Coolest Back to School Items at School

I don’t want to go out physically shopping for the items on my kids’ school supply lists. Imagine Melisandre intoning “The summer is busy and full of errands” and you will understand exactly how I feel.

Rather, my kids and I can snuggle up together at home and choose all their necessary items for the 2017-2018 school year on School This site has everything we parents need to hunt down for our kids. The exact notebooks, paper, pencils, folders and more that your children’s teachers and schools have requested are all hanging out together on School Specialty.

School Specialty also has some exciting, innovative and out-of-the-box items for parents, teachers and students as we begin the new school year. I shared those favorite picks (with a little help from my daughter Eve) in our latest video.

I hope these idea bring some organization to your home and school parent life, some creativity to your teacher supply gifts and some creativity and fun for your own kids! And I hope you allow School Specialty to make your back to school supply shopping easy peasy. 

Washington Nationals’ Family Days on Sundays

We love attending a Washington Nationals baseball game as a family, but especially on Sundays! Home game Sundays at Nationals Park now throughout the regular season are official Family Days. There is a kid-friendly ticketing deal for families, Kids Run the Bases and a new Family Fun area, located inside the Right Field Gate.

On Sundays, kids 12 and under receive Nats Wiffle ball and bat sets at the end of the game, and this kids’ giveaway is in addition to the various other goodies offered to the first fans who arrive. This Sunday our kids received a Nationals coloring book set when they entered the stadium. Score!

Preschoolers through teens will love attending a Nats game. The rules are easy to follow. The players are iconic. Watching Bryce Harper at bat and Ryan Zimmerman score his 28th home run — the Washington, DC team record! — was exciting for all of us.

Of course, everyone adores those Racing Presidents. We loved watching them race (Abe won) and Teddy even hung in our section with kid fans!

When your child needs an any-inning stretch, the Family Fun area near the Right Field Gate is where to go. There is a jungle gym, Nats poster making station, inflatable t-ball game, a chalk art station, misting fan spray area, a wheel to spin for prizes and fun photo ops. When Alice got a little antsy after five innings, this area was the perfect chance for her to play with other kids.

The Harris Teeter Family Fun Pack is such a super deal on tickets and concessions. Available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the 2017 season, this pack includes a a game ticket, hot dog, chips and a Coca-Cola/Dasani beverage. You simply scan your ticket at any Nats Dog stand to redeem your concession items. You can choose from two pricing/seating area levels, but you will save $11.75 on every ticket. What a deal!

Sundays are the day for Kids Run the Bases after home games (weather permitting, subject to change), and Jr. Nats MVP Kids Club members get to be first in line. Jr Nats MVPs also receive a membership card and lanyard, ticket deals, coupon book and passport, MVP book bag, exclusive Jr. Nats Baseball Cap, MVP baseball seam bracelet, three Nationals team store coupons, a welcome or birthday scoreboard message, more Nats swag and a free meal at any Nats Dog Stand. All this good stuff in the Jr. Nats MVP Membership is just $20 for all fans ages 4-12!

And every DMV parent needs to sign their kids age 4-12 up for a Jr. Nats Rookie Membership — it’s totally free! Rookies receive a Membership Card and Lanyard, exclusive email offers, a newsletter and access to special meet and greet opportunities. It’s an easy, early step toward gaining #Natitude!

I encourage all DMV families to head to a Nats Family Day on a homegame Sunday. Check out the schedule for those Sunday home games and snag your Harris Teeter Family Fun Pack tickets on any home Friday, Saturday or Sunday game. We’ll meet you there!

We received family tickets for review (and Nats hats!). No additional compensation received.
All opinions, mine.

Feeding Birds, Not Children: Observe Classroom Routines when Looking for the Right Preschool


Today, I’ve asked mom of two and child development expert Kai-leé Berke to share some advice for parents looking for the right preschool. As CEO of Teaching Strategies, a Bethesda-based early childhood company that develops research-based curriculum and resources for educators, Kai-leé spends a lot of time in preschools and child care centers. In the post below, she offers up behaviors to pay attention to as you look for the right place for your child.  

Feeding Birds, Not Children: Observe Classroom Routines when Looking for the Right Preschool
by Kai-leé Berke
Special to A Parent in Silver Spring

When my son was a toddler, my husband and I began the daunting search for the right preschool for our family. I wanted to find a nationally accredited program, but at the time there weren’t too many of those within a reasonable driving distance. So, we decided to visit all programs within a five-mile radius of our home. Being a former teacher, I had a list of selection criteria that included things like quality of the curriculum and classroom materials; teacher-child ratios; and teacher qualifications.

