Tag Archive | children

Singing Your Way Through Stress a New Parenting Tip

Puppet Show

Puppet Show

Today was the same as most days, I started off with lofty goals of no yelling, compliance with requests and at least one nap.  There were no total screaming moments on my part, but I couldn’t control what the kids did with their volume.  On a more worrying note my younger son, due to stress I believe, has begun to make sucking noises after he speaks.  The type of noise that comes from pressing the tip of the tongue to the soft palette and then sucking in breath, to punctuate his words.  Everyone in the family is growing weary of this action and its loud sound.  His other new tick is chewing on things; Legos, sheets, collar of his shirt – basically anything a five year old can stick in his mouth that may have germs on it.  These two habits join his already disturbing habit of rolling and chewing on his tongue which all add to my stress because they are signals of his stress. As my husband reminded me tonight on the phone, last time we made this awkward trip he started picking up odd idiosyncrasies, and they diminished once my husband was with us. My main concern is that with epilepsy these types of temporary self-stimulating stress relief techniques can become permanently wired pathways and truly long term habits.  This puts stress levels on high for me in a new way, a parent never wants to permanently mar their child in any way.

Our day proceeded on packed with driving and fun – and because this is a typed format I can’t tell if I mean that sarcastically. I know the first part of the day was not fun as I dealt with a teenager who is a really great guy who makes some poor choices at times.  For example, I asked him to accompany us down the elevator since I was pushing two strollers by myself and holding two cups of tea.  He instead went his own way then watched from inside the mall window as his sister spilled her tea on herself, I had to remove her from her stroller and make sure the other stroller wasn’t in the street – before getting in the elevator without us.  I thought of a way to handle this without much yelling and decided on a discussion of natural consequences that went down like so, “A natural consequence of not wanting to be a part of our family and help out means that you are on your own, so I guess you need to find a way to pay for your private lesson.” That didn’t go over well and  a more heated discussion of what had transpired ensued. The little ones and I went for a stroll before I watched his morning lesson. While I watched our skater the little ones watched Super Why next to me.  This is one of a few times when they really do share and act calm with each other, they take turns holding the phone, making sure the other one can see the screen and co-operatively determine which episode to watch – yes I know it is TV but a psychologist recently told me that the current TV viewing guidelines are unrealistic and must have been set by 60 year old psychologists who still believe in Freud and don’t have children (his words, seriously).  That being said, I do limit my children’s screen time as much as I can while preserving my sanity and I have found that less flashing shows (such as Super Why) don’t stimulate them in the same negative way as brightly, garish shows.  The best shows are realistic shows such as Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen.  The main concern with screen time of any type is my younger son.  He really loses all self-regulating capability when given screen time outside of these parameters. I digress, on to the rest of our day…

Shuttle Bus to the Museum Campus

Shuttle Bus to the Museum Campus

After the ice rink drop off the younger kids and I headed off to the Portland Children’s Museum again.  This time we split our time between the indoor grocery area and the outdoor adventure area.  My thesis paper for my

Outdoor Adventure

Outdoor Adventure

Montessori certification delved into the levels of parental engagement and developmental purposes of different play areas, including an observational study of play areas at the Children’s Museum – my findings were that realistic play areas create better engagement and have more developmental purpose / positive interaction outcomes so I always try to get them to at least one of these areas per visit.  Of course, I should temper that motivation with knowledge of whether or not we have extra clothing.  Suffice it to say, it was a soggy and oddly dressed ride back to the car on the shuttle with both of my kids wearing oversized, recently purchased museum t-shirts.  Getting them away from the Outdoor Adventure took a great deal of parenting wit to accomplish without screaming “Let’s go” so instead I relied on singing.  I sang a song about me leaving and sure enough they moved along – I was like the parenting piped piper.  I used it all the way to the shuttle to avoid having to carry anyone. To the tune of the “Ants Go Marching” I sang “my kids go marching” and they actually marched in line to the shuttle to the bemused smiles of other parents. Win for me!

Play it Forward Piano at the Entrance

Play it Forward Piano at the Entrance

We piled into our rental car super soggy and super sleepy -viola! one goal met, both children took a nap.  They were completely exhausted and we headed back to the rink to pick up our skater.  From the rink it was a short trip back to the hotel to jump in the pool; because sure enough those naps were short lived. I can still feel the effects of our pool visit – three kids hanging on me, jumping on me and requesting to be thrown into the air has taken its toll on my back and provided me with a really strenuous water resistance workout – I may never hit the fitness center here and I am okay with that.  Our pool jaunt reaffirmed my

Plumb Tuckered Out

Plumb Tuckered Out

belief that loud areas are not conducive to small children following instructions.  I think that the cacophony of the filters, the hot tub and the echo in the pool enclosure is way too over stimulating and of course this results in a failure to comply with requests which in turn escalates the requests in my world.  My younger son decided to throw a pool towel into the pool, the older one threw it back, this went on for five minutes during which time I used positive phrasing “pool towels are for drying ourselves, you may put the towel away” etc.  None of these worked, I yelled – and I kicked them out of the pool – again it started with a calm request “you may sit on a chair” and then after my requests went unanswered I yelled for them to get out of the pool. If you are keeping track I have a pitiful winning streak by this point in the day but ever a glutton for punishment (or feeling my own inadequacies as a parent) I proffered up a trip to Washington Square Mall to visit the puppies and the Lego store.  

