10 Ideas for Family Summer Fun!

I am in love with summer in the Willamette Valley.  During the rainy spring months, I begin to dream of picnics at Mary’s River and look forward to the day when we can eat as many fresh berries as we want. Family bike rides, kids swinging, BBQs, and splashing in cool water are other activities that come to mind when I think of summer in Oregon.   There is so much to do in this area in the summer both locally and within an hour drive.  If you are new to the area or not familiar with local family friendly activities, here are some free or affordable ideas to get you started:

  1. Take your family for a picnic/hike at Finley Wildlife Refuge. My kids love to hang out for a few hours on a nice day. Hike the woodpecker trail or walk around the boardwalk. We see wildlife every time and the kids love to explore and run free!  Picnic at the old white house afterwards.
  2. Enjoy the second year of the Sage Concert Series. Let your kids dance their hearts out and feed the ducks at Starker Art’s Park.  Concert donations all benefit the Sage garden, which is an educational garden that produces over 7,000 pounds of food for emergency food shelters annually.
  3. Enjoy an affordable paddle boat ride around Waverly Lake with your family!
  4. Visit Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. This is an enjoyable activity for family members of all ages, and it is free. Enjoy flying a kite at one of the many excellent beaches on the same day.
  5. Pick berries! There are dozens of u-pick berry farms in the area. Blueberries are currently in season, and we love to pick from either Anderson’s Blues or Radkes’.  This is Oregon living at its’ best!
  6. Go swimming! Beat the heat during July and August with an affordable family swims at Osborn Aquatic Center or Cool! Pool in Albany.
  7. Participate in a “Fresh Grown Cooking for Families” class in a beautiful garden sponsored by the Healthy Youth Program. Families gather together to harvest and cook in an outdoor setting and then enjoy a simple and healthy meal together. There are also hands on garden activities and lessons each week during the program. With a $20 suggested donation for each 4 week session, families can be healthy and build community while spending less money than what it would cost to cook at home!
  8. Camp in a yurt. My family has gone on several yurt camping trips in the area, with one of our favorites being at Silver Falls State Park. For more information, check out Oregon State Parks.
  9. Make a goal to play at every park in your community this summer. Start with  Avery Park in Corvallis as a local favorite or North Albany Park.
  10. Enjoy the many fun activities happening at Monteith Park in Albany including Movies at Monteith and the River Rhythm Series.
Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

We would love to hear your ideas of family fun during the summer! Happy summer everyone!

School Success Starts Early

“How do children become ready for school? It starts at birth, with the support of parents and caregivers, when young children acquire the social and emotional skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and in life.”


So how can parents and caregivers help set children up for school success? The latest Ready to Learn post on the website, ZeroToThree.org does an excellent job outlining the following 5 basic themes for supporting school readiness:

  1. its all about relationships
  2. everyday experiences shape early learning
  3. emotions
  4. the importance of play
  5. what a school-ready child looks like

Check out the link to ZeroToThree.org for more details about ways to support your child’s school readiness from the first days of life.

Use Your Words…

Language development is one of the most amazing capacities of the young mind. Researchers have studied the brain during this phase and continue to uncover new and exciting things about how language is acquired and developed. Did you know:

  • Around 18 months, many children can say about 50 words. At this age, most children also begin using new words after hearing them only once.
  • Whether children learn words in a rush or more slowly, by the time they reach their second birthday, they’re typically using between 250-350 words.
  • Only six months later, the word total nearly doubles to about 600 words.

I was amazed every time I watched my own children go from wordless to nonstop talking in a matter of months.  And the best part of language development for me, besides the fact that I had yet another conversation partner, was that it took a lot of the guesswork out of parenting. My children could finally express their wants, needs, and feelings (for the most part).

This is known as expressive language. Expressive language is defined as the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings. It is a powerful communication tool and there are things parents can do to encourage their child’s development of expressive language. LBCC’s Healthy Families & Healthy Start Early Literacy Program is a great resource for tips and activities that will build expressive language in young children. The newsletter is written in three parts that correspond to various age ranges of language development (babies, 2-3 year-olds, and 4-5 year-olds) and gives expectations and ideas for each. Check out the newsletter and remember that the best thing parents can do to encourage language development is use your words.

Making the Most of Mealtime

There is much more to eating with our children than meets the eye. Eating with your child is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship as well as set the foundation for lifelong good eating habits. There are basic things that parents can do to  make the most of mealtime with their child starting from birth. The tip sheet titled: Healthy From the Start, brought to you by zerotothree.org, offers the following 7 tips to guide parents as they work to make the most of mealtime with their little ones.

  1. Remember: Meals are about more than food.
  2. Create routines around mealtime.
  3. Offer 3 or 4 healthy food choices (that your child likes) at each meal.
  4. Don’t force your baby or toddler to eat.
  5. Don’t give up on new foods.
  6. Turn off the TV (and computers etc.) at mealtimes.
  7. Healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand.

