Summer Bucket List

By: Jessica Aldred 

While the rest of New England is still staring at melting snow banks and dodging mud puddles, the planner in me has already set her sights on sweet summertime, and our annual summer bucket list specifically. As I start booking the final weeks of children’s activities I quickly realized that, while it doesn’t seem like it, Spring has sprung and we’re moving forward despite the bleak picture outside.

Many times I’ve found myself sharing different hidden gems to take my children to once school lets out and I thought I’d take a moment to share some of our favorites and some of those that we’re really looking forward to doing again or trying for the first time. I hope you’ll chime in with any additional hot spots you’ve been lucky enough to visit.

166083457_ScienceMuseum_Boston1. Museum of Science-Science of Pixar, Boston, MA

The Disney enthusiast in me is eager to visit this one. It’s supposed to tell you all about the behind the scenes stuff that goes into making Pixar’s amazing films! What’s even better? Our Annual Capron Park Zoo membership fee gets us all into the MOS for free! Yep, FREE!

2. Freetown Splash Pad, Fall River State Forest

We discovered this gem a few summers ago. It’s a totally fenced in, zero entry, splashpad/wading pool. All my kids enjoy it and it even has a grassy area to set up a picnic or watch your older children. Bring your beach gear and plan for a day! Did I mention, free?

3. Imagination Island- Plymouth, MA

An indoor playground that keeps all three of my kids entertained. With climbing structures and a bouncy house/slide for the older ones and ride-on toys or themed play spaces for my little guy, this is a great place to visit on a rainy day!

4. Providence Children’s Museum, Providence, RI

This is a great indoor location that also has some outdoor climbing structures and caves to climb through. From a whole room dedicated to water play to themed play rooms and small manipulatives, this is another space all my children enjoy.6714651173_0b3ec8a778_b

5. Capron Park Zoo, Playground & Splashpad, Attleboro, MALions,_Capron_Park_Zoo,_Attleboro_MA

We go here so much we have an annual membership, and the reciprocal benefits are amazing. We’ve visiting other zoo’s across the country for free or at a discounted rate, not to mention the MOS (see #1). There’s a playground just outside this small walking zoo. It’s just the right size for my minions and has a small splashpad area that they can cool off in as well.

5802262298_f2bb26b6596. Nelson Park Splashpad, Plymouth, MA

Right on the beach, this splashpad allows the kids to play in the sprinklers or park it on the beach for the day. There’s also a small splashpad within walking distance. No cost here either.

7. Davis Farmland, Sterling, MA

Sterling, MA always has a special spot in my heart as this is where we’ve adopted many of our pets. This location is growing by the year. They’ve got the farmland, a huge splashpad area, foam parties, sand pits, slides, baby goats, and so much more!

8. The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village, Montville, CT

It’s a bit of a drive but well worth it for a whole day of Dino fun! There’s a huge walking trail where you can see and learn about dinosaurs and see them in a natural environment, a playground, splashpad (can you tell we like splashpads?) and a volcano that simulates and eruption!

9. World War 1 Memorial Park & Zoo, North Attleboro

This is another hidden gem. This Park has a small zoo and two playgrounds, one geared to the younger and one to the older kids. There’s an enormous tube slide as well! I realize I’m a broken record, but can you say “free”?

10. Launch , Norwood or Watertown, MAimages

While I was initially concerned about the liability with trampoline parks, these locations have put my mind at ease. They’ve got it set up so all the trampolines are continuous and at the same level as the viewing floor. This means the kids can’t bounce off, like with a single trampoline. Even the walls are trampolines!

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Snow? More Snow?!? 6 Reasons to Savor More Snow in the Forecast

By: Martianne Stanger 

As I write this, the first day of spring is about to arrive with…. snow!

Yes, snow!

More snow.

And, for many, groans.

But, not for me.

Here, we’ve just been struck with the belly bug and as it makes its way out of our home, I am actually happy that we’ll be getting some more of the white stuff. Without a doubt, snow has a way of helping speed recovery around here. Indeed, I find there is little better for healing up than rest bracketed by a bit of fresh air. And, between shoveling, play and walks, snow always beckons us to get outside.

Snow, for us, has been less of a problem this year, but rather a panacea.

