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Activities To Teach “Thankfulness”

It’s the holiday season! What better time is there to teach and encourage thankfulness within your home or classroom. Kids and particularly preschool aged children are notoriously known for being self-centered. Thankfulness, empathy and sharing are all skills that crucial to nixing that preschool aged egocentric behavior, but these are also skills that aren’t inherent, they need to be taught and fostered.

Teaching a child how to be thankful doesn’t only result in a child with good manners, but a child who is thankful tends to be happier, more content and less stressed and depressed. Personally, I can say that is true as I feel much happier when I make a conscience effort to be thankful for all my blessings instead of focusing on all the challenges I’m facing.

So, what can you do at home or within the classroom to foster thankfulness in young kids? Below are five simple and fun activities that you can do with your children. While truly being thankful and understanding thankfulness takes years and repetition, it’s never too early to start!

As I mentioned before, toddlers and preschoolers are egocentric but children as young as 18 months can begin to grasp the concept of thankfulness. Age 2 and older can talk about specific objects or people to be thankful for – my mommy, my football, and so on. Age 4 and older understand being thankful not only for material things like toys or food but for acts of kindness, love, and caring. Take a look below and find an activity or two and book that works for your family. Have fun and Happy Holidays!

5 Activities to Teach Thankfulness

  1. Create a Thankful List- Talking about what your child is grateful each day is a great way to get your child thinking about the good parts of their day. Create a homemade journal (staple paper together to form a book) and have younger child dictate to you what they are thankful for at the end of each day and write it down for them. Older children of course can write it down themselves. If keeping a journal isn’t for your family, try Post-It notes! Have each family member share what they are thankful for and write on Post-It and place on a mirror window etc…Try and make sharing these thankful thoughts a habit and do at consistent times- at breakfast, dinnertime or before bed.
  1. Make Personalized Thank You Notes- Create homemade thank you postcards; this is a great snowy day project! Gather blank 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 index cards and have child “draw” or “scribble” pictures on one side of a to make thank you postcards. An adult can write on the other side a thank you message to the receiver. Just draw a line down the middle of the back of the card using one side for the message and the other side for address and stamp. By having these cards ready to go, it is easy to quickly send a thank you. Sit down with your child along with paper and crayons, to create a picture to give to say “Thank You”. This will lead to an older child naturally knowing to write a thank you note for not only material gifts but for acts of kindness too.
  1. Participate in a Service Project- Participating in an event with your whole family to help someone else makes you thankful for what you have. Perhaps a Canned Food Drive is happening at your church or school. In our city volunteering in food banks and soup kitchens, providing supplies for Homeless shelters, checking in on a Senior citizen, helping at an animal shelter, are just some of the opportunities. Go to volunteer match.org and type in your city to find a way to volunteer. For young children, filling and decorating a shoebox of needed items for a child can help them become aware that not all children have toys, food, or clothes. Shopping and packing the box while chatting about how grateful we are to be able to share with others helps a child to feel like he is contributing. Check out samaritanspurse.org or Military Moms Prayer Group Thank You Package for more information.
  1. Thankfulness Holiday Chain- Remember those red and green paper chains we would made as kids using construction paper about 1 inch wide and 5 inches long that we would glue together in circles and place on the Christmas tree? Make a “Thankfulness Chain” by cutting 1inch by 5inch strips out o construction paper or even old newspaper. Write something you and your child are thankful for on each piece and then see how long you can make your chain by looping circle through previous circle and tape or staple shut. You can also purchase Pre-Cut Christmas Paper Chain strips on Amazon if you don’t want to cut your own.
  1. Donate! Old toys in good shape can be a source of joy to someone else, and out grown clothing can be used by another family. Allowing your child to select a toy or outfit to share with others, is another way for you to share how thankful we are that our family has clothes and toys. Explain in an age-appropriate way that there are people who do not have toys, clothes, or food for numerous reasons – they are sick and can’t work, they live in area of the world that has no water to grow food, etc.

