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Playground Equipment Blog
Thursday, December 27, 2018

Parenting New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep (And How to Keep Them)

The new year is just about upon us, and we’re all about to take part in the long, grand tradition of making a resolution we know we’re going to break at the first possible opportunity. Many of us with kids clink our glasses of champagne at midnight with a thought spared for how we can be better parents now the slate is wiped clean by the changing of the calendar. For all that bubbly good intention, though, resolutions about parenting and our kids are just as likely to go flat as those we make for ourselves.

Or, that’s usually the case. Here, we’ve taken the opportunity to put forward a few resolutions for your kids in 2019 that you can be sure to keep...because we’ll show you how.

Resolution #1: Less TV (and phones and video games and…)

It’s as old as the boob-tube itself: the fight over TV time. Nowadays, that’s expanded to phone time, tablet time, and overall screen time. A little time spent on the screen is fine, and can even be very positive (family movie time should never be on the chop block), but we could all stand to cut back.

So, here’s a tough but very good idea: introduce a screen ban. After a certain hour, every evening, all phones are plugged into chargers in another room, all TVs are turned off, all computers put in Sleep Mode. Exceptions can be made for homework or the previously mentioned family movie time. Otherwise, no calls, no vegging, and no video games.

You’ll have an easier time with this if your kids are younger, but you can still establish some boundaries with teenagers as well. Try to entice them into this arrangement by getting ideas from them for how to spend those screen-free hours. You may find they have a lot of things they’d be happy to do with the family if they’re allowed to occasionally decide.

Resolution #2: Stick to Your Schedule

This one is for both the parents and the kids. We all say we plan to spend less time at work and keep the kids on a schedule that includes plenty of family activities, time for homework, and the right bedtime. Then life happens.

We aren’t always masters of our own work schedule, but we can still make a few positive changes to improve our scheduling at home. Start with expanding the screen ban to yourself. No email or texting once you’re home until the kids are asleep. Unless you have a job that absolutely requires you remain available throughout the evening, getting off your phone will leave you more engaged with your family and more able to manage everyone’s schedule successfully.

Not just that, studies have found the best way to curb those screen urges in the young is to demonstrate the discipline yourself. Now, you’re tackling two resolutions in one! To further this effort, post an actual schedule for evenings and weekends in a place everyone is going to see it (like on the fridge). You may not always hit the schedule points every evening, but the constant reminder will keep encouraging you while you slowly build the family evenings into a regular routine.

If you aren’t sure what your schedule should look like, the CDC has some examples to start with.

You can also increase the likelihood you stick to your schedule by getting input from your kids as you create it. When they’ve agreed to certain hours for homework instead of being forced into it, it’ll be easier to remind them this is the time they wanted reserved for that work. You may also find they actually do their work when they get to choose the time they’re most engaged and eager to study.

Resolution #3: Less Junk, More Health

Kids and junk food: one of the ultimate consternations of every parent is trying to improve family diets just to see the kids hone in on the one container of Pringles in the house and pop away. However, the truth is, cutting down on junk is easier than you may think.

Start with where you can do least: you probably can’t keep your kids from snacking on junk food at school. If they get money for lunch, they’ll have a certain amount of control over what they eat. Some schools limit those options, others don’t, but you’re a little at the mercy of that school’s decision. (Unless you want to lobby the school to change their policies, but that’s a major resolution buster right there.)

It’s best to just accept this limitation in your powers. Pushing kids too hard on their food and behavior can have more negative effects than positive.

Instead, make the most obvious choice and just stop buying junk for the house. Simply making junk food less easy to get to often reduces the problem significantly. If there are no Pringles in the house, the kids won’t find them and eat them. This, of course, requires some sacrifice on your part but it’s undeniably effective.

What about all the fast food and pizzas? Well, a little of that is probably okay too, but trimming the frequency of such events is probably for the best. You can curtail the family fast food binges by spending some of that new family time meal planning. Find healthy recipes that sound good to the kids and make them together as a family. Once again, incorporating their thoughts and their tastes will make them more enthusiastic about the choice.

If you’re too busy to cook regularly, you can research some healthier fast food options and try to commit to at least one home-cooked meal a week.

Resolution #4: Finding Time for Fun with the Little Ones

One of the best ways to improve overall family health: get outside. One of the best ways to spend more time having fun (and less time fighting, lecturing, punishing, sighing, groaning, and slamming doors): get outside.

Whether you’re just going for a walk around the neighborhood or training the family up for a mini-marathon in the summer, getting outside as often as possible brings families together, improves health, and increases family time.

If you are searching for a way to accomplish this, we’ve got a suggestion: go to the park. Plenty of parks now incorporate equipment for visitors of all ages. There’s toddler playground equipment, preschool-aged playground equipment, school-aged playground equipment, and there’s even fitness equipment for teens and adults.

Playgrounds and parks make it fun being outside with the family. They encourage imaginative, creative, and physical play. The also get everyone breathing fresh air and enjoying a bit of nature (even if it’s just a few trees and a lot of grass). You may also find that a little exercise and nature help get truculent kids to open up a little more and reopen some dialogue with the parents.

The beauty of these resolutions isn’t just that they’re important for your family or that they’re eminently achievable with a little work, it’s that they work together so you can achieve all of them within the same calendar year.

If you can find a way to settle on a better work/school/play schedule, cut back on screen time, cut out the junk food in the house, and get outside more with the kids, the changes will reinforce each other.

We don’t want to overemphasize how easy this will be. Parenting, as we all know, is hard, and we’re going to fall short and make compromises no matter how hard we try. But if by next December 31st you’ve got the kids spending one hour less on a screen, one more hour outside, eating one more healthy meal a week, and spending even a little more much begrudged time with their dear old parents, you can pat yourself on the back for a great job very well done.

Even if the effort is doomed to failure, though, just trying to make these changes at the dawn of 2019 will yield a little more quality time spent being healthy with family. And isn’t that worth giving a try?

With that thought in mind, Happy Resolution Making and Happy New Year. We’ll see you in 2019.

Written by: Ben Thompson

Friday, December 21, 2018

How to Turn Christmas Into an Active Holiday

There’s plenty to love about Christmas. It’s full of magic for all ages, it can bring families together, and who doesn’t love giving and getting presents? If there’s one thing Christmas lacks, though, it’s an active component.

Everything we do at Christmas involves sitting. We’re sitting for the big family meals. We’re sitting around the fireplace drinking hot cocoa. We’re sitting watching Christmas movies. We’re sitting opening presents. Add to that, many of us sit in the car or on the plane for hours in order to visit family and friends.

All of the above sitting and relaxing can be fun, joyful, and extremely necessary after the long year, but there’s the problem: sitting can be very bad for you.

Add to that, most of us are eating a lot of cookies, pies, and heavy meals. There’s a reason people associate the Christmas season with weight gain.

To protect your children from the unhealthy side of Christmas and New Year’s, you need to keep your kids active. They may tell you they want to watch A Christmas Story again, for the third time, but their bodies are screaming to run and play. If you were wondering why your kids can never sit through a full Christmas dinner, think about how much sitting they’ve already been doing all Christmas break.

