5 Tips for Taking a Theme Park Trip with Young Children

Are you planning a theme park trip with young children?

Last week we went on a whirlwind Orlando trip with our two kids, ages 5 and 2. Orlando is about an eight hour drive from us, so we decided to make a trip before we move away this summer. We drove there and back and visited two popular theme parks in three days. So, yeah, you could say we are a little crazy. However, our crazy ends up for your benefit. If you’re planning any kind of theme park excursion this summer with your young children, I’ve got some pro tips for you!

This post is brought to you in partnership with Legoland Florida Resort. All opinions are 100% my own. Affiliate links are also included. Your purchases through these links help keep this blog running! 

#1 Keep it laid back

When planning a visit to a theme park, its super easy to go overboard with the planning of every last detail. While it’s good to be prepared, don’t go too crazy and set yourself up for frustration when things don’t go as planned.

For our first theme park, I wanted to get there before the opening time… we woke up late.

So I wanted to get there as soon as possible… then we got lost on the way there.

I was hoping to bring a packed lunch to save money… but we didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store.

After these set backs (and more!) we could have let discouragement settle in and take hold. However, we chose to let it go, move on, and make the best of what we had – two small children who were still having a blast, regardless of whether the adults plans were flowing perfectly.

 

#2 Bring snacks and LOTS of water

If you are visiting a theme park at any time of the year, your energetic little ones are going to want a snack at some point. Unless you want to pay top dollar for theme park snacks (annoying if you’re already planning on purchasing meals there), bringing a few along is a much better option. Plus, unlike packing a whole meal, snacks are usually more portable and easy to take along. They also make great distractions during breaks – or for while big brother is riding the “big kid” rides!

If you are visiting a theme park during the summer, do not underestimate the importance of water. Sure, it’s important all the time, but I don’t know about you – I don’t normally spent 90+ degree summer days outside the entire day. If you don’t bring your own water bottles, you will either blow through the expensive theme park water, or be seriously parched.

Avoid heat stroke and bring one of these bad boys – we filled this water bottle up with ice (which stayed in there all day) and refilled it with water as needed throughout the day. Seriously, these water bottles are awesome (we got this straw lid to use with it).

#3 Use a stroller that has a basket and can lay back

While you probably don’t want to be lugging giant double jogging stroller around a theme park, having a stroller with a little room to carry your stuff is a must with small children. We brought our Britax B-Agile Stroller and it had the perfect amount of room for our snacks, supplies, and water bottles. I saw so many people with tiny umbrella strollers – I don’t know how they did it!

Another added benefit to a nicer stroller is that most have the option for your child to recline back. On both of our theme park visits, the toddler nodded off in the stroller and took a nice little nap. A must when you have kiddos used to taking a nap – especially when they are out in the heat all day! Unless, of course, you enjoy afternoon meltdowns!

#4 Let your toddler out of the stroller if at all possible

I know, I just praised the awesomeness of the stroller. However, here’s the thing, if the toddler rides in his mighty chariot all day long with his devoted parents pushing him around the park this is what you will end up with at the end of the day: a toddler with tons of pent up energy and exhausted parents. Ask me how we know.

If the park you are visiting is going to be too busy to let your toddler toddle on his or her own, I certainly won’t judge you for using a kid leash. I totally would have if I would have thought about it early enough. Even something like this would have been great for my five year old (who I’m not even worried about bolting off) because it got awfully sweaty during the times we needed to hold hands.

#5 Go to Legoland Floria Resort Theme Park

Okay, I’m going to be straight up honest with you here. We did THE Orlando theme park… you know the one I’m talking about… with the castle and the princesses and the mouse with the big ears. Sure, the kids had fun. Sure, it was a “classic” experience. However, the place was a mad house and we left feeling like… welp, don’t know that we will be spending our money on that “experience” again. (Die hard fans please no hate mail!)

We truly weren’t able to put our finger on what was missing from the experience until we went to Legoland the next day. It was a night and day difference.

It wasn’t totally over crowded.

The employees were cheery and helpful.

The atmosphere was awesome.

But the biggest thing that left us feeling like, “yes! we will be back!” was: #builtforkids.

I didn’t remember that was their hashtag until we returned home, but it fits 100%. Legoland was absolutely built with kids in mind.

We started off in Duplo Valley, which is especially geared towards the younger crowd. I think my 5 and 2 year old could have stayed there the whole day. Hands on play area (in the AC – hallelujah!), kid friendly rides, splash area – it was perfect.

But it wasn’t just Duplo Valley, the whole park was built with kids in mind. The ride lines had play areas for the kids while parents held the spot. There were free play, hands on exhibits scattered throughout the park. There were rides that were perfect for all ages. The whole experience was like a breath of fresh air compared to the day before.

A good way to describe the park is like the perfect baby of a hands on children’s museum and a theme park.

And, don’t forget the LEGO. If you have kids that enjoy Lego, they will seriously go crazy here. Awesome Lego shops around every corner, the most amazing life size Lego creations, and plenty of opportunities to build. It’s a Lego lovers dream.

