Gearing Up For the New School Year

Summer has somehow raced by and we're already finding ourselves in the Back to School season. Seriously, howwww?

Luckily, there are some awesome toys, games, and gear to help us get back into that school day routine. This morning I shared some of my favorites for the new school year on local news shows across the country, and wanted to share all the details here as well.

Elmo's World Hide & Seek from Identity Games

6 months–5 years | We all love a classic game of Hide & Seek, and Identity Games has made it even more lovable with the help of everyone's favorite red monster, Elmo. Elmo can grow with your child, too. Babies can crawl towards the sound of his voice, preschoolers can practice walking toward his hiding spot, and as your child learns, they can use the enclosed game cards with illustrated clues. Parent bonus: You don't have to hiding!

Little Medical School

4+ years old | Little Medical School is getting kids interested in nursing, pharmacy, dental, and veterinarian through experiences in after-school programs across the country. And they've recently launched a line of award-winning kits and products that let kids role play and dream big. Right now, they have the My Little Pediatrician Kit, My Little Veterinarian Kit, and My Little Sports Medicine Kit. This is STEM play at it's finest, and super fun for little ones already planning their future.

Kudo Banz

3–10 years old | Invented by parents, for parents, Kudo Banz help get your kids back into their school day routine after summertime. Like a sticker incentive sheet, Kudo Banz are used to reward kids for everything from getting dressed in the morning to finishing homework after school. The system works to build your child's confidence by focusing on positive behavior and goal setting. Their wristband is connected to an app that fits our on-the-go lifestyles and makes it easy to keep track of everything.


2–12 years old | Instant, unlimited access to 25,000 high-quality books and learning videos has made Epic! the leading digital library for kids. Epic! fosters a love for reading and learning by giving kids choice, which means they are more likely to finish a book. Epic! even has some new features, like more foreign language content, Sesame Street and National Geographic content, and quizzes that can test your child after they complete a book. Set you kids up for a successful school year by giving them the gift of a library at their fingertips.

Thermos® Funtainer® Bottle 

7–13 years old | We all know about the awesome magic of a Thermos® bottle. The vacuum insulation keeps drinks cold for up to 12 hours, and the bottles always come in a variety of sizes and colors. What makes the Funtainer® bottle even better for kids? There's a flip-up carry handle that can be clipped to a backpack, and the container is sweat-proof which means their homework will stay nice and dry. Plus they come in sooo many different colors and themes, there's definitely one your kid will love to take to school.

Circuit Scribe Maker Kit

8+ years old | Curious kids will love the Circuit Scribe Maker Kit. An awesome STEM toy, everything is included this 17-piece kit that shows them how and why electronic circuits work in a safe way. Your kids will draw circuits with a non-toxic conductive ink pen and use magnetic modules to make light and sound. The kit comes with a workbook to create modules, or kids can use their own creativity to create some new!

What are your favorite toys that help kids learn through play? 


Back To School with Juicy Juice

And They’re Off!

Parents of school-aged kiddos know the drill very well. The anticipation, the nerves, the list of supplies to hunt and gather, the rooms full of trendy BTS clothes, lunches to pack, and the yearly struggle to get your merry band of youngsters to shift from summertime to school mode overnight. Fun times!

As a former teacher, and having successfully gotten one kid so far from Pre-K to college, I have had many late Augusts full of these same hurdles. It’s an exciting time for both parents and kids, but also one that can cause parents and children to loose their “cool”. This summer I’ve partnered with Juicy Juice for the their 100 Percent Family Time campaign, to help us all find simple ways to make the most of the limited family time we have together. (It turns out we’re all very busy).  

Here are 6 simple ideas that will turn the stress and nuttiness of back to school into something a little more fun and enjoyable. And for even more playful ideas, check out my FamilyTime video below!

Good luck, fellow parents!

Let’s DO this… 

1. Have a School Day "Dress Rehearsal"

The first day of school is a big deal for most kids… it’s the “big show,” so to speak. And before every big show, there are usually a few full-on dress rehearsals, right? One way to calm first-day jitters is to do a fun- filled run-through! Pick a morning when you don’t have a lot going on, prepare the night before for the big show by packing a lunch, loading up the backpack with some fun toys and then set the alarm clock for their typical school-morning wake-up. The next day do what you would normally do on a school morning! Have breakfast, wash up, get dressed and grab your gear. But, instead of heading off to school… go for an early AM playground romp to celebrate their perfect (or semi-perfect), school-day dress rehearsal. Even better, you’re already packed up and  ready to enjoy the day at the park!

2. Set your morning rush to music

School-day mornings are often super busy, bustling and stressful. One way to make the morning rush a little more fun and enjoyable is to let music lead the way! Create a playlist of songs for your kids to use as cues for what to do as the morning progresses. One happy song that lets them know it’s time to rise and shine, and then a series of others, each signaling when it’s time to get dressed, pack that backpack, brush their teeth, or get ready to hit the road! This little trick takes the job of nagging away from you (yeah!), and makes the music do more of the dirty work.