Finding a safe and effective way to play, then, is one of the big secrets to a successful Christmas for everyone. With that in mind, we’ve put together some helpful tips to get your kids playing this holiday season, whether the weather outside is frightful or not.

Just Get Outside (Weather Permitting)

With the winter being unseasonably warm in many parts of the country this year, Christmas may be a great day to hit your local park. Many parks leave their playground equipment open for play the whole year. So, if it isn’t snowy, icy, or wet, head over and let the kids run wild on Fargo or another of our play structures.

Like Fargo, all of our equipment is all built with weather-resistant materials that can withstand standard temperature variation, so generally speaking, if it’s warm enough for the kids to be playing outside, it’s warm enough for them to be playing on our equipment.

Once they’ve had a go-round on the slides and swings, consider doing a tour of your local area on foot instead of in the car. Lots of families like to take in the local light displays in town or in different neighborhoods. Either way, find a place to park the car and get out to put foot to pavement. Bring some warm tea instead of hot cocoa to keep everyone warm without the extra calories.

Find an Active Volunteering Experience

Christmas is the season of giving. It’s wonderful to give money to charities or help out someone you know who is struggling. By all means, keep up those traditions in your family! This year, though, why not add an active component to your giving by incorporating some volunteering activities that get the kids moving while they’re doing good for the world?

Many communities have local charity run and walk events throughout the festive season. Joining up and jogging a few miles with the kids can raise money for an important cause while also keeping them on their feet. You could also contact your local animal shelter to find out if they need volunteer dog walkers. Kids can get a little extra time with friendly animals that need a little extra love, and everyone gets a good workout. Older kids will also enjoy volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. They’ll learn important building skills, spend time with dedicated volunteers, and help make sure more people stay warm and safe next Christmas. If the weather is particularly nasty, consider some indoor activities that still keep kids moving. Many homeless shelters will also have opportunities to volunteer making food, serving food, or cleaning up. No matter the weather or your community, there are sure to be opportunities aplenty to share your Christmas cheer with those who need it most in a fun and physically engaged way.

Give the Kids Active-Focused Toys

Your kids have probably made it very clear just what gifts they hope to see under the tree this year. While you want to make them happy this Christmas, you don’t have to limit your giving to what appears on their lists. Wherever possible, you can add active-focused toys that help keep your kid healthy at Christmas and throughout the year.

If you live in a snowy and hilly part of the country, consider getting your kids their first set of skis. You’ll have plenty of opportunity this season to get out on the bunny slopes and teach them (or learn together) how to ski safely. You could also consider snow boots or hiking boots so you can take in the parks while keeping feet warm and firmly placed on the ground. Long underwear and other warm clothes might get a laugh come Christmas morning, but that’s a great way to lengthen how long the little ones can play outside this winter.

You can also get your kids some very cool gifts that get them active indoors. Martial arts or dance lessons can really make your child’s Christmas, all while you ensure they get that extra energy out constructively all winter.

If you live in a place with an earlier thaw (or you don’t mind waiting to use the gifts), a set of bicycles for the family or a basketball hoop can also be big hits at Christmas that will encourage family play for years to come. You might also consider finally giving in and getting the kids scooters or skateboards this year.

The good news is: no matter where you live or what your Christmas budget looks like, there are toy options out there that get kids up and moving instead of sitting in front of one screen or another.

Use Indoor Spaces

Christmas is the shopping season, and while that can feel like a pain sometimes, it’s also an opportunity for your kids. Bring them to the mall during your shopping trips, and you’ll likely find some activities. Many malls set up winter activity areas, giving the kids the chance to play and engage productively in the holiday spirit. There may be playscapes in the mall, giving kids that playground experience they can’t get in the snow. Even if these things are lacking, the kids will get a good walk in even if the snow is piled high outdoors. Also, consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator if that’s an option for your family.

If you’ve moved on to getting all your shopping done online, check out your local community center to see if they have indoor playscapes and other indoor activities to match the malls. There may also be movement-focused activities hosted regularly through the festive season and throughout winter at libraries, schools, and other places in your area.

Finally, if you have to stop and eat fast food during this hectic season, make sure to use those inside playscapes and help your kids burn off the extra calories of energy they’ve amassed.

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be a stressful and unhealthy one. While we can’t do much about the stress, there’s plenty that can be done to make Christmas a healthy as well as joyful time. And hey, getting some fresh air and activity may help relieve that stress as well.

In other words, just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to reconcile yourself to a long winter full of cabin fever and unhealthy habits.

Written by: Ben Thompson

Friday, December 14, 2018

From Our Family to Yours: Cookies from Around the World

With the quickly approaching holidays, it seemed an appropriate time to bring in a guest poster to share some of their family traditions on the blog. Family is at the center of the holiday season and all families have their unique ways of celebrating. That's part of the beauty of being a parent. It's an opportunity to form your own traditions that could be based on your culture, other cultures, or even incorporating elements from regions all around the world. This post will guide you in discovering what family traditions create your holiday memories.

In our house, like many midwestern homes, the month of December is all about cookies. One of our biggest holiday traditions, Cookie Sunday, revolves around baking and family, in that order, and we’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Every year, on one Sunday in December, we all gather at Grandma’s house to bake through the morning and late into the evening. Everyone comes together to make more than a thousand treats and when we’re done we assemble our cookie boxes to take or send to family, friends, and neighbors. Year after year the staples remain the same: peanut butter balls (the favorite, last year we rolled over 1000), chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin, Christmas crack, puppy chow, no-bakes, and snickerdoodles, but every year we each bring a new recipe to the table to try our hand.

This year we each chose a holiday cookie recipe from around the world. We thought it would be fun to look up the history behind the recipes, as well as each country’s holiday traditions.

The history of cookies is well documented and originated out of the discovery and trade of sugar. According to historians, the first record of cookies was their use as test cakes, a small amount of batter was baked to test the temperature of the oven. The earliest cookies date back to 7th century Persia A.D. With sugar originating somewhere in Southeast Asia, it then spread along the developing spice trade to Persia. From Persia, cookies and other portable sweet treats spread to Europe with the Muslim conquest of Spain, and along all the major spice trade routes. Sugar is one of the best documented products of the Middle Ages, which means cookies are, too! By the end of the 14th century one could buy cookies and pastries on the streets of Paris and Renaissance cookbooks were filled with countless cookie recipes.

In the present day, there are now hundreds if not thousands of cookie recipes in the United States alone. With the US being a veritable melting pot of cultures, it has been fun and interesting to look through popular cookie recipes and find their origins. This led to my family’s choice this year to choose holiday cookie recipes from other cultures. Many countries have traditions around cookies made during the holidays, just like us. We thought it would be fun to explore the food and culture of other countries and regions by learning about their holiday traditions and the cookies tied to them.

Our list includes recipes from:
Finland, Germany, China, South America, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Scotland.

