka’ moment that took place in our little minds because of a teacher. These dedicated professionals don’t do it for the glitz and glamour, no. They teach because they feel a deep connection to their students and to the gift of learning.

Their jobs are so demanding, with long hours, low pay, and tons of paperwork. The best of them are always looking for ways to improve their classroom experience, to light a fire of inquiry for their pupils and enable them to grow.

As parents, there are many things we can do to aid that hardworking person who spends hours a day instructing our kids. Here are some ideas for showing your child’s teacher just how much you value his or her efforts and how you can assist in those efforts.

  1. Volunteer. This is the single best way to help out the teacher in your child’s life. If your children’s elementary school doesn’t have a process by which you can volunteer formally, you may have to get permission from the principal, but even coming in a half hour a week to read to the class is a great enhancement for all the kids and gives the teacher a chance to regroup for her next activity. Bring your own skills to bear; if you build things, cook, play music, or speak Spanish. There is always something we can offer that any teacher will appreciate.
  1. Take home a project. We often don’t realize how much work they do when they aren’t in the classroom. Prepping for crafts, and organizing books, materials, and handouts – these things take time. You can easily scoop up a simple task and bring it home; this might seem trivial, but any teacher would deeply appreciate it.
  1. Stay in communication. She might run out of glue sticks, or he might need a whole roll of aluminum foil. Check in and ask if it’s within your purview to run a quick errand or grab something at home.
  1. Take up a collection for a gift. This is another easy one you can do online. Hopefully your have a classroom directory or a class online calendar where parents can communicate. You can put together a little campaign and get everyone to chip in for a treat like a massage or a gift certificate.
  1. Join the PTA or PTO. One great way to support, not just your child’s teacher but all teachers, is to join the Parent Teacher Organization. This is a national group that acts as a more formal conduit between parents and teachers, and it is often parents within this organization who wrangle the resources for things like field trips, special guests, and other enhancements to curriculum.

If every parent does what we can, our students will get the most out of their time with their teacher. Staying in conversation, and keeping our children engaged and on task at home are also things that help support the important work they do. For more ways to assist in and out of the classroom, visit http://www.ideas.ted.com.

7 Favorite Kid Activities: Inventive Play Date Ideas for Toddlers

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Young children need a little guidance when they have their friends over for a visit.

Forgive the comparison, but sometimes kids are like puppies: if you don’t find them something to do, they will find something themselves, like dumping all the cereal on the kitchen floor or digging up the garden.

At this age, around 2-3, kids are moving from a stage called “parallel play” where they mostly play on their own, to group play, where interaction becomes more appealing. You can help your child move into group play with some short-duration play dates that include “free play” and some more structured activities1.

When you are in charge of someone else’s child as well as your own, finding new activities for kids can be so challenging; they have so much energy and not-so-extended attentions spans. Here are some really easy ways to get them involved that don’t cost much money, require much planning, and keep the mess to a minimum.

  1. Toy Car Wash

This one is a twofer: get a large tub or bucket, fill it with bubbly, soapy water, dump their toys in, and furnish them with some scrub brushes. This activity is obviously better suited to outside, but if you use biodegradable soap, you can just dump the water in the yard when they are done. Clean toys, happy kids!

  1. Whiteboard Film

All parents have experienced the horror of the markers on the wall. Well here is your solution: white board film comes in a roll with non-damaging adhesive on the back, so you can apply it to any surface and voila, instant whiteboard! Make sure the dry-erase markers are non-toxic, and supply the kids with some old towels so they can wipe and draw repeatedly.

  1. Picnic Tea Party

If the weather doesn’t permit, you need a drop cloth and some plastic cups and plates for inside. Kids can use blocks or other toys as pretend “food,” and they can invite their whole stuffy collection if they like. A small pitcher with water becomes the “tea” and kids love serving each other. You can also add real snacks into the mix too.

  1. Cardboard Box Puppet Show

This one is a multi-step process but if you have a large box lying around, cut out half of one side and prop it upright. Kids can make puppets by decorating socks or paper bags and then act out plays for each other.