Seriously. It’s often acted as a cure all- as you’ll see below:

Kids a bit stir crazy?

Simply open the door and let them lead.

Sure you might end up thigh-deep in snow, but, oh the smiles you’ll see during your adventure.

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I learned this well one Sunday when my two youngest led me through our wetlands and into a neighbor’s woods.

Headache got you grumpy?

One had me feeling less than best the other day. But, eventually, instead of bemoaning it, I finally got out of my own way and invited my four year old to go for a walk down our street.

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His delight at simple things, like being able to traipse over melting snowbanks, finding “rivers” through “caves” (streamlets of melting ice running through edges of melting snow) and follow snow streams to drains did wonders for my outlook, if not for my head.

Need inspiration?

It appeared we did the other night when a beautiful sunset and hail encouraged my kiddos and I to step outside to exchange the air in our lungs and – surprise of surprises – resulted in my oldest breaking out in a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving for the beauty of nature.

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I have had my moments of snow-induced inspiration, too.

Got Sensory Needs?

Enjoy a snow-themed story time inside and then meet sensory needs with some snowy sensory diet activities outside.

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Want to cuddle with a story?

Enjoy some time exploring a classic snow-themed picture book and then, like the character in it, go for a jaunt in the white stuff.

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Sick?

As I said before, my family has had their share of sickness this winter. Yet, sickness does not make us begrudge the winter weather. Sure, I look forward to a traditional sunshine and spring melt coming eventually, but I also relish the snow’s beauty and benefits.

That’s why when the snow started this year, I challenged you to get outside. And, that is why as it persists, I challenge you to do so as well.

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Spring time, snow, and smiles.

May the latter be yours no matter what weather this day brings.

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Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge

By: Kathy Trainor 

You have no idea how easy it is to make this three ingredient peanut butter fudge!

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We have been stuck inside for a very long time. The temps have been below zero and I was looking for something extra to give my plow guy. He said he loves fudge, but I only knew how to make the fudge recipe that was on the back of the fluff jar.  I figured I would try something new since I love peanut butter. Thus, the recipe for easy three ingredient peanut butter fudge was born!

Easy Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge

1 (12 oz.) pkg. Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

MICROWAVE METHOD: In a 1 quart microwave-safe dish, combine chips with sweetened milk. Cook on 100% power (high) 3 minutes; stir until chips melt and mixture is smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread evenly into wax paper lined 9 inch square pan. Chill about 2 hours or until firm. Turn fudge onto cutting board; peel off paper and cut into squares.

If want, you can substitute with a 12 ounce package of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet chocolate chips to make chocolate fudge instead. Make according to directions above with the rest of the ingredients.

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Childhood Wonder

By: Jessica Aldred clover-445255__180

Within a matter of four weeks I will have worn fairy wings (twice), evaded gold coin laced traps and done the bunny hop. Between the Tooth Fairy, this new leprechaun situation, and the Easter Bunny, I think I’m having an identity crisis. I mean, I thoroughly enjoy the look on my kids’ faces on Easter morning, however, I keep wondering where I’m going to draw the line. I thought I had found that line this St. Patrick’s day, but as I found myself at the local pharmacy begging for gold/chocolate coins, I just wanted to slap myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I play my part in Christmas and Easter, and I’ll tip toe in and snatch those little baby teeth in the night, of course. However, now I find myself scheduling when and where to hide our Elf on Shelf for the better part of a month each year and this leprechaun business is just another thing on my to-do list. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of this new trend, it’s that I was hoping I could avoid feeding into yet another crazy holiday. However, when the children got word of leprechaun traps and gold coins tucked in their stinky little shoes, my plans began to crumble. I just couldn’t let them be the only kids to go to school with no tales of crazy green antics. I get it, it’s festive and fills their little minds with wonder and anticipation, but when is it enough? How many other holidays can we squeeze into the year? How many more times can I tip toe around my own house, praying I’m not busted? And what happens when they do discover my devious ways?

