Rent Lego Sets from Pley {plus a FREE Trial}

Pley.com lets you rent Lego sets every month - Sign up for a FREE Trial - MoneywiseMoms
Rent Lego sets? What the what? I’m so excited to share this service that’s basically Lego + Netflix. Pley.com is a subscription service for Lego. You set up a Pleylist (a list of the sets you’d like), then rent Lego sets, one at a time, and send them back, for a low monthly fee. Brilliant!

My 10-year-old son thinks this is a great idea. He’s already offered to spend his own money for a month to borrow the Lego Star Wars Death Star. That’s a $400 set that he would never spend the money on (and we would never buy). But with Pley.com, he can build it, play with it and enjoy it (and marvel that he put together a 3800-piece set), then send it back for less than 1/10th of the cost. Love this!

Pley.com lets you rent Lego sets every month - Sign up for a FREE Trial - MoneywiseMoms
Each set is sanitized in between rentals, and you get free shipping both ways. In each box, you’ll find your set plus a few freebies and giveaways, so there’s something for your child to keep. There are three plans to choose from, depending on the size of the sets you want to borrow: $15/month, $25/month, or $39/month. Need a gift idea next time the grandparents ask? This is perfect!

Want to try it out before you commit? Sign up for a FREE Trial and you’ll get one free LEGO set shipped to your home. If it’s not your thing, just return the set within 15 days and cancel your account so you won’t be charged.

Pley - Rent LEGO Sets!
 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!

Adventure Aquarium {Camden, NJ – Philadelphia}

Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ (next to Philadelphia) | Fabulous #familytravel destination | MoneywiseMoms
Over spring break, we took a surprise trip to Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. It’s just over the river from Philadelphia, so it was an easy 10-minute drive from the downtown area when we couldn’t get into the museum we had planned to visit. We ended up having a wonderful afternoon learning about aquatic animals, and it was my kids’ first visit to a large aquarium. They just loved it!

Petting Rays at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ (next to Philadelphia) | Fabulous #familytravel destination| MoneywiseMoms
One of the things we liked most was that every area in the aquarium had a hands-on area, like petting the sharks and rays. We were also able to touch sea stars, urchins, lobsters, and much more. I was the only squeamish one, but I did it anyway. Each area had docents talking about the animals and answering questions. While we enjoyed touching, we also spent a lot of time just looking–in amazement–at sharks in the 40-foot Shark Tunnel and at sea turtles and more in the huge Ocean Realm. With a floor-to-ceiling window, we just sat on benches and watched everything swim by. It was fascinating!

Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ (next to Philadelphia) | Fabulous family destination #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms
Outdoors, we saw the African Penguins in the Penguin Island exhibit. We spent quite a while out there watching them swim, clean themselves, and play. Back inside, my girls really liked the Kid Zone, where you could stick your head inside an aquarium and be part of the action and climb on statues of frogs, sea turtles, and inside a shark. Unfortunately, the Hippo Haven was under construction when we visited, but it looks like it will be an amazing exhibit. The kids (and I!) would love to go back to see that.

Penguins at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ (next to Philadelphia) | Fabulous family destination #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms
The aquarium was pricey, but we had an absolutely fabulous visit and I highly recommend it. Regular admission is $25.95/adults and $18.95/children ages 2-12. Children under 2 are free, and the 4D Theater experience is additional (just like the IMAX Theater at a science museum).

The best deal for tickets is through Goldstar. Pay just $15.45 for kids and $19.19 for adults, through May 2015, though there is a service fee. This weekend only (Memorial Day weekend), military families can get up to 4 tickets for just $10 each.

 

If you’re going to be in the Philadelphia area, you may also like:

And be sure and follow my Mid-Atlantic Family Trips board on Pinterest.

Free Museum Admission {Summer 2014}

It’s hard to find time during the year to visit museums with your family, so plan a visit or two this summer–for FREE. With a family of five, museum outings can be expensive, so I always have my eyes open for programs like these that offer low-cost or free museum admission:

Free Museum Admission this #summer 2014 | MoneywiseMoms
 

Museums on Us by Bank of America

Bank of America’s Museums on Us program offers FREE visit days all over the country to B of A cardholders (just show your card at the admission window). Most museums are participating on the first weekend of the month, like the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The fine print says only the “cardholders” are FREE, so it looks like adults get in free but kids have to pay.

Target’s Community Events

Target offers FREE or $1 museum days at many locations across the country, including the Franklin Institute and Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and the Chicago Children’s Museum. Check the Target Community page for your city. You’ll also find free theater programs and other cultural events.

Local Museums’ Free Days

In your city, the local museums may offer certain days for FREE. Some museums, like the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, offer FREE admission to visitors with proof of local residence. Check your favorite museum’s website for more information.

