Posts Tagged 'family time'

Chicago with kids: Nonstop fun

Let’s pretend we’re penguins!

My husband and I have a serious travel bug, but we’ve been grounded since having kids. For either cost or reasons lacking courage, we haven’t had it in us to go anywhere far with twins.

But we just got back from Chicago, and I’m so glad we went. The kids had a blast. We had a great time. It was amazing.

We started by driving to New Buffalo, Michigan, then taking an hour-long train ride into the city. The kids thought this was amazing and we thought it was economical and relaxing. For all four of us to take the train round-trip, it was $120. We’d have to pay $50 a day to park in Chicago.

girl at Adler Planetarium exhibit

Mission control at Adler Planetarium

After a short cab ride (another thrill for the kids) to our Airbnb, we set out to explore. My husband did great research and found a reasonably affordable place to stay that was central to what we wanted to see and do, as well as close to public transport. Luckily, the kids are just 5, so they ride for free on city buses and trains. Do your research, though. I thought we’d Uber around with them, but in Illinois, Uber has to abide by car seat laws, which means we’d have to tote their boosters around or pay an additional $10 per seat through Uber. Public transportation such as taxis and buses are considered commercial, so boosters aren’t necessary.

Our first stop was the Field Museum. I was warned that the museum was outdated, stuffy and not too kid-friendly. I found it the exact opposite. Just as we passed through the admission area, a dinosaur walked out — and not a Barney type, either. This guy was impressive! The museum was awesome with lots to look at, touch and do. But take this little bit of advice: Pack your own food. We had a small snack from the café there of three bags of chips, a water and two chocolate milks. Our total was $18.

boy watching two dolphins

Dolphin watching at Shedd Aquarium

The next day, we went to the Shedd Aquarium. It was a blast. From climbing rocks dressed like penguins to seeing the dolphin show and even watching a 4D SpongeBob movie, we all had a great time.

Finally, we headed to the Adler Planetarium. We didn’t spend a ton of time here, but what time we did spend was fun. It was definitely my least favorite of the three; it had a great play area for kids, but the rest of the museum went way over my 5-year-old’s head.

All in all, it was a great trip. I wish we’d been able to experience more of the cuisine, but time for that wasn’t in our favor. I guess we’ll have to go back again!

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer enjoying her newly enhanced mom status and past Parenting Program participant.

Successful solutions for the homebound spring breaker

 

As the weather vacillates from winter to, well, still winter here in Michigan, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to more exciting times. Something must be on the horizon to break up this monotony, one thinks. And indeed, something is coming. No, not the zombie apocalypse.

Spring Break!

At this point in the school year, chances are high that spring break is right around the corner.  Many families use this time to travel – vacationing or visiting family elsewhere. Others, however, remain close to home and fill their time hiding from their children doing fun local activities. You may think, “But what can we do? My town is so boring.” Fear not! There is so much out there that this article won’t be sufficient to capture all of the possibilities.

  • Museums. The Detroit metro area offers several options that are specifically geared toward kids such as the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.
  • Indoor waterparks. Frankenmuth and Sandusky have a variety of fabulous ones. Live across the border? Adventure Bay Family Water Park is right in the heart of downtown Windsor.
  • Aquatic centers. Troy and Warren have indoor facilities.
  • Pottery and painting studios.
  • Zoos. Detroit and Toledo both boast excellent ones.
  • Metroparks and county parks offer hiking, bird watching, and nature centers.
  • Local farms. Lots of baby animals arrive during this time of year.
  • Libraries. Many have programs for younger kids.
  • Gyms. Even if you aren’t a member, many gyms offer day camps for kids whose parents still need to work.
  • Indoor climbing and play centers. Jungle Java and Detroit Kid City are popular choices.
  • Bowling!
  • Movies
  • Mini golf and/or the driving range

If transportation, finances or time are factors, then there is always the tried-and-true, time-honored, parent-approved activity that is sure to please all of the children: chore time! Surely there is a room that needs tidying or some dishes to wash. Many hands make light work, as Ye Olde Saying goes. And the kids sure do like those “Olde” sayings. Before they know it, they’ll be asking to go back to school.