The pet place, Hannah, always gives me a weird vibe having participated for many years in pet rescue and having worked as a vet tech.  They claim to be a pet society of some sort and set you up on a monthly payment plan, of more than $100,

Soft Play Area

Soft Play Area

for the lifetime of your pet which includes vet and food; however as our visits have been frequent, I get the distinct feeling it is nothing more than a dressed up pet shop and far less than a pet rescue.  They always have puppies and really hard sell – which is not what rescues normally do.  Not to mention today Michael F asked “are you looking to adopt a pet” while holding a tiny bundle my daughter wanted to pet – and before my no stopped resounding he had haughtily walked off to a corner of the “store” for no other reason than to make a point that pets were for petting by people who were interested in this scam. We left without a new pet, thankfully, because we are not ready for one which is sadly a thought I had for many of the people who were easily gaining quick access to “adoption”.

Angry,Contemplative? Who knows.

Angry,Contemplative? Who knows.

Never chagrined by others, my daughter gayly ran off to the soft play area for a bit. I didn’t fare much better at the next stop. The Lego store didn’t involve any yelling but it did involve a return before we left the store and a discussion with my older one who dropped a pouty face several times.  I’d like to say that I don’t understand him some days, but its more like every other hour I call into question my understanding of the world and human behavior, as well as facial cues. Being the parent of a teenager is pretty stressful at times which is why I am sure Montessori suggested Erdkinder and the idea that teens should live on the land away from family learning life skills.

Veggie Grill and Lego Building

Veggie Grill and Lego Building

The mall is just down the road from Veggie Grill, a place I know all of the kids will eat something and I can order off of their garlic-free menu with ease. Last time we were in I was sure to grab their app which allows you to snap photos of your receipt and earn points.  So far we received a free appetizer for signing up and have 300 points good for a soup or dessert – I’m accruing them for a free entree.  As usual the kids ate “wings” and mac n cheese.  I dined on the All Hail Kale, mashed cauli-potatoes and gave the new street corn a try – it was great.  Everyone finished their meals and we decided to walk over to New Seasons to pick up detergent for hotel laundry night. If you have every been to Meijer you know how easy it is to get sucked into general merchandise purchasing, or even little bits of things you don’t really want or need – well New Seasons takes this to a whole new level because everything looks adorable, handcrafted and high-end decorative.  That we have not left with tiny gurgling fish pitcher shot glasses on our last four trips is completely a feat of ultimate will power – everyone in our family wants one.  We walked back to the car singing once again a song about how everyone was walking – this is a favorite of my youngest, she adores any song about what she is doing. 

In retrospect my day was a huge win.  There were dozens, maybe hundreds of other interactions with my children when I was able to keep my cool during bouts of crying, screaming, stomping or all three.   



My Apocalyptic Life and Finding Gratitude

Hectic is an understatement. I recently graduated in May from an AMI accredited training program as a Primary Montessori Guide. Two weeks later my family packed up our small (895 sq ft) apartment and headed to Baltimore, Maryland so I could finish an intensive Masters of Education program at Loyola. We stayed in the Charles Village neighborhood a block from Hopkins and two blocks off of York Road which puts the phrase “night and day” in new perspective. On one side of the Victorian painted lady we were occupying (without air conditioning in 100 degree weather) were preppy young co-eds and on the other side, a lower socioeconomic neighborhood that had lines of police cars with rollers on stationed at each corner come 5 pm and helicopters circling above all night. It was a little surreal.

Flash forward three weeks and the kids and I were on a plane to Nashville, TN for a job in a small town school while my husband headed back to Oregon to facilitate the expansive and expensive move of our belongings via UHaul’s U Boxes. UHaul missed the mark at several stages during our move but here we are using them again because they are convenient, cost effective and offer onsite storage. My job did not pan out the way I had been expecting which was sad because I had gotten used to the smell of sweet grass as I cycled to work, a 2400 sq ft updated town-home, the donkey in the field behind our home, and had even resigned myself to living in a town without a library, where the biggest attractions were the fountain in our fabricated village neighborhood and the Sonic drive-thru. I had also secured a second part-time job teaching fitness and yoga classes at a local gym. I liked that when I was late coming home my husband had two places to look for me and could find me and my bike in under 10 minutes. What I could have done without fills a small part of my personal journal journeying my road to becoming a Montessori Primary Guide and I am sure I will never forget all of the reasons I left this job and town – but I am trying my hardest to bring my past life as a yogi into play and leave it all behind me.

Zip forward to the day after we unpacked our last box and then decided we were not going to stay in TN. Instead, we were headed back to Portland – the place I kept referring to as home. To solidify this idea we took a 6 hour car trip back to Illinois to visit our previous home and take care of some errands in person. Then back to TN after three days and onto a plane for Portland, OR -just me and the three kids. Not a big deal for most people, but I really abhor flying, think panic attack, white knuckled gripping of armrests fear – with three kids in tow.  I have a great game face.