Blue Star Program for Military Families

The Blue Star Museums Program offers military families FREE admission all summer to participating museums like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. All active duty service members and their immediate family (up to 5 family members, including spouse, child or sibling) can participate. Check the FAQ for identification requirements and a list of participating museums.

 

Original image from TonytheMisfit on Flickr

2014 Summer Reading Programs

Some parts of the country are already talking about summer vacation–with our snow day makeups we won’t get out until June 25th! Even so, we’re thinking about our summer plans, like how to encourage the kids to read over the summer. I like to have a balance of family read-alouds along with the kids doing independent reading at their own level. These 2014 summer reading programs are a great incentive to keep it up!

2014 Summer Reading Programs | Keep the kids reading all #summer long! | MoneywiseMoms
 

Barnes and Noble
Kids who read 8 books and keep track on the printable Reading Journal can head to a Barnes & Noble store to pick out a FREE book from their selection (you’ll see the choices on the journal). The program runs May 20 through September 2, and the limit is one FREE book per child.

 

Chuck E. Cheese
Not just a summer program, Chuck E. Cheese is offering 10 FREE tokens to kids each time they read for 2 weeks in a row. Kids can earn 10 FREE tokens every time they read for 2 weeks in a row. Download a Reading Rewards Calendar (there are others if you’d like to reward another activity). Limit is one of any FREE token offer per child, per day. Food purchase is required.

 

Half Price Books Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program
At Half-Price Books stores around the country, kids can earn Bookworm Bucks for each 15 minutes per day they read during the months of June and July. Bookworm Bucks can then be spent in the store. Plus, one top reader from each age group will win a $20 Half Price Books gift card.

 

Pizza Hut Book It!
Beginning June 1st, kids can record their summer reading and enter to win prizes. Activities and games will go up on the Book It! site soon.

 

Pottery Barn Summer Reading Challenge
The Summer Reading Challenge starts May 15th and runs in sync with the FREE Weekly Storytime at stores nationwide. Kids who read 8 books from their summer reading list by July 31 will receive a FREE book while supplies last.

 

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
Scholastic has a FREE online program this summer, where kids can sign up and log their reading minutes to win rewards. You can download suggested book lists for all age groups and on different themes. Learn more with their parent guide.

 

Showcase Cinemas
As in past years, kids can receive FREE admission to Bookworm Wednesdays movies when they present a completed book report. Children under 6 do not need to complete the book report, and accompanying adults also get FREE admission. No food purchase is necessary. The website has not been updated yet for 2014, but I’ll update this entry as soon as it does.

 

TD Bank
For kids in kindergarten through 5th grade, this summer reading program rewards readers with a $10 deposit into a new or existing Young Saver account.

 

Your Local Library
Be sure and check with your community library for their summer program. Ours has kids log their reading and turn it in for a coupon booklet filled with free ice cream, bowling, and other prizes. We do it every summer, and we also enjoy all the free programming our libraries provide in the summer months–puppet shows, magicians, Lego programs, and more. It’s such a great free resource!

 

Original photo from Alberto G. on Flickr

DC Deck Building Game {Favorite Family Game}

DC Deck Building Game | Favorite Family Game | MoneywiseMoms
You don’t need to have a superhero fan in the house to love DC Comics Deck Building Game. It’s a fantastic game for everyone in the family, and it’s been our latest obsession for about a year now. I’m sharing it because so far, the families we’ve played with have all run out and bought it, they love it as much as we do. While the box says “Ages 15 and up,” my girls (age 8) have been playing it just fine. Their strategies are not quite as fine-tuned as the rest of us, but my son (age 10) and his friends LOVE this game and play it afterschool all the time. It’s equally fun for adults as kids, which is always one of our criteria for naming a Favorite Family Game.

And this may seem silly–but it is greatly appreciated–the box comes with a nifty divider so you can sort the cards easily and store them for the next game. I like things like that!

DC Deck Building Game Play | Favorite Family Game | MoneywiseMoms
You start the game by choosing a hero randomly–Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, or Cyborg–each has a special ability you’ll use during your turns. Deal out a hand of five ability cards and lay five face-up in the middle of the table, making them available for purchase. Each turn, you use “power” as money to purchase more cards and build your deck. As the game goes on, you’ll purchase higher-value cards and create a stronger deck, all the while fighting DC super villians like The Joker, Sinestro and Brainiac. Each super villian attacks all players when they’re revealed, so there’s a sense of co-operative play as you work together to defeat them, but ultimately the player who collects that card will get the points. When the last SuperVillian is defeated, each player counts up their victory points on the cards to determine the winner.

For a video on how to play, head to the Cryptozoic website.

