Overcoming shyness: Helping your child excel in school and life

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Do you have a son who is so incredibly shy that the first day of school is enough to wreak havoc on his digestive tract? Or a daughter who you worry won’t make friends due to her constant fear of meeting new people? If so, you’re not alone.

While some scientists may argue that shyness is often due to genetic predisposition, many psychologists will point to strong experiential factors. The first may bring up some feelings of empathy; if you were a shy child there’s always the possibility that some of that was passed down. The latter of the two can often be explained by past experiences of rejection or fears of future failure.

But there is good news. For children and teens who suffer from shyness, there are three major steps that parents can take to help:

  1. Highlight past successes
  2. Provide opportunities for new successes
  3. Get to the root of the problem


Reminders of past successes

Highlighting past successes doesn’t have to mean just verbally reminding a child that they did something well. It could include framing a photo of their best dance recital, placing awards or trophies in a place of prominence, placing an announcement in the newspaper or family newsletter, or asking them to mentor a younger child on the piano.

You can also “brag” to family members or friends within earshot of your child, (“I was so proud of Michelle. She scored two points in her basketball game!”) or encourage a child just for attempting something new (even if they didn’t excel at it). Some parents may disagree with the idea of giving out “participation awards,” but in the case of a shy child or teen, just trying something new can be a very big deal.

Opportunities for new successes

Just as you wouldn’t take a child who is afraid of heights up to the top of the Empire State Building, it’s not recommended that you force shy kids into unfamiliar social situations. Your best bet is to introduce them to familiar settings and activities, such as family events, close friends’ birthday parties or play dates in the comfort of their own home.

Building social confidence doesn’t just come from interaction, however. It’s largely based on self-confidence, which can be increased through solo successes in art, music, grades, individual athletics, writing and responsibilities (taking care of an older sibling or pet).

Look for opportunities to help your child soar at whatever he/she does—even if it has to start at home. Once your child hits a major milestone (such as completing an essay and entering it into a contest), be sure to praise his/her effort rather than the final result. In the case of the essay, for example, you could share the piece with friends and family and ask them to send complimentary responses, or post the piece on an online community portal or personal blog.

The root of the problem

Sometimes, shyness is the result of a pervasive problem that may or may not exist outside the child’s control. Bullies, cliques or an overly critical parent or sibling can lead a child to devalue his/her worth and accomplishments. Look for ways to foster discussion with children to help determine the cause of their shyness. Questions like, “What makes you feel sad?” or “When was the last time you were mad?” may spark a conversation that leads to some discovery.

One often-overlooked correlation is that shyness is often paralleled by low self-esteem due to slower (not lower) performance. While some may argue the “chicken or the egg theory”—that slow performance is a result of low self-esteem—scientists and psychologists now know that more often than not, self-esteem can be increased by increasing the speed at which results are attained. In fact, even smart kids tend to suffer a decrease of confidence when they don’t achieve their results (such as test-taking or homework) as quickly or easily as their classmates.

Take Angela Knutsen. Her 9-year-old daughter, Holly, was a good student and incredibly strong reader for her age. But Knutsen had concerns that while Holly was in the upper level math class, she seemed to struggle with her math facts. “When I would practice math drills with her, she would know 6 + 6 = 12, but if I immediately asked 6 + 7, she wouldn’t know,” explains Knutsen. “After I got her tested, I could tell why: her short-term memory was weak and her processing speed was slow. She couldn’t hold 6 + 6 is 12 in her head long enough to process ‘therefore 6 +7 must be one more, 13.’”

In addition, Holly had struggled with low self-esteem and suffered from extreme anxiety. “She has always had trouble going into new situations,” says Knutsen, who herself suffered from anxiety as a child. “She would cry every day when I took her to kindergarten, and in first and second grade she would get herself so nervous about a change in routine; if there was a field trip or an assembly the next day, she would cry several times the night before, and she would look physically sick. It broke my heart.”