Books: check with your local library

  1. “How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath
  2. “The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful” by Colleen Coble.
  3. “Bear Says Thanks” by Karma Wilson

Elissa Sungar is the Co-Creator of If Not You, Who?  a free website that offers easy and fun in-home educational activities that help prepare children for kindergarten and life and has a 1.5 year old son!  Her passion for early childhood education grew out of her experience as a pre-school teacher at Stanford University’s Bing24 Nursery School. Elissa loves spending time with her family, hiking, running, tennis, yoga, cute workout clothes, good cheese, great baked goods and exploring Denver!   Twitter: @ElissaINYW

Your Guide to Celebrating Easter and Spring in Denver

When I was growing up, Easter meant that the crocuses were in bloom and we were going to look for a new dress to wear to mass and brunch on Easter Sunday. What I looked forward to the most, however, was the scavenger hunt my father put on for us, with challenging clues we had to answer to move on to our next treasure. And the fact that spring had arrived.

In the Christian faith, all over the world, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This celebration merged with pagan beliefs in 15th century Germany. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. When German immigrants settled in the United States, they brought with them their Easter holiday traditions, which included the pagan rabbit hiding eggs in the garden.

In Denver, there are many fun ways to celebrate this important religious holiday with your family, whether to honor Christ, the pagan Eostra or merely, the coming of spring. Here are our top ten ideas:

1) Perform acts of kindness by celebrating Easter through community service. The Food Bank of the Rockies has a simple campaign: For every social media Easter post that includes #CEPGiving, CEP will donate a dozen eggs, up to 25,000 dozen, to Feeding Colorado food banks. Or volunteer with your family at the Bannock Youth Center’s Easter celebration for at-risk youth on April 4, 2015. The Colfax Community Network, Metro CareRing and others are always looking for food, toiletries, clothing and more. Check out their websites and make a plan with your family. You may want to clean out your closets for spring or call to see if they will accept Easter baskets for the children who come through their doors.

bunny2) Swim and dine with the Easter Bunny? Get some Spring shopping done and have an Easter Bunny Breakfast on Friday, April 3 at the Outlets at Castle Rock. Kids will stay busy with crafts, activities and admission is free but a canned food donation is appreciated. The Downtown Aquarium will host Easter breakfast with the Easter Bunny on April 4, 2015 (reservations are required). On April 5, the Easter Brunch will feature delicious buffet items, Easter egg hunts and photos with the Easter bunny.

3) Get inspired at sunrise. Unique to Colorado, you can attend the Sunrise Easter Service at Red Rocks on Sunday, April 5, 2015. Gates open at 4:30 a.m. The non-denominational service is open to all and is a wonderful way to celebrate.

4) Every holiday is an excuse to read with your children. Great books for Easter include: E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core by William Joyce (chapter book), Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, My First Easter by Tomie dePaola (for the youngest in the family) and Petook: An Easter Story by Caryll Houselander.

5) Throw a Cascarones Party. After a visit to Houston, our family now celebrates an Easter tradition celebrated there and adopted from Mexico. Cascarones are colorful, hollowed-out eggs filled with confetti. To celebrate Easter, friends throw the eggs or crush them over each other’s heads, showering each other with confetti. Having a cascaron broken over your head is supposed to bring you good luck. Be warned, while this is a huge hit with the kids, you will be picking up eggshells and confetti in your yard for the rest of the year. (You can purchase them online or turn it into a craft project.)

Colorado's largest Easter egg hunt at Copper Mountain

Colorado’s largest Easter egg hunt at Copper Mountain

6) Take in spring with a family walk through a park, open space, Hudson Gardens (free admission year-round) or around the 3-acre Mordecai Children’s Garden at the Botanic Gardens.

7) Be quick like a bunny and run in the Bunny Bolt (5K or 10K) in City Park on April 4, 2015  The event includes an Easter Egg Hunt for the golden egg, along with more eggs hidden along the race route, as well as face-painting, balloons, the Easter Bunny, and prizes. (http://www.runningguru.com/EventInformation.asp?eID=4755)

8) Hop along the bunny trail at the Children’s Museum. The Museum will host its annual “Bunny Trail EggVenture” on April 4 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Young children will enjoy dying eggs and creating fun Easter-themed crafts. Also, all aboard the Bunny Express Train on April 4 at the Colorado Railroad Museum where the Easter Bunny and Spike the Railyard Hound will be on-hand with special spring treats. 

