Simple Thanksgiving Activities to Keep Kids Happy (and Busy)

Simple Thanksgiving Activities to Keep Kids Happy (and Busy) | MoneywiseMoms

Thanksgiving can be a long day for the kids. They’re off their daily routine, the adults are busy cooking and visiting with each other, and there’s bound to be an “I’m bored!” or two during the long day. I’ve hand-picked some simple Thanksgiving activities to keep the kids happy (and busy).

Simple Thanksgiving Activities | Thanksgiving Lego via @frugalfun4boys

I love these Thanksgiving Lego ideas from Frugal Fun for Boys. Get a group together and challenge them to make all kinds of Thankgiving-themed shapes. Who can make an ear of corn or a piece of pumpkin pie? 

Simple Thanksgiving Activities | Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt  via @Spoonful

If the weather’s in your favor, send a group out for a Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt. Just print this great list from Spoonful, This will probably lead to some outdoor fun, like jumping in leaves, collecting rocks (a favorite of my girls), and just walking the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations.


Simple Thanksgiving Activities | Thanksgiving Photo Booth Props via @datingdivas

Photo booths are all the rage this year, for kids and adults alike! Print these free Thanksgiving Photo Booth Props from TheDatingDivas and set up your own station for a memorable good time.

Simple Thanksgiving Activities | Printable Turkey Day Placemat via @mysissuitcase

This Printable Turkey Day Placemat from My Sister’s Suitcase is a great way to keep kids of all ages in one place for a bit. You will need to prep this a day or two ahead, however, since they print large enough to be done at an office store like Staples.

Simple Thanksgiving Activities | Thanksgiving Bingo DIY via @artsy_mama

This DIY Thanksgiving Bingo from artsy-fartsy mama is a free printable with blank Bingo boards so kids can create their own. Have the older kids help with cutting and pasting, then everyone can play the game together.

What are some ways you keep the kids happy (and busy) on Thanksgiving day?

For more frugal Thanksgiving ideas, follow my
Fall &Thanksgiving Pinterest board.


Simple Thanksgiving Activiteis is linked up to Fluster’s Creative Muster Party.

Theodore Roosevelt Island {Day Trip from DC}

Theodore Roosevelt Island - DC - MoneywiseMoms

What a gem! Hidden in the middle of our busy, traffic-filled city is the serene Theodore Roosevelt Island. Maintained by the National Park Service, there are parts of the island where you can’t see or hear any of the DC surroundings, and it feels like you somewhere else entirely.  We visited this month, so while we enjoyed the colorful leaves, we also had views of empty swampland; when you come in the spring and summer, the island is full of birds and critters you can view from the raised Swamp Trail boardwalk.

Theodore Roosevelt Island - DC - MoneywiseMoms

The only way to reach the island is from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Basically, you’ll see a brown sign on the right side of the road, just after you pass the Roosevelt Bridge, which leads to the small parking lot. It can get quite crowded on the weekends, mostly with bikers who are using the paved trail that lead down the Parkway all the way to Mount Vernon. Once you walk over the foot bridge to the island, there are no bikes allowed, so you’ll have a great hike. There are lots of dogs on this trail, too, which my kids always enjoy.

Theodore Roosevelt Island - DC - MoneywiseMoms

The outer trail is the perfect size for any family–just a mile and a half long–but be sure to head to the center of the island to see the monument and fountains. When you visit in the spring and summer, the fountains are a great feature for the kids to enjoy. My kids had plenty of fun running around on the steps and bridges, as well as climbing on rocks and looking for ducks and herons out in the Potomac River.

Theodore Roosevelt Island - DC - MoneywiseMoms

While walking, we talked about Theodore Roosevelt, since the kids only know about his name contributing to the teddy bear. His legacy is how he changed perceptions about America’s natural resources, creating the US Forest Service and conserving public lands for wildlife and bird refuges, national parks and monuments. Kids can complete a booklet for the Junior Ranger program and mail it in to NPS. Be aware that the island has very minimal service (i.e.  no trash cans), so be sure that you take any picnic trash with you when you leave.