One of my most dreaded moments as a parent is when they find out that I’m the one facilitating their sugar plum dreams and they hate me for it. I figure I’ve got another year or so before my oldest catches on or an older kid at school spills the beans. By then my older boys will be 6 and 8 years old, but the baby will only be 2! How do I get them to keep the spirit of these annual celebrations alive for my little guy? Who knew that all these years of lying to my children to keep the spirit of the holidays alive would become so stressful? I certainly don’t want to be caught in a leprechaun trap, or worse, have my kids dreams of Christmas Eve ruined because I was too noisy dragging gifts down to the living room.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something they love. So, as I’m coloring my toilet water green and finger painting the very same walls I’ll wake up and scrub clean in the morning, I’ll do so with a smile on my face and a little sprinkle of the spirit in my heart. After all, I’d do just about anything to make them happy so picking all the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms doesn’t seem like such a big deal at the end of the day. I’m interested to hear how other parents are keeping the spirit alive and also how you’ve handled the dreaded discovery process as they get older.

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Homework Blues

By: Jessica Aldred

I don’t know about you, but after school pick-up, extracurricular activities, dinner prep and baths the last thing I want to do is homework. After being on the go for ten solid hours, my son has no interest either. However, the unavoidable task of homework presents itself at least four nights a week.

We’ve got spelling, reading, math, and writing with the additional added projects. Everything arrives on different days and is due on different days. Oftentimes, it takes a two adult conference to understand exactly what he’s supposed to do. With the new core math standards aside, simply trying to understand what is being asked of him is often a challenge. Teachers claim our kids should take ownership for their homework and listen to the instructions while in class but how many six year old boys are 1. Paying attention by the end of the day and 2. Retaining what was instructed at that point.

We try and spread the work out the best we can throughout the week, doing the heavy portion of it on the nights we don’t have extra activities. It really shouldn’t take all that long, but when you add an exhausted six year old who has been doing similar stuff at school all day, often times it’s like pulling teeth. The poor kid acts like we want to be doing homework, as if we wouldn’t prefer to be playing a game or watching a movie as bed time approaches. We somehow become the homework law and power through to get it done. It might not be the neatest, and it might not be done as his teacher intends, but it’s done and in that backpack ready to go.

papers-262731__180Now this is only first grade. I can only imagine what the more advanced grade levels have to offer, or worse, when multiple kids have all different homework coming in and out on different days. I have no idea how we’ll keep who’s working on what and when everything’s due straight. I’ve heard rumblings of book reports and full dress-up presentations before they even leave elementary school and I’m dreading it!

Who do they think makes those poster boards so neat, prints those perfectly trimmed captions and sews their little costumes? I’ll give you a clue, it’s not the student. Now if I’m up late at night printing pictures and text for my kid to glue on his posters and sewing WW2 era jackets for his presentations, who is learning what? In sending home all this homework after a full day at school and the almost required sports/extra classes, how do they see this homework time going down? Sometimes I feel as though they’re trying to teach us, the parents, a lesson. We’re the ones grunting the bulk of the meltdowns and attitudes as we power through that last math worksheet. We’re the ones budgeting their time so that their projects are done on time or so they get that good grade and don’t slip to the bottom of the class.

I don’t disagree with homework in principle, however I do think there can be too much too soon. Children shouldn’t feel the stress of this excessive amount of work outside of school so soon. They should be able to come home and play with their siblings and relax after a full school day. In our case, this homework situation is discouraging my child from enjoying his elementary school experience. He doesn’t want to go to school because “all he does is work.” If all he’s doing all day is work, then comes home and is expected to do even more work, it’s no wonder he’s got a negative view of school. This is not how I’d like his early educational experience to go, however it’s the unfortunate hand we’ve been dealt.

I’d love to hear your opinion on the subject or how your family handles these homework blues?

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How to Make a Worm Tank

By: Kathy Trainor 

Believe it or not, worm tanks are more common then you think. For a while I thought I was the only mommy blogger who made them, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that fellow Signature Moms blogger, Martianne, was also working on a worm tank with her children.  I use them for my garden each school year to start a Pizza Garden in my classroom.  Some people are grossed out by worms. The idea of having a worm tank is something rather unsanitary to them, but in reality, these little wiggling worms can save you time and money.