DC Card Game Hand | Favorite Family Game | MoneywiseMoms
If you’ve never tried a deck-building game before (another family favorite is Dominion), it’s a strategy game type that takes a little getting used to, but it really gets you thinking. We like that the game plays differently every single time, so the kids (and we) have to think through how we’d play differently in the future. It’s quite simple to learn–we’ve taught many of all ages now–and as with many of our favorite family games, this is a quick play (about 30 minutes) so you can try again right away if you’d like. It’s also easier to keep the kids sitting and engaged with short games like this.

DC Card Game Horiz2
If you end up loving the game as much as we did, a new version came out this spring called Heroes Unite. It has a whole new set of heroes, villians and powers, and it can be played as a stand-alone game or you can combine the two for an epic battle.

You can buy the DC Deck Building Game at a local game/comic book store. Support your local small business! If you’re shopping online, shop at the publisher’s site Cryptozoic or last resort, head to Amazon.

 

Looking for more Favorite Family Games? I’m going to post more big-kid and adult games this year. In the meantime, read about:

 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!

Free Computer Camps for Kids {Summer 2014}

Free Computer Camps for Kids #summer 2014 | MoneywiseMoms
Like most kids, mine are big computer fans–for gaming, creating, writing, photography, and more. But the expense of a summer computer gaming camp elude us ($500/week X three kids?!) We’re going to dip our toes in the water this year by trying one of these FREE Computer Camps for Kids at a local Microsoft or Apple Store. Space is limited and camps will fill quickly, so check with your local store to register soon.

Apple Store FREE summer #camp class | MoneywiseMoms
Apple Camp

At Apple Stores nationwide, kids ages 8-12 can attend FREE Apple Camps to learn how to use iMovie and iPads to create music, shoot their own movies, and more. Find your local store to register. The workshop spans three days and ends with a Film Festival where kids can debut their work. The site doesn’t have registration up yet, so get on their email list so you can do it as soon as it opens.

Microsoft Store FREE summer #camp class | MoneywiseMoms
YouthSpark Summer Camps

At Microsoft Stores nationwide, kids can attend a FREE YouthSpark Camp to learn digital moviemaking, graphic design, digital photography, and more. Each store offers their own schedule, so find your closest location. Camps are typically 2 hours long and are for kids ages 8-13.

Did your kids attend one of these Free Computer Camps for Kids last year?

I’d love to hear about the experience!

Independence National Park {Philadelphia}

Independence National Park in Philadelphia #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms

For spring break this year, we spent a few days in Philadelphia visiting family and checking out some sites we hadn’t seen before. We really enjoyed Independence National Park in the Old City part of town, home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. My son (age 10) studied the Revolutionary War in school last year, so he was familiar with a lot of the history, but it was all new to my girls (age 8). It ended up being a great way to introduce them to the Revolutionary War period and I highly recommend it if you’re going to be in the area.

Independence Hall Visitor Center | Independence National Park in Philadelphia | MoneywiseMoms

The Independence Visitor Center had parking (expensive, but less than it would have cost the 5 of us to ride in via train) and is the main visitor center for the city of Philadelphia, so there is a lot inside. They helped us find a great place for lunch (Philly Cheesesteaks, of course!), and it’s where you can pick up tickets for the Independence Hall Tour. Timed tickets are required, though they are FREE, and it’s suggested you arrive about 15 minutes ahead of your tour time because of the security checkpoint.

Junior Ranger Program | Independence National Park in Philadelphia #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms

Inside the Visitor Center, kids can pick up a booklet to complete the Junior Ranger Program for the area. Each page of the booklet had questions or puzzles that related to the different historical areas around the park. My kids enjoyed doing the book, and it gave them something to do the few times we had to wait in long lines. When you bring the book back at the end of the day, the kids receive a Junior Ranger pin that looks like the badge the Park Rangers wear, and are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers.

Trading Card Collecting | Independence National Park in Philadelphia #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms

Another part of the program is the collectible trading cards–which my kids thought was a lot of fun. At each location around the park, kids can go up to a Park Ranger and ask for trading cards. The catch? The kids had to answer an educational question about the area they were in. Every Park Ranger we encountered engaged the kids with humor and got them thinking about how what they were learning related to their lives now.

The Park Ranger who did our tour inside Independence Hall, a building which is older than our country (that blew my kids’ minds), did such a great job of speaking to both the kids in the group along with the adults at appropriate education levels. We saw the courtroom and this hall where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. In an adjacent building, you can see the originals in the Great Essentials Exhibit. The Park covers lots of ground, so we didn’t see all the historic buildings, but there is plenty to fill more than one day if you have it. We also skipped the National Constitution Center, a museum with a fee, because we thought that would make more sense to our kids when they’re a bit older. We felt like this visit gave our 8-year-olds a good introduction to how America came to be and they were able to make some connections about what they knew about George Washington (from school and our trip to Mount Vernon).

