Give Your Child a Great Start with First 5 California’s Talk Read Sing ®

Did you know that 90% of our brains are formed by the age of 5?  Recent research on brain development from First 5 California also reveals that more than 80% of a child’s brain is formed by age 3.

This means that most of children’s vital early learning takes place with parents or caregivers, before elementary school even starts. What’s the best way to ensure children’s crucial learning and brain development in those early years? According to First 5 California, Talk Read Sing ®. It Changes Everything.


What’s great about talking, reading and singing?

  • It teaches language skills that last a lifetime.
  • It’s natural – every culture around the world does it.
  • It helps secure parent-child bonding.
  • It’s free!
  • Even if we don’t think we’re good singers, our children don’t care! They just love the sound of our voices.

How to get more talking, reading and singing into your child’s life

As vital as it is to use language with our kids, sometimes we feel silly having what feels like a one-way monologue with our little ones. First 5 California has tons of fun activities on their site that help kids learn creativity, language and problem solving. We like this Alphabet House activity because it’s a way of utilizing the body and the senses to learn language. Here are 6 other ways to add talking, reading and singing into your lives:

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places where kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us! When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. My daughter loved to make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (this is a good travel game as well).

We found these letters on local mailboxes! (Of course, letters appear on store signs, billboards, street signs, food packages, and more.)


Chat Through Your Chores

When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but they’ll love it, and you’ll be helping them learn those language skills.

Make Lists

Kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Have older preschoolers watch you make your own shopping lists to make the connections between letters, words and items.


Hit the Library

There’s a lot going on at the local library! We love our library’s sing-a-long and other programs. Many libraries offer an array of early literacy programs to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They also serve as community hubs and help bring families together. Most libraries have expanded to programming far beyond books, and yet they initiate and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Our library hosted a paper boat making session and a race, based on the one in the book, Curious George Rides a Bike.


Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book.

Sing Throughout the Day

In traditional cultures, people appreciated and expressed the rhythms of their bodies and the days and seasons with dancing and song. We do that today when we sing lullabies to help lull our babies to sleep. Most kids love sweet singing rituals, and those habits help them feel calm and secure. There are many other times throughout the day that are good for singing. I used to sing my favorite childhood camp songs to bond with Anna and make her bath time more fun.

Please note: I am not a great singer! I sing off-key and have a tiny range. Still, I ended up being a song leader for our local Girl Scout unit – perhaps enthusiasm outweighed ability. My teen wasn’t always so happy about my voice, but as a baby she loved mama’s singing, and I loved singing with her.

There are also some wonderful songs that can help kids feel more secure and have more fun during chores and transitions. Here are a few of our favorites:

Cleanup Song

Clean up, clean up,
Everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do your share.

Let’s Clean Up (to the Tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”)

Let’s clean up today.
Let’s clean up today.
We’ve had our fun.
Our day is done.
So, let’s clean up today.

A helper I will be.
A helper I will be.
There’s work to do.
There’s work to do.
A helper I will be.

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands (to the Tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush)

This is the way we wash our hands,
Wash our hands,
Wash our hands.
This is the way we wash our hands,
Early in the morning.

(If you like, substitute a day of the week, such as “On a Tuesday morning” or substitute an activity, such as “Brush our teeth”, “Put on clothes”, etc.)

Read more fun, singing ideas from Bailey at Feng Shui Mommy.


If you have musician friends, all the better, but this is not a prerequisite!


Don’t forget to check out all the great activities and resources from First 5 California about the importance of talking, reading and singing and how to bring more of them into your and your child’s life.

Please share this great information with others and let me know how you’re talking, reading and singing.

#TalkReadSing #First5CA #First5California

The songs were featured in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (first photo)



Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits



Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit


This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.


Small Moments Can Add Up to a Rich, Hands Free Life

HFL book cover

Do you have 10 minutes? You can spend that time worrying or tending to your to-do list, or you can spend that time thanking a friend or family member for their kindness or noticing the changing features on your daughter’s face.

That’s the underlying premise behind much of Rachel Macy Stafford’s heartfelt and thoughtful new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. Stafford had introduced readers to some of her gentle ideas and the aha moments that had led her to greater clarity in her earlier book, Hands Free Mama. Now, she gives us more concrete and thought-provoking ideas and exercises to truly make the most of our time with family, community and ourselves.