Finnish Pinwheel Cookies (Joulutorttu)

*Makes about 24 cookies and 1 cup of preserves

There are lots of different versions of recipes available for this particular treat, but they all incorporate the iconic star shape of the season with a bright fruit-filled center. The recipe posted here is by Elizabeth Stringer-Bake from Scratch Holiday Cookies 2018. The traditional recipe calls for a prune preserve filling, but our recipe has a bright cranberry and ruby port preserves reduction. If you would like to know more about the history of the cookie and its origin, the Curious Cuisiniere has a wonderful article about it.

Cookie Recipe

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup whole milk

  1. In the work bowl of a food processor, place flour, cold butter, and salt; pulse until mixture is crumble. Add ricotta cheese and whole milk and pulse until the dough comes together. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line 3 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Working with one dough disk at a time, roll dough to ⅛ inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a 3-inch square cutter, cut dough, and place on prepared baking sheets. On each square make 4 (1-inch) cuts at the corners diagonally toward the center. Place 1 teaspoon of the fruit filling in the center of each dough square. Fold every other tip over toward the center, forming a pinwheel. Dab the ends of the tips with water to help adhere and prevent separation in the oven.
  4. Bake until the edges are barely golden brown, 11-12 minutes. Let cool on pans. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

Cranberry Port Preserves

  • 2 cups frozen cranberries, thawed
  • ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup ruby port wine

In a medium saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Mash cranberries, and reduce heat to low; simmer for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and let cool completely. Refrigerate any leftover cranberry preserves for up to 2 weeks. (Leftover hot preserves can be transferred to sterilized jars, water bath processed for 10 minutes, and stored for up to 6 months.

German Almond Crescent Cookies

*makes about 24

This crumbly, almond-scented cookie is not just a Christmas classic, but a staple in the Austrian and Germanic areas. The simple shape and size of the cookie makes it the perfect compliment for tea, coffee, or even a glass of milk. A slight variation of these is the vanillakipferl, which is the Austrian vanilla crescent cookie. For a this Austrian version of the recipe, check out The Daring Gourmet which also has wonderful pictures of Austria as well.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • ¾ cup confectioners sugar
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat all-purpose flour, cold butter, confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, and salt at medium-low speed until a crumbly dough forms, 3-4 minutes. (Mixture will start out dry, but will come together.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Divide dough into 24 balls. Roll dough balls into 4 ½ inch logs with tapered ends, and bend each one into a crescent shape. Place about 1 inch apart on prepared pans.
  4. Bake, one batch at a time, until the edges are just beginning to turn golden, not brown. 12-15 minutes. Sift confectioners sugar over hot cookies. Let cool completely and dust with confectioners sugar again. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Traditional Chinese Almond Cookies

*makes about 5 dozen

The Chinese, Korean, and Japanese areas are not often recognized for their cookies and other sweet desserts. Typically, that part of the world, is noted for the delicate balance of sweetness which allows them to explore textures that are rarely seen in Western cuisine. This recipe shines line on a cookie that could pass as a Western style cookie. China Sichuan Food has created a wonderful recipe that showcases the individual steps needed to create these simply delightful treats!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup sliced raw almonds
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon water

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and almond extract.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and mix well.
  3. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  4. Add the dry ingredient mixtures to the cream mixture gradually until the dough forms.
  5. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten with a fork, sprinkle with almonds.
  6. In a small bowl, beat egg white with water. Brush over cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 14-16 minutes or until edges and bottoms are lightly golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes on pan, before removing to wire racks.

Latin American Alfajores or Dulce de Leche Cookies

*makes about 3 dozen 2 inch cookie sandwiches

The Latin American Alfajores aren't contained to a specific country in South America, because historically they were brought overseas when the Spaniards first came. However, time has changed them to become their current form.

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ⅛ cups cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar*
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, optional
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 350g (12oz) dulche de leche, for filling
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, for rolling

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract and egg yolks just until combined. Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.
  3. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until firm enough to roll.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for five minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to a ⅛ or ¼ inch thickness. Cut out into rounds using a 2-inch fluted or round cookie cutter.
  6. Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheets with cookies in the freezer or fridge for at least 15 minutes, or until firm, so that they will be less prone to spread.
  7. Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes, until the cookies appear golden around the edges. Allow them to cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then gently transfer to wire rack for cooling.
  8. Spread the bottom half of the cookies with dulce de leche, about one teaspoon each. Sandwich together with remaining cookies pressing lightly so that the caramel oozes out the sized. Roll the sides in coconut.
  9. Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week, or freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on the counter overnight.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

*makes 2 dozen

Featured in a New York Times article about traditional Christmas cookies in 1990, it has become one of the most popular versions of this recipe and we make it every Christmas at our house. Sometimes called Mexican wedding cakes, polvorones or Russian tea cakes, these are dead-simple to make and addictive to eat. This recipe is done entirely in a food processor so you can clean-up in minutes and get on to the most important task..devouring these cookies.

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 2 ½ cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • A pinch of salt

  1. Put pecans, 1 cup of the sugar and the pinch of salt in the food processor and blend until nuts are ground finely. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and add it to nut mixture with processor running.
  2. Scrape dough into a bowl. Cover tightly and refrigerate one hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  4. Scoop dough balls with tablespoon and form 1-inch balls by rolling dough between palms (lightly flour hands, if necessary). Place balls 1 ½ inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  5. Bake 15 minutes or until cookies barely begin to brown. Cool for 2 minutes. Use small spatula to lift cookies from sheets. Roll the cookies in remaining sugar.

Czech Gingerbread Cookies, Pernik Na Figurky

This recipe for Czech gingerbread cookies or Pernik Na Figurky, is popular at Christmas time when they become a part of Vanonci Cukrovi or Christmas treats. There are quite a few ginger flavored Christmas treats out there. Ginger snaps is another one of them. MyRecipes does a great job explaining the differences between these two Christmas favorites.

  • 2 ⅓ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups refined sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons honey (warm)
  • 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, spices and baking soda until thoroughly mixed. Add honey, eggs, rum and zest and form a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Between two pieces of parchment paper, roll dough to ⅛ inch-¼ inch thickness. Remove top parchment paper and cut out various shapes of your choice, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Remove scraps.
  3. Lift parchment paper by opposite corners and place on a sheet pan. Bake 15-20 minutes or until light golden at the edges. Cool completely on the pan before removing to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough and scraps.
  4. When the cookies are completely cool, decorate with icing if desired. Let icing harden before storing in an airtight container with parchment paper between the layers.

Traditional Scottish Shortbread

*makes 12 servings

Enjoy this delicious Scottish Shortbread recipe. Shortbread is the most popular cookie eaten traditionally around the Holidays as an essential part of the the traditional Scottish New Year. The success of shortbread is to handle the dough with care and as little as possible. Do not pound or knead heavily and make sure the dishes you use and your hands are cold. The resulting treat will be light and crumbly with a buttery taste.

