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Patch Reef Park Winter Carnival
Grovelands Park Winchmore Hill Review
Grovelands Park Winchmore Hill Review

I have hit a huge mile stone today! I and am so honored, blown away and basically gob smacked that I have had over 46000 hits this year! Thank you all for seeing and acknowledging the work and love that goes into this blog.

However here goes the fund raising request for help:  Once again it is time for me to pay the bills!

If you have enjoyed the blog and found it

Castaway Island at TY Park interactive pool.
Castaway Island at TY Park interactive pool Review
Turtles at Gumbo Limbo Review
Turtles at Gumbo Limbo Review

helpful, there is an easy way to help me pay for the ip address hosting. (about $300 a year). Just go to my site and hit the Donate button (paypal) on the right hand side to send a couple of dollars to keep the blog running.  $1 or $2 could make a huge difference! Thank you all! Please don’t make me a do a public radio style pledge week (insert embarrassed giggle here).

Thanks to all of you for reading and supporting me and a special thanks to my family who puts up with me sneaking off to a quiet place to write a couple of times a week!

If you feel you are able, please Donate a dollar or two using the Donate Button on the Right hand side of this page (paypal) and share this with your friends.

Thank You!
~Cynthia & Family

5 Tips for Gardening with Kids

Sunflower & Ladybug

The truth about gardening is that is doesn’t have to be difficult!  Follow these 5 steps and you can’t go….well too wrong anyway.

1  Pick a Spot:  IfCommunity Gardens you have a back yard, pick a spot that gets a fair amount of sun.  If you live in a condo or apartment ask if you can take over an area to plant in.  (You have to make sure it is an area where they will not spray pesticides if you plan to plant veggies.) You can go the route we went and join a Community Garden.  It is a great way to meet people and the best thing is there are always experienced gardeners around to ask for help when things are not working as you think they should.

broccoli from the garden
We learned that those little green bumps in broccoli are actually flowers and if you don’t pick it right away it blooms into a beautiful head of yellow flowers!

2.  Dig Up the Dirt.  Once you have your spot, dig it up!  Don’t let those experienced gardeners worry you with their talk of soil pH and nitrates or whatever that was they keep telling me about.  It is mumble jumble to me.  I am sure if you learn all that, your garden will be better, but the point here is to get started.  If you want to grab some organic fertilizer and water it in every month or two, that can’t hurt!  You can learn more as you go, the important part of this is to get the kids out in the dirt, growing veggies and eating them! They will learn right alongside with you!

3  Choose Your Plants: Let the kids help you pick out what they want to grow.  My daughter loves to grow multicolored carrots and purple green beans!  I buy some plants already started and grow others from seed. (Beans grow like crazy and you really can’t go too wrong with them.)  Go the garden center and read the back of the packets of seeds.  They will tell you how much sun the plant needs Garden Plotso you can decide if you have a chance of growing them in your garden.   I usually use tomatoes and pepper plants from the garden center rather than seeds, others like sunflowers and green beans we start from seed.

Don’t make it hard on yourself.  We live in a condo and there is no way I can start growing from seed here and then transplant.  You guessed it, we just stick the seeds in the ground and hope for the best.  Again, your results will be better if you do it the way the Master Gardner tells you, but you will still get results this way.  Heck, it’s the way nature does it!  Why not?  If the seeds don’t work you are out 25¢, and you go back to the gardening center, buy a strawberry plant for $2 and replace it.

We also like to experiment with different foods.  Do you have some old potatoes, an avocado pit, or a pineapple top?  Plant them!  You will be amazed at what happens.  Hmmm I guess I will have to expand on those options in another post.

4.  Kids Love Bugs:  Every year we start to have problems with bugs.  My daughter actually Sunflower & Ladybugloves this!  Call around to your local gardening center and ask who has lady bugs, they run between $5 and $10.  Your kids will flip over this!  You can release the lady bugs in the evening (keep them refrigerated until you are ready to let them go).  Make sure you have your camera ready, so you can get pictures of the reactions as the lady bugs crawl on the kids. I got some of the best shots of our sunflowers and kids with lady bugs on them!