9) Head up to the mountains for Colorado’s largest Easter egg hunt. For those EGGstreme youngsters 7-11 years old, check out Copper Mountain’s Center Village Egg Hunt with 65,000 eggs on April 4 at 10 a.m. Don’t worry big kids, there will be few special “Copper Eggs” for you to find hidden on the mountain. And little bitty peeps have their very own hunt around Copper’s Climbing Wall at 11 a.m. Get a photo with the Easter Bunny at at West Lake in Center Village. They’ll have tons of EGGcellent prizes and a Noon Egg Decorating party with all of your leftover treasure. P.S. If your kids (ages 6-14) want a real adventure, sign them up  for the Kids Adventure Games Winter Edition on April 5 in Breckenridge.

10) Decorate a flowerpot and then plant vegetable or flower seeds. A spring does not go by in our house without at least one attempt (many failed) at growing grass, pumpkins, or flowers in a paper cup. It is fun to watch the kids peek at them every morning to see if anything has sprouted.

And, of course, there are a number of Easter egg hunts so be sure to go here for a comprehensive list.

Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Denver’s Epic Escape Game is a Rush of Frantic, Creative Family Fun

When my 14-year-old son unlocked the door allowing us to escape with a mere 12 seconds left, it was such an incredible rush I half-expected someone to present a cardboard check to us for one million dollars. It’s okay that didn’t happen. The rush of beating a room at Denver’s Epic Escape Game was reward in itself. We had just spent the past hour working together solving multiple puzzles to unravel a mystery and it was a total blast.

Escape game houses and rooms are opening up around the nation, first springing up on the coasts. Now, Denver has several options for families to explore. The idea behind the craze is simple: Families, coworkers, friends, and even strangers must work together as a team to escape a themed room within a certain time limit. The rooms are packed with puzzles and challenges that require quick-thinking, wit, trivia knowledge, skill, and maybe a bit of daring. As you gather clues, you come closer to escaping the locked room as a timer ticks.

epicescapegamedenver_1But don’t worry! If you don’t escape, you won’t find yourself in suspended animation. You’ll be let out. There is no penalty for not escaping other than holding up silly signs for photos when you’re through. If you do escape, not only will you find your team dancing and screaming, you’ll earn the right to brag, hold triumphant signs for photo ops, and strut through the rest of your day high-fiving each other.

Epic Escape Game Denver is very family friendly. It’s situated in a historic brick Victorian near downtown Denver. The atmosphere naturally lends itself to mystery. The house has five themed rooms of varying difficulty. The owners, Ron Subaba and Michelle Fleming, created, built, and assembled every puzzle and clue. It’s a true labor of love. You can tell they not only love this form of gaming, they deeply respect the art and science of solving puzzles and problems. They are very nice, friendly, and tons of fun.

For our Epic Escape Game experience, we chose the “The Grand Theater presenting: The Mustache Thief” room, which was rated moderately difficult. I cannot (and will not!) give away spoilers regarding the room or the clues we gathered, but it was thoughtfully done with the perfect mix of challenges for families with older kids. The owners of Epic Escape Games recommend ages 12 and up for most of the rooms. Players should possess the ability to deduce, think, remember, search, and work together. The beauty of our hour looking for the Mustache Thief’s prized tool of the trade was that everyone possesses different problem solving strengths.

The easiest room at Epic Escape Game is “Toys in the Attic” which is fittingly located on the top floor of the Victorian house. It is geared toward families with younger children. The puzzles and games naturally require teamwork. Imagine how fun and cool it would be watching your elementary school kids solve their way out with your helpful encouragement.

The “Pikes Peak or Bust: Colorado’s Gold Rush” is themed as a mountain cabin. It’s the most difficult room at Epic Escape Game, incorporating local history in a nod to Colorado’s storied pioneer past. As of now, it only has a 17% escape rate. Even if you don’t escape, imagine how much bigger your brain will be when you’re done.

“Dorm of the Dead” brings together zombies and college. Can you make it from the chemistry lab to your dorm room using your mad skills in this moderate to difficult room? Or will you be Zombie Chow? (actual zombies present only in your imagination)

Finally, “The Other Side” is the spookiest escape room and also in the running for most challenging with a 10% escape rate. But don’t look at those numbers as reason to not try. You can do it! Look at them as something to rock with your loved ones, friends, or coworkers.

One of the nicest features at Epic Escape Games is that if you are truly stuck, help is near. Every team can request up to two clues over a walkie-talkie linked with a control room. Additionally, simple hints and suggestions are given on the countdown screen. These don’t wreck the game or lessen the challenge. In our room, they served as reminders.