So here we are; you, me and my kids on the end of my first full day back in Portland. I have not yet found a place to live, I have been to the ice rink more times than I care to recall in this day and a half but that knocks out steps to my older son’s dream of skating in the Olympics. I have watched and listened to my children deal with the stress of moving, uncertainty and a missing father with very open eyes and wounded heart. My own relations with them are strained more than I like because of all of the stress. I have been reading The Biology of Beating Stress: How Changing Your Environment, Your Body, and Your Brain Can Help You Find Balance and Peace and of course reading that stress could literally kill me, cause cancer, and obesity does nothing to help my mounting stress – I jest, a little. We tried a no yelling or screaming day, it lasted exactly one and a half minutes before one from the backseat yelled at one in the front seat as I tried to calmly diffuse the situation through gritted teeth. I realize more and more how having a second adult helps, my son commented “When daddy isn’t here I am a better son because I have to be, when he’s around I’m worse”. That prompted a discussion about independence and responsibility, I corrected him that all of them are the best thems they can be, but when daddy isn’t around they have opportunities to take on more responsibility. For example, I had to have the kids come with me to a job interview today because there was no-one to watch them my eldest did so by taking his younger siblings around the neighborhood and giving them snacks.

I want to cultivate gratitude so that I don’t get into this kind of situation again,  looking for something better and not appreciating what I have, but even more than that because I really do know the value of all that I have, sometimes I don’t have gratitude for myself or grant myself the time to just be.  I rushed to find the perfect job and what that boils down to is a lack of gratitude for who I am and the special talents I bring to any situation.  I hope to recognize all that I actually do accomplish and instead of playing it down or worrying what someone else thinks – I want to validate myself and be grateful for who I am.  Along this line I decided to document this next year, I hope daily,  to prove to myself that I am doing the best I can do and making the most out of my time with my kids.

Some of the things we did and places we went today:

  • Mio Sushi – extensive menu for vegans with gluten free tamari and kids’ bentos.  I love the use non-dyed ginger, the wasabi is delicious and the kids like eating here.
  • Portland Children’s Museum- a great place rain or shine with newly opened outdoor exploration area.  You now have to pay for parking but it isn’t too bad.  Great little cafe with vegan options inside.
  • Llyod Center Ice Rink – a great place for kids or a date and reasonable rates to skate.  Located inside the mall so you don’t have to watch a lesson, you can shop!
  • New Seasons Market – one of our favorite places to shop, somehow it feels friendlier than Whole Foods, the stickers flow for kids and the Williams St. location has my children’s favorite cashier so we had to go and say hi today.
  • Back to Eden Bakery – gluten free vegan bakery serving soft-serve ice cream and some really great baked goods, the scones are scrumptious and the rotating selection always impresses with innovation.

Olympic Dreams

The Vegan UnVacation with @VeggieGrill and @MMASpdx

Welcome back dear readers! I have now been in Portland, OR since we touched down on July 3, 2013.  I did the first two weeks alone with three kids and a rental car at the Courtyard Marriott in Beaverton, OR.  The train that ran right by our window and the sprinklers that went off at 3 am did not help our situation which was one tired mom and three kids in a queen room. To say that our hotel stay was a vacation would be a lie.  I saw plenty of families enjoying their “weekend” vacation, we met them in the small indoor pool (I would like to add that their hot tub was permanently out of commission) throughout the two weeks and they were all blissfully away from their homes.  Maybe my problem was I no longer had a home to go home to?

The staff was very friendly but the location was more appropriate for business travelers, there was no continental breakfast and instead an upscale bar area; however, we were only 10 minutes from Washington Park, the Zoo and the Children’s Museum.  We also found some great local places such as My Masterpiece Art Studio.  Alex took a 4 day three hour summer camp on comic book illustrating for $185 and we did some drop in studio with the Sampler Pack (3 pieces of paper and a lump of clay) which may not sound like much but it was able to keep 3 kids busy for 1.5 hours at a price tag of $18. Although I am sure most parents will love the fact that MMAS does not require the children to clean anything up, I still tried to force my kids to wash their brushes and clean their stations.  For moms and dads looking for a great activity that will nurture brain development, hand eye coordination and art appreciation this place has it all.  They also do birthday parties. We witnessed one during one of our trips to the studio and the kids were having a blast!

Regularly we ate at Veggie Grill because it was 2 miles away.  We ran into it by accident looking for a local grocery store chain.  When the grocer didn’t have the treats we wanted we drove through the parking lot and found the recently opened location.  Veggie Grill is a faster food restaurant similar to Native Foods but less greasy and less expensive for the kids meals.  The serving sizes are also larger for the kids meals. Full size portions are equal to, sometimes slightly smaller than Native Foods, but the big plus factor is consistency. I have eaten there more than a dozen times and it is the same quality each time, I could never say that for Native Foods which sometimes tastes as if it is a different recipe and other times is inconsistent in content (more or less seitan, etc).

My gluten and garlic sensitivity shifted into full swing when I was face to face with all the delicious options.  By day four when I could barely stand up straight I decided to ask what options there were that were garlic free, lo and behold (gluten free is readily marked) they also have a garlic free menu!! I have been rocking out with the All Hail Kale salad, I love the tangy mango dressing and their tempeh is pretty good as an addition, the cauliflower mashed potatoes and the Bean Me Up Chili. My kids love the “chikin’” fingers and that is saying a lot.  As Alex told their manager, “They have great texture” and come with a side, dessert and a drink for under $6 (other kids’ items available).