  1. Dance Party

When their attention wanes on the more fine motor projects, let them get the giggles out by turning on some upbeat music. Choose a kid-safe room and they can bounce around and have a pillow toss, or you can blow up some balloons and they can bop those around. There are thousands of great kids’ albums or as a cheat, just find a kid’s station on Pandora. For some extra cacophony, pull out some pots and pans and let them bang on them with wooden spoons!

  1. Dinosaur Garden Hide and Seek

Gather up all the little plastic figures: barn animals, dinosaurs, people, and take them outside. Cordon off an area of the yard where there are some plants and let the kids take turns hiding their little animals and finding them. It’s like a treasure hunt!

  1. Leaf Jump

If it’s fall, rake a big pile of leaves in the yard and let them bounce around. This will evoke peels of laughter and you will be surprised how long it will keep them entertained. Hint: you might want to just strip them down and put them directly in the bath, and that will seriously round out their fun.

Some things to keep in mind: with this age, kids are just starting to learn how to interact, share, and take turns, so curb the possibility of tantrums or disputes by explaining what is going to happen in advance, emphasizing how we treat guests in our home, and making sure to redirect away from activities that invite infighting. As your toddler grows, you will see them improve at the guest/host dynamic, but to start out, maybe only invite one child at a time for your first couple of play dates. And don’t forget to join in and have some fun yourself!

References:

  1. http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl3/

Executive Moms: 9 Easy Ways to Boost Your Self-Care and Feel Great

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Sometimes adding in some little things can make a huge difference in how you look and feel.  And you deserve to look and feel great!

With work, children, attending to friends, and maintaining a healthy partnership, we all get worn down, even if we have the whole kit-and-caboodle down to a science.  You eat right, get your exercise, and do your best to squeeze in seven hours of sleep a night, but overwhelm is inevitable sometimes, and stress is a real factor in our outlook and physical health.

In the spirit of Self-Improvement Month, try out a few of these simple things you can add in with almost zero effort, to give yourself a little nudge and optimize the good work you are already doing.  In other words, don’t see these things as luxuries; see them as well-deserved enhancements that you worked hard to earn. 

  1. Bodywork.  Ancient cultures didn’t see getting a massage as a treat; they viewed it as an essential part of health maintenance.  Professional healing touch can relieve tension, realign bones and muscles, stimulate circulation, and reduce chronic pain.  Try deep tissue, chiropractic, hot stone, acupressure, and reflexology.  Experiment with the modality that really works for you, or rotate them. 
  2. Vitamin B shot.  Deficiency in Vitamin B can lead to concentration problems, mood issues like depression, and fatigue.  You can take a supplement but the shot is a quick infusion that will instantly give you energy and it only takes a second. 
  3. Bump your probiotic intake.  There is mounting evidence that gut health relates directly to our quality of life, even affecting our mood1.  You don’t have to pop a pill either, just make sure you get a daily dose of yogurt, kefir, miso, or pickled veggies like Kim chi or sauerkraut.  This will help protect against sickness and maintain your healthy weight. 
  4. Get a classy new hairstyle.  One thing that happens to ladies as they get older is that they decide what looks good and they stick with it.  But changing your appearance is instant gratification, and older women look fantastic when they do something bold like go lighter or shorter. 
  5. Invest in expensive footwear.  Some professional women who are on their feet all day will actually have shoes custom-made.  Sounds crazy but if you go with a classic style, those shoes will last you decades and your feet will thank you.  Also check in with your doctor and get an orthopedic exam regularly to prevent chronic pain.
  6. Aromatherapy.  How do you wake up in the morning?  To a snarky alarm clock or to a gentle blue glow and the smell of jasmine?  There are amazing humidifiers on the market that also serve as alarm clocks and you can tailor the scent to maximize your mood. 
  7. Lemon water first thing.  Before you exercise, eat, or drink that first coffee, chug a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon in it.  This primes your digestive tract for the hard work it will do, and alkalinizes your system to maintain pH. 
  8. Soak.  Whether you get in the bath, go for a swim, indulge in the hot tub, or take yourself to the hot springs, the body wants emersion.  Floating is an easy way to combat stress. 
  9. Flush your closet.  This project may take a little more time, but the results will be extremely liberating.  One of the things women do to our detriment is hang onto clothes we don’t fit into anymore, thinking hopefully that one day we’ll be 20 again.  It’s an energy suck and a waste of space.  If it doesn’t fit, hand it on and make a deal with yourself that the only clothes that belong in your closet are the ones that fit you and look great.   