After the day was over, we all agreed that Legoland was our favorite.

I hope these tips were helpful to you no matter what theme park you’re braving this summer. But seriously, if it’s an option, opt for Legoland Florida Resort.

5 Tips for a Successful Bible Time with Kids

I have a confession.

After completing the Play Through the Bible series I did a terrible job at having a consistent Bible time with my kids. We started and stopped, and started and stopped again. I had lofty goals and didn’t see them through. Most of the time I just plain didn’t know where to start.

Have you found yourself in this place too?

You know it’s important. The desire is there. But the days keep slipping through your fingers without these goals being met.

I’ve been there. In fact, I’m still there sometimes. However, over the past few months I feel like I’ve finally landed on something that works.

We haven’t been perfect, but we have consistently had a morning Bible time together, opening the doors for lots of great spiritual conversations.

Today, I want to share with you how we made it work.

#1 Find a time that works for you

Does it seem like everyone else in the world starts their days with the picturesque scene of kids delightfully learning about God’s world around the breakfast table, but at that hour of the day your brain feels more like your gray bowl of oatmeal?

Say adios morning Bible time. 

Seriously, let it go and be you. Maybe your family works better during a quiet hour when the baby is napping or in the evening when dad is home to lend a hand.

Set a time, embrace it, and then stick to it.

#2 Keep it simple

Like, ridiculously simple.

At least for me, it is so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I can never make Bible time “enough.” Wiggly kids, lack of time, and unmet plans leave me feeling discouraged and I eventually give up.

I finally realized that something small is better than nothing at all. In fact, it’s actually quite freeing and opens the doors for continued, yet unplanned, conversation.

And I’m not talking about a “simple” lesson plan or a “simple” list of things to get out of the Bible time. Oh no. We started with one short Bible story at breakfast.

That’s. It. 

No lesson plans. No crafts. No memory verses, songs, or lengthy discussions.

We slowly got in the habit of daily starting our day with the Bible. We built our discipline muscle. The kids started to expect the story and look forward to it. We would miss a day or two and then quickly pick it back up again because we could feel it missing.

We stayed here for a long time. We didn’t read just one story for a week and declare it mastered, starting to add new elements. This one story was our home base and we stayed and made it nice and cozy until we were able to venture out and add more.

Your home base doesn’t have to be a Bible storybook. It could be a song you sing, a simple prayer, or a chapter from Psalms. Whatever feels like home for your family in the stage of life you are in currently.

#3 Slowly add more to your Bible time

After camping out in your home base for as long as it takes to build that habit (no rushing!), slowly add in other elements to your Bible time.

Don’t feel tempted to add in a bunch of things all at once now that you’re feeling confident in your new habit. Pride comes before the fall, yeah? Make a list of the things you would *someday* like to accomplish and pick one.

Introduce that one thing and give it time to become part of the routine. If, at any time or during any particular day, your new routine starts to feel overwhelming – go back to your home base. Do just that one thing and pick back up the new the next day or the next week.

I cannot emphasize enough to take it nice and slow with no pressure. We have been doing this for at least two months now and this is what our morning Bible time looks like (with a 5 and almost 2 year old):

  • Read Bible story and briefly discuss/answer 5 year old’s questions
  • Read a few pages from God’s Wisdom for Little Boys (awesome book by the way!)
  • About ten minutes of listening to and learning a hymn

That’s all. And if we don’t do it all, that’s okay. If we miss a day, we just pick right back up where we left off. Eventually I’d like to add more, but for now we will probably be hanging out here for quite a while.

Bonus tip: when you do get to the point of adding more, do them on a rotation, instead of trying to do everything every day.

#4 Roll with the punches

It’s easy to feel discouraged when things aren’t going how you expected.

There are going to be days when your kids are more interested in the squirrel out the window than the story you are reading or would rather run off and play than sing worship songs. Life will get crazy and you will skip a day here and even a week there.

Just keep going, keep coming back to it, keep building the habit. Hold your plans loosely and keep an eye toward the future.

Remember, Bible time is not the ultimate measure of your godly parenting ability. 

While it is definitely important to set a precedence for digging into God’s Word and going to him with prayer and worship, you have many more hours in the day. Hours where just walking along side your children through the daily tasks of life can speak more into their hearts and souls than you’d ever imagine.

One of my favorite parenting passages is Deuteronomy 6:5-9…

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Let go of having the “perfect” moment and fill your home with the love of God and talk about him daily.

#5 Cover your goals in prayer

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
-Proverbs 16:9

Don’t try and do this on your own strength. Go to God for his grace and wisdom. Spend time praying over your goals. Spend time praying for the spiritual maturity of your children.

Even with the simple steps we’ve discussed here, we will just be turning our wheels without God establishing our steps.

Take the next step

So, friend, if you found yourself knowing that having Bible time with your kids is important, but you just weren’t sure where to start, I hope you have a much clearer plan now!

If you are ready to take the next step and you could still use a little guidance – I’ve got you covered! I’ve created a FREE printable worksheet to help you plan out a Bible time that works for you.

