Posts Tagged ‘ summer vacation ’

Is a Road Trip on Your Summer-Fun To-Do This Year?

Monday, June 15th, 2015

With fuel prices expected to be at their lowest since 2009, more families than ever may be hitting the road for vacation. “This could be the year of the summer road trip, with lower gas prices motivating millions of people to travel,” AAA spokesman Avery Ash said in a statement. “Many drivers are likely to save hundreds of dollars this summer as gas prices remain more affordable than in recent years.”

For some families, the choice to drive might indeed be fueled by low gas prices, but I’ve grown up taking annual road trips with my family. Ever since I turned three, my parents would buckle my older brother and me into the backseat of a minivan so we could drive from our Pennsylvania home to the Midwest to visit relatives.

Even today, my friends’ eyes bug out when I tell them how I’d sit in a car for two days to go to a small town in Iowa. But the long rides never felt like a big deal to me, and I think they’ve helped me learn patience and the virtues of boredom. Sure, my brother and I used to get antsy and whine, “Are we there yet?” but I like to think we were being a bit ironic when we mimicked the common backseat expression.

My brother and I got pretty good at finding activities to do while contained in our three feet of legroom. When 6-year-old me suggested my family swap our car for one with a TV installed, my parents respectfully ignored my request. At the time, nothing sounded better than hours upon hours of cartoons, but I’m thankful my parents didn’t let me have my way. Instead of vacantly watching a screen, I mastered the art of entertaining myself.

My parents enforced a rule about no entertainment until we hit the turnpike, which amped up the excitement during the first 15 minutes of our 13-hour first day on the road. Leading up to our trip, my parents would buy me a few issues of my favorite magazines, and I could barely control myself from cracking them open before hitting the highway. As soon as we were cruising down I-80, I gleefully broke into my backpack of road trip goodies. Between doodling paper, magnetic “paper” dolls, and string crafts, I was good to go for hours. Once the sun went down and it was too dark to see anything, I enjoyed staring out the window and watching the scenery pass by. Even as a small child, I appreciated the chance to get lost in my thoughts. I might not have contemplated life too deeply, but I liked making up stories in my head.

I used to envy my friends’ fun-filled vacations to the beach or Disney World — at 11, I was probably the last of my friends to visit the most magical place on Earth — but eventually I learned to appreciate the simple nature of our trips. When I was little, a high-energy, activity-filled trip sounded ideal. But as I got older I discovered the appeal in a low-key destination. Vacations are meant as a change of pace, and I prefer to slow my pace down when I can. When the most exciting sites in a 15-minute radius are a dollar store and a few thrift shops, vacation can truly be an escape. Working and parenting don’t allow much time for curling up with a good book, or even the freedom to catch a catnap whenever you want, so a place where both are encouraged can be the perfect retreat.

With an increasingly busy schedule and more responsibilities, I’ve had to skip a few of my family’s visits to the Midwest, and I never thought I’d miss it as much as I do. Thankfully, this summer I’ll have the chance to experience that road trip again for the first time in years. It’s not the most glamorous getaway, but I’m incredibly excited to climb back into my parents’ minivan. I’m looking forward to a journey that’s sure to bring back childhood memories as we create new ones as a family.

Marissa Laliberte is an Editorial Intern at Parents magazine who loves running, baking, and drinking coffee. Follow her on Twitter: @mjlaliberte

Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Image: Young girls going on road trip via Shutterstock

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4 Things I Learned About Parenting From Working at Walt Disney World

Friday, January 16th, 2015

I spent one year working for the Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney World. It was hands down the most magical year of my life, filled with fun, learning, and a boatload of funny stories.

While I learned important lessons about teamwork and the power of positivity, I also learned a thing or two about parenting. By interacting with families of different backgrounds, sizes, and child-rearing styles, it became clear that all parents had alter egos on vacation. It was obvious when mom or dad were in full vacation parent mode, because they were savvy and quick on their feet when it came to handling children in a high stress (or high excitement) situation.

Here are some examples of how parents inspired me and had me taking notes on their impressive theme park parenting.