The object is not to make daily life more complicated so cherry-picking the things that work for you can give you that edge you are looking for.  One of the nice things about becoming more mature is that we care less about what others think when it comes to personal style or lifestyle choices and we get better about doing what is right for us. 

Reference:

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-explain-your-mood.html?_r=0

12 Co-Parenting Facts and Strategies: Keeping it Civil for Everyone’s Sake

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The transition out of partnership is a huge challenge, but a little strategy and self-awareness go a long way.

In the wake of a divorce, there is often so much static that parenting becomes a power struggle.  Even if it is a mutual decision, it’s a painful process of becoming two households and restarting. 

For children, this process is confusing and emotional.  If there is drama, they don’t understand it and this can be very disruptive.  For you as the parent, once custody issues and lawyers are added in, the burden becomes not just emotional but also financial.  In this situation, it’s not uncommon for adults to act out and it’s the kids that really pay the price. 

However, there are some actions you can take to avoid this kind of stress, and taking control of what you can control will limit the damage and hopefully, settle into a more regulated, neutral situation.  Let’s take a look at what the experts say on co-parenting and how to minimize the discomfort.

  1. Cool down.  Taking a step back from the situation allows everyone a short period of respite.  Meet in a neutral place to do the handing off, and keep communication limited to details via email.  Resist the urge to engage in-person for a couple weeks or a month. 
  2. Separate out your issues from those that directly affect the child.  This can be tricky, and let’s be honest, part of the insult of a failed marriage is that we feel being in a partnership is the best thing for our kids.  But if we are vigilant about asking the question: “Is this about me, or is it about the kids?” we cultivate a distinction in our minds, and hopefully in our behavior over time. 
  3. If things remain tense, seek out mediation.  You don’t have to wait until things are so bad that legal counsel is required (especially at $250 per hour!). You can actually get an intermediary with legal training who will guide you both toward a clearer schematic. 
  4. Attend a co-parenting class.  This is another very valuable resource that many people don’t know about, but going to a class can really steady the boat.  When you aren’t trying to resolve the larger marital issues but simply getting assistance in how to structure the new arrangement, you take a big load off the whole dynamic. 
  5. Share a calendar.  Use Google Docs or an organizational app to set up a way that you can communicate with your co-parent.  This minimizes potential for conflict, and ensures that the week goes smoothly. 
  6. Clear boundaries.  Rules should be consistent at both households so that the routine is not lopsided.  Agree on as many daily self-care details as possible, like bedtime, diet, and doctor visits.  Try to come to an agreement on chores and allowance so kids understand. 
  7. Draw up a written agreement.  Again, for the sake of clarity, write it all down, copy it, and sign it so each of you can regularly refer to it.  You can amend it at any point as long as the two parties agree, but the act of putting it down on paper makes the lines cleaner. 
  8. Allocate tasks evenly.  If there are parental demands from school like paperwork or driving to extra curricular activities, try to maintain a balance to avoid resentment. 
  9. Commit to positive talk.  Resist the temptation to get your kids on your side of the divide.  It really doesn’t help and in the long run, shows them that it’s okay to talk smack about their other parent.  Save venting for your grown-up friends who have the context and the maturity to actually understand your need to get out negative feelings.  Always avoid sabotaging your child’s relationship with the other parent.
  10. Let life be ordinary.  If one parent only sees the children on the weekends, the inclination is to fill that time with entertaining fun.  This sends the signal that one parent is the ant and one parent is the grasshopper.  Studies show kids need to see both parents doing daily, household stuff too1.
  11. Update often.  When your children encounter a stumbling block, make sure your co-parent knows about it.  Keep that door open so that both households can be supportive.
  12. Deep breaths.  It gets easier.  No one in their right mind will tell you this is fun, but many families make the transition when they get some practice.  Parenting in any conditions is a long road, and when the dust settles, hopefully both parties can agree on the terms and remain focused on the most important thing: the kids. 