What Veggie Grill does lack is diversity in its menu – there are a lot of “chickin” items and sparse dessert options.  The BIGGEST disappoinment was in their downtown Portland location.  We ordered the “Grilled Cookie” dessert “handcrafted chocolate chip cookie, griddled and topped with chocolate pudding, VG Crema and chocolate sauce” notice that nowhere in there was mentioned nuts.  But YES, this is a chocolate chip nut cookie.  When I brought this to their manager’s attention (since DH is allergic to ingesting nuts) she haughtily asked if we had mentioned a nut allergy. No, we didn’t because nuts were not mentioned on the menu. She refused to refund the item so we left it uneaten.

Now, the Beaverton Veggie Grill is a different story.  I FORGOT, yes me – my fault – to say no gravy on the mashed potatoes, it came to the table with gravy and I know the manager overheard me mention my stupidity in forgetting this fact to my husband and my request that he eat the potatoes so they not go to waste – not two seconds later a second cup of potatoes arrived gravy free – now that is how you handle customer service and why I drive the extra 10 miles out of Portland to eat at this Veggie Grill. Plus the manager looks like Owen from Drop Dead Diva and I have a thing for celebrity spotting even if they are look a likes.

A Moving Hiatus for @FamilyCanBFit

We are in the process of moving our 3 kids 3200 miles from Naperville, IL (Chicagoland) to Portland, OR.  Thank goodness I am flying with the three kids instead of driving again. After our test drive out there for my older son to interview at ChildPeace Montessori I knew I had to work hard on my anxiety and panic attacks so I could fly.  I became very serious about my Svaroopa Yoga practice and took the Foundations training.  This made me a more peaceful parent, alleviated all my SI joint pain and as of right now put the cabash on the panic attacks.

This is just a note to let all of my readers, fans, friends, and past students know that we will be taking a small hiatus until we get situated in Portland. I will be posting photos on Instagram http://instagram.com/skyyogastudio , facebook http://www.facebook.com/skyyogastudio and pinterest http://pinterest.com/skyyogastudio/ . If you are interested in watching the 3200 mile trip unfold – my possible forthcoming insanity (I’ve never parented 3 alone) or some great photos from the road – be sure to keep in contact because the fun begins 9 am Wednesday July 3rd.

Thank you to everyone who contributed emotionally, financially and spiritually to my journey – without your support and kindness I would not be who I am and doing what I am today!

Don’t You Want the Best Experience for Your Child

IMG_3369[1] Of course you do.  I’m a parent and I want my children to be happy, healthy and smart. The Children’s Museum of IndianapolisIMG_3370[1] hits the mark on all accounts.  “We are the biggest and best Children’s Museum in the world” is what I was told by one curator. We drove two and a half hours to get there and spent four hours exploring, playing and learning and still did not get a chance to see every exhibit. Let me stress that this is not your average children’s museum – size aside – while some museums tend to be educational from a large motor skill, movement standpoint (I don’t argue that they are educational) this museum is a different sort of hybrid.  Imagine a museum, like the Field Museum, that was scaled down to accommodate kids touching, experiencing and interacting.  This is truly a Museum for Children. The exhibits aren’t just play spaces, they are educational and hands on.

We have been trying to tour all of the local area museums before we move and this one really is the biggest.  Located across 5 floors, with its own stand alone parking garage equipped with a greeter at the entrance and piped in music, this muIMG_3377[1]seum stands alone both as a structure and the standard for all children’s museums. The side of the museum has dinosaurs breaking out of it and the front of the museum has dinosaurs breaking into the museum – an architectural wonder for all of my kids.

When you enter the museum via the skywalk you cross over and you are greeted by a larger than life movie size Bumblebee that requests you to stop by the museum entrance to purchase tickets.  That was a big hit with my tikes, I took a picture of it from a story up and it doesn’t do the statue justice.   The entrance fees are a little steeper than most museums and they do not offer any reciprocal program; however, they do offer discounts to military families, and online coupons accessible via a smart phone. For our family of four (under 2 no charge) admission to get in was $54.50 and that included a $6 per adult coupon and the ability to see all of the exhibits including The Lily Theatre (Rapunzel Rapunzel was playing but the kids weren’t interested in sitting for a show) and the Planetarium adventure (there was a long line so we skipped it).  A family membership will cost you $145 (regularly a visit for a family of four is $64) so if you plan to visit more than twice it pays to get discounts on the food court, gift shop, etc and purchase the membership.

The maps for this museum are a small booklet and we decided to start on the ground floor in the Dinosphere – and the name suggests

it all.  Chock full of fossils, an area to play with dinosaurs, an area to crawl around a dino habitat, become a dino with a nest of eggs, watch and talk to paleontologists while they work, fondle fossils and fossil molds –the list goes on and on there is even a viewing area above the Dinospehere, right off of the Dragons exhibit, so you can watch the light show around the dinos.IMG_3482[1]  The Dragons exhibit illustrates the link between the mythological creatures of lore and dinosaurs.  There is a sketching station where children can move their benches and easels around a dino skull and sketch a dragon, there are displays and other drawing opportunities including a “how to draw a dragon” interactive exhibit, a sculpting exhibit where kids can add putty onto dino skulls to see how “fleshed out” reality could be mistaken for fiction and even more – really too much to remember and write about so take a look at the Dinosaurs and Dragons Album for a peek into the family fun!