If you want to look like a super parent, look up the life cycle of a lady bug and let the kids see how nature and bugs work together.  A great site is Kids Growing Strong, they have a cute page about lady bugs.

5. Watering System: This is optional, but for me it is an essential.  Our community garden Auto Water Timerplot is far enough away from home that I can’t possibly make it over there everyday.  I thought it was going to be very complicated, but once I figured it out (with the help of the nice people at home depot), it was easy!  (Don’t forget to spray the kids with the hose!  Make it fun, and don’t be afraid to get everyone dirty!  Your making memories here, make them good ones!)

Seriously Ugly Home Grown Carrots
Seriously Ugly Home Grown Carrots

Remember, this is an experiment that you doing with your kids!  Last year our sunflowers were beyond amazing.  We also learned not to plant our carrots too close together because they come out like aliens!  This was not a failure, because we had so much fun eating and gawking at the crazy shapes our carrots came out in.
If you really want to get into the spirit, take a trip to the $1 store and pick up some decorations!  Fun is the name of the game here!


Bass Pro Shops Santa Land – Nationwide

Santa Sitting in Santa Land at Bass Pro ShopsBass Pro Shops Santa Land is one of our all time favorites and we make sure to find time to do it every year.  They have a whole section of the store remade into Santa Land.The Big Red Guy is there (real beard of course) to pose for a free picture.  He is really good and spends a good amount of time with each child.  They manage to keep the line moving pretty well and when they get busy they hand out tickets with times on them to shorten your line waiting time.  You can buy picture packages if you want, or just take the free one.
Kids doing crafts at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops

There are craft table set up for the kids to make Christmas Tree Ornaments or make coloring pages.  They also have suction cup cross bow games, rifles for the kids to shoot, toy trains and cars.  All of these are hands on for the kids to play with.  Not to mention the giant fish tanks in the front of the store.  Santa’s Elves are hanging out at all the games to help the kids out.

Child meeting Mrs. Claus at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Mrs. Claus Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops

Don’t forget to say hello to Mrs. Claus.  She is usually hanging out not far from Santa’s Chair.  She is an absolute gem!  She will chat sweetly with the kids and is absolutely perfect!  I think my daughter liked her as much as she did Santa!

We usually pick up hot dogs outside the store for $2 a piece and soda’s for a $1.  It is really easy to spend a few hours there and has become one of our must do Christmas Traditions!

We have not done it yet, but if your kids like the train, the Bass Pro Shop in Dania, Fl is right next to the Tri-Rail Station.  We plan on parking at our local Tri-Rail Station and taking the Train to see Santa!  What an adventure that will be!

Call your local store to check thier Santa Land Hours.  Remember weekdays are less busy, and weekends get more and more busy the closer to Christmas weekend you get.

Kids playing at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Child and mother shooting air riffle at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Child shooting air riffle at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Sitting in Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Fudge Shop at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Games at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Children shooting toy arrows at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Child watching Toy Train at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Toy Train at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Toy Train at Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops
Santa Land at Bass Pro Shops

Welcome Sponsor Stella & Dot by Blair Critch

Stella & Dot Logo

Stella & Dot Logo

Please take a moment to welcome our new sponsor Blair Critch with Stella & Dot.

Blair Critch Personal Stylist for Stella & Dot
Blair Critch Personal Stylist for Stella & Dot

Blair is a Personal Stylist for Stella & Dot.  I felt an instant connection with Blair when she told me her story of how she was a stay at home mom for 5 years with her little ones.  A friend introduced her to Stella & Dot and she fell in love.  She originally just wanted to host a show and get free jewelry, but was told she should think about selling it herself.

In her own words “I took the look book to Chuckie Cheese and my friends dog eared every page.I decided to take a chance on me and possibly find something great that I could stay home for a little longer. What I did not expect is how much Stella & Dot gave me. I have flexibility to be there to take my kids to school pick them up, I choose the nights I want to work”

Blair has amazing talent, and considering that she is outnumbered at home with 2 very Stella & Dot by Blair Critchactive little  boys, fashion and girl time are important for a balanced life.