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and former teacher who used to love Spring Break.

Making memories through reading

dad reading to boy and girl

Cropped image. Paul Hamilton, Flickr. CC license.

I’ve been speaking about play and reading to parent groups for many years. I’m not a teacher or reading expert by any means, but it’s been very easy and fun to be an advocate for the importance of reading to (and with) children.

Many of us already know the value of reading and I always ask my groups, “Why should we read to our babies?” The answers are plentiful: brain growth, cognitive connections, vocabulary development, language skills, bonding, fun, etc.

Then I ask another question: “Do you remember being read to as a child?”

Not everyone has such a memory, but those who do often remember the books as well, such as Berenstain Bears, Golden Books, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, etc.

And there is always an obscure title mentioned with a smile and a brief nostalgic nod.

Looking deeper, these memories come from time spent together as child and parent with books at the center. Memories that incorporate books and reading are there for the making! Some fun ideas include:

  • Family trips to the library.
  • Gathering books to donate.
  • Saving an allowance to buy a book.
  • A special book that only grandma reads with them.
  • Planned reading time together, taking turns reading to each other (especially good for older children).
  • Talking about favorite books at dinnertime.
  • A book exchange with neighbors and friends.

It’s hard to predict what memories will linger as we grow into adulthood, but these activities are valuable even if long forgotten.

– Betsy Clancy is a group coordinator for the Beaumont Parenting Program.

Prepare to be “Bowl”ed over

nrg stadium

Cropped image. Urban.houstonian, Flickr. CC license.

The big game. That pinnacle of football achievement. The height of prowess. Best vs. the best. A final chance for the players to exude dominance. A final chance to admire Tom Brady’s form. (The way he throws a football, I mean. Of course that’s what I meant.)

If you’re a football fan, you tune in for the game. You watch as the offense outruns—nay, outsmarts— the defense. You observe the strategy on both sides as tempers flare and celebrations ensue. You analyze the replays with interest and deliver your own verdict on the judgments of the officials. If you’re especially savvy, you can decree with certainty if a player “completed the process of the catch.” This is a thrilling, four-hour competition that will be talked about for decades (or days). Either way it’s still thrilling!

However …

If you have less of a technical interest in the game, and are perhaps only watching because certain loved ones in your life have commandeered the remote leaving you without further recourse, then perhaps these supplemental game day elements may interest you.

Squares. You’ve probably heard of these. If you haven’t, please Google the concept because I thought about explaining it and quickly realized it would put me over my word limit for the article. Just trust me that they’re super fun (super fun! See what I did there?) and cause you to care deeply about those pesky two-point conversions.

Commercials. You’ve probably heard of these, too. Air time during the big game is highly coveted among advertisers; as such, they pay a lot of money for their 30-second slot ($5,000,000 per slot in 2016) and they work hard to make darn sure you’re paying attention to them. The commercials are usually creative masterpieces, some containing catchphrases that are sure to live on in the vernacular of our society for years. Think “Where’s the beef?

Halftime entertainment. If you only have the ability to tune in for a few minutes, try to time your viewing for halftime. Some acts are more memorable than others, but you don’t want to be that person at the watercooler on Monday who missed this year’s wardrobe malfunction display of talent.

Various furry bowls. No, not your toilets at home. I refer to the Kitten and Puppy Bowls airing on the Hallmark Channel and Animal Planet, respectively. If no one in your house is interested in seeing men slam each other into the turf, then turn your attention to the gentle carousing of the feline and canine varieties. The programs are both on earlier in the day, so they make for excellent family friendly viewing.

As that football guy Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” The big game is all about chasing perfection. And catching things. And all of the other excellent aspects of the day. So do try to tune in on February 5.

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and legendary loser at Squares.

My favorite children’s book is …

Little girl reading to her teddy bears

Many of us can remember a favorite book from our childhood. Perhaps it’s one you read again and again. Maybe you’ve even shared it with your own child.