After the Dinosaurs we made our way to the All Aboard! Exhibit and the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth Exhibit, we then passed by Lilly Theatre and the Planetarium without stopping.

IMG_3396 All Aboard! was amazing, and I’ll toot the Children’s Museum horn by saying it was even better than the train exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago.  If your kids like riding the silver bullet at MSI they will soil their diapers over the All Aboard! experience.  Kids can interact in a real old time train station and sell tickets to different destinations (there is also a train table to play with), ride the rails, view a steam

engine, even get behind the wheel of a steel locomotive.  The ride on train is interactive with moving landscape and options to change what you see. If you step outside you can catch a snapshot of family members “back in time” riding the rails. Did I mention all of the model trains tooting around and on display for “big kid” collectors to oogle?

The Treasures of the Earth was pretty darn cool to me.  There was a digging area again to help unearth Terra Cotta Warriors and unlike the usual rubber woodchips this museum uses a sand polymer mixed with glue a process that takes three days to dry. “We refill it every three months, taking anything that the kids dig up, recycle it and move it to the back room – once it is all collected we mix it with glue and put it down” confided a curator.  This method and model of digging actually requires “the children experience a more true dig, just like an archaeologist would”.  In this exhibit children were digging to find pieces of the Terra Cotta Warriors.  The same

curator shared with me that the museum would be “getting a real Terra Cotta Exhibit, not just one of the touring ones.  The Terra Cotta curators came in to see how we run things and have designed an exhibit just for us, it will be very interactive!” I’m not sure how much more interactive the exhibit can get when they already have broken Terra Cotta Warriors to help put back together but I would love to find out! The tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh contains a sarcophagus that needed fixing and other displays I just couldn’t get around to see while trying to wrangle three kids who all wanted to go in different directions. In the Caribbean shipwreck Exhibit there was a coral reef to help repair, interactive fish on screen that were lifelike, Captain Kidd exhibits, cannons to measure and climb and even dress up opportunities. The whole family was truly transported to three different archaeological sites! Not only were there places to climb, three dimensional puzzles to piece together and nooks and crannies to explore, there were bonafide curated museum exhibits to read and learn from.

Looking at this post it is rich with photos and dialogue – it truly mimics this museum experience and I have only gotte

n to the first floor! The reason we chose this weekend to visit is because the Hot Wheels For Real Exhibit was leaving May 27. We had already missed Geckos which closed May 15 and coming soon is Avatar the Exhibit.  What we did get to see on the second floor included: Take Me There: Egypt and whoa! we were really transported to an Egyptian town, including interactive homes with Egyptian Sesame Street playing on television, a market place, the Nile Exhibit with a ride on crocodile, ride on sphinx, an area for Egyptian percussion interaction (children playing drums and zills was a bit overwhelming at moments), jewelry making and more. You get to the exhibit through an airplane – and while it doesn’t hover above the museum floor like the one at MSI, it is really impressive inside!

Mr. Bear’s Playhouse was another second floor experience with a great Mama Bear nursing room – all museums should have these little cottages – a quiet space for over stimulated children or moms who like to relax to nurse. The area was designed for the under 5 set and full of hands on experiences, drawing areas, ball moving machines, ride on trucks, sandpits and soft play place. We IMG_3453could have stayed in this one exhibit the whole afternoon. This exhibit won’t be around forever, the museum will be adding an all new Playscape on Aug 31 right before Mr.Bear goes into hibernation in September.

The last exhibit for us on the second floor was the Hot Wheels For Real with life sized cars based on the miniatures or vice versa, displays on how the toys are made, displays of the toys, different ways to make the cars move (up high, on a track) a slide (which was backed up because it was also a car drop point – should have been better designed), a “shop” with a car parked in it that kids could decorate with cling on racing stickers and chrome pieces, polish and drive. There was even a diamond encrusted car that I photographed for all of you who love bling made with 3,000 blue diamonds set in an 18K gold body to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this American toy icon. Even is you missed this particular exhibit, your race car enthusiast won’t be left out of the photo fun. Level three has, of course, a real IndyCar to sit in a imagine driving in the Indianapolis 500.


Level three houses “The Power Of Children” recommended for ages 8 and up along with the “Anne, Ruby and Ryan Sound and Light Shows”.  Shows run throughout the day and tell the heroic stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White.  This is a real tear jerker, my 12 year old son was very moved by the exhibits – especially the Ryan White one that included a section of lockers from Ryan’s school where teens had etched in hate speech.  Aptly so the museum has provided tissues and a “Sit and Speak” area where you can sit with your children and discuss what they have seen and experienced. My four year old son was not aware of the magnitude of the display and instead ran around with youthful exuberance and energy. Entering the life-sized Ruby Bridges classroom he sat at the teachers desk and presided over an imaginary class.  Then he skipped into a replica of Ryan White’s bedroom and asked all about the vintage toys and posters. I found the experience of this exhibit gut wrenching and strangely I had been thinking about Ryan White last week – how the media no longer remembers him or discusses the difference he made in the societal discussion of HIV/AIDS. We sniffled our way out of this exhibit and upstairs to level four

The fourth full level houses ScienceWorks, RockWall, Health House and a full sized Carousel (I’m not kidding!). We had very little time to explore these areas, it was five minutes to close and we actually got caught up in one of the most innovative ideas I have seen in a while.  The museum has a costumes character – green plush dino that starts on the spiral ramp of the fourth floor.  He leads a cheering parade to close the museum down the ramp while singing a song about saying goodbye. Truly ingenious! The watershed exhibit is more than just a place for kids to splash and get wet.