Stafford touches eloquently on a topic I’ve written about, which is that we often miss opportunities for closeness when we think only about the peak experiences, the vacations and large events. She writes, “There are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred.” These small moments–singing to the car radio, walking around the block, sharing meals, helping with music practice–offer multiple daily opportunities to be present and to experience joy.

Children are naturals at this, and Stafford shares multiple wise offerings that her children say and teach by example. But we can learn, too, to turn off the distractions–whether that means literally turning off a technological device or turning off the marching thoughts in our heads–and choose to be truly present in the seemingly small, everyday moments of our lives before they drift away.

Another gift Stafford gives parents is to truly see life through the eyes of our children. When we do this, we can’t help but release some of our adult standards of perfection, which are largely responsible for the voices in our heads that cause us to pressure ourselves or hold ourselves back. To use two of Stafford’s examples, our children don’t see our “fossilized college T-shirt and sleep deprived eyes” when we soothe away their bad dreams in the middle of the night. They don’t notice that our favorite bed pillow could use a laundering. They notice, with love, that the pillow “smells like mama.”


The book is divided into nine chapters: “Fill the Spaces,” “Surrender Control,” “Build a Foundation,” “Take the Pressure Off,” “See What Is Good,” “Give What Matters,” “Establish Boundaries,” “Leave a Legacy” and “Change Someone’s Story”. Each of these is broken into inspiring and thought-provoking chunks, with personal stories and habit builders to help readers gain perspective, forge meaningful connections, remove judgment of ourselves and others, and be present for and attentive to the small moments that make up our days.

If you have 10 minutes, you can tuck a kind note into a lunchbox, learn something new about a family member, listen to a friend without distraction, or say yes to one more bedtime story. What might you do with your 10 minutes? With your distraction-free, love-filled life?




Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2


In celebration of summer’s wonderful #EverydayMoments and the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25th, we decided to spend some time this summer in the beautiful Golden National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the world at more than 80,000 acres, and home to some of the National Park Service’s most beloved spots, such as Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore (above), and the San Francisco Presidio.

After spending a full day at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf (see Part 1), we visited the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

Like Maritime Park, the Marin Headlands, home of the lighthouse, is another large parcel within GGNRA. We began our journey at the Visitor Center, where interactive exhibits showed aspects of the Headlands’ natural and human history. In the 1970s, the Headlands were saved from a massive housing development to become public land for all to enjoy. We listened to recorded stories in a Coast Miwok dwelling, explored the bones of animals, sniffed the aromas of various native plants and read early lighthouse keepers’ diaries.



The rangers helped us identify some great hikes. We chose a short trail through a tunnel and out to the lighthouse (check the web site for limited lighthouse hours.) Our walk offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, where we saw seagulls and other birds and heard, but didn’t see, harbor seals and other sea creatures.






We learned a lot about lighthouse history from our knowledgeable ranger, Jim. Built in 1855, Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the west coast and the last to be manned, rather than to run on electricity. Each lighthouse and foghorn up and down the coast operates on a different pattern to help sailors navigate San Francisco’s treacherous waters. We learned about various shipwrecks (one of which is the namesake for GGNRA’s Tennessee Valley) and lighthouse operations and equipment. We listened to more great information through a cell phone system that GGNRA uses in many of its parks. Afterward we visited the pre-WWI Battery Mendell, one of the area’s military forts and saw the foundation for the old lighthouse keeper’s house around the bend of the bay (last photo, below).







Family Activities

GGNRA offers lots of great family activities throughout the year at many of its sites. Our interest piqued about the park, we decided to join Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a morning of crabbing at Fort Baker Pier. We were greeted by our ranger, Al, who quickly showed us how easy it is to toss a crab basket, frisbee-style and containing a pouch with raw chicken for bait, into the bay.


We learned about the various species of crabs in San Francisco Bay. These include Dungeness crabs–which are popular for eating, but which we weren’t allowed to keep if caught; yellow crabs; rock crabs; red crabs and slender crabs. We learned about the markings on a crab’s belly, which is one good way to distinguish male crabs from female crabs. Below is a male, noted for the triangle shape on the belly.