Liberty Bell | Independence National Park in Philadelphia #familytravel | MoneywiseMoms
And now for my embarrassing moment…for some reason all these years I thought the Liberty Bell was ginormous, like the size of a two-story building or something. So I was quite surprised when we walked up and it was just sitting there. Pretty small. Hmmph. Thankfully my nerdlings were fascinated with how it was constructed, how it cracked, and the whole thing.

 

For more family travel, take a look at our other outings in Pennsylvania and at other National Parks:

You can also follow my Mid-Atlantic Family Trips board on Pinterest, where you’ll see them mapped out.

School Lunch Roundup {No Lunchmeat!}

School Lunch Roundup | no lunchmeat #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

It’s time for a School Lunch Roundup! I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m trying to get re-inspired on packing school lunches. We still have TWO MORE MONTHS of school left, so I’m looking at another 126 lunches to go. My kids are super tired of sandwiches, and since we can’t have peanut butter (allergies), I’ve come up with some new healthy alternatives to lunch meat.

I’m also trying something new–packing lunches while I’m preparing dinner, whether that’s at 8am or 5pm–and it’s working. I feel less rushed as they’re getting ready in the mornings, and since I’m half brain-dead on the mornings I drive my son to 6am swimming, it’s one less task to do. Yay!

 

Whole Wheat Pita Pizza | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

These Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas have been so easy to make and are the clear new favorite by my kids, who would like to have them once a week. I found mini whole wheat pita breads at Trader Joe’s, and while I’m making dinner or doing other kitchen tasks, I make up some Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas using either leftover spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce I make from tomato paste. I put a piece of wax paper in between so the pizzas don’t stick together in our Easy Lunchboxes. Add some fruits & veg, and you have a super healthy real food lunch!

 

Finger Foods Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

I call this the Finger Food Lunch because it reminds me of eating appetizers at a party. There’s lots of little bits of foods the kids like: celery and tomatoes for dipping in hummus, cheese and multigrain crackers, a hard boiled egg for protein, and some cold peas leftover from dinner the night before. I use Silicone Baking Cups to separate the foods, they’re easy to wash and store and have replaced baggies for us.

 

Beans and Rice Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

Beans and Rice is a weekly favorite. I heat up cooked brown rice (leftover from dinner) with black beans, salsa and a sprinkle of cheese in a Thermos Funtainer. This time, I served it with tortilla chips and yummy Greek yogurt guacamole dip I found at Trader Joe’s (they have it at Costco too). Add some strawberries or other favorite fruit in a Lock & Lock Square, and it’s done.

 

Salad Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

This Salad Lunch is easy to prepare while chopping vegetables for dinner. While prepping tacos, I chopped extra lettuce and tomatoes and set up the lunchboxes alongside dinner prep. That makes the mornings smoother! With this salad, I added chickpeas and olives, some dressing in a little spillproof container, a cheese stick and some crackers. To keep it all cold, I use these Fit & Fresh ice packs. They stay frozen well through lunchtime, and my girls have the last lunch of the day.
Snacky Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

This is another Snacky Lunch. My kids are not terribly picky eaters, but I do have a hard time keeping track of who likes what during any given season. Why do kids suddenly hate a food they’ve happily eaten for five years? By giving them little bits of this and that, they don’t have to suffer through a large serving of something that’s not a favorite. Along with the cheese & crackers, I’ve put carrots and Ranch dip (ugh, not ideal but everything else is healthy), some apple and a whole wheat brownie. We make our own trail mix since we can’t have peanuts in the house. This one has almonds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), cashews, and dried cranberries. My kids take water in reusable Funtainer Bottle instead of juiceboxes or milk.
Linked up to Real Food Recipe Roundup at Musings of Housewife

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to our favorite lunchbox packing products. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!

National Park Week {FREE Family Fun}

Starting this Saturday, April 19th and running through April 27th, celebrate National Park Week by visiting with your family. You’ll find special events in parks nationwide, with FREE admission this weekend. My family has enjoyed both the historical and natural parks in our area, and we especially enjoy spotting wildlife, walking in nature, and learning about our nation’s history. Check out our trips to Theodore Roosevelt Island and the DC Memorials.

National Park Week | FREE Family Fun from April 19-27 | MoneywiseMoms

I can’t say enough good things about the Junior Ranger Program. Most parks offer a program of some sort (check the website before your visit), or take part in special family-friendly activities on April 27th, National Junior Ranger Day. For my kids, it makes a huge difference to have an activity book, scavenger hunt, or other focus during our visit. They love chatting with the park rangers and having their questions answered.

What is your family into?

  • hiking/walking, either ranger-led or self-guided
  • photography
  • wildflowers and gardens
  • learning about history
  • celebrating Earth Day by volunteering to help
  • learning about other cultures

Choose from 401 national parks across America, and get your family out for a FREE or low-cost outing. Learn more at the National Park Service and The National Park Foundation. Happy National Park Week!