I highly recommend Epic Escape Games as a unique, fast-paced, exhilarating family outing. Teamwork is not only encouraged, it is necessary. We would have never escaped if we didn’t work together and delegate as well. I suppose you can teach teamwork by having everyone clean out a garage together, but I promise this is much more fun!

Rooms can accommodate up to eight people. It would be a fun mom’s night out, a couples date night, a work outing, or even a birthday party. They have space for parties, including a kitchen where you can stash food while you play.

To book your room or for more information regarding pricing, hours, FAQs, and location, visit Epic Escape Game. The prices are comparable to a night out at the movies with popcorn and drinks for everyone with rates fluctuating depending on when you visit.

(Epic Escape Game hosted my family and friends to try to beat a room for purposes of review. The opinions are solely mine and my fellow teammates’.)

Spring Break in Denver 2014–Over 50 Activities Featured!

Staying in Denver for Spring Break? No need to dismay! Whether you want to hunker down indoors, get outside or explore something new, we have you covered with these fabulous Spring Break offerings, categorized by geographic area.

Be sure to also check-out Top 10 Family Vacation Ideas for Spring Break in Colorado 2014.

CENTRAL DENVER

  • Denver Museum of Nature & Science–The big news at Denver’s favorite natural history and science museum is the brand new addition on the Museum’s south side has added 126,000 square feet and five levels of discovery to the Museum, providing even more space to engage, delight, and spark your imagination. Be sure to also check-out the new exhibit Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed (Feb. 14-Aug. 24, 2014.
  • Mizel Museum

    Mizel Museum

    Mizel Museum. Rooted in Jewish values that have universal relevance, the Mizel Museum is a gem tucked away in a residential area in Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood. Kids will love their interactive road map as they journey along the 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks. They’ll learn about art, artifacts and digital media that narrates and illuminates Jewish history and culture.

  • Botanic Gardens  – These top-ranked U.S. botanical gardens offers spectacular garden displays, outdoor art exhibits, gardening classes and workshops at two great locations–Chatfield and Denver.
  • The Denver Firefighters Museum (downtown) – The Museum offers not only outstanding exhibits on the history of fire fighting in Denver focusing on the Denver Fire Department, but innovative and exciting hands-on activities that allow visitors to interact with the traditional exhibits
  • History Colorado Center–This entirely new $110 million experiential museum makes Colorado history fun and has exciting new workshops and exhibits including Living West. This groundbreaking new 7,000-square-foot exhibit explores the living dynamics between the people of Colorado and their state’s extraordinary environment.
  • United States Mint Tour (downtown) – Discover how our currency is made and take home a souvenir – FREE. Reservations are required for the 45-minute tours that are run every 90 minutes.
  • Molly Brown House Museum (downtown) – Learn about the life and times of “Unsinkable” Molly Brown in her restored Victorian home in Denver, Colorado. This is one of the most visited historic sites in the state of Colorado, and one of only a handful of sites nationally dedicated to the interpretation of a woman’s story. Admission to the Molly Brown House Museum is by guided tour only.
  • Denver Art Museum (downtown) – Each spring we have a themed break that allows the whole gang to make art in the galleries, work alongside artists, and check out Family Backpacks from the Family Activity Cart. Kids 18 and younger receive free general admission.
  • Children’s Museum of Denver. The Children’s Museum of Denver is all about children and their grown-ups learning through play. With interactive exhibits, year-round special events and daily educational programming, there is always something fun and exciting to do.

NORTH

  • Wild Animal Sanctuary

    Wild Animal Sanctuary

    Wild Animal Sanctuary (Keenesburg) -The 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary opened the Mile into the Wild Walkway, a mile-long path 20 feet above the ground that provides visitors with unprecedented views of more than 290 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other large carnivores.