So what is it about a children’s book that sticks with us even as we get older? Sometimes it’s a character who makes us care about him, like Curious George, or one that the reader can relate to for some reason. It could be the illustrations that help bring a story to life. Books can even teach us lessons or concepts; how many of us remember reading “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss? And of course, there are a good number of adults who enjoy reading children’s and young adult literature for the pure enjoyment of the story!

From bedtime books to chapter books for older kids, here are some favorites of our Parenting Program staff and their children.

Bedtime always was time to snuggle in and enjoy a few books together when my kids were little. There were several great ones in the rotation but we always ended with those two. Book stories are melodic and perfectly lulled my littles to sleep. Just hearing the titles conjures wonderful, warm feelings. – Nichole Enerson

This is a very fun book to read with young children. I love the repetition in the words that the children can pick up on and repeat. A beautiful story of exploring the world and making new friends, with a fun surprise at the end, when the cricket actually chirps. – Kelly Ryan

A few years ago I watched my friend’s son, a new dad, read this to his son who wasn’t even a year old. It was a gentle read but with all the appropriate “arrrghs” and expressions. I was touched by the moment and quickly added it to my recommended book list for parents. – Betsy Clancy

This was a favorite book kept at my grandparents’ house. I loved the silly expressions of the two dogs, Fred and Ted, who always did everything opposite of the other. – Becky Bibbs

My kids loved reading these! The books highlight everyday events that children can relate to easily. My kids’ favorite part was turning each page and looking for the carefully hidden critters in the illustrations (e.g., spider, cricket, mouse, frog). For me though, the very best part was the snuggle time. – Deanna Robb

This was a popular favorite for my now 36 and 34 year olds. They still remember the last line, always said with drawn out expression, “and it was stiiiiiilllllll hot!” This was also a favorite of Dad, who was thrilled when I bought him the set of Wild Things figures for his office. He’s just a big kid at heart. – Betsy Clancy

This book tells the tale of a young boy (Max) who after being sent to his room for causing a ruckus, visits an imaginary world filled with wild things that are enamored by his wildness and make him King. He leads them in wild rumpus fun. After becoming lonely, he returns to his home where he eats his dinner. My 3.5-year-old son (King Grayson) absolutely loves this book because it shows that wild energy is what makes you who you are (and can make you a king). It also teaches about a time for fun and a time for family. Every night before Gray goes to bed, he says to me the infamous line from the book, “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.” – Stephanie Babcock

My son and I love reading these books together. Tacky is a penguin that believes in being different from the rest of the colony: Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect. In each book, he saves the day by staying true to who he is and in the end, all the penguins agree that “Tacky is an odd bird, but a very nice bird to have around.” – Becky Bibbs

Before my kids could read on their own, they all loved the silliness of the “Duck” books. They were well illustrated, silly, and fun to read. – Nicole Capozello

I was young. A fat man in a cape and underwear was the epitome of humor. – Hannah Schuele (daughter of Lori Polakowski)

With their mixture of adventure, fantasy and history, these books set the stage for my kids’ love of the fantasy genre, and passion for history. – Nicole Capozello

I loved the adventure Roald Dahl takes the reader on traveling through an enormous peach! I read the book over and over and over again; it filled my imagination with wonderful adventures and helped develop a love for reading. – Anna Paterson

This chapter book had clever word play. Lesson: Stop and smell the roses. – Hailee Schuele (daughter of Lori Polakowski)

This is a funny story of a boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp in the desert, where he is told to dig holes. This was one of my favorite childhood books — not only for the curiosity and interestingly twisty plotline of the main character Stanley Yelnats IV (all the men in their family are named Stanley Yelnats because their last name is Stanley spelled backwards) — but because it helped show that sometimes the tough times we experience in life have a funny way of working out in the end. – Stephanie Babcock

Maniac Magee was a young kid who was constantly handed the worst in life but he always came out on top. That and his ability to treat every human, regardless of their background, simply as a human was/is a really great concept to me. – Hannah Schuele

It is a book about the power of love which celebrates the beautiful individuality of kids. – Nicole Capozello

We read these books out loud together as a family, and then individually as well. The memories we made as a family didn’t end when the books’ closed, but continued as we traveled to Universal Studios Orlando, and as we play the “Harry Potter Alphabet” game to pass time standing in lines or on car rides. To say that these characters were among my kids’ best friends is not an exaggeration. And the lessons they learned about love and loyalty will last their whole lives. – Nicole Capozello

Pull up a chair

Closeup of a set dinner table

Cropped image. Jamin Gray, Flickr. CC license.

