The Big, Big List of Things to Do During the COVID-19 Shutdown

Many years ago, I read somewhere that pigs are difficult to keep indoors because they are highly intelligent creatures–when they get bored or feel unstimulated, they start destroying everything around them. I have never related to an animal so much in my life. I’m extremely high-energy and constantly have to feel like I’m “doing something”, even when I probably just need to relax. But recently, I learned a HUGE life lesson.

My life came to a screeching halt last year when I had a traumatic spine injury and could no longer do the things that I used to do as an active and healthy 29-year-old. Immediately after getting hurt, I couldn’t move my lower body, which eventually led to me walking with a cane with extreme pain for a few months, unable to leave my house alone or unassisted. I couldn’t pick up my own children to load them into the car or put them in high chairs or rock them to sleep. I remember the first few weeks after my injury–I would pray for God to help me see the silver lining in all of it, because I honestly couldn’t find it at first. But looking back, I learned to slow down, to calm down, to appreciate what was around me, to cut out the things that caused me stress, and to give myself grace upon grace, not just when things seemed out of my control–ALWAYS.

In the early weeks of being under spinal-injury-house-arrest, our family went into survival mode. I gave up my “mega-strict screen time rule” instantly. My kids discovered YouTube for the first time. We watched every Harry Potter movie with my oldest child. I watched some of THE most mindless shows on Netflix (hey, Navarro Cheer Team!). We gave up everything about our old lifestyle to adapt to our “new normal”. We cancelled any vacation that didn’t involve seeing our families. We leaned into our community, accepted help from those who offered, and humbly put our pride aside indefinitely. I eventually made HUGE progress through physical therapy, and with every milestone, I kept thinking we would go back to the lives we had before…but we never did. We adapted from a tragedy, learned a life lesson, and learned to be content with slowing down at home.

Losing our “normal” was the best thing that ever happened to us, but I remember how scary it was at the start. I remember crying and repeatedly asking the doctors to give me a date of when I would be “normal again”, and then I remember the depression that overtook my life late last year when I first realized that things might never really be the same again at all. I think we’re all kind of feeling that this week with the announcements of school closures and business disruptions and empty grocery stores. We’re all quietly wondering when/if everything will ever go back to exactly how we remember it. So while we’re staying safe in our homes and forced to isolate ourselves from the world for a bit, I want to share with you some of the ways we can entertain ourselves at home, while social distancing during this pandemic.

50 Things to Do While Social Distancing

1. Stay up late with your spouse and ask each other awkward first date questions, even if you think you know all of the answers already. Reconnect.

2. Watch your favorite comedies on Netflix and avoid any kind of heavy dramas right now. Some of my favorite light-hearted shows: Schitt’s Creek, Jane The Virgin, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

3. Take time to learn a new language or improve your skills. Duolingo and Pimsleur are great resources that are quick and on your phone!

4. Skype or FaceTime your friends and family to feel more connected.

5. Forget the daily guilt you usually have, and parent how you feel is natural right now. Do you want to relax and eat snacks all day with the kids? Do it. Do you want to keep a strict routine and stay active? Go for it. It’s up to YOU. This is YOUR time as a FAMILY.

6. Play board games together. We love Life, Monopoly, Guess Who, and Labyrinth.

7. Do a big jigsaw puzzle on the table and work on it throughout the day.

8. Organize your closets and storage spaces. It sounds lame, but it’ll make you feel happier, I promise!

9. Take a nap and unashamedly enjoy the slow days.

10. Keep a daily journal or blog for your kids to look back on and remember this moment of our history.

11. Remember an old hobby that you want to pick up again. Now’s the time!

12. Listen to your favorite music on Spotify and Pandora and have a family dance party.

13. Read a book on your bookshelf that you’ve always wanted to read but never finished.

14. Look up fun recipes for the ingredients you have in your pantry, and cook a new and adventurous meal!

15. Pick an exercise program on your TV, and get an at-home workout. I do PiYo on B.O.D. as a low-impact workout since my injury.

16. Limit your daily intake of news and stick to reputable sources. Cut out negative social media that is causing you anxiety.

17. Take daily walks around your yard or neighborhood, IF POSSIBLE, while distancing yourself from other foot traffic

18. Build a big blanket fort or pitch a tent and pretend to have a family camping trip in your living room.

19. Write out thank-you-cards (or have your kids do it!) that you can give to the grocery store and pharmacy employees you see during lockdown.

20. Remember to text local friends and neighbors, just to talk and check-in on each other.

21. Take a virtual tour of a famous museum, if you’re craving some culture while stuck at home.

22. If your romantic life has been struggling in your marriage, you have a lot of time at home together now to physically reconnect, just saying…

23. Do a deep cleaning of your house, in the spaces you used to neglect. The baseboards? Behind appliances? Spring cleaning has all of the time in the world, right now.

24. Play dress-up. Just because you can’t leave the house, doesn’t mean you can’t wear your fanciest ball gown for a day and feel like a queen. Break out the fine china plates one night for a formal family dinner.

25. Google some ideas for arts and crafts to do with your kids, depending on their ages. My kids love any kind of painting activities!

26. Feel ZERO pressure. Turn off your alarm clock. Enjoy the slow mornings. Try to find the small silver linings in the new normal.

27. Sing together as a family—silly songs or serious songs. If you play an instrument, play for your in-home audience.

28. Take a long bath. Use the random, fancy bubble baths and bath bombs you’ve been saving for a rainy day.

29. Try to stay calm, as best as you can during the changes. Seek out an online therapist to talk with, if things start feeling too heavy.

30. Is there a family member or friend you lost touch with a long time ago? Try texting or calling them. You’re sharing a common experience right now; let it bring you together.

31. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take an inventory of the food and toiletries you have and remind yourself that you’re okay. Make a meal plan with what you have on hand!

32. YouTube has a lot of interactive videos for active kids who need to release energy. GoNoodle is our favorite!

33. If your kids enjoy video games, embrace it. Play with them! Ask them questions about their favorite games that you never had the time to ask before.

34. Stay out of the comment sections on social media. Focus on the positive, not the conspiracy theories and name-calling. We’re all in this together.

35. Find an app on your phone that’s fun and helps pass the time. We looooove to play “Heads Up!” as a family.

36. If you normally attend religious services, check to see if your place of worship is broadcasting online now.

37. Keep a gratitude journal of one thing you’re thankful for every day during lockdown. Have your kids keep one, too, or share a daily family journal.

38. Rearrange your furniture. Move things around. Change the layout of the room, if you start to feel tired of seeing it the same way every day.

39. Check the bookmarks on your computer and the screenshots you’ve made on your phone over the years. Is there something you’ve been putting off? Wanting to read? Now’s the time!

40. Ask everyone in your house how they’re feeling every day and lean in on their answers. Overwhelmed? Tired? Scared? Talk about your feelings, even when it feels hard.

41. Sit down on the floor. Put your phone far away. Play blocks or cars or legos with your kids on their level. Disconnect from the craziness outside of your house and PLAY.

42. Don’t let yourself get stressed about the extra laundry/dishes/mess that is happening now that everyone is home all day. You aren’t trying to impress anyone. It’s okay; cleaning can wait, if it needs to.

