Friday, June 28, 2013

Ten Things to Smile About: June

June isn't even over and I have a long list of happy things for the month.

My little man graduated Kindergarten!  He picked his own outfit for the ceremony.  Funny that he REFUSES to wear the jacket to church but he wanted to look really nice for the ceremony. 

We had an even bigger graduation, our oldest graduated from high school.  Getting decent pictures that day turned out to be almost impossible but we are so proud of her.  

Schools out for SUMMER!  What better way to celebrate than with ice cream??  This also shows little sisters "cheese face".  

Started a summer schedule - so far we are having lots of fun with it!

One of our "Make Something Monday" projects - gake!  This was a HUGE hit. 

 Loved capturing this visual depiction of my kids drastically personalities.  Two are non-stop, always part of the action kids and the other would much rather find a quite corner and take things at his own pace.  We were at the library summer reading kick off and that's exactly what happened! 

Love all my kids and the littles especially adore their big sister.  
They are going to be very sad when she goes off to college. 

 Celebrating Father's Day with my husband and the crazy kids! 
The little kids helped make the carrot cake from scratch. 

Teachers!  My kids have been very blessed with some wonderful teachers and 
now that it is summer - I appreciate them even more!!!

I got to go back to my old job and serve as a volunteer chief for a multi-day full scale disaster exercise. 
It was great to be back and most of all to be with some of my old staff. Miss them! 

 Linking up over at Emmy Mom's Ten Things to Smile About...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Las Vegas Natural History Museum - A great kids Dinosaur Museum!

Dinosaurs seem to have a universal appeal with young children, especially little boys.  My 4 and 5 year old are no exception to this phenomenon.  We've had dinosaur birthday parties, dressed up as a paleontologist for Career Day at school and read more dinosaur books than I can count.  Yet, we had somehow not made it to the local Natural History Museum, or as my boys now refer to it - The Dinosaur Museum.  

Bank of America offers a great promotion for debit and credit card holders the first full weekend of each month, providing free admission to select museums across the country.  One of those museums is the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.  I finally took advantage of this special a few weeks ago and we had a lot of fun.  

First, I should say that I grew up in Washington DC so in some degree being raised with Smithsonian as your "local" museums has jaded me for life.  I do try to look at museums and attractions relative to the location and the age of my children. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum is a Smithsonian affiliated museum. It is small and definitely shows signs of age but for a town like Las Vegas and most children it is a great experience.  

The Museum is open 9am - 4pm daily which makes it convenient for families. The museum offers free interactive programs on the weekends on topics related to their exhibits, check out the Weekend Science page for current topics and times.  When we went the traveling exhibit was Sea Trek and the program we attended was about to Creature Camouflage.  The presenter did a good job of keeping it interactive and involving the participants (there were about 3-5 families with kids ranging in age from 2-12 would be my guess).  After the presentation there was a craft activity and then a chance to get up close with two smaller animals - a mouse and a lizard.  My four year son especially liked that part. 

In addition to a traveling exhibit the museum has wildlife, early Nevada, Egypt and of course Dinosaur exhibits. My kids favorite parts were the Dinosaur Area and the Young Scientist Area which is the interactive part of the museum for kids. They loved digging for fossils, creating rubbings and checking out the computer stations.  A fun little mini-aquarium let them "get inside" and find Nemo; big hit with my Disney loving children. The Dinosaur exhibit features a variety of different models including a large Triceratops and T-Rex that are animated by push of a button. 

We arrived about 10 am and stayed for a few hours, which included attending the presentation and animal interaction.  The museum was very quite when we arrived and got busier by the time we left about Noon but was by no means crowded.  There is a smaller playground located on the same property, just "behind" the museum.  We checked that out after our visit and the kids enjoyed being able to really run off some energy before getting back in the van.  Overall a great low key museum that provides interactive opportunities for the kids and is affordable, especially if take advantage of the Bank of American promotion, or the two for one coupon they generally have on their website.  

Las Vegas Natural History Museum
900 Las Vegas Blvd N (by Cashman)
Las Vegas NV 89101

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wetlands Nature Center and Park - Free Family and Kid Activities in Las Vegas

It is our first Tuesday of the Summer Game plan and that means its time for Take a Trip Tuesday.   I decided to take the kids to a new place we have never visited, the Clark County Wetlands Park and Nature Center.  I've been hearing good things about the Wetlands for a few years, had seen some friends photographs from the area but until we arrived I honestly didn't know there was a full scale nature center at the park.   Although the temperatures are pretty good today, only a high of 100 versus the end of the world 116 degrees that it was on Saturday, it was still a nice surprise to discover an indoor exhibit area to explore!

The Nature Center was fabulous and turned out to be my kids favorite part of the visit. The Nature Center building includes both an exhibit area, a theater (we didn't stay for the movie) and space for a cafe (not currently open).  According to the staff, the Nature Center opened this April so maybe that is why I didn't know about it!  The Nature Center is a well designed, green building and also includes restrooms and water fountains you can access without actually going into the exhibit area. As a mom of young kids, I love when they make those types of things easy to access. My five year old was fascinated with the cool sink in the family bathroom!

The design of the center is very appealing, especially to children.  The lobby area features a mural with over-sized plants and animals.  There are a number of very large insects that move on the ceiling of the lobby and two fun sculptures they can stand behind, my boys are checking them out in the photo to the left.