Knutsen began researching programs to help bright children. “There were a lot of tutors and businesses that helped kids with severe learning disabilities, but that’s not what Holly needed,” she explains. “I eventually stumbled across a personal brain training company,” explains Knutsen. “The testimonials from other parents—especially those with fearful children like Holly—convinced me to give it a try. I kept hearing that increased confidence was a near-universal side effect.”

Initial testing confirmed that Holly was weaker in those cognitive skills that are needed to excel in math—logic and reasoning, and memory —(though still above average compared to her peers). More specific testing unveiled weaknesses in retrieval fluency, short-term memory, and executive processing speed.

Over the next several weeks, Holly worked with a brain trainer to strengthen her weakest cognitive skills. By the time she completed the program, Holly’s math skills had improved. But perhaps more importantly, so had her self-esteem. According to Knutsen, she was completing math tests and math homework more quickly and therefore didn’t have as much anxiety.

“The biggest change is non-academically,” says Knutsen. “Holly is beaming. She’s more confident, happy, thriving. She’s doing things on her own that she never would have tried before—basketball, art classes, new babysitters.  When she’s running off to try something new, my husband and I often say, ‘Who is this person and what has she done with our daughter?’”**

According to Dr. Ken Gibson, author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake up the Smart in your Child” there’s a good reason that kids beat themselves up over low performance. “It’s an endless cycle to try to raise the self-esteem of kids who aren’t performing well—especially if they’re placed into special education instead of trying to address the weak cognitive skills. Special education programs typically seek to accommodate struggling students with a primary strategy of lowering expectations to help those children get through school. Kids still compare themselves with peers outside of class, however, and special education students often suffer eroding self-esteem, which has the power to make their learning disabilities all that much more debilitating. But even smart kids will beat themselves up for underperforming in one subject.”

Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRX, a personal brain-training franchise, agrees. “We see all types of kids going through our brain-training programs—from children with ADD and dyslexia to teens who want to increase their learning skills to perform better on college prep tests. One of the most reported changes from parents is their child’s increased self-esteem.”

Whatever the cause, shyness is a common condition and shouldn’t be treated as a plague. Many children grow out of it and those that don’t can still go on to build healthy relationships and careers. Still, if there’s a non-genetic reason behind a child’s low self-esteem, getting to the root of the problem could mean watching him/her transform before your eyes.

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the largest one-on-one brain training organization in the world. With 80 Centers in the U.S., and locations in 40 countries around the globe, LearningRx has helped more than 95,000 individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their on-site programs partner every client with a personal brain trainer to keep clients engaged, accountable, and on-task—a key advantage over online-only brain exercises. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more about LearningRx research results, programs, and their 9.6 out of 10 client satisfaction rating visit http://www.learningrx.com/. 
**You may or may not achieve similar results. To learn more about our research and results on thousands of LearningRx clients, visit: http://www.learningrx.com/results.

 

10 Tips for Traveling with a Child with Special Needs

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The rewards of traveling with your family are myriad, and include time together, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and fond memories. (Even plans that go horribly awry provide fodder for some of the best stories!)

But let’s not kid ourselves. There are challenges, too. Kids of all ages can get tired, bored, hungry, cranky, and demanding. And if you’re traveling with a child with special needs, the challenges can be even greater.

If you’re the parent of child with special needs, you may have already found yourself wrestling with the transportation of wheelchairs or special medical devices, or dealing with sensory issues, restricted diets, incontinence or social fears. Perhaps hyperactivity or behavioral issues have led to a meltdown at the worst possible moment (like when your plane is stuck on the runway for two hours).

As you’ve probably learned, preparation is your best offense and defense. To help make your next trip a little simpler, we’ve put together a list of things to consider when planning your vacation and packing. We can’t guarantee smooth sailing, but following these suggestions just might make that family cruise around the Bahamas a bit more enjoyable.