Enter your information below to grab the free Bible Time with Kids Planning Worksheet AND gain access to the ever growing library of free printables!

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*Affiliate links included.

If I could go back and give advice to my newlywed self… (#1 of 4)

If I could go back and give advice to my newlywed self...

My little sister is getting married this Summer and it has got me thinking back to when I was preparing for my own wedding seven years ago. The excitement and the unknowns of it all. The first couple years of figuring out what marriage is all about.

The truth is, we’re still figuring out what this thing called marriage is all about, but if I could go back in time and share with my young(er) self my advice after seven years of marriage, I think I’d tell myself four main things.

Today, I’d like to share the first thing…

#1He will mess up - forgive and love him anyway

#1 He will mess up – forgive and love him anyway

Have you ever heard this quote?

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
― Robert Quillen

It’s true. Really true. You may think you’ve gotten to experience what it means to have to forgive your husband-to-be, but you’ve only just begun sweetheart.

You know the common saying, “nobody’s perfect”? Well, I’m going to tell you right now – that’s the understatement of the year.

Yes, no one is perfect. However, the truth is, it’s more than just not being “perfect”. We are all fallen sinners. We bring to our marriages baggage from the past, mixed motivations, sinful attitudes, and selfish actions.

Your husband is going to hurt your feelings. He is going to frustrate you. He is going to make stupid mistakes.

You think you realize this, but the truth is you won’t really see how your husband’s sin affects your life until you are in the daily trenches of doing life together as a married couple. 

Just like you have your own sin habits and struggles that you may never fully shake this side of heaven, your husband will too.

When you remind him for the 100th time to please stop doing that thing you hate, and when he comes to you apologizing once again for that thing that’s much more serious, your response must be one of love and forgiveness.

 

Responding with Love and Forgiveness

Why must you respond with forgiveness? Well, the first and most important reason is because God first forgave you. 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13

In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. In this parable a servant owed a great debt to the king and was to be sold into slavery because he could not pay his debt. He begged the king to have patience and give him time to pay back this debt.

The king had mercy on the servant and forgave his debt, setting him free. 

However, when the servant left, he found another servant who owed him just a small amount and, when he could not pay, the servant had him thrown in prison.

When the king found out he was not too happy. This is how the parable closes…

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
-Matthew 18:32-35

Yikes.

Bottom line – when you think of how much God has forgiven you, it makes it a lot easier to keep on forgiving your husband.

Forgiveness keeps you humble

Speaking of the sin you have been forgiven of, having to remember this and forgive your husband is going to keep you a lot more humble.

It’ll be really easy to forget about your own sin when you see your husband’s. You don’t want to go down that path.

Forgiving your husband will help to guard you against becoming like the Pharisee who prayed while pointing a finger at the “sinner” and exalting himself.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
Luke 18:11

If I could go back and give advice to my newlywed self...

Forgiveness brings freedom

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

When you hold onto your anger and your grudges instead of letting them go in forgiveness, it’s like locking yourself in jail.

When you forgive it brings freedom.

Freedom to love without wondering if he “deserves it.” Freedom to have fun and be joyful instead of being stuck with a hard heart. It gives you freedom to learn and grow alongside your spouse, moving closer together instead of farther apart.

When Jesus said that in this world we would have troubles (John 16:33), our marriages were not immune from that. However, you need to learn early on that these problems don’t have to take the wheel of your marriage.

Yes, address the problems and the sin. Yes, attack them together. Then, put those problems on the back burner and be free to love each other again – lack of perfection and all.

What advice would you give to your newlywed self?

If I Could Give Advice To My Newlywed Self

The Hidden Blessing of a Full Life

The Hidden Blessing of a Full Life

As I flopped into bed, exhausted, I lay there thinking of all the things a left undone. Yet another day had passed, busting at the seams. Filled with highs and lows. Responsibilities, routines, and even some excitement.

I sighed, trying to figure out what I would need to prioritize tomorrow. “Life is crazy,” I thought. “Will it ever slow down?” My days felt like a never ending to-do list.

I was frustrated. I am someone who generally prefers the slow, simple life. However, this kind of life seemed to have disappeared lately. Replaced with early mornings, late nights, and a whole lot stuffed in between.

Frankly, in that moment, I had a little bit of a bad attitude.

But, then it hit me, life isn’t just this crazy mess I was portraying to myself. Yes, our days were full. Very full. However, they were bursting at the seams with good. And if I looked close enough, I just might see what’s really there…

The Hidden Blessing of a Full Life Days full of baby snuggles, interspersed with the delight of a child over a simple tower of blocks or a splash in a rain puddle.

Time that was sacrificed for friends. One helped to move across town. Another over for dinner last minute. Plus lots of spontaneous playdates among the kids.

Meals were cooked with little hands alongside. Walks around the block were taken, with stops every 20 feet to look at the scenery.

Small hearts were shaped through tantrums and chores, kisses and hugs, and silly giggles. And, of course, lots of pointing to Jesus.