  1. Parents will stop at nothing to make sure that their kids are happy, even if that means sitting through It’s A Small World for an entire afternoon. While visiting Magic Kingdom on a day off, I watched a father re-enter the line for It’s A Small World four times because his daughter, “wanted to see the babies sing again.” My heart went out to him, and I respected the fact that he loved his daughter so much, enough that he would voluntarily ride in the tiny boat with her over and over again.
  2.  Stroller folding is an art form that is extremely underappreciated. This I learned firsthand. Being a stroller parker just comes with the job when you work a Disney attraction. Fellow cast members and I would bribe each other to take our stroller shifts, because it was a grueling task. Not every stroller folds the same way, and some have crazy hard child safety locks that require patience and an owner’s manual to unlock. I respect the parents who lug these contraptions around with them all day long!
  3.  Parents are experts when it comes to coping with wait times. I always commended those parents who stood on the two-hour meet-and-greet lines for characters with their kids. I felt sorry for these parents, until I looked closer. Their diaper bags were packed with snacks, coloring books, tablets loaded with movies, and anything else to entertain the little ones. It was like watching that scene from Mary Poppins where Mary opens up her duffel bag and pulls out a giant lamp and a potted plant, only with jumbo-sized bags of Cheerios and iPads instead.
  4. There is nothing quite like experiencing Disney through the eyes of a child. It is the reason why families keep coming back to Disney, and why I saw so many smiling parents crying happy tears when their kids saw Mickey for the first time or finally became big enough to ride the big-kid rides. In a child’s eyes, every character and attraction is real and there isn’t anything that magic can’t do. It was awe-inspiring and completely enlightening, talking to kids every day about Walt Disney World and all of the things they saw. I cried at least once a day, listening to the kids tell me about how the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent them to Disney to fulfill their dream of meeting Mickey Mouse or how they couldn’t wait to meet Cinderella and give her handwritten letters or colored pictures because she was their hero. It was an honor and it’s a much missed privilege to spend my days making magic for kids from around the world.

Image: Lake Buena Vista, FL via Shutterstock

Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands
Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands
Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands

Brooke Schuldt is an intern at Parents and the mother of a cactus named Timmy. She has a different hair bow for every day of the week. Follow her on Twitter

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15,000 Miles of Summer: Our 4-Month Adventure

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Brandi Koskie, an editor, writer, and mom to 4-year-old Paisley. 

My husband and I had a bad year; one of those where two grandparents die two weeks apart, you become the executor to an estate overnight, you quit your really reliable long-term job for another, and then two months later get an unexpected layoff. It was terribly overwhelming; suffocating. I finally understood what it meant to be at rock bottom and want to give up on everything. I’m starting to recover, but in all of that life and death and transition I realized I wasn’t doing a whole lot of living anyway.

We’d spent the beginning of the year looking for a new house to buy, ready to settle in after renting for several years. By March, it started to feel like a massive commitment and one my fragile state wasn’t ready to make. I wondered what it would be like to just become vagabonds and live on the road. Really live, while getting as far away from my personal nightmare as possible. I presented the idea to my husband in jest, almost as if I were sharing a bizarre dream from the night before. He bought it instantly. I panicked. After a few days, we agreed to take off for the entire summer.

We’re calling it A Summer of Happy and the plan is to spend more time together, see more of our country, break out of our comfort zones, give our four-year-old daughter an education she’s not likely to find in a pre-k room, and simplify our life.

It’s insane, but I’m the only one who’s said that. None of our parents, friends, colleagues, or anyone else has held up a red flag, convinced us not to go, or questioned why we’d do it. Instead, we heard that people were proud of us, envious, jealous, and excited. “I want to pack up the family, get in the car and just follow you!!” wrote Jason Gordon on our blog. “The freedom and excitement of what you’ve decided to do is inspiring,” wrote Josie Maurer. Many supporters have reminded us that many people dream of doing this and that we should appreciate the fact that we’re actually in a position (and gutsy enough) to do it.

Once we both said yes, there was no turning back. By late March we’d set a departure date of May 22, the day after our daughter’s last day of preschool. That gave us roughly eight weeks to get ready. That process started with a massive purging of the house and an impressive moving sale. We took six trips to the local donation center. Friends were invited over to clean out the pantry and refrigerator in our final days. We terminated the lease on our house. We even sold our cars! As each thing left I was able to breathe and trust that we’d made the right decision.