Theodore Roosevelt Island - DC - MoneywiseMoms

I hope you’ll visit Theodore Roosevelt Island with your family. It’s a great Frugal Fun trip, and an easy way to connect city kids to nature.  See the other Day Trips from DC in this series.

10 Sensations Sides for Soups & Stews | MoneywiseMoms For more DC-area family day trips, follow my
DC/VA/MD Family Trips board on Pinterest.


Gaylord National ICE! Promo Code & Giveaway

Doing anything special this holiday season? If you live near a Gaylord Hotel (Nashville, Kissimmee, Dallas or Washington DC), you’re in for a treat! Their annual holiday event, ICE!, is running mid-November through early January at all four locations. If you’re here in the DC area, read on for a special giveaway to the Christmas on the Potomac event.

Gaylord National ICE! Giveaway via @MoneywiseMoms

Inside each resort hotel, you’ll find a magical wonderland with millions of twinkling lights, nightly indoor snowfall, beautiful fountains set to music, and more!  There are holiday dining specials, vacation packages, and lots of extra holiday-themed activities. Kids can decorate gingerbread with Gingy from the Shrek movies, do the Dreamworks interactive scavenger hunt, or ride the Peeps Potomac Express.

And then there’s ICE!, with life-size sculptures and a two-story tall ice slide, all made from 2 million pounds of ice. Here at Gaylord National, this year’s theme is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, with 20-foot sculptures telling the famous poem, plus a bonus scene of Christmas in New York City. To experience the 9-degree temps inside ICE!, be sure to dress warm, including hats and gloves, and you’ll be provided big blue coats for the whole family. I’ve had friends go in previous years, and they say it’s an amazing experience!

Feeling festive? Save on tickets to Gaylord National ICE at National Harbor with this promo code:

Get $3 off ICE! tickets on select dates from November 15 through January 5 using code SOCIALMOM13. Code is good only on non-peak days of Mon-Thurs and cannot be combined with any other discount. Not valid at the box office, only online or over the phone. Blackout dates include 11/28/13 – 12/1/13 and  12/20-29/13.

We’re heading to Gaylord National ICE! later this month to check it out for the first time. I’m so excited, and I haven’t told the kids–it will be a surprise! I hope I can handle the cold (I know my kids can!). I’d love to send your family for FREE with a 4-pack of tickets. Just enter the giveaway below:

Win Tickets to Gaylord National ICE! via @MoneywiseMoms

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This is my first time using Rafflecopter for a giveaway here at MoneywiseMoms. Please let me know if you have any trouble or have any questions–I think it will make it easier for all of us! This giveaway ends Thursday, November 14th at midnight EST. Good luck!

Disclosure: My family and I are invited to a media preview of ICE! No other compensation was received.

Holiday Mail for Heroes 2013

Holiday Mail for Heroes 2013 | Encouraging Kids to Give to Others | MoneywiseMoms

One of my favorite programs is back for 2013: Holiday Mail for Heroes! This is one of the easiest ways to encourage your children to give to others, all while supporting our troops during the holiday season. The American Red Cross will deliver your holiday greetings and well-wishes to veterans, military families and active-duty service members all around the world.

Holiday Mail for Heroes 2013 | Helping kids give to others | MoneywiseMoms

This year, I’d like to encourage you to take it one step further–host a card-making or card-signing party with your children’s playgroup, your MOMS Club, or a group of friends, so you can reach even more service members. Plan your party for November so that you’ll have time to mail the cards by the receipt deadline of Friday, December 6th.

Please keep these guidelines in mind as you sign your cards:

  • Use generic salutations like “Dear Service Member.”
  • Make sure all cards are signed, and do not use your home address or email address.
  • Do not include inserts like letters or photos, and avoid cards with glitter since it can come loose.
  • No need to use envelopes, as they will be removed before distribution.

All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Holiday Mail for Heroes would make a fun and meaningful activity for a November meeting or playdate. I hope you’ll join my family in participating!