Tips for booking your trip:

  1. Consider using a travel agency that specializes in helping people with special needs. Flying Wheels Travel (flyingwheelstravel.com), for example, helps people with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses experience accessible travel around the world. Autism on the Seas (www.autismontheseas.com) offers cruises for people with autism, Down syndrome and other related disabilities.
  1. Choose a destination that caters to people with disabilities. Morgan’s Wonderland (morganswonderland.com) in San Antonio, Texas is a theme park designed to accommodate children of all abilities. Every ride is accessible to guests with disabilities. Many major state beach destinations now offer free or low-cost beach wheelchairs rentals.
  1. Check out your seat options on Seat Guru (seatguru.com). This site lets you evaluate seating based on legroom, seat width, and overhead storage capacity, as well as DC power, food and Internet accessibility. This will help you determine where your child might do best on the plane. You’ll also want to consider proximity to the restroom and whether a window, middle or aisle seat will work best.
  1. When figuring out the best time of day to travel, weigh as many factors as you can. It’s important to identify the time of day your child travels best, but don’t forget to factor in other dynamics. For example, if flying at night when your child is normally asleep sounds like a good plan, will you be more exhausted? Will you need to wake your child to deplane for layovers? Will a later flight be more susceptible to cancellation or overbooking?
  1. Get a note from your doctor. A letter from your pediatrician explaining your child’s condition/disease/disorder can be helpful when you’re asking for special accommodations (e.g., being seated together when a flight is nearly full) or upgrading. Offer to fax or email the letter to the airline or travel agency, and carry a copy with you as you travel.

Before your trip:

  1. Review the airline’s (and TSA’s) rules in advance. You don’t want any surprises if you’re traveling with assistive devices or wheelchairs, and you may even learn that there are special baggage claim areas or check-ins, like the TSA’s Precheck lane. Check-in online at home if possible.
  1. Evaluate medications. Plan so you won’t run out of medications while you’re on vacation or immediately after returning home.
  1. Identify pediatricians, specialists, or urgent care facilities in your destination city before you need them. If you suddenly need to seek medical assistance for your child while on vacation, it’s best to know in advance where you can go—especially at night or on weekends.
  1. Practice the travel routine at home. You can read a book about going on a plane, practice the procedures at home with a “mock flight,” or even visit the airport in advance to get your child used to the sights and sounds.

 

 

Packing reminders:

  1. What to pack:

Besides medications, you’ll need to consider your child’s specific medical, behavioral, dietary and emotional needs. Must-pack items may include:

  • Headphones to drown out noise
  • Soothing music
  • A tablet, smartphone, laptop or other technology with games, music, and movies that don’t require Internet access.
  • Snacks
  • Wipes and hand sanitizer
  • A copy of your child’s birth certificate and immunizations (in case they get hurt on the trip or will be in daycare)
  • A favorite blanket and/or stuffed animal
  • A sweater or coat
  • A change of underwear or Pull-Up, if necessary
  • Books and quiet, no-mess toys and art supplies
  • Stroller and car seat
  • EarPlanes (to relieve air pressure discomfort)
  • Dramamine for kids (for motion sickness)
  • A favorite sippy cup or bottle (though there are restrictions to bringing liquid on planes)
  • Postcards and stamps
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun hats

Make a list of the five or so things you HAVE to bring (e.g., medications, passports, tickets) with the assumption that other things can be purchased on the trip if necessarily. The more preparation you put into the trip, the more you and your family can enjoy it!

Do you have a tip or trick that helps you travel with your child with special needs? Please share below in the comments to help other moms!

 

About LearningRx
LearningRx specializes in one-on-one brain training. We train cognitive skills through game-like exercises that are both fun and challenging—and we do it with a unique personal trainer approach. LearningRx’s customer satisfaction speaks for itself with an average rating of 9.5 out of 10. With 80 centers across the country, LearningRx is a pioneer in the one-on-one brain training industry. Learn more at www.learningrx.com

 

Building Your Toddler’s Cognitive Skills

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You consider yourself a good parent, right? You try to limit TV time for your toddler, buy organic whenever you can, and download only the most educational apps to keep your little one entertained while you fold laundry or get dinner started.