  • Mid-air Adventures. Mid-Air Adventures offers a safe, active and unique experience for guests of all ages. Our 12,000 sq. ft. facility offers giant swings, zip lines, 20’ climbing wall, rope bridges, slides and a toddler area.
  • Hammonds Candy Factory Tour (Denver) – Hammond’s complimentary candy factory tours are fun and educational for candy lovers of all ages. Hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe have seen how our famous, handcrafted candy canes, ribbon candy, and lollipops are pulled, twisted, and shaped by hand. No reservations are required for small groups.
  • WOW Children’s Museum (Lafeyette)–This interactive museum educates children in the areas of arts, sciences and life. March 25-27, join them for NanoDays as they explore how to make things invisible, investigate new nano products and materials, make nano crafts to keep, and launch nano particles with an air cannon.
  • Butterfly Pavilion (Westminster) – Home to over 5,000 animals including Rosie the tarantula and a tropical forest where 1,600 butterflies rule the sky. They offer a daily spring break camp.
  • Go hiking. There are so many beautiful hikes in the Boulder area and my favorites are at Chautauqua Open Space Park. Be sure to stop in the Ranger’s Cottage for interactive fun or eat at the historic Dining Hall. For here for more Boulder hiking ideas.
  • Louisville Community Park is a park that has it all. There is a grassy area for the kids to run free in, spray grounds to cool off in the summer, a large sandbox, playground and even a dog park with swim beach to watch the pooches play.
  • Boondocks Fun Center (Northglenn)–This 8-acre indoor/outdoor amusement center offers everything from bumper boats to laser tag to a Kiddie Cove to batting cages.
  • Greeley Freight Station Museum: Examine intricate model railroad layouts, a wooden caboose from the Colorado and Southern Railroad and more than 1,000 railroad artifacts. See actual trains come and go on nearby tracks.
  • Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge (Commerce City)–Located 10 minutes from downtown Denver, this 17,000-acre refuge is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the United States. It consists of open lakes, wetlands, prairie grasslands, and woodlands and an excellent hands-on visitor’s center.

SOUTH

  • Hudson Gardens (Littleton) – The Hudson Gardens’ 30 acres non-profit botanical gardens are located along the bank of the South Platte River. Admission is free every day.
  • Westlands Park (Greenwood Village) – The Westlands playground includes three play areas sized for toddlers to teens. There are two large climbing structures which satisfy both the technical climber as well as the inexperienced child. In addition to the main play area, there are three multi-use playing fields, an in-line hockey rink, a natural water sculpture, a pond and a hike / bike trail.
  • Jumpstreet Indoor Trampoline Park (Littleton, Lakewood, Greenwood Village) – Wall-to-wall trampolines provide fun, indoor exercise and a perfect outlet for inclement weather days.
  • Carson Nature Center

    Carson Nature Center

    Jungle Quest (Littleton). Exciting Indoor Ziplines, Huge Safari Swing, 20-foot High Rock Climbing Wall, Swinging Cargo Net, Burma Bridges, Treehouse and Slides and Jungle Caves –for Kids 5 and up.

  • Carson Nature Center (Littleton)–South Platte Park has over 880 acres of open space along the South Platte River with five lakes open to fishing, 2.5 miles of the South Platte River and the Mary Carter Greenway for walking and biking, nearly 4 miles of natural surface trails, and the Carson Nature Center and classroom.
  • Lollipop Park (Centennial)–This indoor children’s amusement park is located inside the Family Sports Center and offers a carousel, bounce castles, train ride, small Ferris wheel, teacup ride and more.
  • Great Play (Highlands Ranch)–This unique gym for kids 6 months-10 years old makes it fun while developing motor skills, sport skills, fitness and coordination in their patented Interactive Arena.
  • Fun City (Littleton)–Fun City is the largest indoor entertainment facility in the Denver metro area with 144,000 square feet of fun including Little City, the Foam Factory, Minature Golf, Laser Jam and Grand Prix.
  • Robert F. Clement Park (Littleton)–Clement Park is set on a 60-acre lake with a 1.4-mile walking path around it, tennis course, baseball fields, batting cages, multi-purpose fields, horseshoe pits and three separate playgrounds.
  • Littleton Museum. Located on 39 acres, this free museum consists of two living history farms (one from the 1860’s and one from the 1890’s), a small lake, a collections center, and a main exhibition and administration building.

EAST

  • Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum (Denver) –An extensive collection of aircraft and related aviation and military exhibits preserving the history of the service men and women who served at Lowry Airforce Base. There are more than three dozen aircrafts on display in this 44,000-square foot space.
  • Wildlife Experience

    Wildlife Experience

    Wildlife Experience (Parker) – The Wildlife Experience is a wildlife conservation museum featuring natural history, fine art and film. On March 29,  take your little royal to the First Annual Princess Tea Party and Family Film Night featuring Cinderella with a tea party, crafts, games and feature presentation of Cinderella in the Extreme Theater. Attendees will be able to tour the museum as well as have a photo opportunity with a live princess!