We had to cut level four very short since we arrived at five minutes to close. Other daily activities we missed out on included: Meet the PalIMG_3528[1]eontolofist, Cannon Talk or Tomb Tour, Play a Part:Sebou, Live Theatrical Performance at Power of Children, SciencePort, Biotechnology Learning Center (each of these have hands on science labs/experiments) and the shows about space and flight.  We did get to see the WaterClock adn the Fireworks of Glass and we even stopped in the largest gift shop on our way out.  The way out was an experience of its own as we opted to go through the garden which houses kid sized replicas of the Great Wall, the Great Pyramids, and more. Here is a photo of my little Babiator battling it out.

Right before this trip we visited our family doctor for a well baby check at 17 months.  Since we don’t vaccinate we go less frequently.  The doctor asked if our daughter could say at least 10 words, to which we replied, “About 100 or more” and on cue Iz started talking, “Birds live in trees, fly, live in nest. Why?” and other sentences.  Our doctor was truly shocked and commented, “17 months? My kids never spoke this much at 17 months.” Of course good genes help but I truly believe we are all born with potential and it needs to be nurtured.  I talk to my kids from day one and as soon as we are both ready postpartum we head out to museums.  While at these museums I do not talk on my phone, I don’t text – I pay active attention to my children and interactive with them.  I let them lead the exploration and direct their own learning. If you want your children to be the best they can be, take a step back and a step away from diversions – truly become immersed in their world and talk to them – even when you think they can’t understand because the truth is they can.

Who Else Wants Family Fun Time Without The Noise

IMG_3323[1]Today we opted to visit the Kids Work Children’s Museum in Frankfort IL.  Not knowing where Frankfort is I was surprised to IMG_3325[1]learn it was about 30 minutes from us on the other side of Joliet.  At first glance you may miss this museum since it is located inside of a large barn like structure that is an interesting take on a “mall”.  It is a conglomerate of shops including Kernel Sweet Tooth – an ice cream and sweet shop that sells a lemon-line sorbet that my kids gobbled up. The best part – they sell it in mini cone size – the perfect before lunch treat to satisfy a tiny sweet tooth and quell the masses so we can make it to lunch. For non vegans, or those who like dairy, there were a few interesting ice cream choices.  My hubs palette landed on a homemade chocolate waffle cone with chocolate covered pretzel ice cream.  They even serve homemade designer cookies, dipped pretzel sticks, tea and coffee.

When you first enter the building you are hit with the wafting smell of popcorn from Kernel Sweet Tooth as you pass through double doors into a railway car bound for Frankfort.  On our way into the building we passed an outdoor park Pork Chop event that had the whole town buzzing on a less than sunny Sunday.  The whole feel of the town was quaint and quiet.  We parked our car in a municipal lot attached to a wonderful trail lined park.  There were dozens of families unloading bicycles for a ride.

The KidsWork Museum is not the largest children’s museum out there.  In fact it is the smallest we have been to yet.  Great things come in small packages definitely rings true for this museum.  There is a dinosaur dig exhibit whose size pales in comparison to CCM’s but the kids still have a ball digging up bones.

There are far less visitors to contend with as well which makes this kids outing spot a hidden gem for parents looking for a quieter experience.  After our day at the ever noisy Navy Pier museum I felt blessed for receiving this reprieve.

The entrance to the museum is tucked away down a hall and through a set of French doors that open right into the main floor. The main floor houses a toddler tot lot with slide and climbing place, a small fire fighting station with dress up clothes, a large playhouse the height of a child, some soft play building blocks, a larger than life version of Operation the Game, a dinosaur exhibit dig station and some other here and there areas with books and toys. There is a lot of natural light and a good amount of air flow. Everyone in our family had a good time on the first floor of the museum. My husband and I joined couldn’t resist joining our eldest son in Operation and even though he is 12 now, he still had fun with the dinosaur display.  I have been trying harder to treat him as an individual and not a preteen.  I know this sounds like a very simple idea but I have been guilty in the past of dealing with him based on perceptions of what a “pre-teen” is like “moody, sassy, irreverent” and my son just isn’t these things.  He is still a child and enjoys his innocence.  Although I can see him struggling for autonomy from the family unit I also see his desire to fit in and be a part of the group.  This was evident when I came downstairs IMG_3304[1]later to find him at the dino table.  He had sorted the dinosaurs into herbivores and carnivores but wasn’t sure of some of his choices.  I offered to look the questionable species up on my phone if he read their names to me.  It was a great experience interacting with him and an opportunity for learning on both of our parts. After I was able to convince him to come upstairs with me.