3.   Plan for PLAY breaks during homework time 

Homework can be the bane of both kids’ and their parents' existence. Just follow parental tweets around 5pm everyday and you’ll see what I mean. One way to lighten the mood and tension level when 3rd grade math has got everyone in a tizzy is to STOP, HOP and ROLL! In other words… take a play break! Even 10-15 minutes of PLAY like a round of freeze dance or dribbling a ball can reduce stress, calm everyone down, boost moods, and get your child (and you), ready to get back to it again.

4. Make your own table cloth of awesome

This is one of my secret weapons to encourage playful communication, nag-free school-day reminders, and collective FUN for the whole family. I simply cover our dining table with inexpensive butcher or craft paper and then pop some bright markers and/or crayons in a pretty vase in the center. Then encourage your family to use this inviting blank space to doodle about their day, write a riddle for the rest of the family to figure out by dinnertime, jot down to-do’s for your kids, or offer suggestions for playful activities to enjoy together.

5. Make friends with “maybe”

In all the new school excitement many of us parental types can go a little crazy with the sign-up sheets and replying “yes!” to everything we’re asked to do. Lunch duty, room parent, field trips, oh my! While it is a great idea to volunteer and get active in our children's education, and studies show it helps our kids in loads of ways, there is a fine balance between helicopter and hummingbird. Hummingbird parents float in and out, giving kids space to fly for themselves as well. Pick a couple ways you want to get involved, fully commit to those, and then make friends with the word “maybe”. I’ve definitely gotten over zealous throughout the years and then come February I’m spent and resentful. Plus, when a few parents slap their names on everything, it leaves little room for others who may not be able to plan 6 months out, but would love to volunteer on the fly. I’ve been that parent, too. "Maybe" is a very acceptable response… get to know it.

6. Make those first days back, as stress-free and PLAY-FULL as possible

Back-to-school jitters are a very real thing. Remember your first days on a new job with all new comrades and a boss to impress?  

One of the best ways to help your kiddos ease back into a new school year is to try and keep that first week as stress-free, open, and playful as possible. Leave afternoons free from too much running around to appointments, activities, and errands. Instead, invite your kids to come home and tell you about their first days over some fun snacks, playful crafts, and outside free play. Kids want to talk about their new routine, classmates, teachers, and expectations. Providing stress-free, playful time together after school is the perfect on-ramp for open, “tell-me-everything” communication.


Build Your Own Ready-To-Go Picnic Basket

One of the best ways to make an ordinary thing like a meal feel special is to make it a picnic. But getting ready for one, packing it all up, sounds kind of exhausting when you just want to grab lunch.

Make picnics a little more accessible by prepping a picnic basket ahead of time. All you'll need to add is the food when it's time to go. Here are three ideas for different types of picnics to get you started: one with your family, one with your friends, and one for lunch on your own.

Playful Family Picnic

This Foldable Cooler Set is waterproof and insulated, plus it folds up for storing or taking with you on vacation.

This set of stainless steel Camping Trays help reduce waste and have a fun nostalgic feel.  If you've never scoped out the kids dinnerware at IKEA, you're missing out. Their bowls, plates, and silverware are so colorful and fun, and great for small servings.

Instead of ending a picnic with trash bag full of empty juice boxes and pouches, try these Sustainable Drink Boxes that are reusable and super colorful.

Picnic with Your Friends

Pack all your super yummy snacks (and adult beverages) in this Super Chill Cooler Bag. I love the bright yellow lemon, but there's a watermelon as well.

This Meadow Mat Waterproof Blanket is extra large, and rolls up real small for grab-n-go girlfriend meet ups. It's a great picnic surface where you can set up all your snacks, plated on this French Bull melamine vintage-vibe collection.

I'm not sure where these wine glass holders have been hiding all my life but the Steady Stick Wine Glass Holders are awesome AND practical.

Lunch Break Solo Picnic

Take advantage of your lunch break and leave your office. Go OUTSIDE and stay there to eat instead of just running in and out of your local sandwich shop then plopping back in your seat.

This Out To Lunch tote has a kick of playfulness, in true Kate Spade spirit. Pack a small water bottle of something fun like cucumber water or your favorite fruit tea. And of course, an easy way to make your lunch feel extra special? Some beautiful cloth napkins. Things just got fancy.

One more thing to pack for a playful solo lunch? A Pocket Posh activity book. I always have one of their small crossword books on me, and it greatly reduces how often I'm on my phone refreshing my Facebook feed.


Of course, there's always the traditional ready-to-go picnic basket you can buy, but I like putting a spin on it instead. What is your picnic basket must-have?

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