  • Monkey Bizness (Centennial, Denver, Lone Tree) -You’ll find interactive inflatables, play structures, climbing walls, and games of all shapes and sizes. There is a separate section just for toddlers with their own play equipment.
  • Morrison Nature Center at Star K Ranch (Aurora). Star K Ranch “regulars” include mule deer, painted turtles, snapping turtles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, western meadowlarks, great horned owls, and blue jays. Costumes, blocks, puppets, kids’ books, and live animal exhibits make Morrison Nature Center a great place for kids.
  • Plains Conservation Center (Aurora)–The Plains Conservation Center is an outdoor education facility and state-designated natural area that educates children about Colorado’s eco-history, and nurture conservation efforts. Go here for their regular events.

 WEST

  • Dinosaur Ridge (Morrison) – Part of the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark, Dinosaur Ridge area is one of the world’s most famous dinosaur fossil localities. Enjoy exhibits, a shuttle tour, and real dinosaur tracks. They are also offering a Spring Break camp for kids ages 6-12 at the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center.
  • Majestic View Nature Center (Arvada)–Majestic View Nature Center and Community Park has more than majestic views–The 3,000- square foot Nature Center features hands-on nature and environmental displays, wildlife exhibits, a kid’s area, classrooms and meeting space.
  • Apex Center

    Apex Center

    Big Time Trampoline (Arvada)Majestic View Nature Center (Arvada)–Majestic View Nature Center and Community Park has more than majestic views–The 3,000- square foot Nature Center features hands-on nature and environmental displays, wildlife exhibits, a kid’s area, classrooms and meeting space.With 27,000-square feet of interactive fun, kids of all ages love the 50 feet of floor-level trampolines lined to a giant foam pit with rope swings and climbing structures, dodgeball trampoline court, wipe-out wrecking ball, maze, rope swings, little kid’s area, boot camp obstacle course and more.

  • Apex Center (Arvada)–Perfect for an inclement weather day, this recreation and entertainment center houses two ice rinks, an awesome indoor aquatic play area, climbing wall, gyms, indoor track, themed indoor playground and more.
  • Colorado Railroad Museum (Golden)–Lose track of time year-round at this 15-acre railyard featuring over 100 engines, cabooses and coaches, a garden railway, renowned library and roundhouse restoration facility with working turntable.
  • Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave (Golden) – The Buffalo Bill Museum’s exhibits include memorabilia from Buffalo Bill’s life and Wild West shows, Indian artifacts, antique firearms and more. The spectacular views overlooking Denver are a bonus!
  • Casa Bonita (Lakewood) – It’s about the atmosphere and entertainment, kids love it, menu is limited.  Euphoric memories from your childhood?  Visit again–it hasn’t changed.
  • Lookout Mountain Nature Center (Golden)–Lookout Mountain Nature Center invites kids to connect with the natural world through interactive exhibits about the flora and fauna of the foothills ecosystem. Kids enjoy a hands-on play room and observation room.
  • Hiking. The western slope is home to some of Denver’s best hiking trails. Our favorites including Red Rocks, Matthews/Winters, Evergreen, Deer Creek and much more. Go here for maps, directions and regulations: http://jeffco.us/parks/open-space/.

What adventure will you choose this spring break?

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In case you missed it:

Top 10 Family Vacation Ideas for Spring Break in Colorado 2014

DMNS 126,000-sq foot expansion: Your first look at The Morgridge Family Exploration Center

I thought the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was already special. The variety of exhibits and programs make it one of the region’s most family-friendly destinations for fun, hands-on learning. But world-class educators, curators, and designers had a wonderful plan up their sleeves. They were going to create an innovative, beautiful, warm space for young scientists to explore with their families and schools. For a few years, we’ve watched the new wing take shape, wondering what was going on behind those construction barriers. We no longer have to wait.

