Sunday, June 22, 2014

Birthday Parties at Great Country Farm; A gift for parents and kids alike!

Everyone riding the Cow Train!
My son turned 4 years old last week, and for the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed his birthday party! We had it at Great Country Farms, in Bluemont, VA, about 30 minutes from downtown Sterling.  I hosted the first 3 parties of his little life in our home; spending months planning ahead, stockpiling decorations and food, preparing my home days in advance,  running around like a police chief during the parties, and cleaning up confetti, cemented blue frosting, and scraps of wrapping paper for days afterward, I decided enough was enough!   I made a promise to myself; no more home birthdays!  Boy did I make the right decision.    They took care of everything, and we even had our own party host to help us with set up, tear down, and organization!  I tried to take as many pictures as possible, some before the party in March, which explains the rain gear, but most were taken on the day of the party.  Enjoy!

The kids had an absolute blast; Great Country Farms is like a beautiful, educational version of an amusement park.  It has more attractions than any family could possibly hit in one day, spread out of acres of beautiful country scenery, including  extensive customized
The Lifecycle of a Monarch
 play structures, a giant bouncing pillow, a mining sluice, petting zoo, and more! Also, wherever you look, there is something to learn.  They have detailed interactive displays on the lifecycles of apple trees, butterflys, and more!

We started out in one of their two party venues; ours was the "corn crib," a beautiful historic structure covered in real grape vines, and decorated with fairy lights.  Our host met us with a golf cart at the
car-- no lugging decorations, cake, and presents! It was wonderful.   She also brought us the pre-ordered food and drinks- kettle corn cones, home-made apple cider donuts, and a adorable tin beverage barrel filled with water, soda, and juice.  Miles better than anything you will find with other kid birthday packages!  They have an extensive menu, and everything is prepared on-site in their "Roosteraunt," most with local ingredients.   The party is customizable as well; you can choose from the "barnyard bash", "laser tag," or "evening bonfire."  We chose the "barnyard bash," and it included a cup of animal feed for each child, to feed the animals. We also chose to include a trip on the "cow train" for each child, but the options are endless!
Feeding the goats!

Jumping Pillow!
The best part about this venue was the variety.  We had children from age 0-9 at the party, girls and boys, each with their own interests and developmental skills.  With all of the different attractions, everyone- including the adults- found something they enjoyed.  The older kids jumped on the bouncing pillow, or mined for gemstones and fossils, while the younger kids played on one of the many beautiful playgrounds*,  dug up dried corn with bulldozers in the corn bin, or fed the barn animals.   Additionally, the farm doesn't close until 6pm on the weekends, so although you can only use the actual party for about 1.5 hours, there is no limit to how much time you can spend exploring on the farm.  The entire day was very relaxed, fun, and easy; unlike every other birthday party I've had for my son.  As icing on the cake, the prices are actually CHEAPER what I spent on home birthdays; less money spent on food, decorations, and preparations, not to mention the unpaid mommy hours spent cleaning before and after the party! Thank you Great Country Farm! We will definitely be back again!
The Fabulous Corn Bin!

*playgrounds include a giant wooden ship, wooden monster truck, spider-web, play houses, sandbox, giant tube slides, and more! See pictures below.

Monster Truck Playground

Adorable Pretend House!

Giant Chess Board!

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Zoodles Kid Mode App; A Safe, Fun, All-inclusive Environment for your kids!

Zoodles Kid-Mode creates a customized, secure, and easy to use environment for your children.  It is a free app, with premium options, available on every device.
While inside Zoodles, children cannot access the main operating system of your phone/tablet, which means they can’t make calls, buy stuff, or open Apps that you don’t want them too!  While inside, children as young as 2 can easily navigate the fabulous kid-friendly interface to play games, draw pictures, or listen to storybooks.  It also includes a “Parent Dashboard” app, where parents can customize zoodles for each child with their age and photo, block ads, allow and disallow downloaded apps, and promote subjects like reading or math.
Kids can’t get “out” of kid-mode! Only parents can exit the app; either by following a written instruction “draw a Z” (perfect for toddlers), entering a birthday, or entering a passcode (great for literate older children).  Parents can leave their children alone with their phone or tablet without worrying about them accessing things they shouldn’t! *Note, Zoodles does not protect against spilled apple juice, broken screens, or falls ; ).
There are 4 main features: Apps, Drawings, Storybooks, and Video Mail. 
Apps and Videos!
If connected to wifi or a network, the App tab updates with new, age-appropriate and educational apps and videos, for free!  My son has been using zoodles since he was 2.. and he has never had trouble navigating.  Instructions are spoken and visual, as opposed to written. It is also extremely intuitive.  Children can navigate the available apps, videos and features on their own, no help needed!
Audio Story Books
With the free version, there is one storybook included; The Three Little Pigs. Children turn the “pages” on their own, and the pages are read to them through a built-in video recording. The best part? You can record yourself reading the book, so your own voice/video is used! Perfect for business trips and military parents!  With the premium version, about 10 additional books are included. All books are high-quality classics, such as Casey at the Bat, The Elves and the Shoemaker, and Jack and the Beanstalk.
Video Mail (Premium only)
Video Mail is included as well; this allows your child to easily record themselves and send videos to allowed emails; like grandparents!
Parent Dashboard
Parent Dashboard
When I download a new app for my son, I visit the parent dashboard, a separate app that is also included when
you download Zoodles.  The parent dashboard allows you to customize each environment for your children: set age, filters, security levels, and add/remove allowed external apps.
Premium Features
The premium version of Zoodles features additional parental controls, such as time limits and violence filters, weekly reports, and more apps.  Upgrading to premium costs $4.95 per month.  Additionally, as mentioned above, about 10 more recordable storybooks are included with the premium edition, as well as the video mail feature. With premium, parents can also access information about their childs usage, including time, apps, subjects they’ve been focusing on, and app recommendations on their website.
Safe, Worry-free Fun!
Zoodles Kid-mode is available on iTues, Google Play, or online, for your home PC!