Unlike fishing, there’s no tug on the line to alert you that you’ve caught a crab. Once you’ve lowered the net into the water, you just have to wait 10 minutes or more before checking to see if anything swam into your basket to take the bait.

After a time, I pulled up my basket. I had caught a crab! This was very exciting. I pulled it up to the pier. On closer inspection, the basket contained a large rock crab and a smaller red crab.


My crab was measured and deemed too large to keep. (There are a lot of other rules about types and sizes of crabs, and even genders, that can be kept. If you go crabbing independently, you’ll want to know the rules and obey posted signs.)


We explored our crabs a bit before tossing them back into the sea.




One of our new friends caught a fish.


Crabbing is a slow activity that provides a lot of delight (and perhaps dinner), as well as a chance to explore and learn a little more about the bay and its inhabitants. A couple of hours is plenty of time for crabbing. GGNRA offers crabbing at multiple locations. As a bonus, Fort Point is adjacent to a small beach that’s perfect for toddlers, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where you can continue to learn about crabs and fish (and even establish your own pretend fishery in the San Francisco Bay Room), as well as explore the many natural elements and exhibits that the award-winning hands-on museum has to offer.



Here are some other piers throughout California where you can go crabbing.


Road Trip Tips

If you’re traveling to visit a national park, there are ways to make your travel smoother and more delightful and memorable. Sometimes half the fun of family travel is “getting there”. Road trips have provided some of our family’s most treasured #EverydayMoments.

  • Involve kids in the planning or have them follow the trip’s progress on a map. If you’re an AAA member, maps are free. Some kids may want to keep a trip journal and add photos when they get home.
  • Have food and drinks on hand, if possible, and take frequent breaks to eat, use restrooms, or just stretch your bodies.
  • Remind children who are on screens to take breaks, to play a game or look around.
  • Pack along a few portable games for outdoor breaks and quiet times, such as cards, Mad Libs, a jump rope or jacks.
  • Play some of these tried-and-true road trip games that don’t require any equipment. They help make family memories when you’re driving, flying, or waiting in line.

Tried-and-True Road Trip Games

What I See From A to Z

Players try to find letters in license plates, billboards, road signs, or objects and must call out “I see an A,” or “I see something that starts with B,” when they spot a letter.

The first person to complete the alphabet wins. A variation for younger children is to pick one letter and have everyone look for that.

Semi Search

If you’re traveling on the interstate, you will probably have a lot of trucks for company, and this fun game makes use of that.

Each player chooses a different color. That color will be the color of truck trailer that the player is then searching for. Players announce when they see a semi on the road in their color, and they get one point for each.

A scorekeeper can be appointed to keep count, or everyone can keep their own score. The game is played until one person reaches 25 points, or another agreed-upon number.

Travel Scavenger Hunt (also known as Travel Olympics)

You’ll need: Pencil and paper for each player

Players all contribute to one list of 10-20 things they can see from or do in the car. For example, a list might include passing a cow pasture, seeing a gas station that has the color red in its logo, holding one’s breath through a tunnel, spotting two yellow license plates, or passing an RV.

The first person to accomplish everything on the list wins.

License Plate Scramble

The first player calls out all the letters, in order, that appear on a passing license plate.

All players try to create a word using those letters, in the same order. The first person to do so gets a point. For example, a player might call out ARN, and he, she, or any other player might come up with “arachnid” or “yarn”.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 25. The first player to reach that total wins.


Players search passing cars for “out of state” license plates (out of the state they are currently traveling in.)

When such a plate is spotted, the player yells, “O.S.L.P.!” If they are the first to see a particular plate, they score a point.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 10. The first player to reach that total wins.

What Animal Am I?

One player thinks of an animal. Other players ask “yes” or “no” questions to determine what animal the first player is. Players might ask, “Do you live in the ocean?” or “Do you have four legs?”

There is no limit to the number of questions. Players can simply give up when stumped and choose who gets to be the animal next. Otherwise, the player who guessed the animal gets to be the next up.


This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay kicked off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st:; terms apply.