dmnsnewwing_3

On February 14, 2014, the sparkling, expansive, highly-anticipated Morgridge Family Exploration Center opens. Eager museum visitors will be treated to a welcoming place where they will find science made even more accessible. On the main floor, the 126,000 square foot expansion houses an airy atrium and learning studios. The centerpiece of the atrium is a 17×9 foot screen displaying a gorgeous kaleidoscope of images from the museum’s deep collection of artifacts. Versatility and innovation are everywhere you look. As we walked through the new wing, which now accounts for 25% of the museum’s size, it was apparent every detail was thoughtful. Open spaces, studios, and classrooms can be expanded to suit the needs of various programs. High tech touches like iPads for teachers to use, newly-developed field trip programs, projectors, and even the light-changing windows are a testament to the museum’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of learning and technology.

dmnsnewwing_2

But they didn’t sacrifice sustainability pursuing leading-edge tools and design. The five-level expansion is on track to receive LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. I know this is important for Colorado families. You can feel good about spending time in a place that’s mindful of our resources. The outdoor Nature Plaza takes advantage of the museum’s picturesque slice of City Park and Denver’s sunshine to get families to take science outdoors. We spotted foam rockets, which are generally not welcome inside.

The second floor is the future home of the Discovery Zone. Parents of small kiddos adore the existing Discovery Zone as a place for our little ones to romp in a welcoming space of their own. Imagine it bigger, brighter, more whimsical, more rompy, more stompy, more everything—it will have an indoor water feature! It doesn’t open until June 7, 2014, but hang tight. It’s going to be a very special place. Even the diaper brigade under the age of two will have their own turf to toddle and crawl around. This floor also houses a learning studio devoted to early childhood education. We spied dinosaur bone dig boxes and costumes. Sorry, parents. They do not come in our sizes.

The third/top level is the crown of the expansion. If you’ve been to any of the museum’s recent traveling exhibits, like Mythbusters, you can picture the available space before the expansion. It’s been doubled, which allows the museum to bring even more exhibits to educate and entertain. Space limitations are a thing of the past in the Anschutz Gallery. Coupled with the existing Phipps Special Exhibits Gallery, the DMNS was able to debut the new space in jaw-dropping style.

dmnsnewwing_4

Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed opens on February 14, 2014. It’s the largest exhibition about the Maya culture to be shown in US history—and that is solely due to the new wing. It just keeps on giving. The exhibition features ancient artifacts borrowed from other museums and many items that call Denver their home. We took a fast-forward style tour and we can’t wait to go back and see it as it was intended: An immersive, sensory experience for the whole family. The galleries are roomy and should be able to absorb curious crowds more easily.

Versatility shines again this fall. The exhibition space will split in two and feature distinctly different exhibits at the same time. This is a genius, thoughtful development because it caters to diverse interests in families and the community. Keep your calendars open for these concurrent exhibits, Whales: Giants of the Deep and Traveling the Silk Road. I was thinking, as we toured, they should have added a hotel.

The new wing has five levels. Three are open to the public. What about the other two levels? While families and schools explore the three levels above, scientists and researchers will toil, wonder, and study below at the Rocky Mountain Science Collections Center. We got to take a peek at these gleaming facilities. Housed in two basement levels, this new collections center will be a high-tech home for the museum’s 1.5 million artifacts and specimens not on display. Did you know when you tour the museum, you are seeing only 5% of what the museum curates? Currently, everything from ornate ceremonial masks to Ice Age horse skeletons are stored in the nooks and crannies of the museum’s back rooms. The expansion will allow for artifacts to be cataloged and stored together in giant rooms with miles of tracks and collapsable shelving. With specimens and artifacts at their fingertips more readily, research and preservation is more streamlined. It’s a beautiful thing.

dmnsnewwing_1

For more information on the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s new Morgridge Family Exploration Center, visit the DMNS website. Admission to the new expansion is included in the price of general museum admission. However, there is an additional admission fee for the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibition.

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Is my preschooler overscheduled? Four important activities

While it’s definitely important to expose your child to different activities, for physical, cognitive and emotional development, it’s also important to know just how much is too much?

When it comes to structured activities, this doesn’t include daycare or preschool, children ages one to five years old have an attention span of about thirty minutes, and children five to eight years old have attention spans that are closer to one hour. Try to choose activities accordingly so that your child is able to stay focused for the majority of the class. When exploring options and picking a class, we recommend thinking about the following:

1) Consider your child’s interests and pick activities based on what they like (so far!)