How to make a worm tank

You need:

Putting together your worm tank:

Step 1
Drill about twenty evenly spaced 1/4 inch holes in the bottom of each bin. These holes will provide drainage and ventilation for the worms to move and grow.  Make sure to do the top cover and sides evenly

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Step 2
Prepare bedding for the worms by shredding newspaper into 1 inch strips. Worms need bedding that is moist. Moisten the newspaper by soaking it in water and then squeezing out the excess water. Cover the bottom of the bin with 3-4 inches of moist newspaper, fluffed up. You will then want to take 3-4 large scoops of dirt or potting soil and place it on the newspaper.

Step 3
Add your worms to the bedding. One way to gather red worms, is to put out a large piece of wet cardboard on your lawn or garden at night. If that doesn’t you may want to buy some here.

Step 4
Cut a piece of cardboard to fit over the bedding and get it wet. Then cover the bedding with the cardboard. (Worms love cardboard, and it breaks down within months.) This also keeps things moist and makes it easy to tend to.  At this point, add coffee grounds to prevent a damp odor or moldy smell from developing in your worm tank.

Step 5
Place your bin in a well-ventilated area.  Places like a laundry room, garage, balcony, under the kitchen sink, or outside in the shade all work well.  You can use the lid of a second bin as a tray to catch any moisture that may drain from the bin if you want.

Step 6
Feed your worms slowly at first. As the worms multiply, you can begin to add more food. Gently bury the food in a different section of the bin each week, under the cardboard. The worms will follow the food scraps around the bin. This will give them exercise and allow them to move as they do in the environment.  This will also prevent odor.

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What do worms like to eat? These are the items you should put in your Worm Tanks.

Worms LOVE

Worms HATE

-Breads
-Cereal & Grains
-Coffee and Tea Grounds
-Fruits & Veggies

-Dairy Products
-Fats
-Meat
-Oils

Should you run into problems with your worm tank…

Troubleshooting

Problem

 Cause 

 Solution

Worms are dying
or trying to escape

-Too wet
-Too dry
-Bedding is used up

-Add more bedding
-Moisten bedding
-Harvest your bin

Bin stinks

-Not enough air
-Too much food
-Too wet

-Do not feed for 1-2 weeks
-Add more bedding
-Add more holes

Good luck!

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Pinterest Win!

By: Rachel Ventura 

I’m always hearing about Pinterest fails. Some of the photos I have seen are pretty comical and I admit, I have tried a few ideas from Pinterest that did not come out as well as I’d hoped. But I’m here to tell you about a Pinterest win that anyone can do! It would be perfect for St. Patrick’s Day or Easter, the first day of Spring, or a birthday party. Or you could just make them for no reason at all, on a random snowy Wednesday, like we did last week!

So the idea is rainbow cupcakes. Obviously it’s a few extra steps, and takes a bit more time, than making regular cupcakes. But they really weren’t difficult, and the result is seriously awesome!! My daughter and I love to bake together, and these cupcakes took it to a whole different level of amazing! When you bake with a child, they experience so much- math, science, sensory, creativity, small motor skills, and best of all, it’s just plain old fun! Plus, you get a delicious treat at the end! It’s really a win-win for everyone.

Here are the steps to making these awesome rainbow cupcakes, that are sure to make your day a little brighter!

1. Purchase your favorite brand of boxed cake mix. Be sure it is white cake mix, not vanilla.

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2. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

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3. Mix the cake as instructed on the box however, be sure to use egg whites only! The yolks will make the mix less white, and mess with the colors.

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4. Get 6 bowls and spoons ready. We used Styrofoam for easy peasy clean up.

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5. Divide the mix as evenly as you can into the 6 bowls. It does not have to be perfect. Then add food coloring to each mix, to make the colors of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

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Don’t they look pretty?!

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6. Here’s the part that is a bit time consuming, and can get a little messy if your child is helping…but my daughter loved doing it! Place 1 spoon full of each color into each cupcake liner. Just place 1 spoonful on top of another, until you have put all 6 colors into each.

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Gently tap the pan on the counter, to even out the cake mix a bit.

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Here’s how they looked going into the oven…..

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And how they looked coming out. Reminds me of a tie-dye shirt!

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And when you bite into them, a beautiful rainbow!

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So yummy and so much fun!!

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Let me know if you try this recipe. I’d love to hear if it was a Pinterest win for you as well! Or if you have any other recipes to share!!

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