But if you’re like the rest of us, sometimes you wonder what else you could be doing now to help your toddler excel later. Should they be playing an instrument already? Learning Japanese? Doing baby yoga?

Not necessarily.

Everyone wants their baby to grow up to be healthy, happy and smart. You’re probably doing enough to promote the first two already. But what about the latter? What can you do now to help your child avoid struggling academically later? You can start by building a foundation of strong cognitive skills.

What are cognitive skills?
“Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention,” says Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRx’s (www.LearningRx.com), personal brain training company with 80 centers across the United States. “Working together, they take incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge you use every day at school, at work, and in life. In babies and toddlers, we may not see these weak skills manifesting yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start targeting these foundational brain skills.”

Each of your cognitive skills plays an important part in processing new information. That means if even one of these skills is weak, no matter what kind of information is coming your way, grasping, retaining or using that information is impacted. In fact, most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills.

Here’s a brief description of each cognitive skill, as well as the struggles your child could experience once they start school, if that skill is weak:

Attention
What it does: Sustained attention enables you to stay focused and on task for a sustained period of time. (There’s also divided and selective attention.)
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak during school years: Lots of unfinished projects, jumping from task to task

What to do with your toddler now: Buy age-appropriate wooden puzzles.

Memory/Working
What it does: While working member enables you to hang on to information while in the process of using it, long-term memory enables you to recall information stored in the past.
Common problems (once your child starts school) when these memory skills are weak: When memory is weak, they may have to read the directions again in the middle of a project, have difficulty following multi-step directions, or forget what was just said in a conversation. They may forget names, do poorly on tests and forget things they used to know.

What to do with your toddler now: Play age-appropriate memory match games.

“Although there are different types of memory, working memory plays an especially large role when your child enters preschool,” explains Mitchell. “That’s because it’s the age at which children expand their ability to follow multi-step directions.”

Logic & Reasoning
What it does: Enables you to reason, form ideas, and solve problems
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Frequently asking “What do I do next?” or saying “I don’t get this,” struggling with math, feeling stuck or overwhelmed

What to do with your infant now: Show them a stuffed toy, then place it under a towel right in front of them. Then encourage them to find it, which will help their understanding of object permanence.

Auditory Processing
What it does: Enables you to analyze, blend, and segment sounds
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Struggling with learning to read, reading fluency, or reading comprehension

What to do with your infant and toddler now: Read to them. Studies indicate that reading to infants and toddlers can promote thought development and help with phonemic awareness.

“Contrary to what many parents believe, letter knowledge is NOT the foundation to reading,” explains Mitchell. “Reading skills are built on phonemic awareness, such as sound blending and segmenting. In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities. In addition to reading to your child, you can also build sound analysis skills by practicing rhyming, which forces the dissection of sounds.”

Visual Processing
What it does: Enables you to think in visual images
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Difficulties understanding what you’ve just read, remembering what you’ve read, following directions, reading maps, doing word math problems

What to do with your toddler now: When they get old enough to understand, tell them stories using descriptive words. Then ask them questions, such as, “What color was the dog in that story?”

Processing Speed
What it does: Enables you to perform tasks quickly and accurately
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Most tasks are more difficult. Taking a long time to complete tasks for school or work, frequently being the last one in a group to finish something

What to do with your toddler now: Add a timer to games and tasks that challenge cognitive skills, such as doing puzzles or playing the match game alone to see how fast they can find all the pairs.