Hidden Blessing of a full life

Sure, the bathroom (still) didn’t get cleaned. And routines were once again derailed, though my intentions were there. Lunch was mac-n-cheese from a box.

There may have been moments of anger, frustration, and exhaustion. There were moments I wish could have been skipped and time I wish I could reclaim.

But still, life is so rich. So good. So full of the sweet moments. Moments that will pass you by without a second glance if all you are doing is focusing on the crazy and wondering if you’ll ever get to take a nap again.

The Hidden Blessing of a Full Life

It is these moments I want to keep my focus on. Because, yes, times of peace and rest are so important, but how we view the other, not so peaceful times of life is what determines how we feel about our days. And even the hard moments can be bittersweet and full of good, if they cause us to lean more heavily on our Savior.

The Hidden Blessing of a Full Life

So, instead, as my head lays on the pillow, I choose to redirect my thoughts. I lay aside the mental to do list for the night and thank God for the good he has surrounded me with. Thankful for his grace, once again, carrying me through another day.

“What was your favorite Christmas memory from childhood?” {60 People Reflect Back on Their Childhood Christmases)

This year as I made chocolate covered pretzels with my four year old son, memories of my own childhood Christmases came flooding back to me. I was transported back to my own small hands dipping pretzels and sprinkling on the red and green sprinkles. It brought back fond memories of setting up the Christmas tree with the toy train buzzing around it, wrapping presents for the family, and watching Christmas movies in our new jammies.

Yes, gifts were always a part of Christmas, but when I looked back those were not my biggest or most favorite memories. As I pondered this it got me thinking and it led me to wonder what others thought as they looked back on their childhood Christmases.

So, I asked this question:

What was your favorite Christmas memory from childhood?

Want to know the answers I found? It might surprise you!

What's Your Favorite Christmas Memory From Your Childhood? -- Find out what these 60 people had to say!

I asked 60 people from varying walks of life this simple question. The results were amazing, heartwarming, and even a little tear inducing.

Here are just some of the responses…

Putting on a Christmas play with my siblings/cousins. We practiced in front of my aunts and uncles before performing in front of my aunts and uncles. Year-to-year, our roles never changed. They saw us do this at least 40 times in the 90s. – Brenda

my whole family making christmas cookies .. batches and batches … all types … and then spending weeks eating them … – Elizabeth

Decorating the tree while watching Charlie Brown Christmas and drinking hot chocolate (a tradition my kids also look forward to and love!) – Holly

Waking up early a few days before Christmas and sitting next to the tree with my sister, whispering about how excited we were. – Heather

Caroling to shut-ins around our rural area with church group. Taking turns with siblings opening little gifts each night of advent. Mom’s secret numbered gift list, no one knew which gifts were theirs (5 siblings), we took turns opening after reading the record of Jesus’ birth. – Betty

My mom transforming our home with her decorations, getting to set up the carolers on the church steps, getting a baby CHRISTmas tree when I was 5 and going to my Grandparents with ALL the family there. Loved it. – Scott

Did you notice a theme? There are many more responses with lovely answers just like these. What did people think of first as they reflected back upon their childhood Christmases? I’ll give you one clue – it definitely wasn’t the gifts they received.

While reading through the responses I received, four trends stuck out to me.

Making a memorable Christmas 2

1. Time with Family

Whether it was the cozy feeling of just your family on Christmas morning or the fun craziness of getting to see your extended family – being with family was the number one commonality in the responses I received.

It’s not just the fun things we do that make Christmas memories – it’s the people we do them with. It’s baking cookies with mom, eating lunch at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, and having special play time with cousins and siblings. It’s the people we care about that make the holidays so special.

I woke up at an insane hour at my grandparents house. My parents and grandmother were still asleep. My grandfather sat in the floor with me at their house and played with a racecar track and set that Santa brought me. It’s THE only time I ever remember playing with my grandfather. – Janeen

Going to my grandparent’s house on Christmas Day for Christmas lunch. It was the only time I ever saw my extended family and we did a gift exchange. It made me feel like I belonged somewhere – Arabah

Christmas is my brothers birthday I remember waking up super early and my brother would already be out in the living room. I would sit next to him on the chair and watch the twinkling christmas lights and we would sing happy birthday together. He is 8 years older than me. – Darla

Making a memorable Christmas 3

2. Generosity Coming to Life

Multiple responses were centered around an act of giving. This wasn’t surprising. That joyful feeling you get when you give to others is a memory that sticks with you. On the other end of this was the responders who mentioned someone giving to them to be one of their lasting memories. It was the generosity of another, given to them when they were in need, that gave them a life long memory.

One year a friend of my mom’s husband had lost his job and they were scraping to put food on the table with no $$ for gifts. My mom talked to my brothers and me and we put together a basket of gifts and food for them. We dropped it off and ran away. They knew it was us but it is still a great memory. – Tammy

A couple women showed up at our door to give us a tree because they heard we didn’t have one. We were sworn to secrecy to not let anyone know we couldn’t afford a tree. How they found out, I don’t know. It meant the world to me that someone knew and cared. -Kymberlie

Making a memorable Christmas 1

3. Simple Christmas Traditions

Decorating the tree. Baking cookies. Looking at the lights. There were no mentions of Pinterest perfect Christmases, just simple traditions done with the ones they loved.