43. Instead of feeling like you need to order more and more things online, look around at what you have and substitute. Be mindful of our mail carriers!

44. Give your pets extra attention and love! Walk the dog. Pet the cat. Watch the goldfish.

45. Check out my previous blog post for educational resources for supplemental learning while your kids are home from school.

46. Remember to get fresh air, as much as you can. Even opening a window can be therapeutic when you’re feeling shut-in.

47. Make a big bowl of popcorn, snuggle up on the couch, and watch a family movie. Disney+ has Frozen II!

48. Have a family baking contest! Check the ingredients in your cabinet, whip up a recipe, and bake things as a family.

49. Take pictures, even if you feel it’s not picture worthy at the time. Looking back, you’ll want to remember these days.

50. Watch YouTube tutorials and learn new skills. Makeup tutorials? Learning a new instrument? Meditation? Exercise routine? Dances? Gardening?

 

**Ads have been removed from my page, and none of the above links are monetized, for ethical reasons due to our current world events. Please let me know how I can further help any of you!! I’m always an email away or on Instagram @ cbchatman.

Getting Started With Homeschooling During the COVID-19 Shutdown and Beyond

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As schools around the world are temporarily closing their doors due to current events, many parents have recently been thrown into the new world of homeschooling. Whether you will be teaching your child at home for a few months or a full school year, it’s still a new unknown for your family that I’m sure is accompanied by many nerves, and I’m here to try to help make that transition as smooth as I can.

Our decision to start homeschooling began a few years ago when our son was not getting the resources that he needed in our school system. The town where we live ranks with some of the worst rated schools in our entire state, and as a result, most of our community is homeschooled families. On our block alone, there are over a dozen homeschool students. I do not come from a background in teaching; I have my MBA in Finance and was a financial advisor and banker until last year…so the homeschool life was all uncharted territory for me, too, to be honest. I remember the early days of panic, research, and “how am I going to do this?”, but as we found our sweet rhythm over the years, I wouldn’t change this life for the world. We currently homeschool our 8-year-old and our two preschoolers, while the baby plays along as the class clown. Homeschooling takes a lot of trial and error to see what works best for your family, but I want to provide some resources that worked great for us over the years.

Homeschooling is typically centered around a curriculum. Your schools that have closed have probably set your student up with online learning, which will serve as your curriculum…the core of learning. Should anything happen to that or should you not desire to use it, you can always search for homeschool curriculum online. When picking a program, you have to first decide if you want religious or secular, online or textbook, hands-on or literature-based, etc, and then look up Cathy Duffy reviews for an honest review of EVERY program out there that matches your desires!! Once you have a program picked out, you should check eBay for great prices on gently used copies of the textbooks you picked (we sell our copies after the end of school-year too, so there is always a return on the investment!).

We use a curriculum called Oak Meadow, which is a Waldorf-learning program that is project-based and hands-on. We use the textbook version, but it is also available online with teachers, should you be more comfortable with that. I don’t want to pressure you into any kind of curriculum because it’s just such a personal choice depending on your child’s learning style–I just figured some of you might be interested to know what worked for us! Outside of the curriculum, you will want to have resources set aside, if possible, to spark your child’s other interests and keep them engaged in learning, too. During the current worldwide shutdown, I realize a lot of parents will be balancing working from home while trying to teach their students, and that is a life that I was pretty familiar with when I was working, so I’m going to try to include as many online programs as I can that are working-parent-friendly, too.

What Our Typical Homeschool Day Looks Like

I think this varies wildly by each family; so you honestly just have to try a schedule, and see if it works for you and your learners…then adjust it from there. Homeschool days are about half as short as public school days, which can be a little strange at first and leave you wondering “Are my kids learning enough??” in the beginning. Without roll call or administrative work or waiting on other students to finish as a group, homeschooling is extremely streamlined, and you will be amazed at how quickly your individual student will be able to finish their daily work. For us, a typical day looks something like this:

4:00 AM: Tom goes to work and makes a lot of coffee for me.

7:00 AM: Kids wake up on their own time, no alarms…just an easy start to a happy day

8:00 AM: Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed and ready for the day. If we have to buy groceries that day, I knock this out during this hour, super early.

9:00 AM: Get started with schoolwork for the day (Lennox begins with independent learning, reading, online educational games, and following his textbook curriculum, while I teach the girls their preschool program for three hours a day)

12:00 PM: Take a break for lunch. The girls are now finished with preschool for the day, the baby lays down for a nap, and after lunch, I begin one-on-one lessons with Lennox (any science projects, teaching new material, hands-on activities, grading, etc).

2:00 PM The other homeschool kids on the street knock on the door, Lennox goes to play with them, the commotion wakes the baby up from his nap really grumpy, and I watch the day slowly dissolve into chaos. Half-kidding, but seriously 2-6 is what I call my kids’ witching hour. Things are just kind of crazy.

3:00 PM I set the younger three kids up with toys and games while I clean the house, do laundry, etc. We always get a few hours to play together as a family once I’m done, or if someone skipped a lesson that day, we go back and do it.

6:00 PM Tom comes home from work, I greet him at the door and say “Save me!!!!” and then usually can be found enjoying a glass of Cabernet while cooking dinner in peace.

Every day is different, though. Sometimes Lennox gets ahead in his studies, and we take a day off (like today, which gave me time to write this!). Or sometimes we have big homeschool field trips or we have family in town or someone is sick or the world just feels extra crazy that day…the beauty of homeschool is that it’s extremely flexible. We homeschool throughout the summers, too, so it gives us a ton of flexibility with taking random days and weeks off during the year. You have to find what works best for YOUR family!!

Learning Resources I Love For Preschoolers 

For an online program that’s very fun, we use ABCmouse! They typically have their sales and promotions around holidays, but it’s always a great deal (as I write this today, they are 49% off, it looks like). They have a ton of games and a learning path to monitor progress for your preschoolers and early elementary students. We use them on the girls’ Amazon Fire tablets, and it’s a lifesaver on crazy days where I’m feeling pulled in a lot of directions. Here are the hands-on resources we use together, too:

JOYIN Play-Act Counting/Sorting Bears Toy Set with Matching Sorting Cups Toddler Game for Pre-School Learning Color Recognition STEM Educational Toy-72 Bears, Fine Motor Tool, Dice and Activity Book

Counting Bears! My girls absolutely love these and use them for counting, sorting, learning colors and numbers, and just playing with them for fun. To be honest, you can also just find different colored items around your house and sort and count them similarly (we used to do it with buttons, before we bought the bears!), but the bears were a fun touch that the girls appreciated.

The Ultimate Preschool Curriculum Kit - Printable Workbooks, Lesson Plans and Learning Activities for Preschoolers, Pre K Kids and Toddlers (Ages 3 - 5)

This is a fun preschool kit that includes every preschool resource you will need in one place! If making your own activities is overwhelming to you, this eases the nerves and has everything already in place.

Learning Resources Goodie Games ABC Cookies, 4 Games in 1, Alphabet, Pre-Reading, Phonics, Ages 3+

This is a super fun game to teach letter recognition! We used flashcards to teach our capital letters, but the girls struggled with the lowercase letters until we got this game.