Sometimes, there is a certain tension that gets released when the effort becomes about parenting rather than mending the relationship.  There will be slips and fumbles, but try to keep your highest mind in the game and stay flexible.  In the long run, clear communication, good boundaries, and a steady schedule will show your kids that even when a partnership doesn’t work out, you are both committed to loving and raising them.  As adults, they will respect this and it will serve them in their own relationships too. 

Reference:

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201203/the-dos-and-donts-co-parenting-well

9 Preschool and Kindergarten ABC Games You Can Do At Home

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Education is changing based on what we are learning about the brain.

The explosion of knowledge about human development has led us to a rapidly changing approach to early education. Kids between the ages of infancy to four demonstrate a quantum jump in all phases of development, and we know now just what parts of the brain emerge at different ages and how they govern specific functions.

Language acquisition is one of the most exciting periods for parents. We are just floored with that first “Mommy” or “I’m building core memories right now!” (if they have seen Inside Out recently). Infants start categorizing sounds at the age of six months, and from toddlerhood to kindergarten, children can start to assign sounds to symbols1.

We know that kids pick things up faster and more comprehensively when they play, and so there are thousands of entertaining ways to introduce beginning alphabet and spelling with some low-prep games at home. Let’s take a look at a few of these:

  1. Letter Magnets

This is so easy and fun, and as long as too many of them don’t get swept under the fridge, your kids will enjoy making words with magnet letters for years. As you are making dinner, you can spread the letters out randomly and call out simple words one letter at a time. The kids find the letters and you can help them sound it out to make words.

  1. Alphabet Hunt Traveling Game

Pick a topic while out, like foods, and everyone takes a turn starting with A, trying to come up with a thing that starts with the appropriate letter. When you get to the end, start again!

  1. I-Spy Letters

Take the classic guessing game and just make all your clues first letter clues: I Spy with my little eye, something that begins with Q.

  1. Old Typewriter

Finally, a fantastic reason not to throw your “vintage” typewriter away. If it actually works, your kids will lose their minds with the old hammer keys and the ping when it comes to the end of the line. A spare computer keyboard will also do the trick, but not nearly as charming and doesn’t produce a piece of paper with nifty old school characters on it.

  1. Alphabet Sounds Jumping Game

Take the fun outside and use sidewalk chalk to draw letters randomly on different squares of cement. Instead of calling out the letter, call out the sound it makes and kids take turns jumping on the corresponding characters.

  1. ABC Mouse for Kids

This game is an app you can download to your tablet or smart phone that has risen to the top of digital edutainment. It offers many different activities all designed around developmental science and it rewards kids with achievements as they progress. A few minutes a day can keep your little learner occupied, while absorbing information at the same time.

  1. Alphabet Maze

This game is almost as fun to prepare as it is to play: take some masking tape and make a maze on a wall or other large flat surface. Make sure you add some dead ends so it isn’t really obvious which way takes the player to the center. Then write the letters of the alphabet along the correct path that solves the maze. The letter Z should be at the center or the end.

  1. Capital and Lower Case Memory Game

Kids really love playing the original Memory®, and this is a wonderful way to start pairing the two different letter cases in their minds. Cut out 54 same size and same shape squares of construction paper (you can also use post-its) and write the alphabet out in all lower case and all upper case. Lay them all face down on the floor and take turns turning over two at a time. Two of the same letter is a pair.