  • 8 oz butter
  • ½ cup superfine sugar, and a little extra for dusting
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 ½ oz cornstarch
  • 1 tiny pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
  2. In a large bowl cream together butter, salt and sugar until light and fluffy and pale in color. This can take up to 10 minutes. Use an electric or stand mixer.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour and cornstarch. Do not overmix as you will risk the danger of making the shortbread too warm.
  4. Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead lightly and quickly to form a loose dough.
  5. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper to ¼ inch thickness. Prick the surface all over with a fork. Cut into desired shape or rounds.
  6. Place the Scottish shortbreads on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until pale golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle the warm shortbreads with superfine sugar and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Store in an airtight container.

What are some of your family's favorite cookies? Please tell us in the comments below.

Written by: Erin Brown

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Origins and Myths of Thanksgiving

Ahhh, Thanksgiving: togetherness, parades, and tons of turkey (or tofu stuffing). Our team looks forward to celebrating with friends and family each year. But did you know that many of the holiday stories and anecdotes surrounding Thanksgiving are myths? Read on to learn the real origins and traditions of American and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday.

It’s true that the Mayflower brought Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth in 1620. And in 1621, they celebrated a bountiful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by the Wampanoag tribe.

But the origin story for the holiday was established retroactively, in the 1830s. At that time, a 19th-century magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, helped to invent the Thanksgiving we still celebrate. After reading about the 1621 feast, Hale began using it as a model for modern Thanksgiving, publishing recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie in the popular Godey's Lady's Book. She also lobbied Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving an official holiday— and succeeded! According to accounts, Lincoln declared it official in 1863 as a kind of “thank you” to U.S. citizens for their perseverance and bloody Civil War victories, like the battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln recognized that the people needed something positive to celebrate to bring the country together and give the people hope.

It might not be the turkey that’s making you sleepy.

Do you have an uncle who takes a nap after the big meal every year? Well, his drowsiness might have more to do with booze, the overall size of the feast, or even a general feeling of holiday relaxation. Because the level of the organic amino acid, tryptophan, in most Thanksgiving birds isn't responsible for drowsiness. In fact, Many other rich foods—like beef or soybeans—report higher concentrations of the amino acid.

But that isn’t to say you should steer clear. Tryptophan produces other helpful substances, like melatonin, serotonin, and kynurenines. Serotonin affects mood and gives you a boost; melatonin aids in sleep regulation and kynurenines are thought to be immune system regulators. So, eat up. And treat yourself to a nap, regardless of the reason.

Squanto’s whole history was rather bleak.

Tisquantum, known as Squanto, was indeed a significant figure in the establishment of the colonies. He and his people, the Patuxet—a part of the Wampanoag tribe—previously lived on the Pilgrims’ settlement. He generously acted as a translator and diplomatic aid to the New Englanders as they began trading with the indigenous people. And he also taught the Pilgrims the proper way to plant crops and showed them where to fish.

However, that story doesn’t have such happy beginnings. The English captured Squanto 1614 and later sold him into slavery in Spain. At one point, he traveled back to England and learned to speak English. And finally, in 1619, he returned to his homeland, only to find the entire Patuxet tribe had been wiped out by smallpox. He then met the Pilgrims a few years later. So, at the time of the “First Thanksgiving,” his tribe was gone. But he used his skills to help the new settlers.

American and Canadian Thanksgiving fall during different Autumn months.

Canadian Thanksgiving already happened this year; it fell on Monday, October 8th, which was Columbus Day in the United States. American Thanksgiving will be on Thursday, November 22nd. So what’s the reason for the staggered dates? One possibility: because Canada is farther north, harvest comes earlier, which calls for an October celebration instead.

In Canada, Thanksgiving represents a spiritual holiday giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. In the U.S., we claim to celebrate the pilgrims’ feast with indigenous people, even if that’s not the whole story, while Canadians view Thanksgiving as a more culturally-neutral event. But plenty of Canadian historical dates coincide with the holidays. For example, when Canada was colonized, celebrations tended to mark Martin Frobisher’s successful crossing in 1578 or even war victories.

Did you know these surprising Thanksgiving facts?

I’ll have to admit, we were pretty shocked by some of the true origins of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the version we were taught in school doesn’t represent the whole truth? Maybe the positive takeaway is that we don’t need to feel obligated or bound by traditions that don’t suit us. Transform your holiday and fill it with rituals that makes sense to your family. What kinds of traditions do you celebrate? Sound off in the comments section below.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Navigating Black Friday and Holiday Sales to Get the Most for Your Family

According to statistics, Americans plan to spend $59.57 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this year. And while much has been written about the need for Americans to curtail excess consumerism, for many people, especially working and middle-class families, Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent the only time of the year when they can afford to make big purchases. And not all of these purchases are frivolous. Some of the big-ticket items include mattresses, computers, Christmas presents, and entertainment for the kids. In a rough economy, many families have no choice but to brave the malls despite the stress, noise, and crowds.

We’re here to help make the process a little easier! How can you get the most bang for your buck without losing your sanity? Read on to find out our tips for getting the most out of the holiday sales.

Determine your budget.

Even with the impressive sales, shopping on Black Friday doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up spending within your means. Before opening your wallet, decide how much you can actually afford to spend, and stick to that number. Yes, that fancy new leather purse would go perfectly with your wardrobe, but pause before you buy. Don’t splurge at the detriment of quality of life and put it on a credit card. Determine which friends and family you plan to shop for, and then follow these tips:

Make a list. Check it twice.

Before you jump into the fray, make sure you’ve made a list of everything you want to buy. If it’s helpful, divide your list into two columns: needs and wants. A replacement dishwasher might go into the “needs” category along with school shoes for the kids and a family computer. While in the “wants” column, you might jot down items like a flat-screen TV, a new curling iron, or a high-tech cooler for camping trips. The key is to figure out who has the best deals ahead of time and plan your attack. From tech to clothes, many websites list the best sales to expect. So start plotting!

Some of the best deals happen on Cyber Monday.

You may not need to spend hours trying to find parking after all! Many retailers are putting their best deals up on Cyber Monday, meaning you can surf from the privacy of your couch (or your office during lunch). Check out this list of Cyber Monday sales, from big box retailers and online outlets. According to some websites, deals are already happening.

Pause. Breathe. Reflect.

Do you get a rush from online shopping? You’re not alone. And you may attribute that euphoric feeling to the purchase of a new item. However, studies show that dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, meaning you can actually get that rush just by window shopping.

So, put your wishlist items in your shopping cart, enjoy the dopamine boost, and then decide whether or not you can afford to buy it. If it’s the right choice, it will still be there ten minutes later, after you’ve made yourself a cup of tea or walked around the block.

Check out Canada’s “Black Friday” on the day after Christmas.

Canadians and Americans can take advantage of each other’s big sales days by purchasing from each other’s companies online. In Canada, you probably won’t find department stores flooded with people the day after Thanksgiving the way they are in the United States.