On one particular program visit we happened to observe snack time in a toddler room. Two teachers were chatting with each other as the toddlers gathered, standing around a circular table. One of the teachers had a box of cereal in her hand. She reached her hand into the box, scooped up a handful of cereal and popped it into her mouth. Then, still talking to the other teacher, she reached her hand back into the box, scooped up another handful of cereal, and without looking at the children dropped it onto the table. The cereal scattered across the table and floor. The children scrambled to pick up the cereal and eat it. It looked like someone feeding a flock of birds, rather than a professional teacher caring for young children.

While I can never excuse such disrespectful treatment of young children, I do know that some teachers view routine times of day as boring, annoying, monotonous, time-wasting, or unpleasant. The same teacher who so carefully plans experiences for young children to create with art, enjoy stories and books or play with toys may put no thought into how she interacts with children during diapering, mealtimes or naptime.

Daily routines are one of the most important ways for teachers to put theory into practice. Nurturing routines support children’s overall social-emotional development. The way teachers handle routines can help children build trust and autonomy. Consistent, caring routines give children a sense of predictability about their day; this allows them to feel confident and in control of their emotions and behaviors. A teacher’s consistent and responsive care during routine times of day also helps children develop secure attachments with the important people in their lives. Those secure attachments lay the foundation for all of their future relationships. When you think of it that way, routines deserve a teacher’s time and attention.

A few years later, when we were in the process of looking for a preschool for our daughter, we remembered that experience. On each program visit, we made sure to spend time observing how teachers interact with children during routines. Are they treating routines as nurturing, learning experiences or as annoying times of the day to rush through? Do they smile at and talk to children while they change diapers? Do they treat children’s bodies with respect, explaining what they’re doing while they help children put on coats to go outside? Do they encourage relaxed, friendly conversation during mealtimes? Do they have soothing naptime rituals to help children relax before sleeping?

The quality of those interactions tells families more about overall program quality than classroom materials, ratios, and teacher qualifications ever can. They tell you how your child will be cared for; if he will always be treated with respect; and if he will enter the program each day believing that this is a place that he can trust full of people who will love him.

Kai-leé Berke is a lifelong early childhood educator, mother of two, and serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Teaching Strategies.

GIVEAWAY: Busch Gardens and Water Country USA Weekend Getaway!

Our family turned a free summer weekend into a majorly marvelous summer vacation, simply by hopping in the car and heading to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. We spent a full day at each park, spending one night in Williamsburg in between, and we created a season’s worth of amazing memories with our children.

Water Country USA is just a few miles down the road from Busch Gardens Williamsburg and these two parks are the perfect pair for your summer getaway. Water Country USA offers fun for the entire family in a cool beach vibe, with resort-style amenities and a great selection of water rides and attractions.

Busch Gardens has dozens of rides in an array of thrill levels, as well as incredible shows, fabulous food and drinks. The park is divided into different European country-themed areas, and each section has great food, rides for all levels and is uniquely picturesque. It is such a gorgeous park!

Our crew was able to enjoy both parks thanks to the 2 Park Flex Deal which allows you to enjoy both parks as often as you like for seven consecutive days through September 10th — which saves you $50 or more per ticket! We used the Busch Gardens Vacation Planner to put together our fab mini break itinerary and make the most of our two day trip.

We opted for Busch Gardens as our first stop, arriving just as the park opened at 10 a.m. on Friday. We did not overheat thanks to Busch Garden’s very shaded campus. We also made sure to hit all of the sprayground areas (Alice and Eve are pictured above in the Land of the Dragons Brook Play Area with water buckets and jets) and water rides, which all five our family members enjoyed for both the easy thrills and the cooling splashes.

Another awesome aspect of Busch Gardens is their big selection of KIDSiderate (kiddie) rides and animal exhibits. Toddlers and preschoolers will have their own thrills and never be bored. We saw the wolf pack playing and receiving treats from their zoo keepers, admired the bald eagles and got to pet and greet the iconic Clydesdale horses.

During the hottest times of the afternoon, our entire family enjoyed the truly entertaining shows at Busch Gardens. Our family favorites are Pet Shenanigans – featuring hilarious and highly-trained rescue animals, Celtic Fyre with top notch Irish dancing and singing, and Britmania’s ’60’s British rock Broadway-style revue. There is also All For One, a Musketeers swashbuckling spectacular in the Busch Gardens open-air Royal Palace Theatre.