The second floor houses a Theatre/Puppet Theatre, a boating area, a grocery area, a crafting area with loom, a light and shadow area and some other here and there exhibits.  Once upstairs my son and I decided to make a mock Rube Goldberg device, he was really into setting up the pieces to make the marble go where we wanted.  It took trial and error and patience. Afterwards we danced and created shadow figures with his sister in the light scribe area.

IMG_3315[1] Then we all joined up in the boating exhibit to watch my younger son stash playfoods in the boat and run around with a child sized life vest on.  I was able to share more time with my older son as he showed me how to work a loom, a piece of equipment he is familiar with because there is one in his classroom at Joliet Montessori School.  The simple act of asking him to show me how it works opened up the opportunity to dialogue with him and he started recounting to me school events surrounding the loom in his class, different students, and his thoughts and feelings about them.  If you have a pre-adolescent in your life you know how any morsel of information makes you feel like a starving mouse clinging to a crumb, but I tried to stay relaxed and not have on my “tell me more” face that can be a pre-teen turn off.

It may seem as though my older son was the only one to enjoy the museum, but he wasn’t.  I was just surprised by how much fun he did seem to have, especially since there were only three or four other families present during our 3 hour visit. My daughter, who is 17 months old, enjoyed the crafting area where she was able to scribble and doodle with markers.  She also visited the dress up area across from the theatre that is set up like a large vanity with hats and animal masks.IMG_3273[1] The theatre itself is a large stage behind a red velvet curtain with a ticket booth on one side and a puppet stage on the other.  At the back of the stage are mirrors and a wall lined with hats and costumes, bins full of puppets and room for imaginations to run wild.

The museum has a very homey feel to it and everything is child sized and set up for optimal enjoyment by the children who visit.  Sure it isn’t the biggest museum around but sometimes less is more.  At larger children’s museums children can become overwhelmed and over stimulated easily.  For our youngest she can easily get lost in a crowd of overly rowdy big kids in mixed ages areas.  This museum does not have walls to close in exhibits which gives it a very open large feel.

Our trip to the KidsWork Children’s Museum was $15 for our family of 5 because we have an ACM reciprocal membership which gives us 50% off the admission rate. Otherwise rates are as follows:

FAMILY ……………………………………………………………….$85.00
An annual membership that includes unlimited general admission for 2 adults and their children; invitations to special member’s only events; 10% off purchases in the Museum Store; 4 guest passes.

FAMILY PLUS………………………………………………………$125.00
An annual membership that includes unlimited general admission for 2 adults and their children PLUS a guest every time you visit KIDSWORK. Invitations to special member’s only events; 10% off purchases in the Museum Store; 4 guest passes. This Reciprocal Membership offers half off discounted admission to more than 100 Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) participating museums. A complete list of ACM museums is available at the front desk.

GRANDPARENT FAMILY ………………………………………..$65.00
An annual membership that includes unlimited general admission for 2 grandparents and their grandchildren; invitations to special member’s only events; 10% off purchases in the Museum Store; 4 guest passes.

DAILY RATES ..Child $6.00    Adult $6.00    Senior $5.00

Ongoing events at the museum include Storytime Tuesdays and Special Needs Family Nights. There are also Summer Camps for the kids to attend so be sure to stop by KidsWork Children’s Museum at 11 S. WHITE STREET FRANKFORT, IL 60423 (On the main floor in the Trolley Barn) for a day of family fun.

Our Chicago Childrens Museum Trip and Family Outing GIVEAWAY CLOSED

The best investment I ever made for my family’s health was a membership to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier.  For the Family MeIMG_3243[1]mbership plus an additional $80 fee we can park at Navy Pier for FREE anytime we visit and get a validation ticket from the Children’s Museum. There is a never ending supply of fantastic cultural, educational and of course fun events and activities going on at the CCM.  From the Kraft Arts Abound studio that engages young minds through arts led by area artists and museum staff, to the Passport to the World cultural events that introduce little ones to other cultures from around the world – there is always something going on at CCM.

CCM has some of the best rotating and permanent exhibits as well.  We have been awaiting the Ready, Pet, Go! for the last month and jumped the gun a few times this past month visiting and expecting to see it.  Even though the area only opened this last week, our previous visits were tons of fun too! From the second my children pass the threshold at the Member Services desk it is a race to keep up with them.  My four year old son and one year old daughter love to suit up into small sized fire fighting gear and race around the fire truck as their 12 year old brother slides down the fire pole, and crawls on hands and knees to evacuate a simulated house fire through a window.

IMG_2270[1]Fun for the family can be had year round.  During the freezing winter months that blast into Chicago, the CCM is a great get away from possible frostbite with their Winter Wonderland set up.  Children can throw giant pom pom snowballs, construct igloos, dress up snowmen and even ice skate to kid friendly tunes. My daughter turned one in DecembeIMG_2268[1]r 2012, and my youngest son turned four in the same week.  They both had a blast at the Winter Wonderland exhibits.  My daughter found one of four snowmen that was just her size and had a ball taking its hat on and off.  The rambunctious and ruckus duo that is my four and twelve year olds built snow barriers and spent hours bunkered down plunking snow balls at each other.