In fact, Canadians’ big shopping day, also known as Boxing Day, falls on the 26th of December and is recognized as a holiday. It may have taken its name from a U.K. tradition in which heads of the household boxed gifts for their servants. It’s also a day when stores hope to liquidate gifts that didn’t get sold as holiday presents. And many big-box stores participate.

Couldn’t afford to buy that fancy toy set for your kids at market price? Try searching the web for holiday sales in Canada. If you need to take advantage of a day-after-Christmas sale, consider printing out a picture of the gift for kids or family members to unbox on Christmas morning.

What’s your game plan for Black Friday shopping this year?

Do you have any tried and true strategies? Please share your tips with us! Let’s shop smarter together.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Channel the Sugar Rush into Physical Fitness with These Post-Halloween Activities

Halloween is one of the most festive times of the year--a time to dress up as our favorite characters, indulge your sweet tooth, and celebrate with family and friends. But even amidst the frivolity, it’s also important to maintain healthy habits, especially when consuming an above-average amount of sweets.

Studies show a correlation between an excess of sugar and health risks in children and teenagers. In fact, in a fairly recent recommendation from the American Heart Association, experts recommended that children consume less than six teaspoons of added sugars per day. Now, obviously, moderation is key. And of course, it’s okay for children to satisfy their cookie and candy cravings every now and then. But when it comes to healthy eating, too much of a good (read: delicious) thing can quickly become bad news for your health.

So how does one strike a balance? One way to mitigate the sugar rush is to channel that spike into positive physical exercise and burn off some excess energy. Read on for our favorite autumnal activities.

Play a fun game of “Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Ghost.”

A riff off of the classic game “Duck, Duck, Goose,” children will delight in playing this Halloween-themed update, taking turns and chasing one another around the circle, attempting to tag their peers. This is a great game because it can be modified to accommodate large and small groups.

If a large group of children is participating, consider designating two children to be “it.” This modification heightens the excitement, elevating the game to “challenge mode.” Kids burn more energy, and older kids can participate without getting bored.

Go on a nature hike and enjoy the fall leaves - and use them in your crafts.

This time of year can be absolutely breathtaking. The trees are ablaze with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. And the crisp fall weather invites you and your kids to dust off the sweaters and windbreakers and go hiking. And while you’re on the trail, fun hiking leaf collecting and craft opportunities abound. Some of our favorites?

Encourage children to collect their favorite leaves and use them for craft projects later. With some creativity and a few craft supplies, kids can make neat gifts and room decor items like these leaf coasters or autumn leaf mason jar candle holders. Fall leaves can also be used as stamps for their artwork or help kids get fancy with it by attempting these clay leaf bowls. Seriously, Pinterest is full of neat crafts for you to attempt with your kids.

Visit your favorite park and burn off some energy!

Shocker! We’re suggesting a day at the park. But there are several reasons why fall at the park is a wonderful idea, one of which is the moderate temperatures. Kids can run around for hours, exploring climbers and slides and other challenging activities, without the fear of them getting overheated. This means they can play for longer stretches and burn off that sugar buzz! Now is the time to visit new parks that feature balance beams, obstacle courses, and dramatic play activities that encourage physical exertion.

Go on a Jack-o-Lantern Walk

When it comes to fun holiday decorations, Halloween is almost as festive as Christmas with the colorful lights, pumpkins, and spooky yard displays dotting neighborhoods all over. So, why not take advantage of the sights and go on a family hike to see the local haunts, literally?

After-dusk walks can be risky if kids are flying solo, but they make a wonderful activity when parents can act as chaperones. Consider taking the family on a ramble through the most decked out neighborhoods. Take in the sights, play “name-that-jack-o-lantern,” and get inspiration for your own pumpkin carving and Halloween decorating. Bonus: Halloween neighborhood walks provide frighteningly good photo ops for the whole family.

What are some of your favorite Halloween outdoor activities? Leave them in the comments below.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tips for Having a Safe and Happy Halloween

For kids, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year. Who doesn’t love eating candy, playing dress up, and hanging out with friends and family on a brisk, Autumn afternoon?

But as always at, safety comes first -- on the playground and during the holidays. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our best tips for keeping your Halloween safe, relaxed, and drama free. Because the only scary thing about trick-or-treating should be the costumes!

Plan Your Route in Advance

Leave little to chance by tracking your course ahead of time. When planning your walk, consult online resources that profile an area’s crime rates and browse “offender” lists. Consider visiting neighborhoods where you have family and friends, and focus on walking routes that are well lit with good visibility. (i.e., avoid houses that are tucked away off the road, or places with poorly-lit porches.)

If your kids are older and venturing out on their own, rehearse their route with them beforehand. Ask them to repeat it back to you if necessary. And arm them with as many resources as possible, including maps, phones, and flashlights.

If children are planning to stay close to home, and you’re friendly with your neighbors, work together to organize a fun route of friendly houses. Fun activities include leaving a “clue” at each house for kids to collect. In the end, children will assemble the clues to decode a hidden message or win a special prize.

Have an Allergy? Look for Teal Pumpkins

These cheerful, gem-toned pumpkins mean the house is allergy friendly. If any of your kiddos with allergies need extra incentive to hold off on candy until the very end after a parent has inspected the stash, promise a small prize in exchange for their good behavior and patience.

Be Mindful of Packaging

Only allow children to eat pre-packaged snacks. And make sure to check kids’ bag of loot before they dig in. That way, you can inspect the candy for tears and throw out things that might be compromised.

Sure, that apple or orange might seem like a healthy alternative, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Have fruit and other grocery-bought fresh snacks handy; throw them in a decorative bowl on the kitchen table. And feel free to compost the fruit from strangers.

Be Prepared and Pack the Essentials

Before kids go out, designate a parent to bring the safety gear. An accompanying adult should pack a kit of essentials in a backpack, purse, or jack-o-lantern sack. (Pro tip: your safety pack can be decorated to coordinate with your costume.) Remember to bring flashlights, plenty of water, and a first-aid kit. If anyone in your group has a severe allergy or asthma, include inhalers and EpiPens, too. And finally, since you’ll want to inspect most of the candy before kids eat it, feel free to bring some sweet treats of your own to tide them over.

Adjust Costumes for Safety

Add reflective tape to costumes, trick-or-treat bags, and wagons. And watch out for unruly accessories. For example, if a wand, sword, cane, or staff is part of your kid’s costume, make sure that it’s not too long or pointed on the end. A child could get hurt if they trip or fall, or accidentally hurt somebody else. And as always, be wary of anything with a drawstring. It is all too easy for it to catch on something and pose a hazard.

Use the Buddy System

Cross the street as a group. And make sure everyone in the group is accounted for before leaving for another neighborhood. If there is an even number of children in your group, assign each person a trick-or-treating partner. If there’s an uneven number, create a group of three. Do a head count every so often to make sure nobody gets left behind.

Go Out Before Sunset

Pick a window of time when it’s still light out. It’s a lot easier to keep track of your tiny ghouls and goblins when you can do a quick visual headcount. Block out an hour or two to trick-or-treat, and then head back home to enjoy your spoils!