Our teen, tween and the parents enjoyed taking shifts on the thrill rides. We rode the brand new and newly-opened InvadR – the new wooden coaster, an awesome addition to Busch Garden’s collection of world-class coasters. This ride is so exciting, but it is very smooth and does not invert, so this was a favorite with our cautious 11 year old as well as the hard-core thrill seekers in our group.

The wild coasters were a hit with our 13 year old, and the parents took turns accompanying him on the take-your-breath-away Alpengeist, Apollo’s Chariot, Tempesto and more.

Thankfully, my stomach always recovered just in time for another libation or treat.

Although we were not able to make it through to the summer evening fireworks, after a full day of fun we checked in to our family resort hotel, the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. There the kids loved the salt water pool, the big splash pad and complimentary mini golf.

We had a wonderful meal at the on-site Huzzah’s Eatery, where Chris and I ordered wine and fresh seafood while the kids crafted their own pizzas to be fired in the pizza oven. The next morning’s breakfast buffet was included for all hotel guests, and the kids chowed down on fruit, bacon and Belgian waffles.

Saturday, our second day in Williamsburg and included in our 2 Park Flex Deal, was all about the swimsuit-clad adventures at Water Country USA. Due to the nature of walking around in my suit all day without a pocket or a magically waterproof iPhone, I was not able to capture as many original photos to show you. Here’s my last one, snapped by Chris at the Surfers Bay Wave Pool that was our family’s “home base” at the park, before putting the camera away.

But the kids LOVED that Mom and Dad were not able to access our phones! With our lifelines to work and parent photography stashed safely in a locker, we gave Charlie, Eve and Alice our complete and undivided attention as we hurtled down slide after slide with them. Hitting a water park with the kids means you have completely unplugged time with them, which is rare and a bonding treat for everyone.

There are more than 20 different slides or water activities at Water Country USA. Unlike other amusement parks that may have simply a small water slide section, Water Country USA is huge and completely dedicated to water-centric fun.

Our favorites included racing each other as a family down the Nitro Racer, cruising in pairs down the Malibu Pipeline, and watching Charlie brave the big drop of Vanish Point. Colossal Curl, the newest thrill raft ride, is brand new and so exciting! The ride starts with a funnel feature that swishes and swirls your raft of up to four people, before whisking you through the ride’s enclosed colorful tubes on to a wave element high above the park.

All five members of our family had a completely glorious time at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. And the folks at the parks would love to invite YOU to experience it too! One lucky A Parent in Silver Spring reader will win a family vacation including….

  • Four (4) 2 Park Flex tickets for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA

  • One hotel room night’s stay at a Busch Gardens partner hotel (exact location TBD based upon date of travel)

  • One parking pass

This prize is valid to be redeemed through September 10, 2017. One winner will be randomly drawn through all forms of entry in the entry form below. Enter multiple ways to increase your chances of winning! 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Vacation!

Disclosure: My family and I received the same items for review as included in the giveaway package: park tickets, one night hotel stay and a parking pass. All meals and other expenses covered by me. All opinions are mine. 

The Aquabats Concert at the Fillmore Silver Spring + Giveaway


The AQUABATS! are a band of costume-clad crime fighters who “battle all things lame in the pursuit of ultimate radness” and produce some very entertaining and kid-friendly rock and roll, as well as a wacky TV show you can catch on Netflix and Hulu. These five singing superheroes are bringing their celebrated family rock show to The Fillmore Silver Spring on Friday evening!

The AQUABATS! are led by the fearless MC Bat Commander (Christian Jacobs, co-creator of the hit children’s television series Yo Gabba Gabba!) and their new album features guest vocals from Biz Markie, Strong Bad and more. Check out some of their songs and videos here.

The AQUABATS! at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Friday, July 21 

Get Tickets! 

Door time: 6:00 PM

Show time: 7:00 PM

Support Acts: Reggie and the Full Effect, CJ Ramone

Premium Services: Want to skip the line, get in early, or reserve a seat in advance? Call Matt Harris at 301-960-1912 to learn about your options!

Enter to win 4 free tickets to the show, thanks to The Fillmore Silver Spring! One winner will be randomly drawn from all forms of entry.

The AQUABATS Giveaway for 7/21/17 Fillmore Silver Spring Show

Badlands Playspace Rockville Rocks!

The most beautiful open gym and playspace my family and I have ever visited in the DMV is – hands down! – the new Badlands Playspace on Randolph Road in Rockville. This nature-inspired play space and interactive environment was designed with the goal of creating an interactive environment where “children can take risks, succeed at challenging themselves, and find their own way.”