Be sure to see Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

Road trip activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains more travel games in addition to 300+ fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Wood for the Trees





Help National Park Trust Get More Kids to National Parks


What if you could give a child a national park experience for the price of a latté? You can! National Park Trust recently learned that their youth programs were selected as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project in honor of the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25, 2015. ​T​he National Park Service selected​ National Park Trust (NPT) for a one-to-one match of $450,000 that will result ​​in a total of $900,000 specifically designated for the expansion of their school programs (Buddy Bison Environmental Education Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest). As we approach the new school year, NPT is asking for our help to raise resources for the Buddy Bison School Program.


The Centennial Challenge will allow NPT to be able to work with up to 60 Title 1 schools to provide multiple park experiences — at least one to a national park unit — throughout the school year, plus classroom toolkits full of resources and so much more! ​Your $5 will become $10, which provides bus transportation for one child for one park trip. There are more than 400 national park units across the country!

For just $5, you can be part of a grassroots movement and help children have a park experience who wouldn’t otherwise have one. Click to Donate to NPT’s Centennial Challenge.


My family loves the U.S. National Parks. We have visited many and are fortunate to live near the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks spanning three counties. It includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, and 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day.



Read about our recent trip to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the highlight of which was San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Like many national park units, Maritime Park features more history and science than nature, with historic ships, hands-on activities and elaborate displays.


While we’ve hiked and biked in stunning national parks, such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and Acadia National Park (above), we’ve also discovered that some of the lesser known national park units (which include seashores, museums and monuments) provide fascination for kids who are interested in the outdoors, and also in history, anthropology, sociology, botany, earth science, literature and art. The great thing about our national parks is that they allow people to enter them through all different interests and enjoy them in many different ways.

More and more children are discovering our national parks, thanks to the National Park Service’s promotion of its Centennial Year and the National Park Trust’s work through their school programs. One more thing to celebrate? The National Park Service Centennial Year coincides with President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park Initiative, which will allow every 4th grader in the U.S., and their families to have a park experience during the 2015-16 school year. (The above link explains the program’s logistics.)


National Park Trust is the nation’s only non-profit dedicated to supporting America’s parks through both land acquisition and preservation and youth education programs and initiatives that connect children with their local, state and national parks. I’m thrilled to help spread the word about their Centennial Challenge and hope you’ll join me in supporting them.


I was invited by National Park Trust to participate in their Centennial Challenge Campaign, however the views expressed are my own.

Photos by National Park Trust and Susan Sachs Lipman



How to Enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up. This year’s show is expected to be especially good as it coincides with a new moon, resulting in a darker sky in which to see the stars.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

The Perseid Meteor Shower is expected to be best on Tuesday, August 11 through Thursday, August 13, with a peak late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak. Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain,

Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1


For most families like ours, summer is the season when time seems to expand. School’s out, days are long and family members visit from around the country to create fond memories and #EveryDayMoments at our treasured local sites.


The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the Golden National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the entire U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks, ranging from Point Reyes National Seashore in the north to the Pfleger Estate in the south. It spans three counties and includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day, and such iconic areas as Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach (above), Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Presidio, home of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

It would take many trips to discover all that GGNRA has to offer. For this trip we decided to focus on exploring San Francisco’s maritime past.


Anna and her cousin Jake started their nautical exploration at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Because the park is conveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, we combined our visit with a ride on our favorite cable car and enjoyed fresh crab, sourdough bread and other local treats.





We boarded the historic Balclutha cargo ship, where Anna and Jake imagined they were 19th century sailors. This was easy to do – the guide for the daily tour shared fascinating information about the sailors’ tight quarters and grim conditions as they sailed around Cape Horn and up to Alaska to transport salmon, lumber and other goods. Furnished kitchens and sleeping quarters; equipment and rigging; maps, diaries, photos and displays, including the impressive Cargo is King exhibit, which took up the whole cargo hold of the ship, brought the captain and crew to life.







We went aboard other ships as well, including The Cottage, which had been a Marin County summer home. We practiced knot tying and saw on-site ship repair.



