National Zoo (Washington DC)

National Zoo in Washington DC - fabulous FREE destination for #familytravel - MoneywiseMoms
Living near Washington DC, one of the best frugal fun activities is visiting the National Zoo. Like all Smithsonian Institution sites, admission is completely FREE. The grounds are open 6:00am-8:00pm daily (great for arriving early!) while the buildings open at 10:00am. We like to go super early on a weekend (like 7:30am), then spend the cool part of the morning there and head home before noon, when it gets very crowded and hot (that’s the same plan we use for visiting the DC Memorials and Monuments). One of the benefits of going early is that the Great Cats are out and playing.

Parking is $22, and if you plan to park you need to arrive early, well before 10:00am. With a FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) membership, you get FREE Parking for one year, plus other discounts and invitations to special events. There are Metro stops just north and south of the zoo, but we’ve never tried that: 1) because I didn’t want to try it with a double stroller and loose kid and 2) because now that they’re older, it costs less for all of us to park than to ride the Metro.

Great Pandas at the National Zoo in Washington DC - FREE #familytravel destination - MoneywiseMoms
On our last visit, we got lucky and saw both the Papa panda Tian Tain, sitting around eating bamboo, and the baby Bao Bao (up in the tree). Besides waiting in line to view from the front of the panda enclosure, be sure and go up to the Panda Café on the ridge above. Sometimes you can get a great view from there. You can also check the Panda Cams from home or on your phone to see when they’re out and about. Even if you don’t get to see the pandas, there’s a lot to enjoy on the Asia Trail, including otters, sloths, clouded leopards, and a giant salamander.

If you’re bringing small children or a stroller, I recommend that you park in the lot at the bottom of the hill. You’ll enter the zoo in the Kids Farm area, which includes the Pizza Playground, then head up the hill while everyone’s energy is high. Then, when it’s time to go, it’s a downhill walk to the car. We generally hit half the zoo in any one trip, no matter how old the kids (or adults) are that we’re with. If you’re planning to do the upper hill areas (elephants, Asia Trail/pandas, and cheetahs), park in one of the upper lots if you can find room. The paths around the zoo are quite steep.

Every part of the zoo is a hit with my family, especially Amazonia, an enclosed rainforest. We also love the Small Mammal House (there’s some weird creatures in there!). Last, we usually spend over an hour in the Great Ape House, with the gorillas and orangutans. My kids love to sit and watch them interact, especially when there’s a baby running around making trouble for the older ones.

Small Mammal House at the National Zoo in Washington DC - FREE #familytravel destination - MoneywiseMoms
If you’re going to be in the DC area, you may also like:

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

Pley.com Review {Lego Rental Service}

Disclosure: I received a Super Fan membership to facilitate this Pley.com review. No other compensation was received.

Pley.com Review (Lego Rental Service) | MoneywiseMoms
 

I shared with you last month that we signed up for Pley.com, a Lego rental service. For a monthly fee, you can rent sets one at a time, keep them as long as you’d like, then send them back for another on your list (called a Pleylist). Think of it as Lego + Netflix. It’s a great idea! There are three tiers of service: Fan, Super Fan or Mega Fan. I received a three-month trial of the mid-level tier, “Super Fan,” to test it out and share my findings with you in this Pley.com review.

Pley.com Review (Lego Rental Service) | MoneywiseMoms
When you join Pley with their Super Fan Free Trial (14 days), the first thing you do is add sets to your Pleylist. I like that you can search for sets only in your level, and I appreciated receiving emails during the month when new sets were added to inventory. Once your Pleylist is full, your first set is sent out.

The set doesn’t come in its original Lego packaging. It comes in a fine mesh bag, with instruction manuals included, in a bright blue box. There’s a return address label in the bottom of the box, which I adhere right away to the top so I don’t misplace it.

The box seemed tiny, but once you take away all the baggies that separate the pieces in a new set, it’s so compact. Our first set was Treehouse Creator, which came with all three manuals (and was a great pick for a family with three kids, so they each got to build their own house).

Pley.com Review - Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms
The sets ship out Priority Mail, so they get to you quickly, but the return label is Parcel Post, so that takes longer. It seems that as soon as the USPS scans in your label, the company knows, because then I’d receive an email saying my next set was being shipped out. I’ve been really happy with the turn-around time, and I had been concerned because we’re in Virginia and they’re in California. For all five of the sets we’ve received so far, we’ve gotten them in 3 days of being notified that they were shipped out.