 

Coogam Numbers and Alphabets Flash Cards Set - ABC Wooden Letters and Numbers Animal Card Board Matching Puzzle Game Montessori Educational Toys Gift for Toddlers Age 3 Preschool and Up Years

This set is another great resource for hands-on letter recognition! The girls could play with these for hours and still be entertained.

Educational Insights Shapes Beanbags – Educational Toy for Toddlers, Sensory Toy for Preschoolers

My girls love playing with these Shape Bean Bags! Great resource to teach colors and shapes at the same time.

This book is an incredible resource!!! There are soooo many activities to do with one child or twenty children, and they involve very few supplies.

Learning Resources Smart Snacks Shape Sorting Cupcakes, Fine Motor, Color & Shape Recognition, Ages 18 mos+

This is the girls’ favorite puzzle! I love how complex it is with so many parts, while still being cute and fun. Puzzles are always a fun learning tool!!

Dollar Tree also has amazing educational products for this age!! We love their choices in Flashcards (numbers, sight words, alphabet, colors, etc) and the girls have started writing using their lined paper. They also sell classroom learning posters so you can have a visual hanging at all times for your learners. If you have a store nearby, definitely stop in for a supply run TODAY!!

Learning Resources for Elementary Students

I cannot recommend time4learning.com enough!! This is an incredibly thorough online resource for games, curriculum, quizzes, lessons, tests, everything that you pay a monthly fee for. It can be used as a curriculum by itself for preschool all of the way to high school, but it is also great as an added resource that is extremely working-parent-friendly to involve in your student’s day!! Here are some other manipulatives we use for our fourth grader, in addition:

Sylvan Learning sells amazing flashcards on Amazon! I would link these, but they are specifically for fourth graders; so it might be better if you just searched Amazon for your child’s grade and purchase from there. They have them for every elementary grade.

I remember these from when I was a kid, and it’s funny because our son loves them just as much now! They sell at any bookstore or Amazon for pre-k and up. They are full of fun facts in every subject.

Gamewright The Scrambled States of America Game

This is our son’s favorite game!! Lennox has been playing it since he was in first grade, and it’s fun for all of us, especially the parents. It teaches US geography and state capitals.

eeBoo Create and Tell Me A Story Cards, Mystery in The Forest

I seriously debated if I should put this as preschool or elementary school, but I love these Create A Story cards! If your student is struggling to write or just needs a creative break, these are a lot of fun to get the words flowing.

Bitsbox - Coding Subscription Box for Kids Ages 6-12 | STEM Education

Bitsbox is an awesome program that teaches kids how to code their own apps! This entertains my son for hours upon hours, and it was a lifesaver last winter when I had a spine injury and needed a way to keep the kids entertained without being able to leave the house. This would be amazing over the next few weeks of lockdowns. If it is unable to ship, try Googling other kid coding sites online!

hand2mind Blue Plastic Base Ten Blocks, The Starter Kit for Elementary Math Manipulatives, (Ages 8-11), Master the fundamentals of Place Value & Regrouping (Set of 161)

This BaseTen set is a great hands-on tool for math. I love the workbook that it comes with, containing a lot of fun math problems to solve. Lennox has been using these since last year, and he still learns something every time we pull them out.

****In the interest of being as ethical as possible during such a fragile time, none of the links above are affiliate links, and I have disabled ads on my page so that I won’t get paid for clicks for this. These are just honest, sincere, unpaid resources that I use for my kids that I am hoping can help ease the nerves of some of you who have been pushed into homeschooling because of current events. PLEASE LET ME KNOW HOW I CAN HELP ANY OF YOU!!! I’m always an email away or you can find me on Instagram @ cbchatman.

 

Dining Room Renovation

You know those HGTV shows where they completely flip a house in one weekend while the homeowners are staying at a luxury hotel, drinking champagne and occasionally Skyping the contractor? There is occasionally a small hiccup like an electrical wiring problem, but the team still stays on a tight schedule to have this massive reveal where everyone cries and cheers and oohs and ahhs. Yeah, that’s not exactly how our renovation went.

When we decided to renovate the dining room, the primary concern was the hurricane damage. We thought it would be something as simple as changing out the wallpaper, something that might take a few weekends because of work schedules and the kids. We did NOT realize every surface of that 102-year-old room needed attention, love, restoration, and time. We didn’t realize the crumbling walls behind the wallpaper needed an intervention. We also didn’t realize that Tom’s job would move us to Maryland for the summer, and we’d have to walk away from the project for months. We didn’t realize that Luna would end up at the children’s hospital or that I’d randomly have a back injury. There were so many moments where life got in the way of this project, and to be very honest, it makes me love this room MORE now because we got through all of those obstacles as a family and STILL managed to complete this.

It took nine months, but we did it, y’all. We did it.

Here’s the “before” shot for reference. Notice the extensive damage to the walls. Remember, we bought this house as a total fixer-upper and knew what we were getting ourselves into…and then two separate hurricanes caused MORE damage while we were already renovating.

If you’re interested in any of the items pictures, I’ve got links for you! The hutch was something free from Craigslist that I fixed up myself, along with the two wooden chairs next to it!

White and Gold Table

Mid-Century Modern Chairs

Solid Braided Indoor/Outdoor Rug

Gold Placemats

I hand-painted the roping and chandelier medallion in Gold Leaf paint to make the room have a more ornate ceiling. The roping and medallion are just standard white plaster ones that you can buy from Home Depot! The ceiling was solid white with no detail or roping whatsoever when we first started.

And the kids’ table is a really inexpensive find from Amazon! I loved how the setup matched our table, too, and I added one of our placemats to the center to look even more matchy-matchy. Linked below!

Kid’s Table

And now the room flows so much better into the living room that we recently remodeled, as well!

I had a lot of questions about the couch and rug in here, so I’m linking those for you guys, too!

Two-Piece Curved Sectional

Distressed Persian Rug

 

Any other links that you want or questions you have, let me know!

Best Low-Key East Coast Road Trips with Kids

I cannot tell you how many times I have googled for weekend vacation ideas with the kids and was bombarded with Disney World, Disney Land, and every major city in between. Don’t get me wrong–we love Disney, we love big cities, but we love laid-back towns off the beaten path just SO much more, especially for little getaways. Kids and big crowds just don’t mix, so why not shake it up this year and go somewhere new that won’t have you leaving with a migraine and an empty wallet.

If you’re looking for a few fun road trips to end your summer with a bang, Tom and I compiled our favorite weekend trips to take with the kids! No offense to the cities who didn’t make the list–you know we love everywhere we go, but we tried to narrow it down to our personal favorites.

1. Little Switzerland, NC

I have been all over the world, and I promise there is no place I love more than Little Switzerland. The view is breathtaking, the air is fresh, and even with four kids in tow, it still feels relaxing and peaceful. Hike through the Blue Ridge, explore the local waterfalls, take in the gorgeous view, and relax on a balcony at the Switzerland Inn with a glass of wine to end your day. There’s a lot of fun activities for kids like gem mining, horseshoes, corn hole, and so much more. Tom and I actually loved this little place so much that we got married here and return every year for our anniversary! Simple, perfect, calm.