Build a Smart Mom’s Toy Box for under $20
Stock your toddler’s toy box with simple, inexpensive toys that can build cognitive skills. A few ideas:

  • A deck of playing cards for memory match: Just spread out all the cards face down and have them try to find pairs. If they draw two cards that aren’t the same number or face card, they go back in the same spot face down. Builds memory and attention skills. ($1)
  • A geometric-shaped magnet set with board: Create a simple design and have your child replicate it. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($5)
  • Rhyming words domino-like cards: Use these double-sided cards with words and pictures to teach rhyming. Builds sound segmenting, rhyming and auditory processing. ($3)
  • A wooden shape sorter: Encourage children as young as two to sort shapes. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($9)
  • A timer: Add a timer to any task then encourage your child to beat their own time. Builds processing speed. ($1)

“When cognitive skills are strong, learning is fast, easy, efficient and fun,” says Mitchell. “Toys that work these skills are a step toward creating strong learners.”

If you’d like to learn more about building a foundation of strong cognitive skills, contact your local LearningRx center (www.LearningRx.com).

Sugar on the Brain

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Tips, tricks and advice for shifting your kids to healthier snacks

Last year, my son’s class ate lunch at 11:30 a.m. By the time he got home from school at 4 p.m., he was famished.

My daughter wasn’t far behind, although her big complaint was feeling sluggish in the late afternoons. She said her classroom looked like a bunch of zombies by 2:30 p.m., something akin to the zoned-out students in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I had my work cut out for me. Their 4 p.m. snack had to be both nutritious and delicious. Here are some of the things I considered when looking at my options.

Get colorful

color wheel by fruits and vegetables from an angle There are a couple reasons that using rich-hued fruits and vegetables (and even pistachios!)—like blueberries and carrots—makes for great snacks. They’re colorful, which generally makes kids attracted to them. (Do you think it’s a coincidence that the cereals on the lower shelves of the grocery stores are brightly colored? Guess who’s at eye level with sugary cereals!) But they’re also full of phytochemicals, which have been found to provide health benefits beyond what essential nutrients can give us.

In “Today’s Dietitian,” the colors are broken down into categories based on their pigment and health benefits. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Blues/Purples

Pigment from: anthocyanins
Examples: Plums, blueberries, pomegranates, blackberries, prunes, eggplant (especially the skin)

  • Greens

Pigment from: chlorophyll (These foods are rich in isothiocyanates)
Examples: broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts

  • Yellows/Greens

Pigment from: lutein
Examples: Kiwi, pistachios, avocado, spinach, other leafy greens

  • Reds

Pigment from: lycopene
Examples: tomatoes, guava, watermelon, cranberries, pink grapefruit

  • Yellows/Oranges

Pigment from: beta-cryptoxanthin, beta-carotene, vitamin C
Examples: Carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, mangos, winter squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes

RECIPE: Rainbow Veggie Pinwheels

 

Get nutty

Nut allergies withstanding, every kid should be able to find some kind of nut (or seed) they love. Nuts are incredibly nutritious, packed with protein, “good” fats, vitamins and minerals. They also keep well (in school lunches or as snacks they don’t need to be refrigerated).

In addition to choosing between shelled and unshelled, you can purchase them in butter form or make your own at home. The same is true for sunflower seeds.

So, which nuts are the best?

According to “Health” magazine, all nuts are healthy when eaten in moderation and are about equal in calories. The trick is usually to buy them raw or dry roasted.

Pound for pound, your healthiest options are almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts and pistachios. The two to avoid: macadamia nuts and pecans.

RECIPE: Peanut Butter, Banana & Honey Roll-Ups

 

Get seasonal

Spooky green apple monsters for Halloween party

Sure, buying seasonal fruits and vegetables is usually cheaper and tastier, but “getting seasonal” also applies to having fun with holidays (e.g., Easter, Halloween, Christmas) and themes (e.g., boats, snowmen, flowers, pumpkins).

What about giving your kids a plate of fruits, vegetables, cheese, nuts and pretzels and telling them to design their own edible monster or bug? Or giving them each a spinach wrap, some sliced cheese and thinly sliced pears with some cookie cutters to make their own green Christmas tree sandwiches? Be sure to include some almond butter, honey or peanut butter to serve as the “glue” in their creations.