Christmas morning with my dad making breakfast, my mom hung out with us drinking her coffee while we played with our stocking goodies. And decorating Christmas cookies! -Malynda

Baking. My favorite memory was baking with my mom and my kids always tell me that their favorite holiday tradition is all the cookies we bake. – Heidi

Decorating the Christmas tree. It was always so much fun pulling the ornaments out of the box and hearing the stories behind them. -Rachel

Making a memorable Christmas 4

4. Meaningful Gifts

Although the vast majority of people did not mention getting gifts as their favorite Christmas memory, there were some that did. However, as I read their responses, I noticed something interesting. The reason the gift was so memorable, wasn’t because of the gift itself, but the meaning behind it. It wasn’t the price of the gift or how many gifts there were under the tree – it was the special thought behind the gift, the person it came from, or the memories surrounding it.

My favorite Christmas memory was actually a gift I got twice. When I was about 11 I really really wanted a birthstone ring for Christmas. My parents thought maybe I wasn’t old enough for actual jewelry but took a chance anyway. I wore it all the time. And then one day I lost it. I was so sure I only ever wore it or kept it in the box but I couldn’t find the box either. It was just gone. I was heartbroken about it. Several years later there was a small flood in the basement when the water heater broke. My parents sorting through cardboard boxes to see what was ruined found the ring box. And yes the ring was inside. They saved it until that Christmas and I got it all over again. I don’t remember what other presents I got that year but that ring was like a real life example of Luke 15:9. And how God will restore to us what was lost. -Kat

Apparently I was one of those that would snoop, shake and even unwrap/rewrap presents (I could get the tape off without tearing the paper). One year I wanted a stuffed animal. It would have been obvious so my parents put silverware and bricks in the box along with some other things. I think the box was even double wrapped. Every time I shook it or moved it they would get this look on their face that I had broken something. Needless to say I was quite surprised to open my very large box to find the stuffed dog that I really wanted. -Kim

The year our parents got us a puppy. Every year on Christmas eve, we’d go drive around and look at lights. This particular year, we drove a lot longer and to a rural area with very few lights. My dad claimed to be lost and went to knock on someone’s door “for directions” , and came back with a puppy. (It was all planned out.) -Beth

What's Your Favorite Christmas Memory From Your Childhood? -- Find out what these 60 people had to say!

Christmas Memories that Matter

So, this Christmas I want to challenge you (and myself!) to put a little less emphasis on the gifts and the Pinterest perfect moments. And instead, squeeze your kids little tighter, let them be spoiled by their grandparents a little longer, and don’t worry about getting frosting and sprinkles all over the kitchen.

My kids are only 4 and 7 months and I can already feel the years slipping through my fingers. I know that it will be like a blink of an eye before they are all grown up and these moments are only memories. I want to spend as much time as I can doing the things that count.

Are you looking for a simple and meaningful Christ-Centered Christmas tradition? Try Names of Jesus Advent Ornaments! Get the free printable here.

Now I’d love to hear! What’s your favorite Christmas memory from childhood?

Gifts for the Whole Gang – Family Gift Guide

Family Gift Guide - www.simplelifemessylife.com

For Christmas, I always wanted to get one big gift for my kids that was a “family gift.” Something that everyone could have fun using together. Now that baby J is here, this is the first year that we’ll actually be able to do that!

Since buying a gift that spans multiple ages can be tricky, I wanted to gather together some ideas for those of you that do the family gift too. I hope you find the perfect gift!

Gifts for the Younger Ones

1. Foamnasium Gymnasium

I had to put this on the list first because this is the gift we decided to go with for the boys this year!

If you read my previous gift guides (here and here) then you’ll know that I was debating whether or not these would be worth the price. We finally decided to go for it and bought this set and also this tunnel.

I am super excited and I think my boys (almost 4 and 6 months) are going to love them and play with them for years!

2. Radio Flyer Full Size All-Terrain Steel and Wood Wagon

If we hadn’t received a hand-me-down wagon (like this one) recently, then a wagon would definitely have been on our list of gifts to consider.

A friend of mine has this all-terrain model and I love it. The big wheels are awesome. My family had a Radio Flyer wagon when I was growing up and, I assure you, it was very well loved and used!

3. LEGO Education DUPLO Brick Set

Although the package says that Duplo are good for up to age 5, I know from personal experience that kids even older than that enjoy playing with these awesome blocks.

If you are looking for a classic building toy that your kids will use for years and years, this is it!

4. ThinkFun Zingo

Looking for a fun and easy game to play with your little ones? Give Zingo a try!

It’s a fast paced version of bingo that is perfect for kids up to about age 8. Although I’ve played it before, it is not a game we currently own – I’m going to have to change that soon though!