Targeted to children ages 2-13, Badlands offers many diverse areas for learning and play. The focal point of the space is the massive kid-friendly, climb-friendly rock structures. Is there anything kids love more than climbing big rocks? And these safe man made structures have tunnels, bridges, ropes and slides! Badlands staff carefully instructs kids in an orientation session about safe climbing play.

No, that is not a Dwell magazine spread. Those are the Badlands Event Pavilions! These gorgeous rooms can host your Badlands birthdays, celebrations, group crafting sessions or other creative events.

At Badlands, founders Mikel and David Blair have thought of everything. There is a cafe with healthy snacks, coffee and even libations for parents! A butterfly garden. A maker room with numerous centers for building, crafting, making art and conducting science experiments. A field games area. A screening room. And all of these centers are just gorgeous to behold.

Taking your kids to this family-focused, education-rich space is a summer must do! Daily admission is $22.50 for kids 3+ and $12.50 for toddlers under age 3.

Activities and Cool New Products for a Hot 4th of July

Our family’s favorite 4th of July fun (not on the National Mall because we are officially too old for the long lines for the Metro home)…

July 1st: SummerFest at Bohrer Park, Gaithersburg

July 1st: Free Concert by the US Navy Band The Commodores at Black Rock Center for the Arts

July 4th: Takoma Park Independence Day Parade and Fireworks

July 4th: Kensington Children’s Bike Parade

July 4th: Palisades DC Parade and Picnic 

July 4th: Mid-County Sparkles at Einstein High School, Kensington

July 4th: Rockville Fireworks at King Farm

July 4th: Germantown Glory Fireworks at South Germantown Recreational Park

July 4th: Poolesville Festival and Fireworks

And for the brave and high energy: 4th of July on the National Mall Official

My favorite 4th of July party products, as discussed on Saturday’s Fox 5 DC Morning show…

VIVA XXXII Tequila is crafted so you can savor, priced so you can indulge! These affordable premium tequilas from VIVA XXXII also raise money for animal abuse prevention. Both the Joven and the Reposado tequilas are great for your fav 4th of July margaritas, of course, but the flavorful, pure tequilas are designed to be sipped on their own, no mixer required.

Nomadic State of Mind JC USA red, white and blue sandals are made from recycled and reused rope and are hand-crafted. They elevate and add interest to your 4th of July ensemble and work with casual and dressier looks.

ion8 Ulimate 2 water bottles are 100 percent leak proof and non-toxic. I love the one-touch flip top for easy hydration, and then it locks when you need no leaks on the go! The red, white and blue colors are patriotic year-round and of course, perfect for 4th of July

DynaTrap is a chemical- and pesticide-free, affordable, easy to maintain, environmentally friendly and effective insect trap. DynaTrap uses UV light and CO 2 (which mosquitoes find irresistible) to mimic human beings and maximize predatory insect attraction. Its strong yet silent fan then vacuums the insects into a retaining cage. Just plug and hang and run 24/7 during mosquito season to disrupt the mosquito life-cycle with maximum impact in 6-8 weeks.

Tervis currently offers tumblers in numerous sizes, water bottles, sippy cups and wine glasses, 1000s of original and licensed designs and emblems and a full complement of accessories. The Made in the USA patriotic designs help you show your country’s pride year-round and on Independence Day.

Culkin School of Irish Dance Summer Camp in July and August

Looking for a summer camp for your kid? Interested in learning Irish dancing, for boys and girls? The Culkin School of Irish Dance has teamed up with Glen Echo to offer an enriched series of summer camps for your Irish Dancer. The Culkin School offers summer camps for experienced Culkin dancers and for new-time beginner dancers who would like to give Irish dancing a try. Camps are held at Glen Echo Park, an historic landmark, geared to the arts.

Beginning Irish Dance: Footworks and Figures 10am-12pm for ages 6-10 
Sessions: July 17-21, July 24-28, July 31-Aug 4, Aug 7-11 

If you are brand new to Irish dance, a  current ‘Mini-Mester’ dancer, an afterschool program dancer, this is the class for you. This is a one-week, introductory class; through a series of figure (group) dances, students will learn the basics of Irish dance and music – no experience necessary! If you are interested in our Beginning Irish Dance: Footworks and Figures, click here to register!