Original image from sun_dazed at Flickr

7 Reasons to Visit Mount Vernon With Kids

7 Reasons to Visit Mount Vernon With Kids | MoneywiseMoms

One of our family goals for 2013 was to visit Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia. My girls learned a lot about George Washington in 1st grade last year, and they were eager to see his home. For any age child, Washington is recognizable as our first president, on dollar bills and quarters as well as in books and on monuments.

Tickets run $17/adults, $16/seniors, and $8/children, with kids 5 and under free. Discounts can be found occasionally on daily deal sites; we saved a few dollars on the kids’ admission with a coupon from their summer library program booklet. We had an absolutely wonderful day trip, so I’m sharing my family’s 7 reasons to visit Mount Vernon with Kids:

Mansion Tour
When you buy your admission ticket, you’re given a ticket stamped with a time for a docent-led tour of the Mansion, which my kids just loved. After seeing a miniature dollhouse version of the Mansion in the lobby, they were thrilled to see the same furniture, wallpaper and details in real life. We skipped the orientation film offered in the lobby and wandered the grounds while waiting for our tour instead. Besides the mansion tour, you can take a 30-minute docent-led tour of the Garden & Landscape or the Slave Buildings for free. Other tours are extra, including the boat tour of the Potomac River.

Mount Vernon Gardens | Mount Vernon with Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Stunning grounds and view
It helped that we had a lovely 70-degree day, but the view from the front porch of the mansion, overlooking the Potomac River, is just beautiful. The flowers and gardens were bursting with life, and I can only imagine how lovely it will all look in fall colors over the next few weeks. We walked the gardens, saw the innovative greenhouse, and were fascinated by the fruit trees with lemons, limes,pineapples and more.

Kids of all ages love animals, and the farms at Mount Vernon have horses, sheep, oxen and chickens. We spent quite a while watching them as we walked the grounds and trails during our day.

Adventure Map -- Mount Vernon with Kids

Adventure Map
This was one of the most well-done children’s programs I’ve ever seen at a museum or historical site! At the entrance, the docents got my kids excited about following the Adventure Map to find secret words and solve a puzzle, which you then take to the kids’ gift shop for a souvenir. We also used the map to get around, but it encouraged them to cover more ground than they might have otherwise. They handled several hours of walking, hiking, and learning without complaining. It also makes a great keepsake for the kids to remember their visit.

Living History Collage -- Mount Vernon with Kids
Living History
All around the estate, there are costumed staff sharing lessons about Colonial life. We could have watched the blacksmith for an hour! A docent was nearby, explaining what he was making and how he used each tool. Out on Pioneer Farm, we watched men cooking fish over a campfire and learned how to separate wheat seeds from chaff using different baskets. The hands-on learning was one of my children’s favorite parts of the day.

Talking about History
With 7 and 10 year-olds, our kids are aware of President Lincoln, the Civil War, and slavery, but seeing how slaves lived and were treated at Mt. Vernon was different. Washington felt he couldn’t attend to the issue during his presidency but left instructions in his will to release the slaves after Martha passed away (she ended up doing so just a year after George died). Between visiting the sleeping quarters and helpful displays in the museum, it was easy to discuss this era in ways that our kids understood.

  Hands on History Room -- Mount Vernon with Kids

Hands-on History Center
Speaking of hands-on learning, inside the museum you’ll find the Hands-on History Center, filled with Colonial-era and Washington-themed toys. The docent there talked them through dressing up in colonial garb and posing with the Mount Vernon backdrop, and there were logs for building a house plus a dollhouse-sized mansion. While the room is for 3-8 year-olds, they allowed my 10-year-old son in since there was no line waiting. The rest of the museum was very kid-friendly as well.

The museum building ends in a full-scale food court and gift shop which reminds me to tell you to pack water and snacks, since you’re not near anything selling food for the duration of the day. Have you been to Mount Vernon with your family?


Whether you’re local or visiting the area on vacation, learn more about day trips from the DC area.

Lego Book Giveaway: Cool Creations by Sean Kenney {Closed}

Lego Book Giveaway

Happy Friday, Lego Lovers! I know so many of my readers have Lego kids at home, so I was thrilled when I was asked to do a review of Sean Kenney’s new book, Cool Creations in 35 Pieces. We’ve had several of his other books–Cool Cars & Trucks and Cool Robots–for years, and liked them, so I couldn’t wait to see this new one!