2) Expose them to as many different types of activities over their early years and see what they like and don’t like.

To help give a better understanding of how specific activities can help your child develop, below is a quick “run down” of the four of the most popular types of preschool-aged activities.

A Taste of Colorado: Win a $50 gift certificate!

Take a bite out of Labor Day by hitting the 30th annual A Taste of Colorado Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 2013 at Civic Center Park.

More than 50 of Colorado’s favorite food establishments will be selling a wide variety of small portions to full meals, ensuring that there will be something for every palate. There will be plenty of music, magic, clowns, and puppets on the Comfort Dental KidzStage, and the KidZone features play equipment and hands-on craft activities. Kids and adults also can enjoy carnival rides and games Saturday through Monday.

In the Festival of Mountain and Plain area, families can learn about the state’s pioneer past, nature, and the environment. Featured artisans will demonstrate Navajo weaving and culture, spinning, rug braiding, lace crocheting, felting, and quilting, along with the popular blacksmith demonstration. At the Raptor Education Foundation (REF) exhibit, children can learn about birds, their environment, and their interactions with humans.

Not filling each waking moment ‘ enriching’ the kids? Relax, it’s OK

See, the way it used to be, didn’t matter much what you did with your kids. Keep ‘ em upright and don’t let them swallow nickels, and you were GTG. Good to go.

From my life files: I grew up comfortably upper middle class, but outside of a few months of Little League baseball, I was on my own as far as “fun’ went. My parents weren’t dragging me left, right and center. In fact, my strongest memory revolves around Sunday mornings, being allowed to sit in the front seat for the drive over to Pete’s Stationary Store where my dad would buy the Sunday paper. As far as the rest of the big jumble of memories of my parents? Pretty straightforward: They were around.

But you know what wasn’t around? The feeling of having to fill each and every waking moment of your child’s life with enriching activities. For real, and I know current parents are nodding their heads: If you don’t take your six-month old to the “Six Month Old Chinese Language/Music with Apple Baked Goodness and No Peanuts Were Used In Making This Announcement’ class you are a bad, bad, terrible, horrible parent who should be sent to a remedial parents class taught by the overly fertile insane mother on “19 Kids and Counting.’

Theatre-Hikes Colorado: Into the woods with Hansel and Gretel

Once upon a time, a mother and her children set out for an adventure. They got into their magic carriage and headed to the enchanted land of Chautauqua in the kingdom of Boulder.

The trio met a passel of other families with kids ages 2 to 12. It was the custom to wear hats with brims and to squirt onto themselves a special potion that would protect their skin from burns, as well as to carry their water in curiously transparent waterskins.

Some nice thespians at a picnic area offered them blankets to carry with them on the rest of their journey. The group set out on its quest for nature, beauty, entertainment and mild exertion in the Chautauquan wilderness.

Before long, a PLAY broke out, one with actors and a minstrel!

Hikers young and old were captivated by the tale of Hansel and Gretel. They laid down their blankets and watched the story unfold. The woodcutter’s family was so hungry! The wife was beside herself for sending her children into the woods to pick berries! The father came home with horrible tales from the village of a witch that inhabited the woods — alas!

The group picked up their blankets and walked the trails to help the woodcutter and his wife find their children. Lo and behold, the adventurers encountered this.

And this.

But no matter the beauty around the hikers, there remained two children to save — from a horrible witch!

Fortunately,  Hansel and Gretel were clever enough to ask for help from their audience, and soon the woodcutter’s family was reunited.

Two hours after they began, the mother and her children finished the 2 mile loop and found a nearby inn that provided nourishment for the hungry adventurers.

And they all lived happily ever after. At least until the next chore time.

~~~~~

Want to get your Theatre-Hike on? There are three more chances to see Hansel and Gretel at Chautauqua:

  • Sat., Jun 25, 2 p.m.
  • Sat., Jul 2, 11 a.m.
  • Sun., Jul 3, 11 a.m.

Tickets are $19/adults, $15 children 10 and under, plus a service charge. Discounts are available for Chautauqua and Colorado Mountain Club members. See Chautauqua.com for tickets and information on this and other family events.

See also CO.Theatre-Hikes.org for Hansel and Gretel in Greeley and Sedalia, as well as information on the autumn play-hike in October, Frankenstein. The author’s children have already told her that they are most definitely going to attend.