Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Kid-Friendly and Family Activities For Winter

Wondering about what do with your kids now that winter weather has finally arrived?  Here are a few suggestions of local activities to help!

1.   Parent Talk membership perks --  Don't forget your free or discounted access to numerous fun activities and events.  Along with PT's upcoming February free family swim at Goldfish Swim School, you can take advantage of discounts to fun places like Jump 'N Slide and free museum passes to Boston Children's Museum, New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo.

Improv Boston's Face OffPhoto credit: Ryan Kelly Coil.

 2. Boston Nature Center  -- Stories, crafts, and indoor nature activities are offered for several Tuesdays in January and February for kids aged 3 though 6.   Outdoor exploration is offered for kids aged 5 through 9 during school vacation.  Other area wildlife sanctuaries in the area to visit include Stonybrook Wildlife Reservation, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary, and Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary.

3.  Children's Museum in Easton --  Face painting and arts and crafts, along with pretend play with an archaeological dig, spaceship, train, fire truck and farmer's market are all located on three levels of a converted old fire station in a North Easton neighborhood.  Outside, there is a children's garden for milder temperatures.

4.  Ice skating at Frog Pond -- No list of winter activities could be complete without a mention of this Boston tradition!

"Frog Pond at Boston Commons" by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

5.  Skiing/snowboarding/snowtubing -- Blue Hills, Nashoba Valley, Wachusett are a few local places to hit the slopes.

6.   Snowshoeing -- This can be a great, simple activity to do with the littlest ones.  The skill set needed is less complicated than other winter sports, as it basically involves walking in big shoes!

7.  Sledding -- Opportunities for finding a nice, gentle slope abound in the Metrowest.  Check out's 40 great places to sled around Boston.

8.  Build a snowman and/or make a snow angel.

Snowman inspired by "A Stranger in the Woods" by Jim Sorbie

9.   Vacation programs/camps -- Exxcel Camps offer gymnastics, climbing, bungee, zip line, arts and crafts, games and circus art.  Hale Reservation offers both outdoor and indoor activities.  LINX offers a variety of activities over the February school vacation as well. 

10.   Snow painting -- Fill a squirt bottle with water and a few drops of food coloring, head outdoors, then squirt as you please in the snow to create some unique art.

11.  Indoor hide and seek  -- When temperatures are too cold to be out, playing hide-and-seek in the house with my three year old is sure to bring out peals of laughter, especially because we convert it into a game of tag once he finds me.

12.  Prepare a meal together followed by a movie  -- Everyone can get involved in dinner preparation before a family movie night.  Personal pizzas and build-your-own tacos can be fun and easy to prepare with individual tastes.  Salads are also quick, easy, and preparation is kid-friendly with washing, drying, and assembling various components.  End dinner with a bake-in-microwave mug cake for dessert while you sit back to enjoy a movie together.

"Parent-child cooking" by Alan Wat

13.  Family game night -- Tumbling tower games come in various sizes and types and can be fun for all ages.

14.  Staycation  --  Book a couple of days at local hotel and take a break from cooking, cleaning, and reminders of the long list of household tasks that await at home.  Meanwhile, you get room service, housekeeping, a heated pool, spa, massage and local touring in a new environment.  Getting out of the house, even locally, can give you a break from the daily grind.  My family has enjoyed staying at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, which I view as having five-star service and amenities in a low-key, non-fussy, relaxing environment.  We even brought our dog, under a pet-friendly policy.

15.  Improv Boston's Family Show -- This show is recommended for families with children aged 4 through 12.  Each Saturday, improv comedians create a fun show based on audience suggestions.

For more ideas, check out 11 Cold Weather Activities for Children that are Practically Free and
Keeping Kids Entertained in Cold Weather.  Enjoy the season!

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK Day and Nurturing Service in Your Kids

"Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve."
                                                  --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Day, with its powerful message of friendship and peace, makes this January an ideal time for your family to learn about serving others.  But putting principles into action and teaching kids to focus on others can be challenging!