What are your best Halloween safety tips?

We want to hear from you. What works for your family? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Easy and Affordable DIY Halloween Costumes for Any Budget

Sometimes, half of the fun in assembling a Halloween costume comes from creating a unique ensemble composed of upcycled and reimagined materials. And as an added bonus, making a costume allows you to bond with your child and engage your imaginations together, providing lots of quality together time.

There are a lot of benefits to the DIY approach; making your own costume can be more environmentally sustainable because you’re reusing clothes already in the waste stream. And the process gives you a chance to reevaluate your closet or dress-up drawer. I mean, who doesn’t love a walk down memory lane? (When was the last time I wore that leather jacket?!)

In the spirit of the fast-approaching spooky holiday, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite DIY costumes from around the web with tips for dressing your little trick-or-treater in a dynamite outfit, no matter what your budget.

Never underestimate the power of cardboard boxes.

Free, abundant, and versatile, we love cardboard boxes as a costume staple. (If you don’t have any at home, take a trip to your nearest recycling center to pick up some free cardboard.)

This article from Buzzfeed is chalk full of great costume ideas centered around cardboard boxes. Kids can dress up as a box of popcorn, a lego person, Steve from the game Minecraft, or a hot air balloon! Follow the instructions to copy one of these ideas, or use them as inspiration to create your own look. After all, rectangles are all around us! So think outside the box. (Pun very much intended!)

“Zombify” an outfit that’s already in your child’s closet.

Take an everyday outfit and make it “spooky” with the help of some face paint, glue, and monster makeup. Think zombie school kid, undead little league pitcher, or skeleton ballerina. Remember, before using a specialty face makeup, test a patch on the back of your child’s hand to make sure they aren’t allergic or sensitive. And have plenty of baby wipes and gentle face wash handy to correct any mistakes.

Organize a costume swap, plan ahead, or get creative with costume sources.

Consider swapping with friends to re-use pre-made costumes from yesteryear. Or raid your local Goodwill and Salvation Army. Have a bunch of kids in your family or friend group? Devise a group costume based on things the kids already have!

Another great resource to tap into? Parents’ private groups on Facebook. Also, check with family members (maybe Grandma has Dad’s old letterman’s jacket in a closet somewhere), scour garage sales during the summers, peruse eBay, or visit party supplies stores at the end of Halloween season, when they sell costumes at a steep discount.

Accessorize for a quick and reusable costume.

Little details can take an everyday outfit from drab to fab with little money and effort. Everybody knows a pair of cat ears and some eyeliner-drawn whiskers transform black tights and a t-shirt into an adorable kitty cat.

Apply this same principle to less traditional animals and characters. For example, a baggy sweatshirt, homemade ears, and drawn on features can instantly turn your kid into a bunny rabbit, fox, puppy, or pig! Use cheap eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick from the dollar store in lieu of expensive face paint and other novelty, pricey makeup.

Or, a string of pearls and a pair of oversized sunglasses can take a sweet dress from a formal look to that of a glamorous movie star. An old-timey cap worn with a pair of overalls and a handkerchief scream toddler train conductor. With the help of a few key accessories, kids can tap into their creative potential, while keeping your budget intact.

When DIY isn’t the right option for you.

Remember, DIY isn’t always cheaper, especially if you’re investing in hair dye and face paint. But be mindful that those items can be reused, which might save you money down the road if your kids play dress up a lot. However, sometimes buying a costume from a big box store IS the most affordable and time-saving solution; so, consider what’s right for your family, and do what works for you!

And if all else fails…

A broom and a pointed hat create a classic look and are available pretty much everywhere. When in doubt, go with what you know.

What Halloween costumes have you made with your kids? Do you have a favorite? Leave your Halloween inspiration in the comments below.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Five Tips for a Healthier Halloween

Ah, the smell of fall leaves and hot apple cider. What could be more perfect than a cozy October afternoon? Fall is traditionally a time for chai and cookies and decadent Halloween treats.

But with a little bit of planning, you can retain the sweetness of the autumnal season while cutting back on the sugar-rich goodies and investing in your family’s health. Read on to find out tips for planning a healthier, more vibrant fall.

One: Invest in Healthier Pre-packaged Halloween Snacks

By now, we’ve all internalized the importance of giving out prepackaged foods to trick-or-treaters. It is, by far, the safer option, and it gives children and parents the peace of mind they need to actually enjoy their loot.

So why not opt for healthier bags of your favorite snacks? Pick prepackaged goodies that favor organic ingredients and have fewer allergens. (If someone in your family suffers from an allergen, look for houses sporting teal pumpkins in the yard. It’s a sign that the home is allergy-friendly.) Also, when choosing treats, hunt for yummy items that are low in sugar, dyes, and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Search for treats like Halloween Pretzels prewrapped in small bags, individually-wrapped dried fruit or fruit snack pouches, and whole-grain treats.

If buying healthy items in bulk doesn’t work for your budget, encourage your kids to fill up on healthy treats before they go out trick-or-treating. For example, check out these clementines decorated to look like pumpkins or spooky spiders, which can be made to be nut free. If you make healthy eating fun and engaging, kids will never miss the processed stuff.

Two: Give Out Non-Edible Treats

Not thrilled about buying yet another jumbo-sized bag of candy this year? Consider giving out different types of goodies instead. Parents can hand out crafts and non-edibles like Halloween- themed erasers, packs of crayons, or free printable coloring book pages.

Or, raid your change drawer and give out money. Kids will be thrilled to have pennies, dimes, and nickles to save for things they want. By finding alternatives, you’ll help kids expand their creativity and give them a fun activity to do while snacking on their spoils.

Three: Get Moving with a Halloween Hike or Scavenger Hunt

Get your steps in and engage kids with physical activity by organizing a Halloween hike! The more “characters,” the more fun it will be, so consider working with fellow parents to create a game or scavenger hunt for kids.

Plant spooky clues and dress up as your favorite villains, ushering groups of kids to their next checkpoint on the trail. Organize the hike with Halloween-themed maps or as a “Gold Rush” type game.

Remember, make sure kids use the buddy system. And consider working with your local park or trail to create an interactive experience. Or, if using a public space isn’t an option, do the same thing in somebody’s backyard. Kids will get exercise, think creatively, and meet new friends. Plus, interactive games help them develop problem-solving skills and give children a chance to practice teamwork.

Four: Save Some Candy for Later

Sure, let kids enjoy some of their hard-earned candy! But as a compromise, give them a set number of pieces to eat, requiring them to save the rest for later. This way, you’ll avoid stomach aches, quell an extreme sugar rush, and extend the fun over the course of days or weeks. Who doesn’t love an extended Halloween celebration?

Kids can take a piece of candy to school with them in their lunch each day, or eat one when they come home from school as an afternoon treat. Doling out candy slowly will help teach kids essential skills like moderation, balance, and delayed gratification.