When the snow melts in Chicagoland CCM puts away the snow days exhibits and replaces them with two bowling lanes, tables for large checkers and chess, and catapults.  This month ends their Superhero days.  Children could complete punch card tasks, make capes, create Super-Secret (and Super-Small) Superhero Lairs and even pledge their powers as a superhero in a very serious for little ones ceremony in the main hall.  It isn’t too late to get your little superhero in to play. CCM’s hours open daily from 10am–5pm. Budgeting? Thursday evenings 5–8pm and First Sunday of every month Free admission all day for ages 15 and under. They’re open and ready to play every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.Admission rates Children Under One FREE Children & Adults $14 Seniors $13.

TIP: Buy the Explorer Membership and gain admission for 6, Navy Pier $3 parking discount, 10% off at the CCM Gift Shop, Members-only hours, Invitations to members-only events and 50% off general admission for 6 people at almost 200 participating children’s museums through the ACM Reciprocal Program**

There is always something going on at CCM. Whether it is presentations, dance parties and crafts in the main hall upstairs, or art projects in the Kraft Arts Abound studio downstairs – kids and adults will learn, create and have fun.  We visit the CCM every weekend, sometimes twice a weekend. We are there so much that the volunteers in the Pritzker Playspace know my kids by name, and have known two of them since they were inutero!

IMG_3217[1]The Pritzker Playspace is a special environment for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers – be ready to remove shoes for the safety and cleanliness of the children’s play space.  Also note that hours are limited for this space. Izzy loves this area and asks to go upstairs as soon as she is done in the fire truck.  Her favorite part of the room is the plethora of baby dolls, the anatomically correct, real baby type. We dress and undress them in cloth diapers for hours, then stroll around in the little push car. The hands on table changes daily, sometimes hourly, depending on who is in charge of the room.  Coffee hulls, shaving cream painting, play dough and other textured experiences await little hands.

TIP: Don’t wear Sunday’s best to the Pritzker Play Space.  Wear something that can get messy and really allow your little one to explore the environment.

Do you have a little archaeologist in your midst? CCM has a dinosaur dig as a permanent exhibit. It is a re-creation of the real Saharan expedition where Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno discovered a new type of dinosaur. See a life-size skeleton of suchomimus (sue-co-MY-muss), dig for bones in the excavation pit, compare skulls, teeth, and claws with a T-Rex, and learn what it would be like to be part of Paul’s expedition team. Children will have hours of fun digging through rubber shreds to find bones.  Remember that kids learn through repetition so let go of the timetable, pull up one of the many lounger chairs and relax while your little explorer digs, digs and digs some more.

IMG_2284[1]TIP: Leave the leash at home and let the kids play. Don’t rush your child to the next exhibit, kids need repetition and to build attention span.

Kids Town has to be my four year old’s favorite exhibit.  A trip to the museum is not complete unless he has had a chance to grab some PVC piping and run into the grocery store and try to rob the till. Yes, that’s my boy you hear screaming “FBI! Give me your money!” and jumping off of the car in the car wash exhibit. Your kid will enjoy shopping in the grocery store, build plumbing, changing a tire, washing the car, and driving a CTA bus in this cityscape built just for kids. This urban neighborhood promotes role-playing, problem-solving, emerging literacy, and creative exploration. There is also a space to nurse a baby or relax with a toddler but the area is only semi-private, a little loud and way too lit.  Like other exhibits there is a specific toddler and baby area.  IMG_3207[1] Even my 12 year old has a good time running around and making transactions, delivering mail, and hiding out in the underground plumbing space.

TIP: Watch for older kids who like to jump into toddler areas even with signs that say Non-Walkers Only.  Staff does not enforce this rule and some parents are absent at times.

Treehouse Trails is another great exhibit that even my 12 year old likes to visit. Kids can camp, climb, burrow, and pretend in this enchanted forest setting. Canoe and fish in the blue river, splash and fish in a mountain waterfall, garden and cook in the log cabin. There is also an infant area with large soft play pieces.

Remember to pack extra clothes during cooler months because Waterways is always a big splash with the kids.  There is now a tiled wall for water painting but the water wheel and musical whale are no longer a part of this exhibit.

IMG_3232[1]The Big Backyard has undergone some changes as well.  There are still screens where butterflies can land on you and colorful raindrops will fall according to your shadow.  The big shoe is still available to crawl through and the bug city race is still there. The back blacklight area right now is for more superhero exhibit parts and there are no longer the hanging bell flowers to ring.

The Tinker Lab has been upgraded.  Gone is that lifeless backroom where most patrons avoided and it has been replaced by real tools and a real chance to create something – for all ages.  There is a space for the youngest to create contraptions on a peg board and where the piano once was is another great infant space with old wheels for spinning, and doodads for playing.

Whether your child likes the challenge of the Climbing Schooner, racing the clock to build in the Skyline or playing the world’s largest scale of Eye Spy, there is definitely something for everyone at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

We are a family on a budget so I understand how difficult it can be to take large families out for the day.  To help offset the cost of your next family’s outing I am sponsoring my own giveaway.

You can enter to win this Family Outing Pack:

  • Denny’s Gift Card $10
  • IHOP GiftCard $10
  • Coupon for Bob Evan’s Free Kids Meal
  • Navy Pier Coupon Book for discounts on activities, shopping and dining
  • KidsLiveWell Recipe Winner Recipes


Simply Click on the Rafflecopter Link and one lucky winner will be sent all of the items pictured above!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats to Jennifer M!