"2011 MLK Day of Service in Hartford, CT" by Dannel Malloy


1.  Explain that, after holiday presents have been played with and new clothes have been worn, we can remove the older things that are no longer exciting.  When donating the old, we make space for the new.  It's a great way to make a fresh start in our closets and playrooms!

2.   Discuss how cold it is and how some people don't have warm clothing or winter coats.  Tread lightly here.  Kids can become anxious after hearing stories about other kids who don't have basic necessities.  You might say, "The only clothes in their closet are from a few years ago, so let's give them new things to keep them cozy!"

3.  Show your kids the statistic that around 30% of all annual giving happens in December, at least for one online giving platform (so it might be true in other cases of giving, too).  In January, there is an enormous drop in those online donations.  Your family can help fill the need in any one of the less charitable months of the year.

4.  Come up with a few New Year's resolutions.  Explain that both positive changes in life and accomplishing personal goals can come about while helping others.

"Resolving to Write More - a Worthy Thought" by Carol VanHook

5.  Talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent action, generosity of spirit, and community service.  Ask your kids how Dr. King might have wanted his birthday celebrated.


1.  Volunteer at Cradles to Crayons.  We took our two older boys (ages 5 and 7) to help at its Giving Warehouse in Brighton.  We had a great time and my sons were determined to make sorting clothes into a competitive sport!  It was a gentle, hands-on way of introducing my kids to the concept that we, unlike others, have more that we need.

2.  Deliver meals to elderly residents.   By taking meals to homebound seniors and without having to leave the comfort of the family car, younger children can feel pride in knowing that they are doing something to serve their community.  Needham's Traveling Meals program is a good place to start.

3.   Visit a senior rehabilitation or long-term care facility.  My dad and I used to deliver mail to elderly residents at the Brookline Health Care Center, and I can still remember the expressions of delight (and candy snuck to me!) when I walked into a room.  Many centers welcome family participation, as the presence of kids can be uplifting.  Newton's Stone Rehabilitation and Senior Center is one place to call.

"Alameda County Community Food Bank" by Ecole Bilingue

4.  Collect food for a food pantry, or help at one.  Older kids might enjoy setting up or taking inventory of donations.  My high school students helped once a month at a church pantry.  It helped them to diminish the feeling of "otherness" of a food pantry shopper.  Younger kids can collect food from your pantry or the grocery store, or help bake a loaf of bread to donate.  Try exploring The Needham Community Council.

5.  Donate a used or newly bought item (maybe that gift you have no use for) to a local charity -- You can donate gently used stuffed animals at Savers in West Roxbury or collect toiletries or baby items to create packages for Circle of Hope.  Or throw a collection party at the next sleep-under/sleep-over, where every guest brings one or two items that your child can give to a charity of her choice.

Afghan children examine donated school supplies in "A bagful of goodies" by ResoluteSupportMedia (crediting U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz). 


1.  A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter (appropriate for ages 8 to 12 or to read with your kids) -- This is a wonderful book written by a close family friend.  McWhorter won the Pulitzer Prize for her epic book about the Civil Rights movement, Carry Me Home.  This children's book explores the various players of the movement in detail at an accessible level.

2.  Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport -- Younger kids will find this introduction to Dr. King's life both engaging and inspiring.

"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King award winning book" by Deb Nystrom, depicting cover of Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport.

3.  A blank journal -- Start a gratitude journal with your kids in the form of a correspondence, writing down things that you are grateful for, and ask your kids to do the same.  You can offer simple prompts on index cards that your kids can pick out every so often.   "What clothes/food/family/
friends/activities are you thankful for today?"

4.  How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer -- My kids looove this book! The authors succeed at making a complicated concept -- brightening others' lives actually brightens your own! -- into a very literal, visual story.

5.  Kid President's The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. video -- There's something powerful about a kid explaining history to other kids.

About the Author
Joanna Noon is a Brookline native who loves living in Needham with her husband and five children.  She worked in education before becoming a stay-at-home mom.  Joanna is a longtime member of Parent Talk and is excited to serve on the Parent Talk Board as Membership Co-Chair.

Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Choose a Summer Camp

There are many reasons why you should send your child to camp this summer.  It may be as simple as needing a good daycare option, or maybe you want your child to put down the iPad and gain some new experiences or friendships.

Campers enjoy splashing in the pond at Hale Reservation.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.

Whatever your reason, camp is a smart choice.  Summer camp has been proven to increase a child's sense of independence and confidence, while also enhancing social skills as children learn to explore a new environment with their peers.  In addition, camps often provide the physical exercise and outlet that children so rarely get these days.  However, with over 12,000 summer camps across the country, how do you know which camp to choose?  Here are a few things to think about when deciding which camp is right for your child.


Begin by asking yourself a few basic questions like:
  • Do I want a rustic, outdoor camp with trekking and exploration of nature?
  • Do I want something indoors with a clean, polished campus feel? 
  • Am I ready for my child to spend the night away for a week or two at a residential camp?
  • Do I want to hear about the day camp experience each night at the dinner table? 
After deciding on a type of program, consider a few more questions about activities, staff, and whether the camp is licensed and accredited.


Ask yourself why you are sending your child to camp.  Do you want your child to have a traditional camp experience, or do you want your child to be the next Serena Williams or David Beckham?  Do you want your son to come home having learned how to swim or make a layup?  Do you want your daughter to explore an artistic side, or learn about robotics?

In the wide world of camp, there are both specialty camps which can help your child develop a skill, and traditional camps which offer a more well-rounded summer experience.  Either way, your child will be stepping out from under your umbrella and experiencing something on his or her own.

This is how to play Gaga Ball.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.


You would not leave your child with the bagger at the grocery store without a thorough background check.  Camp should be no different.  Make sure that the camp you choose completes a criminal background check on all of their employees before they begin working.  Find out what certifications the counselors and instructors have.  All staff at camp should be at least CPR and First Aid certified.

Ask about staff to camper ratios.  If your child is in a very large group overseen by one staffer, it could be time to find another camp.  In general, the younger the campers are, the more supervision they should have.  A quality camp will make sure that your child is supervised by qualified, attentive staffers who will not be distracted by too many other children.

For a day camp, transportation is a very important component that you will probably have to deal with every day.  Find out what are the pick-up and drop-off times and where are the bus stops.   Ask the camp if it offers transportation.  You may need to pay extra for transportation, or some camps will provide transportation free of charge.  In the end, you need to figure out how much your time is worth.  The last thing you want is to be late for work because of the wait in line to drop off your child.

Campers take a break on a long hike.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.


The camp that you choose should at the very least be licensed, meaning that the town or state is verifying that the staff is qualified to watch children, and that the camp is a safe place.

If you want to make sure the camp has been evaluated by experts in the field, choose a camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA).  This guarantees that the camp is held to high standards.  The staff of an ACA camp will be trained for a minimum of 40 hours, compared to other camps that may have little to no training requirement.  All camp staffers are certified.  The staff to camper ratios will be reasonable and ACA camps are visited regularly by ACA officials.

You have already made the first, hard decision just by choosing to send your child to camp.  Now, it's time to figure out which camp is the best fit for you and your family, and then watch your child bloom.

About the Author
Shannon Obey has been the Director of Membership and Events at Hale Reservation for the past four years.  Hale offers a wide variety of summer camp experiences from Traditional Camp to Specialty Camps, and a Family Membership Program.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Parent Talk's 4th Annual Summer Camp Fair will be held Tuesday, January 26, 2016, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Newman Elementary School Cafeteria.  With representatives of 40 camps expected (including Hale Day Camp, Exxcell Gymnastics & Climbing, LINX Camps, Nobles Day Camp, and Summer at Tobin Beaudet) and available to answer your questions, there is a good chance that your family will find a perfect fit.  All attendees will have a chance to win prizes, including camp certificates and one week of free LINX Camps.  Parent Talk members attend for free; nonmembers pay $10.  Advance registration is not required.  The snow date is February 2, 2016.

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