Pley.com Review - Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms
 

Each time you receive a set, you’re asked to report the set status–if there are any missing pieces or problems. We’ve only had one of the five sets that was missing any pieces, and it bothers my son when there are pieces still stuck together from the last user. We’ve been careful to take everything apart before returning it to the bag, and while it’s hard for the kids, we only put our sets together at the dining room table so there’s no chance to mix them with our own (many) Lego pieces.

When we’re done with a set (after all three kids have built it, sometimes more than once), we take every single piece apart and put them back in the red mesh bag. Since there’s a pre-printed label, I just hand the box to my mail carrier. Easy peasy!

Review of Pley.com Lego Rental Service | MoneywiseMoms
I asked my 10-year-old son for his point of view, and he said: “It’s frustrating when we don’t get all the pieces, because sometimes it’s important (to putting together the set.” He’s also irritated that there has never been a freebie or giveaway in the box (he’s referring to the FAQ on Pley’s website, where it mentions that every box has something for you to keep).

From the Mom side, I’ve been really happy with the service, though we’re not paying too much attention to which set on the Pleylist we’re receiving (sometimes it’s #5, sometimes it’s #19). It’s been great timing with school out, because when that blue box appears on the doorstep, it’s very exciting! My kids have been taking turns with who gets to do the set first.

Give Pley.com a try with their Free Trial. You’ll get to see how it works and what sets are in the program. Then you can choose to upgrade to Fan (small sets, $15/month), Super Fan (medium sets, $25/month) or Mega Fan (large sets, $39/month) subscription. I’ve just paid for the Mega Fan membership (the BIG sets, like Star Wars, etc.) for my son’s birthday in August, and I’m eager to see what we get. The list is all huge sets that we would never normally buy ($200+), so it should be a great value to us.

Free Tickets for Military Families

Free Tickets for Military Families | MoneywiseMoms
Sending a big thank you to all our military families out there! Here in our neighborhood, this month is turnover time, where many families move to their next assignment and we welcome the new ones for their three-year stint (depending on the branch). Many programs and companies across the country extend a big thank you by offering free tickets to concerts, theme parks, and more:

Free Event Tickets
This national, non-profit organization Veteran Tickets Foundation provides FREE tickets to sporting events and concerts for active duty military and veterans. They also accept donations of tickets and gift cards, as well as tax-deductible cash donations via Paypal to help a specific Hero’s Wish come true. Donate here.

Veteran Tickets Foundation

Free Admission to Busch Parks

With the Waves of Honor program, active duty military from all five service branches, active members of a Reserve or National Guard Unit, and up to 3 direct dependents receive one-day complimentary admission to all of the following parks, once each park each year:

Another perk is not having to wait in line to enter the park; there’s a separate Waves of Honor entrance, which can save you a lot of time.

Waves of Honor Program | Free Tickets for Military Families
Free National Park Pass
Active military members and their dependents can get National Park Admission for FREE at parks all over the country.The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass typically costs $80, but now active duty military can pick up their pass at any National Park location for FREE. If the active duty service member in your family is currently deployed or traveling separately, a dependent can pick up the pass with valid military ID.

The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass allows one vehicle and its passengers to access all National Parks for FREE. If the location charges per-person entrance fees, the pass covers the pass owner and 3 adults ages 16 and older. The pass works at all of these types of parks: National Park Service parks, US Fish & Wildlife Service lands, Bureau of Reclamation lands, Bureau of Land Management lands, US Forest Service locations and US Army Corps sites

Free National Park Pass for Military Families

Free Legoland Florida Admission

Active duty military get FREE admission at Legoland Florida by presenting military ID at the ticket window the day they plan to visit. Family members will need to purachse discounted tickets in advance through participating military base ticket offices.

Note–California Legoland does not offer free admission, however, military families are extended a discount and second day free.

Free Legoland Florida Tickets for Military Families
 

Do you know of other programs for free tickets/passes for military families?

Please share in the comments!

Lego BrickFair 2014 – Ticket Giveaway

You know it’s summer when Lego BrickFair 2014 comes around to Northern Virginia! This is one of my family’s favorite events, and it’s something to see (and do) if you’re a Lego fan. BrickFair is a huge Lego expo put on by AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) from all over the country, and Chantilly, Virginia, is one of the four locations they do every year. If you’re in other parts of the country, try to visit BrickFair 2014 this November in New Jersey, next January in Alabama, or next May in New Hampshire.