We thought we’d quickly stop into the National Park Visitor Center across the street. We had no idea that inside an old cannery building was housed a very thorough exhibit that allowed us to walk through centuries of history of the San Francisco waterfront. Displays and sounds brought to life the Yelamu Natives, the discovery of gold, the raucous Barbary Coast, the Italian and other merchants, and the influx of pre-fab houses which were built south of Market Street, and which we learned came from China by ship.  There was even a display of items that had been recovered from Gold Rush -era ships as new waves of construction unearthed them.





We continued our amazing maritime odyssey down the street at the Maritime Museum, where we saw more items from centuries of seafaring and enjoyed the building’s beautifully restored WPA murals. One of the most amazing things about the day was that, as a national park, Maritime Park is completely free, save the $5 adult price to board the historic ships. The park also offers lots of special programs, including sailing adventures and sea chantey singalongs.


We had such a great time on our maritime adventure. We can’t wait to explore more of GGNRA and our bounty of national parks. In addition to the GGNRA site, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers information about activities in the various parks. We’re eager to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service, which begins August 25th.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay is kicking off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: Lincoln Memorial Park (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: FindYourEveryDayPark; terms apply.

This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.


Our adventures will continue in Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Homestead Valley Fourth of July

4julycoatWhen we first moved to our Mill Valley neighborhood of Homestead Valley, we were delighted to discover that there was a neighborhood Fourth of July parade each year. Kids gathered, then and now, for a parade of strollers, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, and perhaps a bunting-bedecked goat or two that winds through the neighborhood and down to a redwood grove for a barbecue picnic and kids’ entertainment. Every child is called to the stage to receive a ribbon, and our first year, Anna won a ribbon for “Best Red Coat”. (Yes, a coat on July 4th in Homestead Valley.) This was one of the many things that charmed us about our new neighborhood, and I’m thrilled that this simple tradition continues with a new generation of neighbors.

Below are photos from this year’s celebration. It is events like these that create family memories and neighborhood bonding. I urge you to seek out similar events in your own neighborhood and, if they’re not available to start one. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Fourth of July!















Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow Prom: Say “No” to Prom Frenzy

As if we needed another sign that things are out of hand–on the heels of preschool graduations, first grade college prep, and elaborate, multi-event wedding extravaganzas, comes prom dress registries and the “promposal”, over-the-top rituals that are expensive, unnecessary and indicative of the ubiquitous influence of celebrity and social media culture.


Shopping for a prom dress? Formal stores across the U.S. now keep registries of the prom dresses other young women have chosen, to avoid the apparent horror of duplicating someone else’s dress. The Wall Street Journal reports girls and moms leaving stores in tears, unable to find a dress that hasn’t been spoken for yet.

And yet, many people seem to abide by the culture: “Nobody wants to go to prom and play ‘Who wore it better?’,” said Madison Chalfant, 17, from Horseheads, N.Y., in the Journal article, echoing the fashion coverage that often follows the celebrity award show circuit.

“They want to lock up their dress before everybody else,” says Julie Paget, co-owner of All About the Dress, in Armonk, N.Y., noting that the shopping, and the hype, begins earlier each year.

The average prom-going teen will spend $919 on the dance this year, according to a survey from Visa, which offers suggestions for curtailing some of the costs associated with the modern high school prom.

And then there is the promposal, an elaborate and often showy way of asking a date to the prom, which itself has an average cost of $324. While creative and original prom invitations can be charming, there is something about the trend of high school students spending a lot of money to create social-media-ready promposal experiences that seems somewhat hollow and more about outdoing others and creating a version of instant celebrity than it is about asking someone to the prom. Perhaps this is a natural outcome–a trickle down from the increasingly dramatic (and YouTube-ready) marriage proposals, pregnancy announcements and baby reveals of the high school students’ elders.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s great to inject fun and flair into coming-of-age and other rituals. I just wonder if elaborate and showy behavior represents some kind of new norm and if celebrity and media culture is somehow overshadowing childhood and our expectations, and kids’ experiences, of it.

Prom _Red_Carpet

Photos: New York Dress, Perfect Prom Resources

12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day + Giveaway


What if you could do something simple that involved beauty and fun, didn’t cost a thing, and  improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being? That something is as simple as visiting your neighborhood or other park, woods, seashore or other favorite outdoor spot.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 16, Kids to Parks Day. By setting aside one Saturday in mid-spring, NPT hopes to raise awareness of the ease and benefits of visiting a park and foster a connection with our public lands that will lead to lifelong enjoyment and stewardship.