 

 

5. Fisher-Price Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle

The Imaginext play sets are so. fun. There are so many different ones to choose from, but I thought this castle looked like something I know my son and his friends would absolutely love.

This also reminds me of my childhood and the hours and hours my sisters and I spend playing with our doll house (similar to this one). Toys like these that involve the imagination are ones that kids will continue to come back to for a long time!

6. Wooden Train Track 52 Piece Pack

When we bought K his train set, we decided to go with this off-brand set of just plain tracks. That way, we got more for our money and he didn’t have to worry about fitting together weird specialty parts. I have never regretted this decision and these tracks have gotten tons of use over the last few years!

I anticipate them continuing to be used for a long time. Baby J already likes to play with them – well, chew on them at least! Just pair them with a pack of trains (like these) and it will be a perfect gift!

7. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel

Do you have some little art lovers in your house? Then an easel might be the perfect gift!

We have an easel and it gets used at least every week, if not every day!

Don’t forget the paint!

 

 

 

8. Costumes/Dress Up Clothes

Boys, girls, young, and old – everybody knows that playing dress up is tons of fun!

What a fun gift it would be to get a big bin full of dress ups, old costumes, play silks, props, and Goodwill finds! It would provide hours and hours of imaginative play!

9. KidKraft Vintage Kitchen

On the topic of pretend play, how cute is this play kitchen?! I know that if we had room for one, my kiddos would love having a play kitchen.

Who knows? Play kitchen now, cooking your meals when they get a bit bigger? A mom can dream, right?! 🙂

 

 

10. Movies

Get together a movie (or two, or three), pair it with some new jammies and a big popcorn bucket and some candy and you’ve got a super fun gift and family night in the making!

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts for the Bigger Kids

11. Nerf Guns

Looking for a fun gift that will get the whole family playing together?Pick up a couple of these and some extra darts and have an epic nerf battle on Christmas morning!

 

12. LEGO Classic Large Creative Brick Box

You can never go wrong with more Lego!

I love this box because it supplies all the pieces your kiddos need for open ended building. And, just like the box says for ages 4-99, it’s perfect for the whole fam!

 

13. Apples to Apples Junior

Looking for a fun game to spice up family game night? Try Apples to Apples Junior! Super silly and will get the whole family laughing – if you’ve never tried it, I recommend giving it a try!

 

 

 

14. Skywalker Trampolines 12-Feet Jump N’ Dunk Trampoline

Our neighbors have a trampoline and it is one of the kids favorite things to do! It is such a fun way to get out all that extra energy!

I think this trampoline looks extra fun with the sweet attached basketball hoop. If you live in a mild climate like us, it might be the perfect outdoor addition!

 

15. Flexible Flyer 60″ Flexible Flyer Sled

Do you live somewhere a bit more wintry than us? Then perhaps a great family gift would be something that gets you outside enjoying that pretty snow!

This old fashioned style sled looks like tons of fun and *almost* has me pining for winter weather. Add some new mugs and a bunch of hot chocolate and you’ll have an awesome gift!

16. Wii

While I am usually not a huge fan of video games, I am kind of on the fence about the Wii. With more active and kid friendly games, if I’m ever going to spring for a video game system, it’s probably going to be a Wii.

If we ever live somewhere where there is a more harsh winter, I’d definitely look into one for some winter entertainment. Maybe it’s a good gift for your family this year!

17. Puzzle

Is your family a fan of being a little more low-tech? What about a big puzzle?

Cozy up around the dining room table, maybe with a plate of Christmas cookies, and put together this cute doggy picture. Just make sure to grab one of these so that you can put it away until you’re ready to work on it again!

18. Lifetime Pro Court Height Adjustable Portable Basketball System

I have so many memories from my childhood of playing basketball with my dad in the driveway. Playing one on one, P-I-G, and just shooting hoops – so much fun was had.

A basketball hoop is definitely something that we will want to purchase when our boys are older!

 

 

19. Book Series

Does your family enjoy read-alouds? Then what about a great book series for your family gift?

I found this nice set with both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but there are plenty others you could choose from!

 

 

 

20. Star Wars: The Complete Saga

What about movie night for the big kids (and the kid at heart!)? We are in full on Star Wars obsession over here with the new movie being released soon! This complete set would be an awesome gift for any Star Wars loving family.

 

 

 

 

Do you do “family gifts”? What’s on your list?

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Top Ten Ways to Stop Being a Grumpy Family

Grumpy-Family

School has begun once again and whether your kids are hopping on the big yellow bus or sitting down for math lessons at the kitchen table, one thing is for sure – gone are the lazy days of summer. Life is about to get busy!

I know for our family, when our schedules are full and we aren’t able to spend as much time together, we start to feel disconnected. We are more liable to get cranky at each other and we start to feel just plain “off.”

So, how do you stay connected as a family when your days are filled with activities taking you every which way?

If you don’t want to be a grumpy family, you have to be intentional.

Don’t get me wrong, being intentional about connecting as a family isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated either!

I’m over at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum today sharing ten ways to stay connected as a family… read more over there.