Lego Brickfair 2014 in Chantiilly, Virginia | Ticket Giveaway from MoneywiseMoms

At BrickFair, you’ll find displays by all ages and great art you can’t believe is made of Lego. I’ve seen black & white portrait mosaics and all kinds of amazing things! There’s also an Exhibitor area, where you can find Lego sets galore, Lego jewelry, clothing, and more. Last year, we played Bingo for Lego prizes, spent hours in the large Lego room–where you can sit and play with all kinds of pieces you might not have at home, and watched demonstration of Lego robotics and crazy contraptions.

BrickFair Virginia is Saturday & Sunday, August 2nd and 3rd, from 11am-4pm at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA. Tickets are $12/person at the door or you can purchase ahead online. Kids 3 and under are FREE. Keep in mind that strollers are not permitted. It can be crowded, but it’s a lot of fun!

Lego Brickfair 2014 in Chantiilly, Virginia | Ticket Giveaway from MoneywiseMoms

One lucky MoneywiseMoms reader will win 4 tickets to Lego BrickFair VA!

If you’re reading this in an email or RSS feed, please click over to MoneywiseMoms to use the Rafflecopter entry form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends Wednesday, July 16th, when I’ll email the winner, who has 48 hours to respond with their mailing address for the tickets. Thank you for reading MoneywiseMoms, and good luck!

Disclosure: My family received tickets to this year’s BrickFair in exchange for this post, but we would have gone anyway, as we have for years! BrickFair is providing the giveaway prize. My opinions and love for Lego are my own!

Summer of Giving Project – Help Hungry Kids in Your Community

I participated in this program on behalf of Champions for Kids and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

#SummerofGiving Project with Champions for Kids | MoneywiseMom
We’ve just started our summer vacation, and the kids and I are excited about doing a Summer of Giving. We’ve talked about ways to help others on a small scale (helping around the house), medium-sized (writing a nice note to someone or bringing a meal to a new mom), and some larger projects that help our whole community. For our first large project, we were inspired by Champions for Kids to help feed hungry kids through our local food bank. Champions for Kids believes:

All children should have: Someone who cares; a Place to belong; Hope for tomorrow and provisions for their journey. All children.

My kids have never experienced true hunger, but child hunger is happening in every community across the country. I shared this info with my kids:

  • 10% of US kids live in food-insecure homes, which means they don’t know when or if their next meal is coming.
  • With schools out for the summer, may children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches are in desperate need.

We talked about ways we could help, and how even small efforts can help a lot of people. Champions for Kids believes that helping others does not have to come in large doses.

Shopping for Food Donations for Summer of Giving program #SummerofGiving | MoneywiseMoms
Next, we went out to our local Walmart to shop for food donations. With the Summer of Giving Program, Walmart and Champions for Kids aim to help provide 5 million meals this summer. We helped with some of those meals! Each child had $50 to spend on food to donate to our local food bank. It was a great exercise for them to compare store brands with name brand prices, then keep track of what they had spent as we shopped the aisles. They did such a great job and were so thoughtful with their choices.

Summer of Giving Sponsors #SummerofGiving | MoneywiseMoms
In the Walmart freezer section, look for the sponsor brands–Tyson, Birds Eye and State Fair–because each time you purchase them, you’re helping support the Summer of Giving program alongside feeding your own family. Along with non-perishable foods, we also chose these frozen foods to donate. It took a little research to find a food bank that would accept frozen foods, but they really appreciated it.

Simple Service Project #SummerofGiving | MoneywiseMoms
Want to do even more? Do a SIMPLE Service Project. There are just four basic steps:

  1. GATHER your friends, family or co-workers.
  2. LEARN about the needs of children in your community.
  3. GIVE items to help kids enjoy happier and healthier lives.
  4. SHARE your story at Champions for Kids to inspire others to do the same!

Make your donations, then submit your project at Champions for Kids. You’ll be eligible to win $25,000 for your local school. Remember that every little bit helps. How can you help hungry kids in your community?

Champions for Kids Summer of Giving program #SummerofGiving | MoneywiseMoms

Free Kids Crafts, Classes & Workshops {Summer 2014}

Summer vacation can have some long days…need something new to do? Try one of these FREE Kids Crafts, Classes & Workshops at a nationwide store chain near you. Most of these run year-round, so keep them in mind for the rest of the year as well.

Free Kids Crafts Classes Workshops #summer | MoneywiseMoms
Bass Pro Shops
Bass is offering FREE Family Summer Camps with FREE Workshops every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Learn archery, birdwatching, kayaking, and more. Kids get a free lanyard to collect the pins they’ll earn at each workshop.