Seasonal could also mean experimenting with cool treats in the warmer months. Try letting your kids choose their own ingredients for smoothies or popsicles.

Got a rainy spring day? Put out bowls of pretzels, gold fish, yogurt-covered cranberries, raisins, nuts and popcorn and have the kids make their own snack mix for movie time!

RECIPE: Fall Special

 

Get them growing

Boy with vegetable harvest

Years ago we had a huge garden that could have made me a pretty penny at the Farmer’s Market—had my kids not eaten everything before I could pick it! From tomatoes and peas to carrots and peppers, my kids ate more vegetables that summer than any year before or since! Why? Because they had a hand in growing them.

Seeing your hard work come to fruition is incredibly satisfying at any age, but especially for kids. They had helped plant, label, water, fertilize and compost, and knowing those vegetables were “theirs” made them taste that much better.

We go back to school in mid-August, so the kids were still reaping the rewards of their work in their school lunch and after school snacks. They were so proud to show off their carrots and snap peas to their classmates!

Freezing, pickling and canning also works great to preserve the harvest. There’s the traditional tomato sauce, jelly and pickled beets, but you’d be surprised at the number of things you can pickle and can, freeze or dry for later use!

One of my kids’ favorites? Toasted pumpkin seeds.

RECIPE: Veggie Train

 

Get them grabbing

Last year, a nationwide study found that families who keep fruit out on their kitchen counter were more likely to have a lower BMI and weigh 13

pounds less than those who didn’t. I actually keep three bowls of fruit out, largely for variety, and also because apples need their own container due to the fact that they’ll ripen other nearby fruits too quickly. I’ve found the kids are more likely to eat fruit when it’s within reach.

I also keep a designated snack cupboard (for crackers, pretzels, nuts and cereal) and a bin in the fridge just for cold snacks. These include things like yogurt, cheese sticks, turkey pepperoni, hardboiled eggs, sliced lean meats and baby carrots. Sometimes I even have small containers of pre-made tuna or chicken salad. I’ve found that just having a stocked, highly visible and accessible bin makes them more likely to grab something healthy—even when I’m not around. 

RECIPE: Cucumber “Sushi” Rolls

 

Get (or be) a role model

Mother and her son eat healthy food Getting kids to eat healthy is nearly impossible if they see you eating junk food. “Do as I say, AND as I do” is the only way to create realistic expectations on healthy snacking.

Of course, just because I love broccoli doesn’t mean my daughter does. (My son is a freak of nature. When he was 7 years old he listed “kale” as his favorite food on a school worksheet.) One trick that worked for me was having my daughter’s uber-unpicky friend over for snacks. The girl would eat any fruit or vegetable I gave her to snack on, which made her a good role model for my daughter. (It worked so well that one night I got up from the dinner table for something and heard my daughter yell, “Mom! He stole my Brussels sprouts!” I’m quite sure that’s the only time in history that phrase has been uttered.)

A few times I made the mistake of assuming my kids wouldn’t like something, only to discover that they loved it at first bite! Refried beans, for example, are packed with protein and fiber, but I thought the consistency would scare them off. Both my kids now love them—even right out of the can. 

RECIPE: Homemade Hummus and Pita Chips

 

Get talking

Getting your kids to eat healthy snacks is about more than what you put in front of them. After all, you can’t be with them 24/7.

Part of the shift needs to come from conversations about nutrition and how different foods make our bodies and brains feel. Ask your kids to monitor their bodies after they eat something high in sugar. Do they feel a surge of energy but then a sudden crash? Now ask them how they feel after they eat ants on a log (i.e., peanut butter and raisins on celery) or a tuna fish sandwich. Do they have more sustained energy to jump on the trampoline or ride their bike?

I’ve talked to my kids about how addictive sugar is and that I love junk food but have to work hard to only eat small amounts or I crave more. Start your conversation early. I wasn’t sure my kids were old enough when I first started talking about “brain fog” and needing a nap after overeating, but they still repeat things back to me years later!