  1. Photo and Letter Collage Project

Never was there a nobler use for your old magazines! Cut up pictures of easily identifiable objects like animals, vehicles, or other kid-friendly stuff, and cut out the first letter to match them. Arm your kid with a piece of paper and a glue stick and help them match up the first letter with the object.

There are some really fun printable games online that can help, so if your children get bored with one activity, keep trying until you find something they genuinely enjoy. Most importantly, remember that learning has everything to do with interaction at this age, so getting into the activity will really help them reap the value.

References:

  1. http://web.media.mit.edu/~stefanm/society/som_final.html

Home Detox: Five Eco Friendly, Great Companies and the Products They Make

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Kindness to the planet is kindness to people, and these companies have taken that connection seriously.

The evidence is undeniable that the planet is warming, and the last 100 years of heavy industry have plundered the globe, threatening to upset the delicate balance of an ecosystem that is, as far as we know, entirely unique and nothing short of miraculous.

The feelings of hopelessness and anxiety attached to this knowledge affect us all. And to say it straight, there is nothing as individuals that we can do to singlehandedly reverse the damage. However, collectively, we do have the power to face climate change as a real force, and to make small decisions with our votes and our consuming power that can move the needle, create awareness, and show our children that we care about their health and the health of the planet.

Most of us use products everyday that are detrimental to our water system, to the food chain, an ultimately, to life itself, without even realizing it. Commercial soaps are composed of harsh chemicals that do not break down in the water system, whereas biodegradable surfectants are plant-based, and designed to re-enter the ecology without harming it[1].
It follows that some of these chemical products on the market contain ingredients that are also toxic to humans and pets, which gives you even more reasons to replace them with kinder, gentler options.
Plus, the growing awareness that big corporations with lack of oversight have poisoned the environment has swung the pendulum in the opposite direction; a more holistic approach to business has emerged where small companies are not only devising more eco-friendly products, they are also creating more worker-friendly and sustainable business models. These businesses also recognize that they are competing with very effective traditional products, so the quality of these environmentally conscious household solutions is very high.

Before we get into some specific products that consistently receive praise from experts, let’s look at some quick rules of thumb when shopping for household products:
 Look for “biodegradable” on the label. “Natural” is a grey area, because technically even chemicals are natural[1]. It can be a sneaky way for manufacturers to hide unhealthy ingredients.

 Check out the packaging. Anything claiming to be eco should also be packaged in a recycled/recyclable or compostable container. Petrochemicals in conventional packaging also contribute to ecological damage, so eco companies often use alternatives to further reduce their manufacturing footprint and cut down on landfill.

 Avoid ammonia, lye, isopropanol, cresol, phenol, and pine oil. All these products when ingested, even by breathing or skin contact, are known to irritate eyes and lungs, corrode tissue, or affect the
circulatory and nervous systems[2].
 Get over the “clean” smell. Detergents and cleansers have cultivated a “fresh” smell– well, that’s chemicals you are smelling. Products that are free of dyes, fragrances, and chemicals are not going to produce that powerful odor, but it doesn’t mean your clothes or dishes are any less clean[3]. Many of these sustainable companies also use plant-based scents like lavender or eucalyptus oils so they smell lovely because it’s
the real thing.
So here are some of the new champions in terms of eco-friendly products that will effectively do the job, and a little background on the companies that create them.

1. Seventh Generation. This company based in Vermont has been refining its products for 25 years, the name drawing from a Native American saying that we must act and plan according to our responsibilities to our families seven
generations in the future.

2. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day is a family of products that make your house sparkle, and smell like you live in an enchanted forest. Speaking of family, founder Monica Nassif named her company after her mother, Mrs. Thelma
Meyer.

3. The Honest Company makes bath soap, dishwasher soap, and baby care products like wipes and diapers. Plus, it has great online purchase options that get you more quantity for a very reasonable price.

4. Biokleen is a soap company that stresses no-impact, chemical-free products for a competitive price. Jim Rimer’s business goes back to the 1980s, when as a chemical salesman, he saw the light in terms of the impact of toxins in our homes and workplace. He has been fighting the good fight ever since.
5. If you were to walk by Method products on the shelves, you might mistake them for conventional cleaners. Their modern, brightly colored soaps and personal care offerings are the brainstorm of two college buddies in San Francisco, who created one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S[4].