Culkin Pre-Camp 8am-10am for ages 6 and up 
Sessions: July 10-14, July 17-21, July 24-28, July 31-Aug 4, Aug 7-11

For Culkin dancers who are enrolled in morning camps, we make it easy to extend your dancer’s day! Join us from 8am-10am for a supervised, relaxed Irish Dance Pre-Camp experience. Fun activities for all ages. It’s easy to enjoy a true summer camp experience at Glen Echo Park with Culkin. Click here to register!

Lunch Bunch 12-1pm 

Join the supervised “lunch bunch” in the Praline Café in the Spanish Ballroom until 1pm and experience a full-day camp experience. This option has a daily rate. Contact the Culkin school to set this up. And if you coordinate an afternoon camp at Glen Echo Park

Is your child a Current Culkin school dancer and or an experienced Irish dancer? Check out these other Culkin summer camp offerings for the experienced. 

A Parent in Silver Spring is a personal friend of the Culkin School founds and owners Sean and Denise Culkin and recommends their camps and classes. 

Imagination Stage’s Wonderland: Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure

This Saturday, I took my daughter Alice to see a rocking take on her her literary namesake at Imagination Stage. In Wonderland: Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure, Alice follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland where all of the familiar characters have been transformed into live musicians. Both my six-year-old and I adore the imaginative, modern musical based upon the classic story.

The writers have successfully translated Carroll’s irrational Wonderland to our own times and added lyrics and a beat that will make you want to twist and shout. The Mad Hatter and March Hare are scathingly funny, the Caterpillar is zen (but testy!), the Cheshire Cat is funky cool and all of the Wonderland characters have musical numbers to match their style.

Actor Erin Weaver, who I had previously adored as Marianne Dashwood in the Folger Theater’s Sense and Sensibility last fall, was an amazing Alice. She conveyed spunk and intelligence that my own little Alice identified with, and her singing was awesome. All of the cast were incredible vocalists and musicians, giving us a kid-friendly rock opera that was top notch theater. After the show, we enjoyed meeting the cast. Check out my Alice with Matthew Alan Ward, the Mad Hatter himself.

You have to see the show! Wonderland is playing now through August 13 at Imagination Stage. Get tickets.

I received two press passes for review. No additional compensation received. 

Perfect 4th of July Weekend Staycation: Gaylord National Resort SummerFest

Seeking to go somewhere fabulous with the family for 4th of July weekend, but want to skip the excruciating holiday traffic? Head to our family’s go-to vacation spot right in the DMV, Gaylord National Resort, for a SummerFest staycation!

Gaylord National Resort is offering reduced room rates June 30 through July 7, which allow you to book a night for as low as $129! There is also the amazing SummerFest package that starts at $299 but include big savings that make that weekend getaway more affordable: a $100 resort credit to use for the on-site restaurants and spa, two tickets to The Capital Wheel and free parking!

Why our crew loves a stay at the Gaylord National Resort in summer: 

Aquafina Summer Movie Matinees: Overnight guests enjoy musical movie magic by the pool during Gaylord National’s Summer Movie Matinees featuring films that include Sing, National Treasure and Moana. The indoor/outdoor pool and splash pad has the movies, kid-friendly pool and fountains for the kids, and a full bar and lots of lounge chairs for mom and dad.

Music Mystery Scavenger Hunt: This free activity encourages guests to search for hidden musical notes throughout the Gaylord resort’s atrium. Upon finding all the notes, guests can decode a song title and enter to win an overnight stay.

Awesome Restaurants: From a big brunch buffet to National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill with its Extraordinary Kids Menu, the dining at Gaylord National Resort is top notch for all ages.

Americana: The nightly atrium laser light show at takes place in the resort’s garden atrium to celebrate the music of America throughout the ages. During the show, viewers experience samples of some of America’s favorite tunes choreographed with a laser light show and dancing water from the resorts signature fountain.

More Fun at National Harbor: There are so many fun activities for families at National Harbor — check out our favorites in this post!  We also love the Urban Pirates National Harbor Cruise, check that link for our review.

And if you are considering a couple’s getaway or date night at National Harbor, check out these offerings at Gaylord National Resort: 

Sips and Sounds: Belvedere Lobby Bar on Friday July 1 – Visitors to Gaylord National can unwind with drinks, live music and breathtaking sunsets overlooking the Potomac River with music performances range from Jazz, Adult Contemporary, R&B and more.

Silent Disco Party: Pose Rooftop Lounge, July 1, 2 and 3 – Resort guests can experience the coolest new way to enjoy music at the resort’s 18th floor rooftop lounge. Participants are given special headphones to wear and can select different music mixes created by a DJ to dance along to. This is for guests 21+.

Happy summer!