The Treadmill of Mothering Small Children

The Treadmill of Mothering Small

The afternoon felt like I was stuck in that movie Groundhog’s Day.

At this point my 8 week old was starting to fall into some semblance of predictable routines. He woke for the day around the same time, stayed up for a while, cat napped the rest of the morning, and then usually took a longer nap around 1 or 2.

At about 1:30 it seemed pretty obvious that he was getting tired and needed to take that longer nap. I finished up lunch and started looking forward to spending the afternoon catching up on house work (bad move – never count those chickens!).

Then began the seemingly endless cycle. Nurse, rock, lay down baby. Try to start working on something. Baby wakes up 10 minutes later. Play with smiley baby, rock cranky baby, nurse again, lay down. Baby wakes up 3 minutes later. Rock baby. Baby falls asleep in arms. Moments before attempting the lay down baby’s eyes open wide and he smiles as if to say “gotcha.”

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Oh, you thought I was sleeping, mom? 

I tried retreating to the bedroom, where he does such a good job sleeping at night. I rocked. I nursed. I set him in his bed. Happy, sleepy, and sucking on a paci.

I ran downstairs and cleaned the dining room for 15 minutes like a mad woman while listening to my baby cry over the monitor. Mom guilt crept in (I never let big brother cry like that this young!).

I climbed the stairs to the bedroom and peeked over the side of the crib. My good natured little boy smiled at the sight of his mommy. He wanted to be happy and play, but what he really needed was sleep. I tried one more time.

Rock.

Nurse.

Rock.

He drifted off to sleep.

Eyes pop open. “Just kidding mom!

It was 4 pm. I finally gave up.

I carried him downstairs and big brother entertained him in the swing while I managed to finish washing the dishes.

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But who could be mad at this face?

I had begun the work of cleaning the kitchen that morning when I started unloading the dishwasher at breakfast…

…and had finished just in time to start cooking dinner.

Sometimes life with little ones feels like a treadmill. Walking and walking, but going nowhere.

Like life is on repeat. Feed, clothe, soothe. Discipline, teach, correct. Walk, walk, walk – still in the same place.

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Didn’t I just feed you?

So often it feels like there is so much I want to do in life, but instead I spend the day just getting the bare minimum done. If that.

But is that really the case?

Let’s rewind this day back to the beginning again.

The day began with a late start due to extra morning snuggles with my two little boys. (Pouring into K’s love language – physical touch)

I fed my son breakfast, read him his Bible, and helped him with some preschool activities (Enriching his body, spirit, and mind)

I spent the afternoon caring for a baby who needed a little extra TLC. (Meeting his need for attachment and teaching him that mommy loves him, hears him, and can be trusted)

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Sleepy snuggles while doing computer work? Could life get any better?

All that and I managed to do the dishes? I’ll call that a win.

It’s all in your perspective.

That.. and a lot of grace.

 

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IBG Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum

The Most Important Phrase to Help with the Adjustment to a New Sibling

The Most Important Phrase to Help with

He came downstairs from his quiet time and wanted the cookie I had promised him. The only problem was that I was trapped.

Trapped under a peacefully sleeping baby.

I told him that I couldn’t get up and get his cookie right then. He would have to be patient and wait.

I could see the frustration building on his face and I felt for him. He was transitioning well into the role of big brother, but that didn’t mean it was always easy. Newborns are pretty demanding, so big brother was getting a lot of practice with coming second.

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Anyways.. back to the cookie situation. I really didn’t want to disturb said sleeping baby – either by getting up to get the cookie or from the screams of a three year old’s meltdown. So, I broke out the miracle phrase.

“You used to do that when you were a baby too.”

“When you were a baby you liked mommy to hold you when you were sleeping too. You always wanted to be held!”

His scowl immediately melted into a smile. He loves hearing about when he was a baby.

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Before Baby J was born we spent a lot of time looking through old pictures and talking about what K was like when he was a baby. He ate up every minute of it.

Not only does he like hearing about himself as a baby, the phrase helps him remember that he is the big kid. Baby J can’t wait patiently, but a big boy can. Baby J doesn’t help clean up, but a big kid can. Baby J needs mommy to help him with everything, but a big boy can do it himself.

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K had his time to be a baby, but now he is a big boy and before long baby J will be a big boy just like him!

But for now, when that frustration starts to well up, it helps to remember – “You used to do that when you were a baby too.”

What tips do you have for easing that transition when a newborn comes along?

Traveling With Kids – The ULTIMATE Round-Up of Ideas, Tips, and Tricks

Traveling With Kids The ULTIMATE

Coming up soon we are headed out on a two week trip to visit family. Between the drive from Mississippi to the midwest, the drives between locations in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and the drive back home we will end up spending about FOURTY-FOUR hours in the car!

If we are going to survive the trip with a preschooler and a baby, I knew I needed to do some preparation! So, I wanted to share with you some of the great tips I’ve found as I’ve researched how to get through this trip with my sanity still intact.

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Travel Necessities

There are some things you just shouldn’t leave home without! Check out these four lists and you’ll have your bases covered for sure!