Growing up, we had an open invitation to go to my Grandma’s for dinner on Sunday evenings. It was a time for everyone to get together and share what happened at work, at little league or just hang out knowing that the people in that room always had your back, no matter what. You’d learn who got a promotion; you found out where your cousin was going to college. Big or small, what you learned around that table meant something to everyone.

Sadly, times change; people change. Everyone started having their own families and moving away from Grandma’s house. Sure, there were dinners, but they didn’t have the same feel. You had to rush off to get to work, or home to do chores to get ready for the week. All valid reasons, but that dinner table got lonely, even lonelier when Grandma passed away.

She could make one meal, feed everyone and somehow everyone came away full – even the picky eaters. It’s on record that I was Grandma’s favorite; we had a special bond because as my real mom slipped from the picture, Grandma picked up the slack. It gave us time in the kitchen that no one else in the family got, and I also picked up on some of the recipes that she never wrote down. And when she passed, people asked me to write some of those down, which I did.

But you know what? They never tasted the same. Not because I missed on one of the amounts, or forgot an ingredient. It was because those meals weren’t shared around that dinner table with a houseful of people. Meals taste that much better with the company you share it with.

Recently I’ve been cooking Sunday dinners with my daughters. We go to the store, pick out what we want to cook, then come home and I teach them some of the tricks Grandma taught me. No matter what we cook, it tastes a little better knowing it was cooked with both love and tradition.

Start a new tradition this Sunday and share your favorite meal from when you were a kid with your kids. Even if you burn the whole thing, they’ll have a story to tell future generations.

– Jim Pesta is a Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

My grandma the firecracker

Grandma holding a toddler girl on lap

Grandma and me, Christmas 1977

When I was growing up, I loved spending time at my grandparents’ houses. I had wonderful grandparents, each with their own quirks, but I want to tell you about my grandma, Sophie.

She was born in 1919 to Polish immigrant parents. When she went to Kindergarten, she didn’t speak English, but I’m pretty sure she had an iron core that didn’t shirk hard work.

She was a Rosie the Riveter and lost part of her hearing making airplane parts during the war. After World War II, she married the love of her life and eventually had my dad, who is an only child. When my dad was 15, his father died suddenly leaving Sophie to support her little family.

Sophie was a corker. She worked with men and kept up with them. She was independent, tough and a terrible cook. Her specialty was SpaghettiOs, liverwurst and Velveeta.

In the mid-’80s, her brother had a stroke and moved into a nursing home. She came to our house one day to show us what she found while cleaning out his things. I remember it crystal clear:

We (my two sisters, mom and dad) were having dinner. It wasn’t unusual for my grandma to show up, so when she came in the back door, we pulled up a chair for her. As she was talking about her day, she remembered something she found among her brother’s things that she wanted to show my dad. She reached into her bag and rolled a hand grenade across the kitchen table.

Silence.

We all stopped eating and looked around at each other to make sure we all saw the same thing. Yep. It was a real, honest-to-goodness grenade and it was right next to the green beans.

Apparently, while serving in Africa during the war, my uncle didn’t use one of his grenades, so he brought it home with the pin still in and live and kept it in a drawer or closet for the next 40 years until it lumped its way across our kitchen table one summer day.

That was Sophie. She feared nothing. Held back nothing. And she lived her way.

It’s sad that we’re so young when we have our grandparents around us most, but we truly don’t understand the treasure they are until we’re much older and they’re gone. I’m glad, though, that my kids are getting quality grandparent time and are learning things from them that I’ll never be able to teach them.

However, I certainly hope they don’t have to learn about explosives. From anyone. And certainly not over dinner. Sheesh.

P.S. Don’t worry, my dad called the police that night. They took the grenade away for proper disposal. Didn’t want you to think we still had it hanging around the house.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.


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