Keeping the kids busy during school breaks

Today is the first day of our Thanksgiving break. My kids have the whole week off. Every year, I always have to balance keeping them busy and letting them relax. Too much unscheduled time seems to lead to bickering but with school, homework and activities taking up a lot of their time, it sometimes is nice to have nothing planned.

Lexie at the children's museum.

Lexie at the children’s museum.

So for this Thanksgiving break, I am balancing the two. Today we are off to the Children’s museum. We usually go about three times a year with friends but this is the first time in quite awhile that we will go just the three of us. Tomorrow, I plan to take them to the Magik Theatre’s production – Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smell. Lexie is looking forward to it but Jase not so much. Luckily we are going with friends so he has another boy to share the humiliation of watching a show he considers for first graders. Thursday we will be at my parents’ house.

So that just leaves Wednesday and Friday. I think both days will be our stay-at-home days. There is no place I want to go to on Black Friday. Heck, I try to stay away from all that madness. I love to save money but there isn’t a deal out there that can convince me to get up early and stand in line for it.

After Thanksgiving break, there is only three weeks of school until the winter break. And then there will be more days to fill. I don’t have to worry about Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We will be at home both those days. My in-laws will come over Christmas Eve, and my parents will be here Christmas Day.

One thing the kids are looking forward to is our Christmas party with their neighborhood friends. My friend Stephanie hosted one when Jase was in kindergarten. She planned to do it again the next year, but it never happened so I took up the challenge and hosted the party last year. It actually was my trial run for Jase’s birthday. I wanted to see if I could handle a group of excited children at my house.

P1030035It was an interesting experience and didn’t put me off having Jase’s birthday party at home last May. And I am willing to do it again though I have learned a lot about what I want to put my efforts into. Last year, I had found some cute things to do on Pinterest and while the parents remarked on them, my efforts were lost on the kids. So this year, I am going to worry less about making everything look good and concentrate on the kids just having fun.

As for other activities during the winter break, I already have a Groupon for Pump It Up. We will attend one of their open sessions to let the kids run and jump their energy out. We will also probably go visit my parents one of the days. And then there is taking them to the Magik Theatre – a children’s theatre showing Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells. Lexie is excited about this. Jase isn’t.

But even with these few planned activities, we will have plenty of days left open for them to play with their new toys. And before I know, break will be over, and they will be back to school.

Planning our next vacation (already!)

While driving back from the beach last month, I began talking to my husband about next year’s vacation. This year we went to Disney World. CIMG3203The beach has always been an annual June trip since my husband has a conference at South Padre Island each year. (That is going to change as next year the conference is moving to a new location.)

As soon as I mentioned a trip for next year, my husband sighed. “We haven’t even gotten back from this one!”

Of course, he wasn’t too surprised. I began planning our Disney World trip last year as we drove back from the beach. With Disney World a lot of planning really is involved – especially at least six months out if you want to attend certain activities or eat at a few select restaurants.

The thing is I like planning. It is almost as fun for me as the actual trip. Since Disney World was an expensive trip, we will do something cheaper next year. That means staying in Texas. Two years ago, we did Disney and then followed it up with a short trip last year to Corpus Christi. For next year, we are planning to go to Houston and Galveston (for the beach).

So I will spend a few evenings this month looking at activities in Houston and their related costs. I will check out hotel rates and locations. I won’t plan out the whole trip this early, but I do want to figure out how long of a trip we need to plan for and how much it will cost so we can save up for it.

Now next year is also my husband’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. We try to go on a trip every five years to mark our anniversary. It didn’t happen on our 10-year anniversary as Jase was born three weeks before the date. (We did celebrate 18 months afterwards with a trip to Disney World – but we took Jase with us so not really the same type of celebration.)

On our 15 year anniversary, we left the kids for three nights with my mom and went to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando. (The original Harry Potter section had just opened three months before we went.) It was a nice short trip without the kids.

Now we are considering another trip without the kids. Where we will go, I am not sure. We talked about returning to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure as the new Harry Potter section opens this year. Or we could go back to Las Vegas which we haven’t been to in nine years. I suggested a short cruise, but my husband doesn’t love cruises like I do so that is probably out.

But with the Houston trip to plan and the desire to re-carpet the upstairs, our plan to go somewhere may just end up being an overnight trip to the Riverwalk. So that is why I am going to be spending a few days looking not only at our trip to Houston but possibly a longer trip for my husband and I to take. Knowing how much it will cost and how many days he will be away from work will allow us to have more options than if I waited until next year to plan these trips.

Planning activities for a busy summer

School officially ended here in San Antonio last Thursday. Now we have eleven weeks of summer vacation to fill with fun activities. I am quite the planner so our days – at least for June and July – are going to be packed. I like to keep the kids busy as it allows me to keep my sanity. If I let them stay home all the time, the bickering would soon start when the novelty of no school wore off.

Free activities

Let’s start with my favorite thing – free activities. There are many free activities you and your kids can do this summer. alexa snorkelingIn our case, we have our neighborhood pool. Though while nothing exciting, we love to go in the morning and have the whole place to ourselves. Of course going in the evening with friends is a blast too.

The library is another great place for free activities. Even though my kids have grown out of story time, they have activities for the older kids that include crafts, and they have a summer reading program where the kids can earn a free book. Our library also usually shows a few movies, brings in a magician and has at least one play from our local children’s theater each summer – all for free.

Several of our local movie theaters offer either free or discounted movies in the summer. While the movies are never new releases, it does offer a chance to get out of the heat. My kids love going to the theater, even if they have already seen the movie. Unfortunately, most of this year’s selections aren’t appealing to the kids, so we may only make it once or twice this summer.

bowling 2I know we have received many flyers from Jase’s school about summer activities and while some of them do cost, we received one for our local AMF bowling alley where registered children receive two free games per day as long as you pay for shoe rentals. All I had to do was sign them up online.

Another activity that is often free is vacation bible school. I know the church where Lexie attended preschool has one that is free, though they do expect you to volunteer at least one day. We have a neighbor who hosts a Backyard Bible Club for kids (Kinder through 5th).  Jase went last year and loved it. We have already signed him up for this summer.

Summer Camps

There is a summer camp out there to cover all interests. Every gymnastics and dance place seems to offer a camp as does other places – the Lego center, Sea World, the Cooking Academy, the Zoo, and the list goes on and on. So whether your child likes science, magic, basketball, playing an instrument or whatever – there is a camp out there for them. Most range from three to six hours a day and run anywhere from one day to all week.

This is the first year Jase and Lexie will attend any camps. Together they are going to camp at The Little Gym.  I bought a 10-day camp pass, and they are going to pop-in to various camps. This will allow them to try out five different themes, including superheros, karate/hip hop and extreme sports. And the best thing is since this camp is for 3-8 year olds is they can go to this camp together.

We are also sending Jase to Mad Science camp for a week in July. He really enjoys science, so we signed him up for a camp called “Moving with Science” where he will build bridges, make his own chalk and more.

Other activities

McKenna Children's Museum

McKenna Children’s Museum

We will also be busy with discounted admissions to local attractions. Over the past two months, I have been buying deals off Groupon – the daily deal website. I have discounted admission to Kiddie Park, McKenna Children’s museum, Monster Golf, Amazing Jump and Pump It Up. All bought with at least a 50% discount.

We also have memberships to the zoo, Sea World and Six Flag so I figure we will hit these – especially the water parks at the latter two.  As you can see, all these activities along with our two quick trips – one to South Padre that we just completed and another to Corpus Christi – we will certainly be active this summer.  And hopefully I will keep the kids so busy that bickering won’t even enter the picture.