Getting your kids to eat healthy isn’t hard if you start them early and make it easy. Teaching kids to enjoy nutritious food and the way they feel when they eat healthy are habits they’ll likely continue through adulthood. 

Check out this “cool” ice cube tray idea!

 

17 Activities Your Family Will Love (that cost less than $17)

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By Guest Blogger Wendy Burt-Thomas

iStock_000041041392_MediumAccording to Value Penguin, the average American family spends more than $200/month on entertainment. Of course, that’s based on an average income of $63,784. If you’ve got an extra large family or make less than the average household, you might really feel the pinch when it comes to taking your family to say, a carnival.

Instead of focusing on what we can’t afford, let’s focus on all the things we can do for next to nothing. We’re talking $20 or less for my family of four, although many of these activities are free, thanks to things you have around the house. Plenty of them even work on rainy days when you don’t feel like splashing in puddles.

  1. Geocaching. My best friend has four kids and she swears this is one of their favorite things to do as a family. Assuming you’re one of the 7 in 10 Americans who own a smartphone, you’ve already got everything you need for your outdoor hunt for clues—and maybe a prize! (If you don’t own a smartphone but do own a GPS, you’re in luck too.)

Simple go to www.Geocaching.com and create a free account. Type in your address and you’ll see all the nearby geocaches. (There are 2 million geocaches in the world and the U.S. has nearly half.) Just choose the one you want and enter the coordinates into your GPS or smartphone. Once you find the geocache, sign the log book, return the geocache to its original location and share your stories and photos online.

There are lots of different kinds of geocaches, from traditional to mystery caches (e.g., that make you solve puzzles) to multi-caches that provide a chain of clues to your next stop. Some geocaches encourage you to exchange toys or trinkets, so feel free to bring fun stuff to swap. You may even decide to create your own geocache!

  1. Have a Box Bonanza. My son is 8 and obsessed with building things: Legos, pseudo go-carts on his skateboard, survival huts out of sticks, you name it! When I see rain in the forecast, I simply head to our nearby Lowe’s and buy a bunch of extra-large moving boxes. At only $2.27 each, I can get more than enough for him and his sister to spend a couple hours building cars, pretend kitchens, rocket ships, and boats. Plus, it’s the perfect time for me to mop because they’re stuck in their boxes thanks to the floors being hot lava and all.
  1. Mark your calendar with all the Deal Days. If you’re a committed penny pincher, you may already know a lot of these in your area. But for those who don’t know, many zoos host several free days each year. Likewise, many movie theaters offer a discounted ticket price on one day (often Tuesday) of the week. Regal Cinemas offers the Summer Movie Express, which offers tickets to certain children’s movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for just $1.

Many museums and aquariums offer free family nights or days that kids can get in at no charge with an adult. Programs like Kids Bowl Free let you sign your child up for two free games of bowling every day all summer long. Certain holidays and recognition days tie in freebies for kids. One example is National Fishing and Boating Week, when most states offer free fishing days for kids (meaning no license is required).

If you’re lucky enough to live near a national park, activity duty military and their dependents, as well fourth-graders can get in free all year thanks to a program giving them free annual passes.

  1. Make a time capsule. Just imagine a family 200 years from now unearthing your family’s time capsule! You can include photos, a newspaper or magazine, a handwritten letter talking about what life is like today, a movie ticket stub, a few inexpensive toys or pieces of memorabilia, and some coins or a dollar bill. Maybe it’s not 200 years before it’s opened. Perhaps your family will open it together 50 years from now!
  1. Go on a nature scavenger hunt. I created one of these for all the neighborhood kids and they had a blast! Basically, it’s just a list of items they might find in your yard: a red leaf, a dandelion, a stick shaped like the letter Y, a pink rock, a four-leaf clover, etc. You can set a time limit (since not everyone will find a four-leaf clover!) and give everyone a small paper bag to carry their list and hold everything they find.