2. Lancaster, PA

We took the kids to Lancaster for the first time this summer, and it’s definitely a spot we plan on revisiting again soon. Stay on an authentic Amish farm, cuddle some baby goats, take in the fresh air, enjoy shopping in town, and don’t forget to check out Dutch Wonderland (a small, quaint theme park designed for young kids!!). Our kids loved the slow moments of just laying in the hammock on the Amish farm and playing with the baby animals. In fact, we loved the baby animals so much that we came home with a new kitten straight from the Amish barn. Such a big-family friendly town, too–we were considered a “small family” here, which I loved! 🙂

3. Pawleys Island, SC

Spoiler alert: this is actually the town that I grew up in, so I’m incredibly biased. Snuggled right between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, this hidden gem is the perfect beach town for summer fun. It has the same beautiful beaches as it’s northern counterparts, but it doesn’t have the crowds or traffic that they have. Spend a week relaxing on the beach and staying at a nearby inn. Explore Brookgreen Gardens and Atalaya Castle with the kids. Make sure to check out the Pawleys Island Tavern while you’re there, too–perfect little island pub that welcomes all ages for lunch and dinner.

4. Solomons Island, MD

We love DC and Annapolis, but we do not love the crowds and traffic. Solomons is the PERFECT destination for families, as it’s only a very short drive from so many big city attractions while still having a small town vibe. Rent a boat and spend the day on the Patuxent River with your crew! Hunt for fossils in Calvert Cliffs State Park! Hike at Flag Ponds Nature Park (I found FIVE shark teeth here within one hour)! Check out the sculpture garden and ice cream stands and enjoy fresh, local cuisines. I could go on forever. This place is great, and the kids never want to leave.

4. Cosby, TN

We love the Great Smoky Mountains, but we don’t love the chaos of staying in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Cosby is the perfect alternative for families who want a little more peace. Pitch a tent and rent a campsite in Cosby for a full nature experience. Play in rivers and hike around with your babies. Explore the nearby park sites like Cades Cove and Clingman’s Dome, just a short drive away. And if you run into a rainy day, spend it riding on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which is fun for all ages!

5. Blowing Rock, NC

I almost hesitated to put this one on here since it’s pretty close to Little Switzerland, but this little mountain gem deserves its own spot on here. Blowing Rock has the most adorable little downtown which is perfect for a day of shopping local treasures and enjoying a pizza from Mellow Mushroom. Check out Mystery Hill (kind of like a quirky Ripleys Believe it Or Not) and Tweetsie Railroad (a small theme park for kids with an awesome train). We love the vibe of Blowing Rock so much that it’s where we hopefully plan on retiring one day! Only a short drive from Boone and Asheville, which are also awesome little mountain towns for families to explore.

6. Natural Bridge, VA

This is one of my favorite spots in Virginia, and we take the kids every year. Natural Bridge State Park is such a breathtaking spot that your jaw will drop when you stand right in front of the bridge. We love hiking around with the kids, letting them run wild, and enjoying the cool breeze at the change of the season. Food options are limited in the area, so I will warn my fellow vegans that you will leave hungry unless you pack your own food and plan accordingly. There is a very cute diner in town called Pink Cadillac Diner that the kids love, though! And if zoos are your thing, there is also a drive-thru safari there called Virginia Safari Park where you can have extremely up-close animal encounters. There is a really cool local artist there who makes the quirkiest little statues that are featured all over town (there’s giant gorillas, dinosaurs, and there used to be a scaled replica of Stonehenge made out of foam); they make perfect photo ops!

7. Chincoteague, VA

I would’ve put this one at the top of the list, BUT we’ve only ever visited during the off-season and locals were pretty rude to us about that. Lol. It is an incredible little beach town, though, that everyone should check out DURING THE SUMMER SEASON. Chincoteague is known for the wild ponies at their wildlife refuge, and it truly is an amazing experience to be hiking on a trail and see wild ponies run by. The kids and I went on a hike one day while Tom was working, and in two hours, we were able to see over six wild horses!! The views are breathtaking, too, with or without the ponies. The Whallops Island NASA facility is nearby, which makes for a fun rainy day activity to tour with your littles. I also saw where the KOA in Chincoteague has very Instagram-worthy safari tents that look INCREDIBLE, so we plan on staying there when we visit again!

8. Grafton, VT

We spent Christmas in Vermont last year, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Grafton is the CUTEST little town, no matter the season. Stay at the Grafton Inn for incredible hospitality and rooms straight out of a Hallmark movie. Head to Plummer’s Sugar House to show your kids how maple syrup is made. Let your kids play around at the Nature Museum in the middle of town. Drive to nearby towns and check out all of the covered bridges (our hotel gave us a hilarious little handmade map of all of them nearby, and the kids loved the hunt!). Don’t forget to go shopping at the Vermont Country Store for unique candies and nostalgic toys. Lennox hasn’t stopped talking about Vermont since we left! In the winter, the outdoor center also has snow tubing, skiing, snow shoeing, and sledding, which made for the best snow-covered memories.

Hotel Life with a Lot of Littles

Since the start of 2019, we have spent over 60% of our time in hotels and AirBNBs with the four kids, and you would probably think that I’ve gone crazy by being in tiny spaces with everyone for so long…but I’ve honestly learned to prefer hotel life with the crew, as opposed to our big house that I never seem to have time to fully clean. Small spaces bring you closer together, they’re easier to tidy, and well, you can’t see the world if you’re stuck inside your house all day. We traveled a ton when we had only one child, and we continue to travel as a family of six now, with some modifications and a whole lot of pre-planning.

A lot of you have been asking how we make the suite life work for our kids, and I’m happy to share some of my best tips that I’ve learned over the years. I’m not one of those people who packs an entire bus load of stuff for an overnight trip, and we don’t actually own much “baby gear” at all (we seriously don’t have a bouncer or swing or anything); so keep that in mind and modify as you need to for your family. If your babies have comfort items that they use daily, don’t think that I’m telling you not to pack those. Also, remember that I’m a banker, so I have a tendency to accidentally talk about ways to save money, too. If you’re all about splurging, no judgement. This is just how we do life, and everyone is different. 🙂

1. Be Honest When Making Reservations

I recently talked on my Instagram about how awkward it feels when I call hotels and explain that we have four kids who will be staying in our room with us, and I was kind of surprised at how many social media comments I got that said, “Why don’t you just lie?” First of all, I teach my kids that lying is bad, so I try to practice what I preach. Second of all, I’m not going to treat my kids like stowaways and hold my breath during our entire vacation, wondering if we’re going to get kicked out by a hotel manager. Be honest, relax, and don’t lie about your kids. You would be SO surprised at how many times we have been upgraded to a bigger room because the staff was appreciative that we told them our correct travel size, and they were happy to accommodate our tiny crew. Babies and toddlers normally stay for FREE in all hotels, but there is a maximum occupancy set by the fire marshal for each room. So, it’s always in the best interest of you, your sanity, and the hotel staff if you JUST BE HONEST.

2. Pack in Storage Bins, Instead of Suitcases

This is a trick that I’ve picked up over the years, and it only works if you’re travelling by car. We pack everything into stackable bins: they are easier to stack in the car to maximize storage, they are easier to stack once they’re empty in the hotel rooms, and you don’t have to worry about destroying your fancy luggage while on a roadtrip. They also are really handy for using outside of vacation, so they’re very multi-purpose. While travelling, we designate one bin for girl clothes, one bin for boy clothes, one bin for kitchen supplies/food, and one bin for toys and homeschool materials. We unpack the content of the bins into drawers and cabinets in the hotel room, and then we stack the empty bins into each other in the closet.

3. Do Laundry on Your Trip

I do laundry during every vacation, at the exact halfway point. Right now, since we have a six week stay, I’m actually doing it every 10 days, but you get my point. Don’t overpack. Usually for a week long stay somewhere, I’ll pack about 3-4 changes of clothes for everyone, and I make sure everything is mixable and matching. Hotel laundromats are weirdly fun for my kids, they’re usually very fairly priced, and it means you get to re-wear some of your favorite outfits on the same trip. I use one of our empty storage bins as a laundry basket and push it in the stroller to the hotel laundromat. Whenever we stay in AirBNBs, we make sure they have laundry on site, too. When we backpacked with the kids through Newfoundland, it would not have been possible without washing machines along the way! It also doesn’t take much time at all do laundry, so you’re not wasting any precious vacation time on this. You literally throw your clothes into a washer on your way to do something fun, and move them over to the dryer on the way back. It doesn’t have to be a day long ordeal or anything. Plus, the hotel keeps your sheets and towels clean for you, so you actually only have like a tenth of the laundry you normally have at home.

4. Bring a Portable Vacuum

I would like to thank my husband for this wonderful life advice he gave me back when we had two kids. Bring a travel vacuum to your hotel room! Because of how our kids’ naps work, we usually have to decline maid service at least a few days a week. And you better believe the hotel carpet in our room gets COVERED in crumbs and paper and dirt and toddler grime. So, we keep a tiny vacuum in our car that goes to every hotel room with us, just to help keep things tidy in between maid services. And let’s be real: if you’re anything like me, you don’t want your maid to have to clean an immaculate mess; so pre-clean before they enter your room. You can also call the front desk and ask for help cleaning a big mess when they happen–we’ve had to utilize this a few times over the last few years. Accidents happen when kids are involved, so just be honest and help fix them. We also pack cleaning wipes, for this reason.

5. Upgrade to a Balcony, if Possible

This one is always on my travel suggestions, I know, but I’m a huge fan of balconies when you have a ton of kids. And I know what you’re thinking: “But my toddler would try to jump off! That’s not safe!” I promise you that the last thing the hotel wants is a lawsuit, so they make the door to the balconies INCREDIBLY secure. Our kids never really try to escape on ours, but Tom and I always sneak out to the balcony and enjoy a glass of wine together, while the kids sleep in the room. It gives you a little hint of privacy when you strongly lack personal space. We also like to get rooms that overlook the attractions that we’re going to see: like getting an ocean front room with a nice balcony in Puerto Rico or getting a room at the Polynesian overlooking the Disney fireworks. If you’re on vacation with a lot of babies, you’ll spend a TON of time in your room between bedtime and naps, so make sure you love your space.

6. Pack a Portable High Chair 

This is actually our first trip traveling with one, and I hate that I never got one sooner. WHAT A GAME CHANGER. Leif finally has an awesome place to sit at the table with us and eat, without Tom and I having to constantly switch who is walking around with him. Ours folds up super small, and we’ve even been carrying it to restaurants when we go out to eat so we can squeeze him into booths with us, too.

7. Bring Your Small Kitchen Appliances

Y’all probably think I’m crazy here, but when we travel for more than 4 or 5 days, I pack our air fryer and rice maker with us. I promise after a few days of hotel life, you will get tired of constantly ordering out, you will feel bloated, your wallet will be angry, and there will be meals where your kids just aren’t in great moods and you’re terrified of taking them into public. Bring everything to cook meals yourself, including a can opener, a pair of scissors, a wooden spoon, and a mixing bowl. I travel very light, but I always make sure we have a separate bin for kitchen supplies because it’s something I think is incredibly important. Plus, it’s super fun figuring out a menu of things you can cook in your hotel room–I feel like there needs to be some kind of TV show about it. Ooh and I also love exploring grocery stores in the places we travel. I’m weird, I know.

8. Find Free Things to Do

This is more aimed for when you are stuck in hotels for work trips, or if you have down time during extended vacations. Obviously you want to splurge on vacation, but you can’t do that NONSTOP, every minute of every trip. I always look up local parks on Trip Advisor and the county library schedule. Our kids have been to story time at local libraries in four states so far this year, and every library is always so welcoming and excited to have us visit. If you’re constantly trying to entertain your kids with expensive activities, the money adds up quick. You don’t have to blow the budget to have fun and get out of the hotel–I guarantee my toddlers do not know the difference between a Chik Fil A playground and an amusement park that costs $40 a person. Again, it feels awesome to splurge on fun parts of the trip and make big memories, but try to find a balance!

9. Take Advantage of Hotel Amenities

Our hotel has free breakfast, and you better believe I round up our entire crew at 7 AM to go get some free food. It’s the exact same choices every morning, and as much as I want to say I’m getting tired of the same breakfast every day…it’s free and someone else is cooking, so I have zero complaints. Our hotel ALSO has a free happy hour every evening where each guests gets two free drinks and appetizers. For adults, that means free wine. For the kids, it means free juice and snacks. Did it feel weird at first taking our kids to something called “happy hour”? Slightly. But at the same time, we make it a fun family outing every day. As soon as Tom gets off work, we load the kids in the stroller, head to the hotel restaurant, and hang out for an hour, while the kids talk Tom’s ear off about their day and we enjoy free snacks and drinks. Don’t feel like you can’t participate in fun things because you have kids–you just have to modify them so they’ll be fun for everyone. If the hotel has a pool, bring the baby a float and use it! If the hotel offers anything for free, take it if you need it! Hotels usually offer cribs in your room for free, too, so don’t hesitate to ask–it’s one less thing you need to pack.

10. Use Hotel Rewards for Free Upgrades to Bigger Rooms

My husband entered our marriage with a bizarre amount of hotel rewards and points, after years of traveling nonstop as a Navy pilot, and it has been a lifesaver a few times now that we travel with the big crew. He’s got a lot of upgrades, and they were all free to join and none involved opening a credit card. If you know you plan on staying at a chain hotel more than once, ask the front desk about their rewards program. We get upgraded to bigger suites in a ton of hotels because of the rewards we rack up during our travels, both for business and vacation. You can also get free nights at a lot of places, but we like to use our points just to upgrade our existing reservations to bigger rooms. Trust me, with a ton of kids, you will be grateful for the bigger space. A lot of hotels also offer military upgrades, so don’t hesitate to call and ask before booking online.

I’m probably leaving out a ton of things, but I’ll try to update this as I think of lifesaving tips that help us out. Hotel life isn’t for everyone, and there’s a lot of work that goes into making it feasible for a family. BUT with the right planning and the right supplies, it’s the best adventure ever.

 

Contours Options Elite Tandem Stroller Review

During its sixth time being gate-checked on a flight, our last double stroller finally kicked the bucket. The wheels were falling off, the handles were bent, and it was time to start searching for a new one. Our last double was a side-by-side, and although I did love it at first…there were a few design flaws with the old stroller that I knew I would want to change when I was shopping for a new brand. I knew I wanted stadium seats so the kids couldn’t bother each other (the girls are the queens of sibling squabbles lately), and I knew I wanted versatility/the ability to customize based off of the kids’ current ages and stages. Insert the Contours Options Elite. 😍

For starters–a lot of you know that I love my wagon, but there are certain scenarios where a wagon just won’t make the cut. Some airlines won’t check it, it is not allowed at Disney anymore, and it doesn’t give the kids a designated spot for naps (they are all crammed in one space, kicking each other when they’re tired and grumpy). So the Contours Options Elite solved all of those problems for us when we need to use a double…and honestly, I’m finding myself grabbing it as a first choice for all outings right now. It meets the new Disney stroller size requirements (pro tip: face both seats inwards while entering Disney), it’s accepted as a gate-check with all major airlines, AND each tandem seat is completely separate from the other, giving each child a reclined, shaded, and solitary place to relax.

The versatility and reversibility of the seats is what sold me, though!! Each seat is completely removable to give you up to SEVEN seat configurations, including the ability to accomodate two infant car seats (not pictured). We like facing the seats back-to-back, with one baby being able to look at me and the other baby with their eyes to the front. We’ve also toyed around with the seats facing each other, both facing the street, and even both facing me. This was the biggest game-changer for us because it is SO awesome being able to look at Leif while we push, without even using the infant car seat. Each seat can hold weight up to 40 lbs, so we are able to alternate between Lela and Leif in a seat, depending on if one wants to be worn or one wants to walk. The best part is they are SO easy to switch out! It only took me two minutes TOPS to take all four pictures below, showing my four most-used positions.

The seats are also individually adjustable between their recline, foot rests, and canopies. Our old stroller was so difficult to adjust into a recline, but with the Contours Options Elite, you can recline with the pull of one handle on each seat. The canopies are expandable by a zipper, UPF 50+, and each have a peekaboo window. I spent the last few weeks just playing around with all of the different zippers and panels on the stroller, because they really thought of EVERYTHING when they designed this. Even the storage basket beneath the seats has a side-access zipper to make everything more easily accessible.

Another huge thing that impressed me was the quality of the wheels. Immediately from taking them out of the package, Tom and I both noticed that they were unlike any other stroller wheels we had ever seen. They were such high-quality that they actually have tread on them like car tires! Once we popped them on (super easy assembly out of the box), we took it on a test drive. The stroller is incredibly easy to maneuver and steer, especially compared to other doubles I have pushed. The front wheels swivel, turning is very easy, and the sandal-friendly brake is surprisingly easy to engage once you’re fully stopped.

Folding the stroller after use is very easy, too, and it fits perfectly into the very tiny trunk of my SUV. Both seats can be completely removed easily when you go to fold it, and by doing it that way, it’s so much easier to store in a small trunk space. It also has the ability to fold with both seats still attached, but I personally enjoyed completely disassembling for a more compact fit. The frame is lightweight and aluminum, so it’s easy to pull in and out of the trunk without assistance, too.

Overall, I’m completely in love with this stroller. My favorite feature is definitely the reversible seats, and if I had to give any constructive criticism of it, I would say that I wish they made these as triple strollers, too. 😂 I love the compactness, the sleek design, and the versatility, and I cannot wait to take this beast on our upcoming travels. (I will continue to update this blog post with how well it holds up to wear and tear of our daily life. We have been using it for almost a month and there are zero signs of use so far, but stay tuned!)

Dutch Wonderland

When we started looking into visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania last year, it kind of seemed like a dream destination for our kids. There’s plenty of open fields to run in, a slower pace of life, family-oriented restaurants, farm animals everywhere, Amish communities to learn about, AND of course…Dutch Wonderland, a 43-acre amusement park charmingly referred to as “a Kingdom for Kids”.

Now, I totally hear you grumbling…”Who wants to go to a theme park with four tiny kids? That sounds like a nightmare!” But I’m here to tell you that out of all of the theme parks we have EVER been to (and y’all know we travel often), this one might have been the most fun for the ages that our kids are right now. Every little detail was thought out to make it an awesome experience for toddlers and young kids, and that made us have the best day ever. Here’s some things to know before you go:

PARKING

The parking lots are divided into General Parking and a Preferred Parking lot. The General lot only cost $5 during our visit, and it honestly was not far from the entrance AT ALL. There were plenty of parking spots, and the walk was very easy to get to the main gates, even with our triple stroller. When we left the park, we were soaking wet from the water slides and all tired, and it was still a pleasant walk back.

SECURITY

One of my least favorite things about the large theme parks are the lines for security and the general “airport-ish” feel of the whole process of entering a park. BUT at Dutch Wonderland, despite being there on a busy weekend right at 10 AM, the line only took two minutes to get through. The man who searched our bags was so pleasant and friendly, and then we were on our way through the main gates. We opted to bring our triple stroller on this trip, but wagons are also allowed and there are no size restrictions on strollers, which is awesome. No outside food is allowed, but you are able to bring your own water, which they will even refill for you at the concession stands, if you ask.

TICKETS

I found tickets to be extremely reasonable in price. If you’d like to save even more, though, you can use my code ‘summerblog19’ here! Ages two and under were free, which is awesome considering how much there is to do there for small toddlers! They do stamp you for re-entry, if you want to leave the park and come back that same day. AND you’re allowed into the park the day before your tickets are technically valid, just to preview things 3 hours before the park closes. Everything is VERY doable in one day, though, and we did not feel rushed by time at all.

RIDES

Within minutes of being there, Tom commented on the fact that a lot of the rides were SO unique, unlike the standard ones we normally see at theme parks. There were so many that Lennox, Lela, and Luna could ride without us, and there were a lot that we could ride together as a family. I did find that there was a shortage of rides where you can hold infants (the height requirements are on the rides, and the majority of them say “No Handheld Infants”). So, Tom and I would take turns being the one to wait with the baby and the one to ride the rides with the older three. The good news is that there are basically NO lines for anything. We only had to wait in one line for maybe 10 minutes, but the rest of the rides we could all just walk up and ride…even though the park was very busy on Memorial Day weekend! Everything was open, in perfect working order, and SO much fun. There were definitely a few rides that Lennox wasn’t tall enough for, but I think that’s awesome that there are things for “older kids” to enjoy there, too! I would say the park is best-suited for ages 12 and under, and there are plenty of things to do for each different age group within that.

FOOD

There were several restaurants located inside of DW, and I found that there were a LOT of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, which really surprised me. The cost of food is about a 200% markup to what you would find at a normal restaurant, but that’s pretty standard with theme park food. We mostly drank water during our visit, but the kids also bought and shared a souvenir cup that they could refill with fruit punch for 99 cents. There were a few little food trucks parked throughout the park that sold pretzels, ice cream, and other little snacks. There are places to eat indoors and outdoors, but because we were there on a very busy weekend and our kids got hungry right at peak lunch time, we couldn’t find a single table to eat at…so we made a little picnic under a tree near the restaurant. The kids absolutely loved it, though!

DUKE’S LAGOON

The water park area called “Duke’s Lagoon” opens up Memorial Day weekend for the summer, and it was definitely Lennox’s favorite part of the park! There are water slides, splash pads, and just tons of awesome spots for the kids to play. I absolutely LOVED that there was NO big pool for swimming, because it helped us feel safer to let the kids run around without worrying so much. There were plenty of tables and chairs available to sit next to the splash pad area, and even though it was busy, we had a huge table to ourselves underneath an umbrella. You can also rent a cabana for the day, which I thought was a neat option! I was really surprised by the size of the water park area because it definitely looks smaller when you see it online, but we spent hours just letting the kids run around and play in the water. There are facilities to change in and out of bathing suits here too, and if you forget your bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, etc… there is a little store that sells them right in Duke’s Lagoon. You can’t wear your suits in other parts of the park; so don’t forget to bring appropriate theme park clothes, too!

NAPTIME

So, one of the biggest problems that I think a lot of parents have with theme parks is that it is entirely too overstimulating for a tiny child who needs a nap…which leads to CHAOS. This was one of my favorite things about Dutch Wonderland–it was the perfect mix of fun, while still having some quiet areas for us to get room to breathe and space for naptime. There is a trail called the “Greenway” that circles around the park and overlooks a very peaceful cow pasture next to a tiny little river. There are ducks, plants, and very few people. We pushed the younger three kids in the stroller through the Greenway until they fell asleep, and it was an amazing little moment of peace.

FACILITIES

This probably seems weird that I’m writing about their bathrooms, but I have two toddlers in pull-ups…so bathrooms are a BIG DEAL for us. I was really impressed by how many bathrooms are nearby at any given moment, and I loved how they had some stalls with toddler potties in them! There were no lines in the bathroom either, and everything was so well-maintained.

CROWDS

I heard a few locals grumbling that it was “way too busy” when we were there, but compared to other theme parks that we have been to recently, I was AMAZED at all of the room we had on walkways and the lack of lines for rides. I thought it was the perfect amount of people. On the day that we were there, it was fairly hot (I think around 85), but the park is so well-shaded and uncrowded so it felt perfect. Remember to drink water, though!

OVERALL

Overall, we had an absolutely amazing time, and I would recommend Dutch Wonderland in a heartbeat if you are anywhere near Lancaster or planning a trip to the area. Most of our recent trips to theme parks have just been so stressful and busy and chaotic that it didn’t feel like a vacation, but this was such a relaxing day full of fun and smiles. It did end up raining on the day that we were there, so we left a little earlier than we originally planned. Because of that, we were unable to watch any of the shows that I’ve heard so many amazing reviews about, and I wish we would’ve been able to squeeze that in. Maybe next summer! 🙂

Our Biggest Ultra Mess Ever

Clorox Static Feed

Over the years that we’ve been together, I’d like to think that Tom and I have taken on some big projects. We’ve completely renovated homes together, we’ve raised four kids together, we have tackled all kinds of hobbies and projects, both small and large…but nothing will compare to the time that we decided we should try to make our own wine at home.

It started out as a harmless pin on Pinterest that we shared with each other: “How to Make Wine”. And I mean, when you see something on Pinterest, what could possibly go wrong, right? Well, the wine-making process is a long and precise one that should probably only be left to the experts. Between harvesting and fermenting the grapes, we waited several months in between each step, just to make sure we were being meticulous with our batch. We thought we were just SO smart and crafty for being able to do this at home, and we bragged to everyone who would listen about our newfound hobby. When the glorious time came to finally bottle our creation, we had a total of about 6-8 corked bottles with custom labels, which we then stored in a large cedar closet in Tom’s office, letting them age a little bit longer.

One winter night, while we were fast asleep, we started to hear loud popping sounds coming from upstairs–huge booms and crashes that woke us all up. Our dog was hysterically barking, the kids were crying, but we couldn’t find any sign of an intruder or home damage, so we cautiously went back to sleep. The next morning, as Tom was getting ready for work, he went into the upstairs cedar closet to grab a suit…and rotten grape juice was EVERYWHERE–sprayed on the ceilings, flooding the floors, and all over every military uniform in there. The bottles had spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night, and our horrible Pinterest fail caused us the biggest mess I’ve ever seen.

The rotten juice soaked into the cedar, stained the ceilings, and caused us a hefty dry-cleaning bill on those uniforms. But more importantly, it crushed our dreams, just like we had crushed those grapes. Lol. Cleanup was brutal, and I was thankful for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes for helping us remove sticky spills and staining red wine juice on every ruined surface. Clorox wipes are always our go-to for our biggest messes, and that’s why we are loving the NEW Ultra -Clean Disinfecting wipes! Ultra Clean wipes are dual-sided, 30% thicker, and textured to lift 40% more dirt than the traditional sanitizing wipes, while still killing 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. These wipes will stand strong through even your toughest messes or spontaneous combustions and are a perfect addition to your Spring Cleaning must-haves!

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And from now until June 10th, enter Clorox’s #UltraMess contest by sharing your biggest, most outrageous mess on Twitter and how Clorox’s Ultra Clean Wipes would’ve been great for clean-up. One grand prize winner will receive a $10,000 check and a year’s supply of cleaning wipes!! The next ONE HUNDRED runners up will receive a year’s supply of cleaning wipes, too. Make sure to follow Clorox on Twitter during the contest period and use @Clorox, #UltraMess and #Contest to be included.

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This post was in paid collaboration with The Clorox Company.

Flying With Tiny Passengers

I’m going to be incredibly honest–when people see us going through airport security, I can totally see the looks on their faces every single time…you know, the look that screams “PLEASE DON’T LET THEM BE ON MY FLIGHT”. Four tiny children aren’t exactly the ideal passengers you would want on your airplane, no matter how long the flight. But because of those looks, I always feel extra-motivated to make sure that our kids are on their absolute best behavior during travel, and I plan for weeks before we leave, going through every detail of how to keep our children entertained, respectful of their fellow passengers, and happy.

I’ve read articles online that basically say there is no reason to fly with a child under the age of 2 unless it’s an emergency, and I’m just going to insert my two-cents here to say that’s ridiculous. I’ve written before about how much I love road trips, but sometimes airplanes are necessary and way more convenient. In the age that we live in, families are separated by thousands of miles, people move to new places constantly, and let’s be honest–you shouldn’t have to give up travel just because you have a baby. No, the baby won’t remember the trip, but guess what…YOU will, and wherever you take your child, whatever experiences you have together, that shapes who they become. So, if you’re considering booking a trip with your child but can’t get past the negative comments from strangers, I can’t tell you enough how lucky we feel to have ignored the haters and experienced so many wonderful memories of travel with our kids.