All these products score very highly on the Environmental Working Group website, where you can also see a breakdown of each product by active ingredient. So if you or a family member has a particular sensitivity to something, you can easily find some solid recommendations through this non-profit’s site. It also offers a database of personal care products like makeup and sunscreen, so before you before you shop, check out the brands you like and make sure they are conducive to lasting health. Visit the website here: http://www.ewg.org.

Which laundry soap you buy may not save the planet, but it can reduce the risk of sickness, skin irritation, respiratory issues, or other potentially chronic health problems for your family. Anything we can do to lessen our personal impact on the world we live in is still worth doing, for our children’s sake as well as our own.

References:

1. http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/sustainability/some_facts_about_4.aspx

2. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_Steps_to_Staying_W ell/hic_Household_Chemicals_Chart_Whats_in_my_House

3. http://exploringgreentechnology.com/green-living/green-cleaning-products/

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_Products

Smooth Day Tripping with Your School Age Kids

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Now that you are done with the diaper bag, and your kids are at that fantastic age when reading, writing, problem-solving and exploring are exciting, one day activities don’t have to mean loads of planning, packing, and hair pulling. The prep can be part of the action and help to build anticipation for them. Here are some handy ideas for simple excursions, and some tips for making them a little more preparation light for you and exciting for them.

Before You Go:

  1. Let them research their adventure. The local library (also a great day trip), city hall, or a tourist center can furnish you with a list of local attractions and other day trip possibilities. Consider your child’s interests and try to work that in. Of course, the Internet is a great resource too, but not as hands-on.
  1. The car kit. Keeping a duffle of travel stuff in a corner of your car’s trunk or one of those other nifty side compartments. It can make it easier to get up and go. Essentials include spare shirt in case your little explorer gets dirty, wipes (still handy!), sunscreen, spare water and a few protein bars. This is great for emergencies but it also aids the day trip, and it’s easy enough to snatch out of your vehicle if your adventure doesn’t involve driving. Keep a good, old fashioned map in there too, and on the road, let your kids follow your progress.
  1. Picnic. Before you leave, make simple road food like wraps or sandwiches that small hands can help prepare. There are some great new concepts in the area of picnic basket design that compress four sets of utensils into a neat portable container. Check out the Tandoor 4 backpack, which has insulated storage for your food:

http://www.amazon.com/Tandoor-Person-Picnic-Backpack-Insulation/dp/B002TI1078

Note: you don’t have to get fancy, either. Cheese, crackers, grapes, water and go. Save yourself some money and the time of finding a decent restaurant.

So where do you go?

  • Ride a train. Commuter trains are pretty cheap to get one or two towns away, and for kids, there is nothing more exciting than the clickety clack of the track. Even if you just go to a neighboring town and wander around, the novelty is the key piece.
  • Botanical Gardens. Bring a handbook from Audubon and see if you and your family can identify some of the birds and flowers. If you have a lightweight camera, let them take pictures.
  • Flea Market. Make a list for your child of out-of-date objects: rotary phone, ink blotter, suspenders and see if they can find these objects. Flea markets are also a great place to score old costumes and crafting materials.
  • River Trip. Parking a blanket on the bank of a river provides plenty of fascinating activity for kids. They can collect rocks, catch tadpoles, make sand castles and, of course, swim.
  • State and National Parks. Even if you live in a big city, getting to a state park is usually only an hour or so away. Rock climbing, hiking, bird watching and insect catching encourage kids to get in touch with their wild side. Note: most state parks insist that all the wildlife stays in the park, so check pockets before you leave!
  • Most museums have a local discount day or evening and whether it’s history, science or art, museums always offer something new to see.
  • Family Farms. Some local farms have kid-friendly events during the holiday seasons where they can ride ponies or pick their own fruit. Not only is it fun, it gives kids a chance to get dirty and to understand where their food comes from.
  • Zoos and Aquariums. Everyone loves to get up close to wild animals. If you have a book at home that helps identify animals, bring it along. Every time you read it after that, your child will remember when they saw that animal in real life.