The exhibit area opens with another great area for kids with a large mural and more over-sized animals that the kids can touch.  The bull frog even rabbits and the large snake features his most recent meal inside his stomach - yum!
The exhibit space is not very large but has quite a few different displays related to desert life including the plants, animals, water and flooding and early settlers.  There are 8 hands on children's activity tables in addition to the interactive features of the various displays.  My boys were especially impressed with the display related to animal scat.  But then, what little boy doesn't love a scientific display of poop?!?

 The Nature Center and Wetlands Park are free of charge, so this makes it an awesome option for families and kids in Las Vegas to visit.  In addition to the exhibit area there is a movie that is available but we didn't check that out, although I plan to on the next visit. It is located on the east side of town at the end of Tropicana, a few minutes east of Boulder Hwy. The trails are open dusk to dawn and the center is open from 9am - 3pm daily.  The staff were all helpful and friendly.

By the time we finished checking out the exhibit area it was getting close to nap time and much hotter so we only explored a very small portion of the Wetlands trail area. The Wetlands Park covers over 2,900 acres and some areas are still under construction.  The trails are both dirt and paved and those that I observed from the nature center and the parking lot seemed pretty easily accessible with a stroller.  We used a small umbrella stroller on the portion we explored by the small pond and it worked fine.  The kids liked checking out the pond and we were able to see insects, butterflies and what I think were tadpoles from the edge of the pond. We also heard many different wildlife that we could not see and the kids thought that was really cool.

You can access the trails without visiting the Nature Center.  There is also a set of bathrooms in the parking lot.  The entire area, both Center and Trails had very few other guests while we were there (Tuesday between 10am - Noon).  When we were driving into park, there was a sign for a neighborhood park.  I decided to check that out as we were leaving and found a fun little play area that we will check out on our next visit.  It has play equipment that blends in with the Wetlands park including a small climbing wall and large animal play objects.  There is a picnic table and benches, perfect for after you explore the area.  Overall I highly recommend this as a free option for kids and families in Las Vegas.  My kids are 2, 4 and almost 6 but this would be a good option for all ages or if you have a broad range of ages in your family.  I also love that it introduces city kids like mine to nature!  If you are looking for things to do with your kids or family this summer in Vegas check out the Wetlands Park.
Playground Area with small climbing wall -
follow signs for neighborhood park

Clark County Wetlands Park
7050 Wetlands Park Lane, Las Vegas, NV 89122 
(East side by Tropicana & Boulder Hwy)
Open 7 days a week - Trails from Dusk to Dawn, 
Center from 9am - 3pm
Closed New Years Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Game Plan... or my attempt to not go crazy with small children in the Vegas Heat!

June has arrived, we are counting down the final days of school and I've been busy pinning all the amazing Summer Bucket lists popping up on Pinterest.   This year my three youngest kids are 5, 4 and 2 and I've decided it's time to create a plan of attack for our summer.

I don't like to schedule everything but I find that if I just "hope" we will do things and have fun, we end up spending hours doing nothing. {Correction, I spend time trying to figure something out while the kids go crazy or fight - not all the time of course but that is generally how it feels}.  Another problem with not having a plan is that we live in Vegas. If we want to go out and do some activities we need to start early before its 1,000 degrees outside.  Let's just say I'm not a morning person so hoping I get moving early without something scheduled just doesn't work so well. I decided it I needed to take all these great ideas I'm pinning and come up with the Garcia Game Plan for Summer.

First, I love the bucket list concept but I knew that wouldn't quite work for us.  My oldest son who just finished Kindergarten, loves check lists, but he also due to ADHD loves to hyperfocus.  He will see one thing on that list and I will hear about it non-stop until we do it, and quite frankly my sanity can't handle hearing about something twenty times a day that I know we can't do until August!

I knew both my ADHD self and my son needed something that enough structure to keep us on track and therefore having fun but also flexibility since life happens!  When I saw this idea, I fell in love! The idea comes from a Power of Moms post, a site that always has great support for Moms. I love the idea of having a "theme" for each day that I can plan for and my kids can look forward to but it also gives me flexibility to change it up easily.

Make Something Mondays - craft, bake, paint, build
Take a Trip Tuesdays - try a new park, museum, hike or activity
Wet and Wild Wednesdays - anything water related, pool, splash pads etc.
Thinking Thursdays - library, learning. experiments, practicing
Fabulous Fun Fridays - open day to pick anything fun to do together

After deciding on our schedule I made a big list of things to do including activities I know my kids like and choices from the summer buckets lists I'd pinned as inspiration. Almost all of our activities will be free or very low cost even our "trips".  Once that was done I started dividing the list into our "schedule".  This is my planning list, to keep us on track, not for the kids to see.

I also created another sheet that has a list of bonus activities - extra ideas to fill our days if needed, weekend activities - both scheduled and optional, and finally a list of "bored" activities I can suggest to the kids when they inevitably tell me they there is absolutely nothing to do! The bonus activities involve my participation while the "bored" list can be done individually with siblings.

I'm still deciding how to visually display our plan for the kids (it's not like school is over in two more days or anything - nothing like the last minute!). I thought about a take on an advent type calendar like we do for Christmas but I'm leaning towards just doing just one week at a time and using a card for each day that they can turn over and see what the activity for the day will be each morning. Once I actually create it I will try and remember to post it! My goal is to plan our week using my planning pages each Sunday when I do our family meal plan.  We will see how it goes.

I'm also still coming up with how to introduce this to the kids.  I'm thinking some type of celebration on the first day of our summer.  Any ideas?  Again, I've got lots of time to decide - you know a whole two days! 

Did you create a summer plan? bucket list? What's on your list? 

Happy Summer!  


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