Cabela’s
Some Cabela’s are offering FREE Summer Camp sessions for kids ages 8-12 on Saturdays and Sundays. Kids can learn panning for gold, identifying animals, and archery. Check your local store’s event calendar for details, since not all stores are participating.

Home Depot Kids Workshops
The first Saturday of each month, between 9am-Noon, kids can make a wooden project at Home Depot. Register ahead of time on their website. Kids receive a certificate of completion, an apron, and a pin.

Lakeshore Learning Stores
Lakeshore has an awesome lineup of summertime crafts every Saturday between 11-3, with all materials provided. For ages 3 and up.

Lego Store Mini Builds
At your local Lego Store, kids can do a Mini Build the first Tuesday of each month from 5:00pm until supplies run out. At our store, the line starts about an hour ahead of time, and they often run out of kits, so plan ahead for this one!

Lowe’s Free Build & Grow Clinics
Lowe’s offers these clinics on select Saturdays from 10-11am. You do need to register online ahead of time. Kids get an apron, goggles, and project patch. This summer’s projects are all movie-themed.

Michaels
Michaels doesn’t offer as many FREE kids workshops during the summer as other months of the year, but they do have a Kids Club ($2/child) and a new program called Passport to Imagination. For $2 per two-hour-session, kids will learn about some of North America’s best museums through an imaginary road trip. Sessions are for ages 5-12 and are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday. Check your local store’s event calendar for more details.

Your Local Library
Many library systems run extensive summer programs for kids. Check your local library’s website for information about free kids crafts, classes and workshops.

 

Looking for more FREE summer activities for kids?

 

Summer Movie Programs 2014 {Nationwide FREE & $1 Movies}

Stay cool this summer by chilling with your kids in an air-conditioned theater with these FREE and Low-Cost Summer Movie Programs:

Summer 2014 Movie Programs | Free and low-cost movies for kids this #summer | MoneywiseMoms
BowTie Cinemas offers FREE movies every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 10:00am starting June 24th.

Cinemark Theatres offers Summer Movie Clubhouse for $1.00/show or a $5.00 pass for the whole summer, purchased in advance. The start date varies depending on what part of the country you’re in (what date school gets out).

Classic Cinemas offers their Wednesday Morning Movie Series for $1.00/show at 9:00am every Wednesday, starting June 11th. You can go early and see costumed characters.

Cobb Theatres offers FREE Summer Kids Shows Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am. Click through to your local theater to see their schedule, but most start June 17th.

Dickinson Theatres offers a Summer Vacation Movie Series with FREE movies Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am and 12:30pm. Click on your local theater’s link to download the schedule.

Harkins Theatres has Summer Movie Fun every weekday at 9:45, and you can purchase Season Tickets for all 10 shows for just $7, or pay as you go for $2/person.

Malco Theatres offers $2.00 movies every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00am, starting June 3rd, with a portion of the proceeds going to local Children’s Hospitals.

National Amusements will offer their Bookworm Wednesdays program, starting July 9th. Kids receive FREE admission when they present a completed book report, which you can download from their site. Children under 6 do not need to complete the book report.

Phoenix Big Cinemas has FREE movies Tuesday-Thursday at 10:00am, with start dates varying per state.

Regal Theatres offers Summer Movie Express all summer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00am for $1.00/person. Choose from a G or PG movie each morning, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Will Rogers Institute.

Ultrastar Cinemas offers their Kids Summer Series every day at 9:30am starting May 26th. Some theaters offer the movies FREE, others charge $5 for the 10-week pass.
Click through to your local theater chain to find the closest location. Have fun at the movies!

 

Original image from allisonmseward12 on Flickr

Keeping Kids #CyberSafe

I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for BGCA. I received a promotional item to thank me for participating. #Sponsored #MC #CyberTribe #CyberSafe

Keeping Kids #CyberSafe with the Cyber Safe Futures Initiative #CyberTribe #MC #Sponsored - MoneywiseMoms

Parenting comes with many challenges, but one that’s taken us a bit by surprise is how to keep up with our kids in regards to technology. We are kids of the ’80’s, for goodness sake! We grew up with computers, for the most part, and we always had the upper hand on our own parents. But now with every handheld device, tablet, etc. hooked up to the internet, kids having cellphones (with video cameras), and social media apps galore–we’re a little overwhelmed. With kids ages 10, 8, and 8, we’re thinking about how to keep the kids safe online. So far, we have a few rules:

  • Our family computer is in the living room, and the kids are only allowed to use it with permission.
  • No random searching/Googling is allowed; a parent needs to sit with you.
  • With games that connect online (on computer, XBox, etc.), we use the strictest settings, i.e. no “chat.”