When I asked her what she loves most about Stella & Dot this is what she said “Fun & Fashion are two things I love, what girl doesn’t love a glass of wine and shopping.  The best part is the financial freedom it has brought to my family and so many others. I love having a team of women that I help to inspire and train. I love sharing how Stella & Dot can help others to make some extra fun money, be a part time or even full time business as it has for me. Basically I get to help women decide how to shape and determine their lives and I love the joy that it brings.”

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Blair Critch – 561-945-2818blaircritch@gmail.comhttp://www.stelladot.com/blaircritch


Kaplan Kids Smart Track Keeps Kids on Track for the Summer

Screen Shot of Kaplan Kids Program

We decided to give Kaplan Kids Smart Track a try this summer to keep my 5 year old DD’s skills up. She will be starting Kindergarten in the fall.   I think overall it is a good program.  My DD loves to be on the computer, so this was right up her alley.

Screen Shot of Kaplan Kids Program
Screen Shot of Kaplan Kids Program

I feel that the Kaplan Kids program works hard to keep things fresh and interesting. She flew through the first assessment test and did get a little frustrated practicing things that she knows well. The second assessment was more difficult for her and she did start to get flustered about halfway through.  However with a little encouragement I managed to keep redirecting her back to it.  A little frustration is good, it is a matter of finding the balance.  I can see that the assessments may be a bit stressful for some children, and it is important they understand that they are not expected to know everything they are presented with. The children must choose the best answer they can without a parents help.  These assessments are truly the most difficult for the kids.

As with any learning tool, repetition, while important can be frustrating for children. Those that already know the material and those who struggle with it can get overwhelmed and not want to continue. Kaplan Kids handles this pretty well for all the practical materials (practice lessons) although the assessment portions can be a little more intense, especially when they are asking things the child has never seen.

I wish that it started out with a few games to set up momentum for the kids, however it jumps right into the assessment.  Knowing that more games are coming may provide extra motivation for the kids to stick out the assessments.  All in all, my daughter did not struggle very much and was able to cope pretty well.  I think this will depend on the child to a very large extent.  Right now she is a bit stuck on coin counting and I wish there was a way to skip it, go onto the next material, and then come back to it. For now we will focus on the reading portion, and then go back to maybe next week.

Kaplan Kids Virtual Room
Kaplan Kids Virtual Room

The Rewards Zone:
This section seems like it would work very well for an older child.  There is a virtual room that the child can “buy” items with points earned from practice to place in the room.  My daughter loves it, but I have to help her with it, I don’t think that the interface is the easiest for little ones.

There are also other things to do in the rewards section.  Like spin a wheel to win things like entry into drawings for Target Cards and  “plant a seed” which helps grow food for those in need. These options are fabulous for a slightly older child, but finding yourself trying to explain heady concepts like world hunger to a 5 year old is a bit exhausting. My DD just kept asking who exactly would be planting the seed, who would get to pick the vegetables and who was going to eat them, why didn’t she get to plant them because they were her seeds and don’t the neighbors just give food to their friends if they are hungry and………………  Yeah, well, these kinds of virtual rewards are difficult for younger children, and frankly a bit of a headache at least in my case.  I found myself trying to explain world hunger, companies who plant things for people to eat, and conservation to a 5 year old with insatiable questions.
At this point in order to make it easier and more concrete, we decided together to keep her

Examples of Kaplan Kids Reward Zone
Examples of Kaplan Kids Reward Zone

points and not spend them until she reaches certain numbers.  Instead, we set up specific goals for her (at 2000 points we would go to the green market and buy a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables and deliver them to the food pantry and at 5000 she would get a coveted toy she has been asking for).  I will also help her spend some points on things for the virtual room (when she gets enough points) and spin the wheel once a day. This plan seemed to keep her much more motivated.