For kids to get the most out of these day trips, we as parents also need to be enthusiastic, so make sure it’s something you want to do too. A little research and preparation can take your family to an unexpected place where you can make memories that last. And while it may not seem like a huge deal at the time, when they are adults, they will remind you what a big impact these adventures made.

Need a little more inspiration?

Here are some websites that have great ideas on traveling and activities for kids.

http://www.takingthekids.com/

http://havebabywilltravel.com/

http://www.kcedventures.com/blog/summer-travel-for-families-day-trips-with-kids

The Right Time for Some Family Fitness Fun

Family boat

We recently discussed how spring is the perfect time to start better eating habits with your family. There is also no better time to begin to implement more physical activity into your routine. Regular exercise improves your mood, enhances the quality of your life, helps you reduce stress — and, most importantly, it strengthens your body while it burns calories. Physical activity helps your body work the way it is supposed to, and this goes for your kids as well. Adding new elements of physical fitness can be quite simple, and most importantly fun. Here are some ideas for you this spring:

  • Family walk and talk.
    A weekend walk can be enjoyable and a way to fit in some fitness, and with more hours of daylight now, you can also squeeze in a weekday post-dinner stroll. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, a mood and energy booster, and improves our absorption of vitamin D, essential for healthy bones. A walk also provides the perfect opportunity to further discuss the day, and what’s to come for the week!
  • Hiking and bicycling.
    These are activities that can both accommodate groups of varying ages and abilities. In the process, you’ll build endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and stronger legs.
  • Join a Family Fun Run for charity.
    Spring is “high season” for local charity events that encourage you to walk, run, or cycle, meet new people, and support good causes. It’s a great way to do a good deed and improve your heart health.
  • Fly a kite.
    While it may not sound like real exercise, flying a kite at your local park or playground can keep your family in constant motion for hours. From assembling the kite to running repeatedly back and forth, this activity helps your family connect, burn calories, and build leg muscles.
  • Participate in a local park cleanup.
    When your family volunteers for such an event, you’ll get plenty of sun and exercise while making a difference in your community. And remember, spring is peak season for local cleanups. Contact your state Department of Natural Resources or local environmental groups to find cleanups in your area.
  • Go kayaking or canoeing.
    These are great ways to explore the outdoors and build upper-body strength. Many local departments of parks and recreation offer free courses as well as reasonable equipment rentals. If you live near an area with major outdoors outfitters, you can also find free or low-cost introductory classes where the sponsor provides all the equipment.

With a focus on family, the outdoors, and physical activity, these examples will remind you that fitness and fun go hand in hand. Ready to go outside and play this spring?

5 Easy Day trips for Kids in Northern California

It’s hard not to try and wring some extra quality time out of the last few weeks of summer, but planning a big trip takes time you might not have.  Here are some easy day trip suggestions that only require snacks, sunscreen and a tank of gas.
1. Tilden Park, East Bay.  This park is located in the foothills of Berkeley and it features a working replica of a steam train that you and the kids can ride, a botanical garden, and a small farm. 
2. Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito.  Get out of the heat where kids can make some wacky art, take a workshop on waves, or participate in a performance. 
3. Muir Woods, Mill Valley.  There is nothing like walking among the oldest living things on earth.  This forest is like few on the planet, inspiring awe in all its visitors. 
4. Tech Museum, San Jose. This place is a treat for kids who love to take things apart, explore systems, or just run around and have fun.  There is a great section on sustainability here too. 
5. Exploratorium, San Francisco. At its new location, this highly inventive and
interactive museum is a whole new level of “edutainment.” 

Give your kids something to talk about when they get back to school.  These days are a great time to be spontaneous without a huge expense in time or money.  Fall will be here soon enough, so squeeze in some more family fun while you can.