We woke early on May 22, loaded the car with our few belongings, and drove the 526 miles in a borrowed SUV from Wichita, Kansas, to a rented vacation house in Denver, Colorado, that we will call home for 29 days. The entire drive felt like a party. We were in vacation mode, ready to get to our destination and start our adventure together.

When we walked in to this quaint little 1920’s home that we rented off a travel site online, I took the first real deep breath I’d felt in the better part of a year. After struggling with grief for the first time in my life while still being a mom, wife, and editor, trying to keep my head above water, I felt like I’d finally allowed myself to escape all of that and take the first real step toward getting back to me. I fell asleep that night whispering to my husband, “We absolutely made the right choice.”

After we finish our stay in Denver, we’re going to New Orleans, Disney World, Savannah, and ultimately Maine before turning around for Kansas sometime in September. We aren’t planning red-eye, drive-all-night routes because a little kid doesn’t have the capacity to sit for that long. Frankly, neither do we. We planned routes that keep us on the road no more than nine hours at a time. We’ll stay in one place no less than two days and as long as a month. We’re using local tourist guides, Pinterest, friend recommendations, and blogs to help us make this the most kid-friendly adventure we can put together while making sure we don’t miss any of the can’t-miss attractions, restaurants, and local scenes.

There are probably a lot of holes in our plan; I know for a fact there are gaping holes in our schedule. That’s all part of the adventure and what we’re calling “fun-taneous!” We want to figure out a lot of it along the way. I hope to meet more families like ours along the way and share with what we’re learning with friends and family. I want to get home, wherever that ends up being, and feel like myself again. I want to finish this ride feeling like the only fitting conclusion is to start planning the sequel. When our storage container is returned to us, I want to feel detached from most of the items inside. When we roll our final mile, I have no doubt that we’ll call this the best decision of our lives.

Follow Brandi on Twitter at @brandik. 

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Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes

Images courtesy of Brandi Koskie. 

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Battling the End-of-Year Blues

Friday, June 6th, 2014

For so many of my friends, summer has already begun. I’ve been positively pea green with envy as I see all those cute last-day-of-school pictures and celebratory ice cream cones. Because here, we’re still drowning in homework and the endless parade of end-of-school events, and we have about 12 days, four hours and 35 minutes left until it’s finally over. (Not that I’m counting.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love school. I ADORE school. And my kids generally do, too. It’s just that the end-of-year hoopla is as relentless and draining as the pre-Christmas/Hanukkah frenzy. And based on the hollow eyes and Walking Dead zombie shuffles I’m seeing at dropoff, it’s clear that my fellow parents are about one to-do away from collapsing on the sidewalk in a slightly soft and sweaty middle-aged heap.

For starters, my youngest daughter’s teacher is a sadist. She sent my daughter home last week (LAST WEEK!) with her very first (and fingers crossed, last) first grade project. It’s a report about an animal, with an accompanying diorama of the animal in its habitat. Her teacher insisted that we couldn’t half-ass it and buy one of those tubes of tiny plastic animals from the craft store (or 1-Clicking it from Amazon, which would have been my M.O.). So instead, we spent two hours modeling a cheetah-like creature out of clay so we could hot-glue it into her shoebox. I had planned to cover the outside of the box with paper to make it look nicer, but my daughter couldn’t care less, and neither can I. (If my daughter’s teacher had wanted a fancy paper covering, she should have scheduled this particular project in April, when we still gave a hoot.)

My schedule this week also includes two recitals (with accompanying dress rehearsals), an awards ceremony of indeterminate length, our regular slate of post-school activities, a Girl Scout moving up ceremony, a “fun Friday” event at the school, and naturally, baking a cake that my oldest daughter could bring in to her class to construct a massive map of New Jersey out of sugar, and then eat it with her classmates. (That’s the culmination of a full year of studying New Jersey history.)