Real Time Skill Status:
The parents section is pretty useful.  At first I was not sure how to read it but as I saw my child progress in her lessons,  it began to make more sense. It shows you in green the percentage of the academic skill that she has mastered, and compares it to the first day  she started (or whatever day you specify) so you have a reference of how far she has progressed  Skills not yet mastered show in red and white means that she has not yet been introduced to the skill by Kaplan Kids.  The nice thing is, it automatically moves up a grade when the child is ready.  My daughter is working on some skills at the Kindergarten level and has just started on a few skills in the 1st grade level.  This important to keep the material challenging, but not overwhelming.  Clicking on Details will show the parent an even more detailed breakdown of where the child is working, and excelling.

Kaplan Kids Skills Progress Report
Kaplan Kids Skills Progress Report

Clicking on Details will show the parent an even more detailed breakdown of where the child is working, and excelling.

All in all, I think it is a very good program.  In general, I think it would be best for older kids (at least 1st grade) although it is working very well for my almost Kindergartner.  I would recommend it to my friends to try it.  Leaning is an individual style and it is going to be different for every child, so while it may not work for every child, I think it will work for most.  On the Kaplan Kids main website, they have  a 1 week free trial, then it is $29 a month and you can cancel anytime.

Keeping Up With Kids did not receive any incentive or from Kaplan Kids to use this product.

5 Tips for Birding with Kids

Tip #1: Kids love a present. Give the child a pair of binoculars or a kids camera, and a journal. These help a child feel like a professional and immerse them in the experience of spying and recording the birds they see.

If you can’t buy a pair of binoculars, the kids will have just as much, if not more fun with a homemade pair.  Take two toilet paper tubes and tape or staple them together.  Add a piece of yarn for a strap.  It’s a great project to get kids excited about your adventure!

Older kids will love to use their new binoculars too and little ones will feel that they participating with a sturdy toy. The child can draw and/or write the name of the bird they see. Another option is a camera for a slightly older child to record their finds. This way they can go home and look up the bird to find out what they have seen.

Tip #2: Get them Reading. Head out to the library and pick up some books on birds. Reading about birds and identifying birds and nests in books will help prepare the child for the activity. Bed time reading is one of the best ways to set up for a fantastic birding experience.

Tip #3: Make it a sure thing. Take the kids to places where you are sure to see birds. Flamingo Gardens in Davie, is just a short 20 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale and has a huge aviary with mostly waterfowl. It is a marvelous place to be guaranteed to see lots of birds.

Tip #4: Bring a few Pictures. State Park and County Park websites usually have lists of the Flora and Fauna that are available in the parks so you can make sure to choose pictures that the children will be able to find. White Ibis, Heron, Brown Pelican, Wood Stork, Cormorant, and Common Moore Hen are likely to be found at most wetland parks. All of these can be seen at the Palm Beach Zoo. Google Image can be used to find pictures of these birds. Print them out and tape them into the child’s journal to be checked off as the child finds them.

Tip #5: Join the Audubon. The Audubon of Broward County, , meet conveniently at Fern Forest in Margate, and can offer a chance to learn more about South Florida birds. Some parents think they have to be expert birders in order to enjoy the activity with their children. The truth is kids will enjoy learning about bird’s right alongside their parents.

5 Tips for Hiking with Kids

Fern Forest
Fern Forest Hiking Trail in Margate
Hiking with your family, can be an incredible bonding experience, that will build memories for your kid that will last a lifetime.  Here are 5 tips on how to get started.
Tip # 1: Start out small!
It is important to know what your child is capable of. If your child is one that will not want to walk far, make sure you choose a short path. If the kids are overwhelmed the first time out, they may not want to go again.  So make it short.  Most parks here in the Fort Lauderdale area have shorter trails that would be more manageable for small children. You can gradually choose longer paths as your child begins to get used to hiking.

Tip #2: Give them something to do.
For younger children this may be something as simple as counting trees. For older children you can print out a few pictures of native plants, trees or birds so that they can treat the hike like a treasure hunt. National Parks, State Parks and County Park websites usually have lists of the Flora and Fauna that are live in the parks so you can make sure to choose pictures that the children will be able to find.