Take the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a Nikon COOLPIX L830 camera!

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! Here are 12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day.


Make a Paper or Cork Boat and Sail it in a Creek

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper. Sail it or race it with others!

Got corks on hand? Make and enjoy a cork raft or cork sailboat.


Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. Yes, they provide endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, but bubbles–each a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas–sneakily illustrate a little science, too.  Read about bubble science here. Perhaps best of all, bubbles can be made using ingredients you probably have around the house. Take a bucket of mix to a park or lawn and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.


Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Although you could buy a canister of pick-up sticks at a toy or variety store, why not collect your own, at the park, for free? As a bonus, you’ll have fun hunting for good sticks, as well as playing with them. Here are directions for Pick-Up Sticks.


Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure was the first to harness the sun for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven. We like to make cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times. Try one of our favorites, Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Learn more about how to make a box oven and cook with the sun.


Whistle with a Blade of Grass

Parks are the perfect place to let time move a little more slowly than usual. Try your hand at some outdoor activities from a slower time that need only the equipment on hand and a little practice. Even, and perhaps especially, a modern child will enjoy the chance to whistle with a blade of grass, make a daisy chain, or skip a stone in a body of water.


Have a Scavenger Hunt or Make a Nature Bracelet

Whether you’re looking for wildflowers with five petals, red birds, or heart-shaped rocks, scavenger hunts get people of all ages exploring and observing in nature.

Nature bracelets also prove that simple is often best outdoors. Making them is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items. Like scavenger hunts, the hunt for nature bracelet items turns an outing into an adventure.


Gaze at the Stars

Outdoor fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. The nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars and exciting events like meteor showers, which happen often throughout the year. Many parks offer nighttime interpretive programs, and some U.S. national parks have been designated dark-sky parks, because of their excellent star-gazing conditions and educational opportunities.

You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.


Play Web of Life

This powerful group game teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it. Learn the rules to Web of Life.


Create Flower Fashions

The earliest May Day celebrations commemorated Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. Celebrate the spirit of Flora on May Day, Summer Solstice, Kids to Parks Day, or any time, by making lovely floral wreaths, crowns and baskets with materials found in a park or woods.


Finger Weave

Bring your art to the park! Finger weaving is especially portable. Every year, at our annual Girl Scout Camporee weekend, this simple, tactile craft occupied girls of all ages, who wove, chatted, and relaxed in nature.


Make S’Mores

If there’s a barbeque handy, consider firing it up and making everyone’s favorite camping treat, s’mores. The gooey creation has been pleasing people in parks since the first recipe was published in the 1927 Girl Scout handbook, Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.


Play Classic Outdoor Games

When’s the last time you got a group together in a park for some old-fashioned playground or lawn games? Kids to Parks Day, or any day, is a great time to revive your favorites or learn something new. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Duck Duck Goose, Mother/Father May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and the ever-popular Tag, in all its variations have been entertaining people around the world for decades. Here are the rules to these and other classic outdoor games. Try one in a park!

Prize Pack

Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the Buddy Bison Prize Pack Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16, you can enter my giveaway to receive a Buddy Bison Prize Pack.

The prize package consists of a “Buddy Bison” mascot stuffed animal, 2 National Geographic Books (National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks and National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.), a CamelBak BPA- and BPS-free reusable bottle, a T-shirt, and a NPT Park Activity Guide ($75 value.)

To enter, take the the Kids to Parks Day pledge and then leave a comment on this post, letting me know you took the pledge and sharing your favorite park activity by Friday, May 15, Midnight, PDT. The giveaway winner will be chosen by random name generator and notified by email. The giveaway winner must respond within 48 hours of receiving the email to receive the prize.

Update: Laura has won the giveaway and claimed her prize. Thank you all for participating. Hope you enjoy your outdoor time.

Still looking for more park activities? Download National Park Trust’s Park Activity Guide. Have fun this spring in a park!



These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (grass, night sky, web of life), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet), Virginia State Parks (classic games)

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

National Day of Service at our National Park
Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS
Camping Trip: California’s El Dorado National Forest
A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to Muir Woods








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