My youngest daughter’s Girl Scout ceremony conflicts with her dress rehearsal, and comes right after “fun Friday,” which includes events like face painting, water balloon throwing and eating a full year’s supply of red food coloring in the form of Italian ice. We have argued every single day this week about why she can’t get her face painted, because we have had situations where even sandpaper doesn’t seem to get the face paint off of her thoroughly, and her dance teacher would probably frown on that accessory. However, I’m fully expecting that my daughter’s going to come home today with a big black owl painted on her cheek, which I’m sure will look lovely with both her rainbow sparkle tutu and her haphazardly adorned Daisy tunic (we lost about 79 percent of the badges before I had enough spare time to try to iron them on).

But that’s nothing compared to what my equally fatigued book club pals have. As we slumped in chairs and tried to resuscitate ourselves with prosecco and peanut butter cookies, we traded war stories. One was convinced her daughter stopped actually learning in March, so her class could squeeze in all the field trips, bonding events, and celebrations that come with graduating sixth grade. Her dance card’s still full with special breakfasts and ceremonies through the end of the year. Another has a second grade graduation to attend next week at 9:30 a.m.—and the note came home saying that “most kids go home afterward with their parents to celebrate for the rest of the day.” (She guesses most parents in her school must not actually work for a living.) Her school, inexplicably, goes one half-day longer than ours, but she’s rebelling and taking her kids to the beach on the last day of school instead.

I’m putting a plea out now, for next year, to all the extracurricular activity runners and the teachers: Go easy on us in June. We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re sick of sending in healthy lunches and signing permission slips and nagging about homework. Move whatever you can to March or May or better yet, October, when we’re still fresh and excited and eager. Right now, all we want to do is sip iced tea in a hammock and let our kids run through the sprinkler. Or maybe sleep in a hammock for an entire day. Either way, I’m officially washing my hands of all cheetah-sculpting and book report reviewing—until at least September 1.

Tell us: What’s on your agenda for the rest of the school year? Or are you—lucky dog—already done?

If you’re looking for fun activities to keep the kids occupied this summer, check out our cool summer craft ideas. And sign up for our Parents Daily newsletter to get fresh ideas delivered to your inbox every day. 

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes

 

Image: Blackboard summer message by blackboard1965/Shutterstock.com

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Stopping the Summer Slide

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

My daughter has only 27 days of school left—not that I’m counting. I’ve planned camps, a family vacation, and visits to grandparents, but I haven’t given much thought out yet to how I’m going to prevent her brain from turning to mush as she watches a Good Luck, Charlie episode for the eighth time or spends her afternoons at the playground. Okay, I’m exaggerating about her brain turning to mush—but, seriously, will she still be able to bust out the multiplication tables after 10 weeks away from them, or remember the formula for calculating the area of a circle? Will her writing get lazy in the lazy days of summer—will she even know what a participle is come September?

These are the kinds of questions that I wrestle with every summer striving to balance the carefree (and sometimes even boring) days that I believe kids should have versus the knowledge that studies show, math and reading skills regress over the break. In fourth grade, my daughter’s class took a math test at the end of the year—she got a perfect score. At the beginning of fifth grade, when she received the identical test, she got several wrong.

Forgetting the previous school year’s lessons is a problem in the earlier grades, too. In a piece by Michelle Crouch, last year, even first- and second-grade teachers talked about this phenomenon that’s known around schools as the “summer slide.”It’s actually led some educators to lobby for “year-around” school with several shorter breaks throughout the year rather than a long summer hiatus.

But that’s not an option in our district (and I don’t know if I’d love that idea anyway). So  I’m stuck trying to slip some academics into summer. Lucky for me, my daughter is obsessed with reading (she read every title we considered for Parents Best Book story) and,  last year, she also did the summer reading program at Barnes & Noble and our local library. Plus, a trip to the library in general is a great rainy-day activity. She’s already made herself a stack of summer books she wants to get to, but if your child is a reluctant reader, try a friend’s trick: Take out library books about something your child is passionate about (whether it’s learning more about Disney or dinosaurs) and set aside 15 minutes daily when everyone in the family drops what they’re doing to read. Since everyone is reading, your child will be more likely to want to join in.

Retaining math skills, however, is much more challenging for us. My daughter does play games sometimes on First in Math, and when she was younger, she used some of these cool math apps. I’m reluctant to buy workbooks because they seem like, well, work. Please share your ideas!

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