Tip #3: Be prepared for weather.
Remember children dehydrate faster than adults do and they are far less likely to mention they are thirsty or hot when they are having fun. Be sure to put the sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and water bottles to good use and remind the kids to take a drink every now and again. Try to avoid high energy activity in the summertime during the hottest part of the day between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm.

Tip #4: Be prepared for bugs.
It is especially important to keep Safety in mind. South Florida mosquito’s can carry Hiking Trails at Birch Park in Fort Lauderdalediseases so be sure to bring the bug repellent and wear protective clothing. Long lightweight pants and long sleeves will help to keep the pesky critters from making a meal of the family. Wear layers so these protective layers can be peeled off later. The best time to avoid the mosquitoes is winter time.Some parks even post a “Mosquito Report” at trail heads, so you can call ahead.
I really like All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent Spray (4-Ounce).  I have been using it since my daughter was born and found that it works pretty well. Socks and light weight pants will help protect you from ant bites and poison ivy.  That handy dandy hat that keeps the sun out of your eyes so well will also help deter ticks.

Tip #5: Make hiking a rewarding experience.
Make sure to follow your hike with something the kids will enjoy.  A little picnic with some favorite snacks on a blanket, or a swim in the ocean will give the children something to look forward to and reason to finish the trail.  Many Local South Florida parks like Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale and John U Lloyd Beach Park in Dania Beach have playgrounds, picnic table are on the beach and have nearby parking so it would be easy to return to pick up swim gear and a picnic basket.  With a little planning, hiking with the family can be very rewarding and lots of fun for all. So get out there and hike South Florida!

Regal 1$ Summer Movie – Nationwide

Regal Theater Summer Movie LogoRegal Summer Movie Express!  Regal Theaters offer kids movies on Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 10am for nine weeks. Beginning June 11 in most Theaters.  Admission is $1 and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Will Rogers Institute.

Please check your local Regal Cinema for participation.

Week Title Rating Start Time
1 The Three Stooges PG 10am
1 Ice Age: Continental Drift PG 10am
2 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days PG 10am
2 Parental Guidance PG 10am
3 Mr. Poppers’ Penguins PG 10am
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked G 10am
4 Monte Carlo PG 10am
4 Rio G 10am
5 Coraline PG 10am
5 ParaNorman PG 10am
6 Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax PG 10am
6 Big Miracle PG 10am
7 Yogi Bear PG 10am
7 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island PG 10am
8 Racing Stripes PG 10am
8 Happy Feet Too PG 10am
9 African Cats G 10am
9 Chimpanzee G 10am

Lowe’s Build & Grow Free Kids Workshops

Lowe's Build & Grow

I thought I would repost this as there are several coming up and my daughter has been asking to go one.  Check the events calendar for the next one. Advance registration is required.

I had to run into Lowe’s the other week to return something for my husband and my daughter pointed out the giant sign on the wall that had Donkey’s dragon girlfriend from Shrek on it.  I realized it was for a free workshop to build the dragon. So of course I signed us up and we went.

It was really fun and really cute. Sorry for the lousy phone photos but I was being lazy and did not bring my camera.

You have to register online first. We showed up early and they were already set up. It was a little wood model with little nails and directions.

The attendant gave us the set, a hammer to use, and a cute Lowe’s apron for my daughter.

Lowe's Build & Grow

I had hoped there would be someone to help us figure out how to do it, but the attendant, while very friendly, did not offer any help.

I am of absolutely no use with tools but I did manage to figure out how to put it together on my own. Okay, well with a little help from my 4 year old and the people around me!

It was not exactly the way it was meant to be, but it worked and my daughter was so proud of herself for nailing it together.

When the project is complete the kids are given a cute little patch to take home. You can iron it onto their apron for them and they can wear it to the next workshop and earn another badge.

Lowe's Build & Grow

There is a Shrek Onion Carriage coming up the weekend of August 25th. Check out the Lowe’s Build and Grow link to register.