Five: Start a New Healthy Tradition

There are lots of fun activities that don’t involve candy at all. Consider taking your kids pumpkin carving, apple picking, or on a haunted hayride. They’ll make memories to last a lifetime, and look forward to the special tradition every year. By centering the fun around experiences rather than treats, you’ll be making Halloween memorable and healthy at the same time.

How are you planning to make Halloween healthier in your home? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fall Activities

Fall is upon us and with it a plethora of delightful fall-specific activities. This is the time of year when the weather is cool enough to wear a jacket, but warm enough still to sometimes get by with just a t-shirt instead. The perfect time for families to be together outdoors. We’ve gathered a list of some popular activities for you to look for in your area to celebrate the changing of the season.

Pumpkin and Apple Picking

One of the quintessential activities for fall is pumpkin or apple picking. Going to the pumpkin patch gives children a chance to pick their own pumpkin to be decorated or carved for Halloween. Before picking the perfect pumpkin, make sure to check out these tips from The Kitchn to make your Jack-o-Lantern last longer.

Orchards are almost as American a pastime as the apple pies that come from the apples there. Remember, an orchard is often more than apple picking: it’s cider, hayrides, and lots of unrealized physical activity for children.

Football/Soccer Games

Whether it's a high school or game, no one can argue otherwise. Fall is for football. Another game that has steadily grown in popularity in America is soccer. There’s a game almost every weekend and most large cities have at least one local team to watch. So, have a tailgate party, a barbeque or just hang out around the tube and enjoy a game or two.

Local Festivals

Since autumn is when the weather is crisp and cool, it’s the perfect time of year for festivals. Check out your local area for fun festivals to take your children to. There is normally a large variety of different festivals as well. From music to food, there is something for everyone. They’re normally only a few bucks per child, and offer lots of fun in unexpected ways.

Historical Villages

There’s always room for a little history in the fall. Historical villages are normally rife with activities that are specific to the Nation’s history. This is also a way to take children out and nature away from electronics for a few hours.

For those of you in the Indianapolis area, this is the time of year to take your child to Conner Prairie. They will get to experience what early days in colonial America were like and might even like it.

Camping and Hiking

Most people think of summer as the time to camp, but really, early fall is the time to go. The days are warm, they’re less busy and the trails are quiet. Even if you don’t go stay for the evening, it can be a good day trip to a local, state, or national park. Just make sure to check the park ahead of time to make sure you know when they close for the winter.

These are some of our fall favorites, but what are yours?

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Saving on Team Sports

Last week, we discussed some fun outdoor games that can be played as alternatives to increasingly expensive team sports. This week, we’ll discuss some ways that you can lower the cost of team sports to better fit your price range.

Hand Me Downs

This tip works especially well with families that have multiple children that share similar interests. To get the most out of this tip you need to do the following:

  • Plan.
  • If you know that all of your children want to play the same sport, you can start by buying good quality items for the first child and then handing them down. This is only with sharable items like balls, bats, gloves, shorts, jerseys and the like. For more personal pieces of equipment, like mouth guards, shin guards, and cups, you should plan to buy a new one for each child.
  • Teach them basic equipment care. Equipment lasts a lot longer if it is properly cared for. Some equipment needs to be aired out after each use, some needs to be hand washed instead of machine washed, and some even needs special oils. Learn how to take care of your children’s equipment so that you can teach them. And then the hand me downs will last even longer!
  • Reward keeping items in good condition. Anyone that has come from a large family knows that there is always a Pig Pen or destroyer in every bunch. If one child, even if it is the oldest, consistently destroys their equipment, make them the receiver of the hand-me-downs and the other child(ren) get the better quality gear that year. Even if it’s just one small item, it will make the other children feel valued and the destroyer will learn that there are benefits to taking care of their equipment.Anyone that has come from a large family knows that there is always a Pig Pen or destroyer in every bunch. If one child, even if it is the oldest, consistently destroys their equipment, make them the receiver of the hand-me-downs and the other child(ren) get the better quality gear that year. Even if it’s just one small item, it will make the other children feel valued and the destroyer will learn that there are benefits to taking care of their equipment.

Equipment Exchanges

A close relative to the Hand Me Down strategy, you can exchange equipment. Maybe Suzy didn’t like basketball and wants to try soccer and Sam didn’t like soccer and wants to try basketball. You can save some money by having Sam and Suzy trade equipment if they want to try the other sports. If you have enough of a group, children can try different sports over time.

Buy Second-Hand

There are lots of places to get second hand equipment: yard sales, pawn shops, and some sports stores just to name a few. Second-hand immediately lowers the cost and at times, it is almost as good as new.

Ask for Alternative Payment Methods

Spring and summer are always interesting times of year because its when you see the most team car washes. Car washes and bake sales are not the only ways to make money for your child to play a sport. Sometimes, there are ways to volunteer for events to pay fees and purchase equipment for your child. Another popular way to pay is an exchange of services. Some people pay for sports and musical lesson by exchanging babysitting services or lawn maintenance services. Your child may even be able to pay for their own equipment and fees in this way teaching them more about responsibility. Never hesitate to ask, because they just might have a way for you to pay other than cash.

Sign Up Early

Planning ahead is almost always essential to save money. Generally, there will be an early admission cost that is lower than signing up later.

Have Your Child Try it Before You Sign Them Up

This is probably the best way to help your children learn to be savvy spenders. As an adult, you often learn the true value of a dollar, which can be deduced to time spent at work. You’re much less willing to go out and buy the best equipment for a sport if there’s a risk that you might go to one practice and hate it. There’s several ways to get children to try out sports:

  • PE and Gym Classes. That’s right, have them try it out at school! The PE curriculum is designed to build many different muscles groups and skills as well as introducing children to many different sports. If they come home from school after the unit on bowling and want to play, you can always try the next tip before you spend on a sport.
  • Try it as a Family. You can always go outside with a kick the ball around together to find out if they like soccer, set up a night to go bowling if that’s what they’re in to, or just borrow a baseball and bat to play together.
  • Look for Local Events. There are often community groups that host little events or are willing to let you try a game for free.

Team Sports are Possible!

There are definite advantages to playing team sports that are difficult to replicate in an individual setting. As with almost any financial investment, it is worthwhile to take the time to calculate the costs, both in time and money, before taking the plunge in signing up for team sports.

How did you start playing in team sports? Does your family have any ways that they cut costs? Did your family growing up have any tricks to making it more affordable? We’d love to hear them!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When Team Sports Hike Their Cost -- Take a Hike!

Fall is coming, and with it the pressure as a parent to enroll your child in team sports. Where this used to be a small fee to have your child involved, it has become a huge strain and burden on most families. The cost of sports involvement has skyrocketed over the years to costing in the thousands of dollars per year. One blogger, Stats Dad, posted his personal costs for his family on his blog. The results paint a clear picture as to why it costs so much. An article published by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play shows that the kids being most hurt are those from low income families. What makes this even worse is that the children that need access to the benefits of team sports the most are the ones with the least opportunity to engage in them.