Lego Book Giveaway
Like Sean’s other books, the photos and instructions in this book are clear and easy-to-understand, even for kids as young as five or six. Compared to the other books, I was especially happy to see a specific list of pieces needed to make the models. In this case, it’s 35 typical Lego pieces, and all the models in the book use those same pieces. It doesn’t matter what color they are, and my kids have learned that it’s okay if yours doesn’t match the one in the book (we just use what we have).

Lego Book Giveaway
Cool Creations shows 75 different models built from those same 35 pieces, and there’s a section for everyone–spacecraft, furniture, vehicles, animals, bugs, and more. As with all of Sean’s books, his philosophy is to teach kids how Lego can interact and be taken apart to make millions of things. That definitely comes across in this book as well. My kids ended up making the models and then creating their own animals and monsters by adapting what they learned in the instructions.

  Lego Book Giveaway

As we head into holiday shopping season, keep Sean Kenney’s books in mind. They’re a wonderful gift for the Lego lover in your life and a great way to teach kids how to get past “sets” and build their own models.

One lucky MoneywiseMoms reader will win a copy of Cool Creations in 35 Pieces by Sean Kenney! If you’re reading this in an email subscription, be sure and click over to the blog so you can enter.

You have two ways to enter. Leave a separate comment for each task that you complete:

1)  Tell me who at your house would love this book.

2) Follow me on Pinterest so you can keep up with the board “Lego Love” and others.

I’ll choose the winner of this giveaway on Thursday, September 27th at 11:00pm EST. Thanks for reading MoneywiseMoms, and good luck!

Update: This giveaway is closed! Congrats to the winner, Trish B.

Disclosure: This Lego book giveaway is provided by MacMillan Kids, and my family was given a book for review. This post also contains affiliate links that help support MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you.

Birthday Party on a Budget

Birthday Party on a Budget

Want to throw a Birthday Party on a Budget? It’s not as hard as you think. Each year, I share photos from my kids’ parties, and we have a lot of fun. I basically follow the same formula every year, so I’m sharing my tricks & tips:

Limit the number of guests
A good rule to follow is the age of the child plus one. We’ve used that for years now, and it always seems to be the right amount. When we do an outing party (like to a local park or bowling), we can only invite the number of kids that fit in the van, so that gives us a small number automatically.

Birthday Party on a Budget

Host in the mid-afternoon
By choosing to have your party at 1:00 or 2:00pm, you can serve just snacks and birthday cake and not have to spend more money on a full meal. This was especially helpful when my children were preschoolers and their guests’ parents would stay for the party. My kids get a kick out of picking their own snack foods to fit a theme, like Cat Cookies for our Kitty Cat Party (4yo girls).

Birthday Party on a Budget

Keep the decorations simple

We tend to stick with inexpensive birthday decor, like my reusable Birthday Balloon Wreath on the door, balloon garlands or streamers in the dining room, and a big Happy Birthday banner. Instead of expensive themed cups and plates, we usually buy solid colors and decorate them with stickers or washi tape (or not at all). For my son’s Lego Party (6yo boy), we used what we had in the house and made a simple construction paper banner.

Birthday Party on a Budget

Focus on fun
For my twins’ 6th birthday, they specifically said, “We just want to have our friends over and play games.” That made for a great Zoo Animal Party. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have fun and make them feel special. That’s why you’ll see the same games across our parties: simple party games like “Pin the tail on the ____” and Duck, Duck Goose are just right for these ages. We make our own from posterboard or look up party games online instead of spending any money. 

  Birthday Party on a Budget

Shop smart
We buy most of our party supplies at the Dollar Tree, and if you plan ahead you can shop elsewhere with coupons and sales for very low prices. I always buy Mylar balloons at the dollar store–since they’re a dollar–and they cost $4-5 at the party store! For our Western Birthday Party (7yo girls) this spring, I did spend a little money on favor-type items, the bandanas and jump ropes, but they served as the decorations and then the guests got to take them home.