I’m sure that very soon my son will be asking about an email account, so I’ve been watching what friends with older kids are doing, asking lots of questions, and learning from sites like the BGCA’s Cyber Safe Futures Initiative. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, in a partnership with Sprint, are supporting parents and teens with this internet safety awareness campaign.

Keeping Kids #CyberSafe with the Cyber Safe Futures Initiative #CyberTribe #MC #Sponsored - MoneywiseMoms

I took the “Are you a Cyber Smart Parent?” quiz, and I didn’t do very well! Partly, it’s because some of the topics they mentioned haven’t come up with my younger kids, but it alerted me to where we’re headed (Facebook, sharing photos, possibility of cyberbullying), etc.

Learn how to protect kids online with the Cyber Safe Futures Initiative #CyberTribe #CyberSafe #MC #Sponsored - MoneywiseMoms

I really liked the Parent Resources section, where you’ll find specific tips for parents to help guide your kids to protect themselves. For example, our kids have asked about playing online versions of games with their friends, but we haven’t allowed it. We have talked a little about not using your real name online (even in a username) and not to share personal information. The “Online Privacy” guide has questions to help you determine limits and how to share them with your child(ren).

Keeping Kids #CyberSafe with the Cyber Safe Futures Initiative #CyberTribe #MC #Sponsored - MoneywiseMoms

Last, there’s a section of Q & A with actual teens, called the CyberTribe. They take questions from kids and parents and answer them weekly. Since teens are often more savvy than their parents, this is a great opportunity for you to have your internet safety questions answered. Plus, when you submit a question, you have the option to enter for a chance to win an iPad mini and $500 to the Boys & Girls Club of your choice.

How are you keeping your kids cybersafe?

original image from John Watson at Flickr

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Disclosure: As a Busch Gardens Ambassador through MomCentral, I was given free admission passes for our family but was not otherwise compensated. All opinions are 100% mine.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg #familytravel #BuschGardens | MoneywiseMoms
We just returned from our first-ever trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It was a little over two-hour drive from DC, and my kids managed to stay from opening till closing, so it was a long day! As much as we like thrill rides, I was very eager to see the other parts of the park I’d heard about–the food, the animals, and the non-ride attractions–and we really enjoyed it.

Eagles and Parrots at Busch Gardens Williamsburg #familytravel #buschgardens | MoneywiseMoms
My girls were so excited to see the animals at Busch Gardens since they feature the four animals they’re currently obsessed with: horses, eagles, dogs and wolves. There are a few others, but we spent the most time at the Wolf Haven area. We watched a training session between the keepers and the wolves, and every trainer we encountered in each area was friendly with the kids and happy to answer questions.

Treehouse Climbing at Busch Gardens Williamsburg #familytravel #buschgardens | MoneywiseMoms
The giant treehouse was also a hit, with lots of maze-like bridges and places to climb. Mom and Dad got to sit in the shade for a break while the kids played here for a while.

Rides at Busch Gardens Willamsburg #familytravel #buschgardens | MoneywiseMoms
My kids love rides, the scarier, the better! We rode everything they were tall enough to enjoy, some of them twice. My girls’ favorite was Europe in the Air, an indoor flight simulator. My son and I rode a few coasters that the girls were not tall enough to ride, like the Griffon. He didn’t want to go alone, so we spent the whole time in line with him telling me how great I was to go with him. Turned out it was favorite ride of the day! It was so smooth, not jerky at all, and super scary in a fun way. We had a great time together and it was our favorite part of our visit.

Griffon Roller Coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg #familytravel #BuschGardens | MoneywiseMoms

Busch Gardens VA had plenty of family fun, and because my kids are older, we didn’t visit Sesame Street Forest of Fun, which I know is a highlight for those with little ones. I wanted to see a few shows, because they look great, but the kids wanted to do rides instead. Maybe next time! There’s also a big water park called Water Country USA, so there’s plenty to do.

If you plan to visit more than once, buy a 2-Park Fun Card for just $97, which will give you unlimited visits to both Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA through September 1st.

Connect with Busch Gardens VA this summer to hear about concerts, the Food & Wine Festival, and more during their 99 Days of Summer:

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