What happened to free play and exercise? Often times the suggestions include individual sports like golf (expensive), martial arts (very expensive), and horseback riding (MEGA expensive), which are inaccessible to many students, especially for those in city areas. There are local clubs and groups available to play team sports as well, but those aren’t always an option for everyone.

So what can we do as a community? We’ve put together a few ideas together to help you get started with some affordable outdoor activities in your local area.

Group Play

Games like tag, Mother May I?, and even just kicking a ball around to a game of their own making can present children with lots of benefits. They are still cooperating with others and learning basic social skills, and the best part is that a lot of these things are free! If you coordinate with other parents in the area you can each take a turn making sure children are safe, helping everyone involved. Here’s a few ideas to try with a few neighborhood kids:

  • Tag/Freeze Tag
  • Mother May I?
  • Jump Rope/Double Dutch - Click here for a list of jump rope rhymes!
  • Spud! - The rules are simple and the game goes fast.
  • Kickball - While this is normally needs a larger area, it can be adapted for a smaller area.
  • Badminton - This is particularly good because the “birdie” doesn’t fly very far and doesn’t move very fast. Also, you can get equipment fairly cheaply.
  • Hiking - click here
  • to read about some of the benefits that come from hiking!
  • Check out our Blast from the Past: Classic Yard Games to Play Today for even more ideas!

Individual Sports

There are many low cost sports that are individual. Even using a jump rope on their own presents a child with many physical benefits. Try out a few of these ideas:

  • Rollerblading/skating
  • Jump rope
  • Bicycling
  • Skateboarding
  • Scootering
  • Basketball *If you have a hoop at home*

School Sports

While school sports may have some fees, they tend to be significantly less than joining an outside team or group. Most times the school provides the uniforms (one less cost) and some of the equipment (yet another cost). This actually makes playing a team sport doable for children.

Sometimes, in addition to more traditional sports teams, there are athletic clubs. I remember doing a fitness class with my 7th grade science teacher along with several other students. I still smile when I think back on it, and it didn’t cost my parents anything.

Spend Wisely on Team Sports

I try to offer you many alternatives to team sports, but some sports are only team sports. If you look at this list and know your child definitely MUST play basketball or baseball or soccer, there are ways to make it more affordable. Next week, we’ll delve more deeply into ways to save if your child wants to do a team sport.

What are some alternatives to team sports that you have tried? Sound off in the comments below!!!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fall Crafts for Kids

These autumn crafts will keep kids engaged and warm on blustery days. Because sometimes making crafts indoors and sipping cocoa is preferable to playing outside! Read on for our list of favorite fall crafts.

Acorn Handprint Art

This lovely craft from Crafty Morning is easy for teachers and parents to replicate, requires very few supplies, and garners adorable results that are most definitely fridge-worthy.

For this project, you’ll need:

  • Paint in a variety of browns, earth tones, and neutrals
  • A paintbrush
  • Heavy cardstock or construction paper

To create: Invite children to paint their hands in a color that matches their skin tone. Next, ask them to plant their hands on a piece of paper, so that you collect a well-outlined handprint. After that, flip it upside down and use either brown paint or a marker to draw the acorn tops. Easy and sweet!

Pumpkin Apple Stamps

What’s better than pumpkins? Pumpkins made from apples! This sweet craft from Frugal Mom Eh! is easy, eco-friendly, and, naturally, inexpensive.

What you’ll need:

  • Apples sliced in half
  • Orange and green craft paint
  • Brushes (optional)
  • Paper Plates
  • White Paper

To get started, parents can dry sliced apples inside and out. Using a paper plate or a strong piece of scrap construction paper, squeeze out some orange and green paint. Repurposing the inside of the apple as a stamp, dip your apple into the orange paint, making sure it’s completely covered. Stamp it on the white paper. Press down with medium pressure, lift up directly, and voila! A pumpkin! Finally, using a paintbrush and green paint -- or a green marker -- create a stem. Repeat the process all over the piece of paper for a fun pumpkin collage!

Leaf Brigade

Kids will delight at this charming craft: creating leaf people! The festive fall craft is from the people at My Mommy Style.

For this project, you’ll need:

  • Leaves of all shapes and colors
  • White paper or construction paper
  • Glue
  • Googly eyes and markers

This is a great project because collecting the required materials doubles as a fun outdoor activity. Go on a walk through the yard or neighborhood park to collect some pretty fall leaves. Next, bring them home and let them dry. After that, find some computer paper or construction paper and assemble your supplies, along with the leaves, on a table. Encourage kids to create their own leaf characters, complete with heads, torsos, arms, and legs. Once kids have crafted a leaf person they’re happy with, help them glue it to the paper and add googly eyes and marker details.

Cue Tip Skeletons

This one is a favorite! Help kids craft skeletons that go bump in the night with just a few materials.

You’ll need:

  • Cue tips
  • Black construction paper
  • White paper and a black marker
  • Glue

Kids can follow the pattern here to create their own skeleton. Then, have them draw a skeleton head. Encourage them to express their creativity. They can also use a picture of their face for the skeleton head. Finally, glue all of the pieces onto a piece of black construction paper. Spooky and crafty!

Paper Plate Jack-o-Lanterns

This Halloween-inspired craft from The Simple Parent is cheap, cheerful, and oh-so-easy to make.

To make this one, you’ll need:

  • Paper plates
  • Orange and black markers or paint
  • Green pipe cleaners
  • A hole punch

First, have your kids completely color their paper plate orange. Next, encourage them to draw a face on their pumpkin with a black or dark-colored marker. After that, punch a hole in the top of the plate for them, so that they can thread and twist the green pipe cleaner through the hole. Shape the pipe cleaner into curlicues to add some festive fun!

Stamp Trees

This craft is similar to the apple pumpkin stamps. Combine this project with the last to create a whole fall scene using upcycled materials. Using the same paints from the previous craft, create stamp “trees” from bent toilet paper rolls.

For this craft, you’ll need:

  • One or more toilet paper rolls
  • Paper plates
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • A tree template (optional)
  • Construction paper or white paper

First, invite kids to draw the outline of a tree, or find a blank tree template online. Next, squirt paint colors onto paper plates. Yellow, orange, and red are great fall hue choices. After that, encourage children to dip their bent toilet paper rolls into the paint and stamp them onto the branches to make leaves. They can either fill in the leaves using paint brushes or leave them as-is for a unique aesthetic.

Candy Corn Flower Art

Delicious and easy, this craft from the Resourceful Mama has us excited for Halloween.

For this fall craft, you’ll need:

  • Candy corn
  • Construction paper
  • More green pipe cleaners
  • Glue (A hot glue gun is best. Offer to help children glue on their petals)
  • Marker or buttons for the flower’s center
  • Scissors

First, encourage children to lay out their flower pattern. Once kids know where they want to place the flowers, help them hot glue a button or draw a circle to form the flower’s center. Next, glue on the candy corn “petals” so that the white tips are touching the center. Repeat these steps for the rest of the flowers. Now, using pipe cleaners, create stems and petals and glue them onto the paper! Simple and cheerful fall flowers.

What are some of your favorite fall crafts? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones