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Hands-on Family Summer Activities Keep Your Kids Focused and Present

Hands-on Family Summer Activities Keep Your Kids Focused and Present

This post was created in partnership with Evite, and we’re pleased to share our own views and perspective as part of our sponsored story.

With two teen daughters in our house, we’ve had to establish some rules about family time – rituals really. Ever since our girls were very little, we’ve worked hard to remain present and focused during the times we spend together. Now as their phones have literally taken over their lives, it’s nice to have those rituals to depend upon.

One of those rituals is setting aside time in our busy family schedule to just unplug and enjoy each others’ company. For as long as we can remember, these moments have been some of our most fun because they are uncalendared and unscripted. There is no agenda. Sometimes we let the kids decide what family activity they’d like us to do, and other times we set up something fun in advance that we can do together.

The important thing is that we spend time together as a family, not staring at our mobile devices.

And Evite® is all about it. In fact, Evite is hosting the Take Back Summer sweepstakes inviting families to enter for a chance to win $2,500 towards a family getaway, where families can spend more time face-to-face and device-free!

We’re planning on having some of the girls’ friends over for a backyard party soon, and have found the perfect Evite invitation to spread the word. There’s lots of designs to choose from at evite.com, and we had fun looking through the summer invitation options together to choose one we all love.

Evite invitation for garden party

Invite the gang over to enjoy the summer with your family – and leave the devices at home!

Hands-on Family Summer Activities

In a family full of artistic types, we end up doing some pretty fun and creative projects together. This summer we’re concentrating on activities both indoors and outdoors.

Outdoors: Planting a Vegetable Garden

As the winter chill subsided and the rains turned to bright and sunny days, we tilled the soil in our raised redwood planters in the backyard. While the dads prepped the soil with compost, worm casings and organic fertilizers, the girls brainstormed what we would plant.

Dad and daughter picking plants at nursery

Letting the kids help pick vegetables to grow in the garden.

Maximize Sun Time

There’s a certain pattern to planting vegetables in the garden to maximize time in the sunlight. We watch the arc of the sun as it rises and sets, plotting the pattern of shadows to make sure the new plants have the greatest opportunity to grow and prosper. It’s a lesson in astronomy disguised as a fun gardening project!

Let the Kids Choose Plants and Seeds

One year, we planted only seeds and the kids lost interest waiting for the plants to grow. Now we’ve learned to choose a mixture of seeds and seedlings, so plants are growing at different rates. We let the kids each choose a couple of their favorites, and the parents choose the rest – mostly tomatoes. The kids have tried to grow corn (nope), watermelon (kind of worked), blackberries (a horrible mess), and even jalapeños (bumper crop)! Also, sunflowers are a nice addition and it’s fun to watch them grow so tall and blossom so enormously.

dad and daughter at plant nursery

Picking out plants at the nursery can be big fun.

Field Trip to the Plant Nursery

We all pile in the SUV and head to the nearby nursery, known for their great selection of organic vegetable plants. Since we try to eat healthy, we look for non-GMO labels on the plants and seeds. Wandering the aisles of greenery is so fun, because we always discover some strange and unusual new thing to bring home. This year it was fava beans.

Planting as a Family Tradition

While the dads space the tomato seedlings strategically to avoid overcrowding when they grow big, the girls make straight little rows to plant the seeds. This summer, we focused on onion and lettuce seeds. Lettuce, because it grows quickly for immediate gratification. Onions, because they grow slowly and we can watch their progress over the entire summer and into fall. We also brought home some natural pest control – ladybugs and baby praying mantis to eat the harmful bugs that can eat all our crops before we can!

girls releasing natural bug pesticides into garden

Each year we buy a mess of ladybugs and praying mantis to help keep the bad bugs away.

Plan for a Quick Harvest

One of the plants the girls like most is strawberries, and we intentionally buy the more mature plants in bigger pots. These usually have strawberries already forming on the vine, and sometimes even starting to ripen. Even so, within a week of planting we are already harvesting the berries, sweet and red. Kids lack patience, and giving them something they can almost immediately enjoy is an encouragement for what’s coming next.

girl releasing ladybugs in vegetable garden

Natural pesticides in the form of insects like ladybugs are a healthier way to control pests.

Indoors: Making Cupcakes

When the summer weather outside is inhospitable, we turn to indoor activities. Sometimes this can be an even more difficult process to manage the kids away from their phones. To combat their phone addiction, we have a central charging station in our house where all our phones must be placed when not in use. Out of sight, out of mind!

Cooking has always been a family activity in our family, and Ava and Sophia are obsessed with cupcakes. When the whole cupcake craze was on the rise, we invested a small fortune in all the equipment to make professional-looking cupcakes.

dad and daughters making cupcakes

Everyone gets into the act when we make cupcakes as a family.

Shopping for the Right Materials

To make the most beautiful and exotic cupcakes, you need your kitchen outfitted with all the right materials. An outing to the mall made the girls very happy, and we made a bee-line for the cooking shop. Huddled in the baking aisle, we looked at a zillion doodads and what-nots before choosing a few select items to make fancier cupcakes. Now we have the apparatus to make a swirl in frosting that would rival any fancy bakery!

cupcake ingredients and decorations

Starting with the right cupcake ingredients is half the battle.

Looking for a WOW! Recipe

The thing about cupcakes is that they all taste pretty much the same. Sure, some are chocolate, some are spongey, some are light and fluffy – but they are all basically cake. The frosting is where the differences come into play, and you can get really crazy. We peruse dozens of recipes to zero in on a choice for each daughter. Sophia usually goes for the flash, choosing a cupcake recipe that is visually stunning. Ava likes a pretty cupcake too, but always thinks about what will go into the flavor combinations. Either way, we end up with delicious treats.

girl making cupcake batter in home kitchen

Careful measurement is critical (just ask Triton about the baking soda episode!)

Decorating Together

It’s fun to make the batter and frosting together. Measuring out the ingredients in very exact portions is basically math, another hidden lesson amid all the fun. The girls help gather up all the ingredients and measuring cups and spoons, and we set out to make things turn out the way they look in the book. Yeah, it never turns out that way but we have a blast trying!

dad and daughter decorating cupcakes

Literally putting the cherry on top!

Sampling the Wares

After all that mixing, preparing, baking and decorating comes the feasting. I mean, what’s the point if we don’t get to enjoy the results?! After everything is decorated, we all hover over the display platter and ogle the beautifully completed cupcakes. Some are lopsided, some are too big or too small, but all are beautiful because we made them as a family. And they taste even better because of that reason!

Summer Time is Family Time

Regardless of the activity, it’s just really fun to spend time together. Your family might prefer crafting projects, or playing softball on the lawn, or building model airplanes in the garage, or painting murals or really anything! The point is to make family time.

For us, it’s wonderful to find moments when we don’t have to rush to the office or school, feeling the pressure of homework or work assignments. We can just relax, laugh, do fun things and leave our phones in the charging station for a nice long rest.

And who knows? We might end up enjoying a cupcake while sitting among the tomato plants growing in our backyard vegetable garden!

PS – Don’t forget to enter the Evite Take Back Summer sweepstakes for a chance to win $2,500 towards a family getaway, where families can spend more time face-to-face and device-free!

 

 


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Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

This post was sponsored by Amazon as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

In our house, our Amazon Echo has been a part of our daily routine for a couple of years now, and Alexa is like a member of our family. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask Alexa a question, check the weather or play a song. The kids love to try and stump her! Now Amazon has introduced kid-friendly versions of its devices. Predictably, our kids love new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition designed just for them.

We set our Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition on a cabinet in our family room so the kids could easily access it.

When we first installed our Amazon Echo two years ago, we wanted to make sure the kids were accessing Alexa in the right way. Knowing Sophia and Ava, without oversight they would have her helping them with answers to their homework assignments. We put rules in place for how and when Alexa could be used, and for what purposes. As we got more comfortable with the technology, we found Alexa was a great addition to our household. Now she helps us with all kinds of things, like making dinner reservations, booking travel and predicting weather condition in far away places.

Still as parents, we worry about the kids have full access to all the knowledge and operations Alexa is capable of providing. This is why we’re so excited to welcome the new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition into our home.

Kids Love New Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire Designed Just for Them

kid with Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Once I had the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition set up in our family, room the kids immediately jumped into questions for Alexa.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

From the moment we set up our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition in the family room, both Ava and Sophia set out to quiz and stump Alexa. Of course they did not win that battle of brains, but it was pretty funny to listen to them try.

Ava: “Alexa, spell ‘icup’

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition: “I’d rather not answer that”

Sophia: “Alexa, is your refrigerator running?”

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition: “Yes, it’s training for a 5K”

Bottom line, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition is designed with content curated for them specifically. Alexa can be accessed to play games like Simon Says, quiz them for tests, read them a story, play songs and plenty more.

I personally love the connection between Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Audible, where my kids can listen to a story read aloud by actors. For example, Ava can listen to her favorite Harry Potter books while multi-tasking with something else.

Alexa Parent Dashboard
setting up Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Once I downloaded the Alexa app, setting up our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition was super easy. I just followed the prompts!

Through Alexa’s Parent Dashboard, we can control what the kids can access on their Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and what they cannot. Through the Alexa app on my phone, I can:

  • set time limits for how long the kids can access Alexa
  • filter explicit lyrics from songs (those hip hop artists can get pretty graphic)
  • control access remotely, limit hours and pause activity
  • listen into the room to hear what is going on remotely
  • and much more
Amazon Alexa app household communications

From the Amazon Alexa app, I can manage the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition directly from my phone.

Next up, we plan to link the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition to our household Amazon Echo system. This way, our current three Alexa stations can welcome their little sister into the network. One of the cool things about this? We can be upstairs and ask Alexa to summon the kids in the downstairs family room, using the system as an intercom. So many cool things to explore with this gadgetry – we’ve only just touched the surface! (We’re totally into learning how to use Alexa Skill Blueprints to schedule a Chore Chart for the kids. No more nagging! Alexa will remind the kids to do their chores at the specific times we set!)

Amazon Echo Kids Edition guided set up

Our new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition guided me through set up – easy peasy.

Worry Free

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, giving us access to  hundreds of hours of fun and educational content. After the first year, the fee for Amazon FreeTime Unlimited starts at just $2.99 per month for Prime members and $4.99 per month for others. (We can cancel at any time by contacting Customer Service. Those of you with rambunctious kids will be pleased to know that the device comes with a 2-year worry-free guarantee.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition

Although Sophia and Ava are beyond the ages served best by the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, we tried it out and are so happy to have this fun device. It’s perfect for when our family and friends visit with their littles.

Amazon Fire HD8 Kids Edition

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is powerful enough to run data-heavy content and light enough for kids to easily manage.

Designed for kids ages 3-12, the all new Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is the latest generation of Amazon’s best-selling kids tablet. This device allows kids to play games, watch programming, and engage in many fun learning activities. Kind of like the Echo for those on-the-go situations, the Amazon Fire Kids Edition is bundled with many of the same games and features in a visual display. Kids can just touch the screen to scroll through categories and choices, selecting with their finger the activity they would like to begin.

One of the things we noticed about the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is it’s design and durability. It is a real tablet with fully engaged screen, but protected by a kid-safe bumper that comes in blue, pink, or yellow. With 8 hours of battery life, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition will easily serve the busy family on the go.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is designed specially for them, with content curated according to their levels and my parameters.

When Sophia and Ava were little, we loved having devices like the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition to keep them entertained in the car and on trips. Because of technology like the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, it’s now possible for families to continue the learning and play features for kids at home too.

Just like the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition comes with one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, and two-year worry-free guarantee. If anything happens, we can return it and Amazon will replace it – no questions asked.

Amazon Fire Kids Edition PBS programming

Our new Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition has great content, like movies, TV, games and more from ideal sources like PBS Kids.

Perfect Gifts for the Holidays

Since we know kids love new Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition designed just for them, we’re sure these will make great gifts for the holidays. We’re Amazon Prime members, which makes ordering these gifts even easier. We could even be huge holiday shopping procrastinators (who, us?) and still order the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition right up until just days before Christmas. Amazon will even wrap them for us!