New Interactive School Readiness Resource for Parents

As the parent of two elementary school children, I can still remember wanting to do whatever I could as a parent to prepare my children for school before they entered. In fact, I was looking for creative and fun ideas for activities and experiences for them as soon as I brought them home from the hospital. Okay, that is an overstatement because all I wanted for my newborn babies (and myself) was sleep.

Anyway, the more we can do to give our young children readiness skills for school, the better prepared they are to take advantage of the opportunities that school will provide. The website Zero-to-Three has recently released a fabulous interactive learning tool designed to help parents and caregivers encourage their young children’s early learning.

This Tool Includes:

  • Core information about how children develop school readiness skills and how parents and care givers can nuture and support these skills in young children.
  • Video clips that show children learning these skills through everyday interactions with their parents.
  • Parent-child activities which provide fun ideas for helping children develop school readiness skills.
  • Frequently asked questions that offer answers to common questions about learning.

If you have a newborn through preschooler check out School Readiness Interactive brought to you by  ZERO TO THREE.

Thinking About Thinking: Supporting your baby’s thinking skills

  • Children need many skills to grow up to be successful adults. Some of the most important skills that will serve all children well throughout life are thinking skills or the ability to use brain power to solve a problem in one’s environment. There are a lot of things that we can do at to encourage and develop these skills in our children, and we can start VERY early. Some ideas are offered in the Zero to Three Parenting Tips Library. The tip sheet is titled, Thinking Skills: What You Can Do to Encourage Your Baby’s Thinking Skills from 0-12 months offers ideas such as those listed below. For more detailed information about each suggestion check out the link to the full Tip Sheet brought to you by zerotothree.com.
  • Offer objects to explore.
  • Respond to her efforts to communicate. 
  • Delight in your child’s discoveries. 
  • Provide the help your child needs to solve problems
  • Play disappearing and reappearing games.
  • Encourage your child to explore objects and toys in different ways.
  • Provide support for reaching goals.
  • Model problem-solving.
  • Take “touching” walks.
  • Make the most of daily routines.
  • Give your child some everyday “toys”.



Now you see me, now you don’t. Peek-A-Boo, I see you.

The games we play with our babies are fun for baby and adult alike. They promote bonding and feelings of contentment and belonging. But many of the “baby games” we play serve educational purposes as well. Peek-a-boo, for example begins to give babies experience with object permanence, or the knowledge that an object is still there even when it is covered up or hidden behind something. This understanding develops over time with repeated exposure to experiences that reinforce this concept. Many of the games we remember from our own childhood are equally as educational and oftentimes they are also simple and fun. So why not have some fun while reinforcing basic concepts with your baby? Plus its fun to watch their faces as we “disappear and reappear” behind our hands. For more tips and ideas for playing learning games with your baby, check put the tip sheet titled Easy Learning Games to Play with Your Baby by Shari Steelsmith. This archived tip sheet is brought to you by ParentingPress.com.

What games have you played with your baby lately?

The Power of Play

As many of us already know, children’s play has been proven to be critical for cognitive, physical, and emotional development in young children. However, as this newsletter piece titled, Scrap Edutainment: Let Kids REALLY Play, from the Parenting Press News for Parents (February 2012) explains, sometimes it seems as if modern society is working against children’s natural desire for play.

“If parents and teachers wanted to design a way of life counter to the needs of developing human brains, they’d invent something like modern childhood,” declares Gabrielle Principe.

In “Your Brain on Childhood: The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms and Minivans” (Prometheus Books, 2011), this psychology professor rails against Baby Einstein, video games, and battery-powered toys.

Instead of crowding them in classrooms for most of each weekday, babysitting them with wide-screen television, allowing video games to flood their bodies with adrenaline, building them artificial playgrounds and telling them what to play at recess, Principe says that adults should limit technology, cut back on organized sports and create plenty of time “for play that’s freewheeling, make-believe and messy.” In addition, schools would stop teaching to standardized tests, they’d individualize lessons, minimize homework, eliminate letter grades and bring back recess. This, she insists, will make children’s brains grow normally.

When kids get to play independently, improvising and imagining as they go along, they stimulate the growth of brain cells in the executive portion of the frontal cortex, which Principe describes as the foundation for executive function, the skills such as memory, attention and self-regulation. Free play develops self-regulation, she explains, because kids are in control. And self-regulation is what helps children delay gratification (i.e., wait their turn), clean up after play dates, persist at challenging tasks, and control negative emotion. Another plus of self-play: it also includes private talk, when children talk to themselves and others to lay out ground rules or the next set of moves. Although kids use it most when they’re pretending, they are learning a technique that we adults use during a cognitively demanding task, or an overwhelmingly emotional situation, she says.

Learning self-regulation can put a child on the path to lifetime success faster than anything else, this psychologist believes. “It’s a better predictor of school success than IQ.” If we butt out of their play, quit making up the rules for them, and reduce the time they spend in organized sports, after-school lessons and classes, the more opportunities they have to learn to police themselves, she says.