You can also use a checklist of things to look for, but not touch. This is good for parks or nature hikes where you don’t want nature disturbed.

  1. Host your own carnival. Designing the games is half the fun! Stack tin cans in a pyramid and let everyone try to knock them down with a rice-filled sock. Try to get a Frisbee in a hamper or hit ping pong balls off the tops of bottles with a Nerf gun. Be creative! There are countless ideas that you can create with things you already have around your home.
  1. Tour a fire station. Many fire stations hold open houses for the community, but some also let you schedule private tours! Kids usually get to touch the equipment, see where the fireman eat and sleep, climb on the fire trucks and maybe even slide down the pole!
  1. Play an active game to keep everyone moving. Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Freeze Tag or even Charades on a rainy day will keep everyone off the couch. Some websites offer printable cards or random idea generators for Charades phrases.
  1. Set up a backyard campsite. A tent, s’mores and a (code compliant) campfire—it’s just like the real thing with the convenience of indoor plumbing!
  1. Create an indoor treasure hunt. I like to write rhyming clues for my kids. Here’s an example:

“Ready to start? Here’s your first clue:

A bright yellow book holds Clue number 2!”

Depending on your kids’ ages, you can keep it short and simple or make it much harder with more clues. The last clue should help them find a fun treat or prize.

  1. Host the Silly Olympics. Here’s another fun way to get your family outside on a beautiful day. Create an obstacle course or individual events (like the backwards crab crawl or carrying an egg on a spoon). Unless your kids are about the same age, games of speed don’t often feel as fair as games of balance or accuracy. Feel free to choose events that you know the younger children could win—such as somersaults or making farm animal noises while jumping on the trampoline.
  1. Build a massive fort. Buy a couple bags of clothespins the next time you’re at the store. (They’ve got a million uses so you won’t be wasting your $3.80 for 100.) Give everyone five minutes to gather every blanket, sheet and tablecloth in the house while you rearrange chairs for maximum awesomeness!
  1. Break out the indoor games. From board games and puzzles to card houses and paper airplane competitions, you can create a lasting memory without opening your wallet!
  1. Plant a garden. Everyone feels good when they touch soil and even if you live in a tiny apartment you can grow something! Try growing basil, mint or cilantro to use in your cooking, grow a lemon tree or plant your avocado pit and watch it grow into some pre-guacamole yumminess!
  1. Volunteer at an animal shelter. With the exception of a good dander allergy, there’s no reason not to spend the day living out your childhood dream! Yes, shelters and rescues need people to pet the puppies, cuddle the kittens and maybe even rub a rabbit or two! Many shelters post their volunteer opportunities on their websites, but you can always call to find out when to bring your brood.
  1. Create a family video for a faraway loved one. If Grandma is homebound recovering from a fall or cousin Cathy is living abroad, why not make a funny family video to share a slice of life? Take them on a tour of your town or let your kids pretend to be news reporters.
  1. Sign up for a free (or very cheap!) class.

Many stores offer free classes in hopes that you’ll spend money while you’re there. Michael’s has an extensive calendar of arts and crafts workshops (e.g., jewelry, drawing, mixed media, etc.) for as little as $2. (There are also free classes but some require you to bring or buy supplies, which vary in price.)

Home Depot always has free classes. Granted, some are about installing a toilet, but there are also ones on landscaping, kids’ projects, and even how to build a football toss game!

Sometimes you’ll find free CPR classes (usually for ages 9 and up), self-defense courses, art or dance classes, and even cooking classes. Just do a Google search for “free classes” followed by the name of your city. Many places will offer a sliding scale or waive the fee for military families. It can’t hurt to ask!

Don’t cave in to the pressure of spending a lot of money when your kids complain that they’re bored. There’s plenty of fun to be had without feeling guilty about being over-budget. Your word for the year is “CREATIVE!”

Do you have a favorite free or low-cost activity your family enjoys? Please share it in the comments for others to try!