Eight Summer Travel Bag Necessities – Don’t forget a thing with these eight traveling necessities.

10 Things Moms Should Never Leave Behind… While Road-Tripping with Kids – I love the idea t0 bring flashlights in the car!

Ten Must Haves to Keep in Your Car if You Have Kids… especially #2 – Great ideas for road trips and every day car rides!

Road Trip Essentials – Great list of important things to keep on hand in the car. I love the idea to keep them in a bin.

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General Tips and Ideas

Get some advice from mama’s who are pros at the art of the long road trip. With this many tips, you’re bound to find something to give you a little peace and quiet!

20 best ideas, activities, and resources for road trips with kids – Great little round-up of ideas.

The ultimate guide: 50 tips, tricks & ideas for road trips with kids – A huge list of all kinds of tips. So many good ideas!

40+ Tips for Road Trips with Toddlers & Preschoolers – Lots of great ideas for the little ones.

10 Things to Do Before Your Next Road Trip – Lots of good reminders, plus a handy printable checklist!

Cookie Sheet Travel Fun – Awesome ideas on how to use a metal cookie sheet for hours of entertainment.

Car Hacks for Happy Kids – Three nifty ideas that could save a lot of stress. I especially like the second one!

Traveling with Children – Some great tips for keeping your sanity while traveling with kids. I especially like her ideas for during pit stops!

4 Tips that will Change Everything When Traveling with Kids – Some good advice on traveling, accommodations, and sight seeing.

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Keeping Kids Entertained

Sitting in one place for hours and hours is not most kids idea of a super fun time. So, the key to road trip success is to bring along some great road trip entertainment!

Traveling with Kids? Don’t Leave Home without this Idea! – Who would have thought a sticky note could achieve so much?!

DIY Kids Travel Activity Kits – How to pack the perfect kit for your kid!

Road Trip Scavenger Hunt Free Printable – I’m definitely going tho print this fun game out for our trip!

Traveling With Young Kids | Homemade Activity Book Idea – What a great idea for keeping the crayons organized!

Make Your Own Kid’s Travel Binder – A great idea to use dry erase markers and page protectors in a travel binder!

Traveling with Kids – Montessori-Inspired Activities – Portable Montessori activities? Yes, please!

Holiday Air Travel with Toddlers: Packing Entertainment Items – Super detailed post on what to pack to keep young kids entertained during travel.

Road Trip Binder for Kids – Really detailed road trip binders. With printables!

How to Prepare for a Road Trip with Kids: Keeping Them Entertained – Some great tips for keeping kids busy in the car. I love the organization ideas!

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Packing

From what to pack in the suitcase to how to fit it all in the car, these ideas have got you covered!

How to Pack for a Long Trip with a Baby and Toddler {Free Printable Packing List!} – When you are already lugging around your little ones, the last thing you need is a ton of luggage to carry too. Here’s how to get it all in one carryon!

Our Christmas + Tips for Packing & Traveling With Kids – Great ideas for keeping the kids things organized!

Traveling with kids – Packing the Car Tips and Tricks – Keep it all organized in the car!

How to Have a Successful Road Trip With Young Children: Pack an Emergency Box – I never would have thought of this!

How to Pack Your Car for a Road Trip – Once you’ve got it all packed up, you’ve got to figure out how go get it all in the car! Here’s some tips!

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Food

For our last big road trip I finally decided to pack food instead of stopping along the way – it was revolutionary! It saved us tons of time and our tummies thanked us greatly! Wondering how to make it work? Try one of these posts for some great ideas.

Eating on the Road: Meals and Snacks – A comprehensive post of ideas for eating on the go.

5 Things I Learned From Feeding My Family Real Food On The Road – Traveling while eating a restrictive, real food diet? Totally possible!

Real Food Road Trip – The why and the how for packing real food on the road.

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Flying with Kids

While we aren’t flying this time, I’ve been there before and it can be really hard! I’m definitely going to have to remember some of these tips for next time!

7 Tips for Traveling with Small Children {It Can Be Done!} – I especially love the first tip!

Toddler Airplane Activities and Tips – How to survive the airport with little ones.

17 Tips for Flying with Kids – Some great tips, plus a pre travel pep talk!

Traveling with Creative Kids: 10 Things to Pack in Your Child’s Carry-On (Preschool Age) – Some great ideas of what to bring along for the plane ride.

Tips for Traveling with Kids: From the Experts… Expat Moms! – Tips from someone with tons of experience.

50 Kid Friendly Airplane Snacks – Cause no one wants a hungry, cranky kid on the plane!

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International Travel

Now I’m really just dreaming! I’d love to travel abroad some day though. If you’re lucky enough to travel the world with your kiddos, here’s some great tips for getting it done!

Get the Passports Ready! 14 Things To Know About International Travel with Kids (& Why You Should Give It a Try!) – Great advice from a family that has done it!

You Can Travel the World with Kids and Enjoy It – Great advice for general travel too.

Travel Tips: Traveling Abroad with Kids – Very detailed information. Also, can I go to Italy now!?