What are some ways you save money on kids’ birthday parties? 

Image from Alan Cleaver

#ad Help Your School with Tyson Project A+ and Safeway

Tyson Project A+ and Safeway

It’s back to school time–hooray! My kids are headed to 2nd grade (my twin daughters) and 5th (my son), and I’ll be volunteering at their schools again. I’m excited to share an an easy way to help your school with Tyson Project A+ and Safeway. You can help donate money to your local school just by purchasing products you’re already buying. I want to help my son’s school because they are trying to put SmartBoards in each classroom and increase the use of technology across the grades. Both Tyson Project A+ and Safeway can help the PTA achieve that goal. You can help your children’s school, too!

Tyson Project A+ and Safeway

At the Tyson Project A+ website, look to see if your school is already enrolled. If not, it just takes seconds to add it to the program. You’ll also find a redemption form to coordinate labels for your school. There are many ways to encourage other families to pitch in–think about asking for labels in your school’s newsletter, email blasts or Facebook page.

Tyson Project A+ and Safeway
Next time you’re shopping at Safeway, keep an eye out for the Tyson Project A+ signs in the freezer section. You’ll find over 30 products participating in the program. Each bag has a “Support Your School” label on the back worth 24-cents for your school. That’s higher than other programs, and it only takes a collection of 100 labels minimum for your school to receive a check from Tyson.


Tyson Project A+ and Safeway

When I shopped at Safeway, I picked up a few bags of Tyson Chicken to help make our busy weeknights a little easier. It’s so easy to heat up Grilled Chicken in a skillet; it only takes a few minutes. My kids love Chicken Caesar Salad–just five ingredients! I combine romaine lettuce with low-fat Caesar dressing, some grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, and top it with grilled chicken.

Tyson Project A+ and Safeway
In addition, Safeway will donate 10% of participating product prices to your enrolled school through their 10% Goes Back to Schools Program through September 10th. Just look for the white tags under participating products next time you’re shopping at Safeway. This e-scrip program has been running for years, and our local schools have benefited from it.

Connect with Tyson on Facebook and Twitter at #ClipForSchool.


Udvar-Hazy Center {Day Trip from DC}

Udvar-Hazy Center

The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, is a companion museum to the National Air & Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC. Since Udvar-Hazy is out in the suburbs, you avoid the huge crowd downtown on the Mall, just one of the reasons we enjoy it so much (or maybe that’s just me). When my twins were toddlers, they loved looking UP–up at the colorful hang gliders, parachutes, and planes hanging from the ceiling. Now that they’re older, they love learning how pilots control a plane and seeing all the history from hot air balloons to space travel.

Udvar-Hazy Center

Museum admission is free, but parking is $15. Parking is free if you arrive after 4:00pm (but keep in mind that the museum closes at 5:30 most days–check the website for extended hours). There is also an IMAX Theater, Planetarium and flight simulators with fees, but it’s easy to have a great trip to Udvar-Hazy without spending any money besides parking.

Udvar-Hazy Center

On this last trip, we spent a lot of time seeing the Ultralight aircraft. My kids were fascinated with them. We also got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery, which we had seen flying over the DC area back in April 2012 when it came to Udvar-Hazy to stay permanently. Visiting the Human Spaceflight section is interesting with children, since they will never experience the wonder and news of space travel the way previous generations have (since NASA has retired the shuttle program).

Udvar-Hazy Center

Unique to the Udvar-Hazy Center is its Observation Tower. Take the elevator up and revel in the 360-degree views for miles around. We had a nice clear day, so we could see planes taking  off and landing at Dulles International Airport close by. It was a stunning view, and it’s capitvating to both kids and adults. Other favorite parts, according to my kids, were the Blackbird (my son), the Wright Brothers planes (twin A) and the Close Encounter model, where you can search for R2D2 and other items (twin B). And, not a highlight (because of its history), but they do have the actual Enola Gay on display. This is not a “lesser” museum than the downtown location. I hope you’ll visit!

Udvar-Hazy Center

Visiting Washington DC this year? Read about more Day Trips from DC.