With that said, travelling with little people is WORK, especially when you fly on a plane and hundreds of strangers are staring at you every time your child makes a noise. But, don’t panic, here’s some of the tips that we’ve personally found helpful over the years:

  1. LEARN FROM PRIOR EXPERIENCES. If you’ve flown with your children before and can recall the exact moment that they’ve had a meltdown, plan for it again and brainstorm ideas to deescalate. If you’ve never flown, compare it to your last road trip or time that your child was restrained in a small space for a lengthy period. The last time we flew with all four kids, Luna and Lela fought over EVERYTHING during the last fifteen minutes of the flight, and it was a small nightmare. Because of that, we’ve packed two of the exact same everything, so there’s nothing to fight over. This brings me to my next point…
  2. STAY POSITIVE, NO MATTER WHAT. My husband is a stricter parent than I am, and we both agree, airports and airplanes are NEVER the time to be a disciplinarian. Flying is tough, it’s weird for kids, and even though the plane cabin is pressurized, the popping in their ears is a new sensation that confuses them. So, don’t pick a cross-country flight to decide to start disciplining them for something they don’t normally do. Bad behaviors and tantrums are going to happen, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, try to keep it positive and redirect your child to something more positive when they start to crack under pressure.
  3. SCREENS ARE A LAST RESORT. This might be where I differ from the normal opinion, but we only give the kids our phones or a tablet if absolutely nothing else is settling them down. If you start the flight by handing them the most entertaining, over-stimulating device known to man…it’s all downhill from there. What if they get bored with it? How do you top that? What if they want something on there that requires Wifi? What if the batteries die? With our kids in particular, the tantrums increase by ten thousand percent when we let them use phones or tablets. If your kids do great with them, then go for it; this is just our experience. I give them our Kindle Fire if things go too downhill during the last 30 minutes of a flight, and I make sure there’s plenty of games and videos downloaded on Freeplay for them that don’t require Wifi. If you turn your device on Airplane Mode to test out before your flight, you’ll be able to see everything that is accessible without internet.

    We fit all of the girls’ clothes in a duffel bag, pack two activity bags, and use a carabiner clip to keep them hooked to the stroller until we get to the gate.
  4. ACTIVITY BAGS. Most airlines let you have a personal bag in addition to your carry-on, so we let the kids each carry a very small backpack full of entertaining things. For our upcoming flight, here is what they all have packed:
    • Lennox (7)- a few chapter books, a travel Spirograph, and a book on how to do Dollar Bill origami with some dollar bills in an envelope. These have always entertained him for HOURS, but if your older child has different interests, just make sure to pack things they love!
    • Lela (3) and Luna (almost 2)- we have the exact same things packed in both bags to avoid tantrums and arguments. I went to Walmart this week and raided their Easter basket-stuffer section; so for about $10 total, I got them a bunch of travel activity sticker books, coloring books and crayons, tiny dry erase boards, fake jewelry, candy necklaces, and ya know, other small trinkets that they’ve never seen before. That’s one of the biggest tricks I’ve found–make sure everything is exciting and fresh for them! On top of the small/cheap trinkets, I packed them each some magnetic tiles (they LOVE these) and quiet books (they EXTRA LOVE these). The girls do great in take-off and landings because there’s a lot of movement and noise, but during the still portion of the flight, we break out the toys.
    • Leif (7 months)- we pack his favorite small baby toys, nothing fancy. He’s teething right now, so we’re overly prepared for that with teething supplies and foods for him to be able to chew on during the flight.

      Favorite passport picture ever. 
  5. SNACKS. Right before the plane boards, we let the three older kids go to one of the little Hudson News stands in the airport and pick out one salty snack and one sweet snack to have on the flight with them. We use the sweet snack as a motivator for positive behavior–during takeoff, we usually tell the kids that if they are kind and patient for 15 minutes, we will give them their candy when the seatbelt sign turns off.
  6. DON’T OVERWHELM YOUR KIDS. With a full activity bag and snacks and screens, don’t play all of your cards at once. I make sure that I’m always in charge of the kids’ bags, and I hand them ONE toy or snack at a time. When their interest starts to fade with that ONE toy, trade it for a new toy in the bag. The biggest mistake we used to make when we would fly with Lennox as a baby was just dumping a whole bag of toys in front of him and expecting it to hold his attention. If your child seems to get overly eager to see everything in the bag, set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and let them know that when the timer goes off, they can have the next toy. Make it fun and exciting!

    We’re obviously Parents of the Year. Lol.
  7. BE ON YOUR A-GAME. Don’t go into the flight grumpy or tired or checked-out or fearful. This is game time, and your baby is counting on you to not make this miserable. At the first sign of a tantrum, it’s really easy to just give up, but please stay positive and soldier-on. This is going to sound pretty ridiculous because I’m married to a pilot, but I used to be really horrified of flying and would take anxiety medicine to sleep the entire flight. I had to quickly get over that fear and be fully present once I had my babies. If you are scared of flying and can’t shake the fear, just be sure to not mention it in front of your kids because it then teaches them to be scared, too. Discuss airplanes in a positive, calm way before you get to the airport, and explain to your kids that it might be loud and bumpy sometimes, but everything is fine and pilots are amazing people who have been trained to get them to their destination safely. It also helps to introduce them to the pilot when you’re boarding–we try to do this every time!

    We bought a travel case for our Dockatot because it’s carry-on size, and once you fit the Dockatot inside, there is still room to pack all of the baby’s clothes, too. So, everything is in one bag!
  8. PACK LIGHTLY. No matter how many adults are travelling with you, it’s still a total pain to have to drag a ton of luggage and baby gear through the airport, while still trying to carry your child. Keep it simple, and remember that most hotels have laundry rooms so there’s no need to pack ten thousand outfits. As far as baby gear, we wear the baby in a Tula carrier, we pack the Dockatot as a carry-on, check all of the carseats, and gate check our double stroller. If you remember last October when we went to Disney, our stroller got SUPER messed up in transit from our flight, so make sure you don’t pack your really nice stuff. We have travel carseats that we use, just in case they get damaged, too.
  9. ALLOCATE EXTRA TIME FOR SECURITY. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my husband have to be body-checked in the airport because of flying with baby formula or other random baby items that set off red alarms. The TSA agents are usually really nice about it, and they let us pick which one of us wants to get frisked. But still, if your baby is formula fed, there is a huge chance that your formula will set off the alarms when they’re searching your belongings. We usually try to Amazon Prime all of our formula and diapers to our hotel room at the destination ahead of time, just so we don’t have to travel with it. Call your hotel before you order anything and ask them what to write on the address label (usually it’s FUTURE GUEST: CHARLOTTE CHATMAN or you know, your name not mine). I’ve never had a problem with my breastmilk OR pre-made bottles in security, but powder formula in the past was always a nightmare. Also, you CAN wear your baby through security. I’ve seen so many blogs say that you have to take the baby off when you walk through security, but we’ve flown to/from a ton of airports, and I’ve never had to remove the baby from the carrier. Just an FYI!
  10. MAKE FRIENDS WITH PASSENGERS. I try to be extra friendly to the people sitting around us, just to put them at ease for their unfortunate seating arrangement next to the lady with 100 babies. As soon as we sit down, I’ll ask them where they are from and introduce the kids to them. Out of the dozens of times we have flown with the kids, I’ve only had ONE bad experience with a fellow passenger, and she was grumpy as soon as she sat down. You won’t be able to please everyone, but MOST people on your flight will be incredibly friendly and even offer to help if the kids get restless. Oddly, my faith in humanity multiplies every time we take the kids on an airplane. It’s not just with our kids either–on our last flight, there was a little girl across from us, just raging the entire time, and the entire plane stepped in trying to help with zero judgment or anger. Don’t assume the worst out of everyone, but makes friends instead!

We leave in six days for Newfoundland with our babies, and I know a ton of you have big Spring Break plans. So, happy flying with your happy babies! ❤

It never snowed where we live this year, so we’ve been having to travel far North every time we want the kids to see it!