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Zoodles Kid-Mode, a safe, all-inclusive environment for your kids! @potomacfallsmom #apps #parenting

Quiet, fun and educational self-play activities for toddlers

We've all been there.  It's 7 am, you haven't had your coffee yet, and your toddler is jumping up and down, full of energy (jealous much!?), asking you to play with them or worse... watch TV (cue ominous music).  You are still in survival mode, and turning on the TV sounds like a pretty darn good idea!  There's nothing wrong with a little TV every once in awhile, but making a habit out of it, especially for children under three, can cause attention problems, and take time away that they could be using exploring their environment and being creative.  You don't have to suffer to give these opportunities to your child; there are hundreds of options for quiet, engaging, fun, SELF-guided play for toddlers.  I'm going to share a few of my favorites!
"Playful Patterns" by Discovery Toys
"Playful Patterns" by Discovery Toys
Pattern Matching.
Pattern games help children learn to distinguish shapes, colors, and set the stage for learning ratios and fractions.  We found "Discovery Toys" original "Playful Patterns" set at a consignment shop for $10; It has easily become MY favorite toy in the house.  The set comes with 50 different cards, and 6 sets of different colored foam shapes.  Each card has a picture, either abstract, or a scene, like a boat, fish, a clown, ect.  The goal is to arrange the shapes to complete the image.  My son is obsessed.  When I'm not feeling well, I suggest he go get it and bring it to my bedroom, or sit by my recliner.  While he plays, I offer suggestions, guidance, and encouragement, and praise.  We are playing together, but its an activity I can do while laying down!  "Playful Patterns" retails for over $50; however, Melissa and Doug have a similar set for under $20, called "Pattern Blocks and Boards."

Sewing cards.
This an activity that, once your child gets the hang of it, they can do completely on their own.  Sewing cards increase hand-eye coordination, dexterity, pattern recognition, and are the first steps to learning to sew!  There are dozens of options available; gender neutral, like animals, or sets designed specifically with boys or girls in mind.  I got my son a set of different local animals.. turtles, birds, cats, dogs, frogs, ect.  They are brightly colored, and come with rounded shoelaces perfect for little fingers! I couldn't find the exact set I got online, but again, Melissa and Doug came though with their own "pets" sewing cards, which is fabulously priced at $9.99 and comes with a storage box!

Counting games. 
Anything that teaches number recognition and adding will give your child a leg-up in preschool, and set the stage for success and confidence in Math.  One of my favorites is the  "Go Fish Game with tackle box," by Fisher-Price.  The child places cardboard fish upside down on the floor, and uses an adorable plastic fishing pole, complete with an adorable worm, with a suction cup on the end, to "catch" the fish.  Each player chooses a colored boat, and "fishes" for fish that match the color of their boat.  Each fish has a number on it, and after "filling" their boat, they add the numbers together to see who "caught the most fish."  My son is 4, so we have an abacus to help him count the numbers together.  When I'm not feeling well, he catches fish for me as well, and we add the numbers up together.  This game usually is played with me sitting in the recliner with a cup of coffee, and him on the floor.  It takes about 45 minutes to complete the game, and by the time he's done, my morning meds have kicked in, and I'm ready to get up!

When all else fails: educational, age appropriate tablet apps
Before you succumb to turning on the TV, try educational apps!  We use "Zoodles Kid Mode" (click the link for details and my full review).  The app allows you to create an all-inclusive environment for your child on your phone or tablet.  The app makes it impossible for your child to place phone calls, or purchase anything, it also prevents them from accessing anything for adult eyes only.  You can customize it with apps that you've downloaded yourself.  Some of my favorite apps are "Sid the Science kid Science fair," which teaches the basics of scientific research, and the "Monkey preschool lunchbox" series, which teach math, reading, and science.

*Check out my new blog especially for parents with chronic illness:, and my childrens book on chronic pain, Fibromyalgia and Autoimmune Disease: "Why Does Mommy Hurt?" 

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