23 Free (or Basically Free) Things to Do With The Kids in Philly This Winter

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Who among us isn’t always looking for more ideas of things to do with the kids? Ones that won’t break the bank? Especially at times like this, when it’s incredibly cold out, and the usual things like the playground and walking around the city are exercises in torture? Here, a list of ideas for things to do with your kids any given (snowy, frigid, wintery mix) day that don’t require a) making reservations b) spending a fortune or c) freezing your face off.

Ikea. The mega-store in South Philly boasts a supervised play space for kids who are between 37 and 52 inches tall (and potty-trained) — and it comes with the bonus of letting you get a little uninterrupted “me-time” with the Malm and Fjellse. (Note: the playspace inside the Chick-fil-A, which is located in the same shopping center as Ikea, is also clean and usually not over-crowded.)

Fireman’s Hall. The great little Old City museum housed in a former firehouse has historic tools, uniforms, a bunch of carriages and trucks, and a fun interactive spot for kids upstairs. (Bonus: It’s staffed by current and past firefighters, which is just cool.) Admission is free, though donations are suggested. One tip here: Hours can be erratic, so you might want to call before you go.

Smith Memorial Playground. Kids won’t even miss the potato-sack slide (which is closed for the winter) after they realize they have the run of this three-floor playhouse. You might think the toys could use a little TLC, but your child won’t bat an eye. Make sure to head downstairs, where there are trikes and scooters to ride around a track, and to the art rooms, where staffers lead activities. It’s free, but donations are encouraged. Read more »

Be Well Family: My Christmas Decorating Fail

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My mother has the most beautiful Lenox holiday china – white, ringed with simple holly leaves. We used that china (along with special holiday napkins) in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s virtually every year of my life. That wasn’t all: She also has multiple nativities; stockings my grandmother crocheted; a snowman that sings a holiday medley when you press a button; an advent calendar we’ve had since 1980; plus several poinsettias, wreaths, mini trees for the front porch, candles, table-runners, Nutcrackers, the whole deal. I realize as I catalog it here that it maybe sounds a little over-the-top, a tad vulgar, but believe me when I say that it really isn’t, and it never was: It was magical. It felt special.

Me? I have a $14 light-up wreath from the hardware store down the street (with no batteries installed yet), stockings I bought from Target, and a Christmas tree with all the usual fixings. We had an advent calendar, but I have no idea where it is. We did manage to find and display a Santa and Frosty salt-and-pepper shaker set, which we only own because my mom gave it to us, and an Elf on the Shelf, which we only own because my mother-in-law gave it to us. (Note: Not sure if tools of child behavior manipulation also counts as decoration?) Speaking of my mother-in-law: She is also a decorator of epic proportions. Her house basically transforms into a Dickensian Village every Christmas. She actually has a 100-square-foot holiday closet. No joke. Read more »

10 Awesome Mommy-and-Me Yoga Classes in Philadelphia and the Suburbs

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Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook

The thing about mommy-and-me yoga is that there’s often a little more to it than just squeezing in a workout. Sometimes you just want to get out of the house with that baby. Sometimes you have a toddler who needs to work out some wiggles. Sometimes exercising with your kid attached to you is the only way you’ll get any exercise at all. Here, we’ve rounded up 10 excellent options for mom-friendly yoga of all sorts, whether you’re looking for a serious sweat session or just a little postnatal support. There’s truly something for everyone (including the moms who want to drop that kid off for an hour).

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Be Well Family: In Praise of My Small Philly House

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Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook

Like a lot of us probably did, I grew up in a non-rowhome city, where even the small houses tended to be bigger than your average Philly house. Friends who still live in my hometown (friends who spent no more than we did on a home, I might add) have what now seems to me to be insane, glorious amounts of space — like, four bedrooms, a home office, a den, a laundry room. An attic. A playroom. Seemingly innumerable full baths. A powder room the size of my sole upstairs family bathroom. And, oh, my Lord, the closets. So many closets. 

I don’t want to sound like a spoiled jerk, because, well … look, we have a house. So we’re good, we’re lucky. But I can’t help myself from sometimes thinking about all that we could have — space-wise, I mean — if we lived somewhere else, or if we had chosen a different type of life. (I blame every single show I watch on HGTV for this line of thinking.) And then, last weekend, my mother-in-law asked me (rhetorically, I guess?) if we’d ever want to live in her house. Her sprawling suburban family house with more square feet of storage than my house has … well, square feet. I laughed, and said, “What would I do with all this space?” (Answer: Claim a bathroom as my very own; throw away the under-the-bed storage boxes for ever and ever; buy a giant, hulking couch; do some round-off-back-handsprings in the hallways. For starters.) Read more »

Swim Lessons in Philadelphia: 15 (Indoor!) Spots to Get Your Kid in the Water

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Ah, the children’s swim lesson. It’s an adorable rite of passage for babies and toddlers and little ones, and also the perfect cool-weather activity: The kids get some play time, some exercise, some new skills … and you get some adorable photo ops. Here, a helpful round-up of some of the city’s and suburb’s most popular spots for lessons. In many cases, new sessions of group lessons tend to start every 8 to 10 weeks or so; you can call or go online to see when the registration begins.

IN THE CITY
Christian Street Y, Graduate Hospital
The program: The Christian Street YMCA has a comprehensive swim program, and a large, clean and bright indoor pool. There are group lessons for babies and caretakers starting at 6 months, and group lessons (sans parents) for preschoolers ages 3 to 5, and it goes up from there with more serious instruction and participation on the swim team. (Private and semi-private lessons are also available.)  
The sessions: The programs run about seven weeks; classes are 30 minutes long.
Signing up: To take swim lessons, you have to be at least a program member, and then you pay for the classes on top of that membership. There are several other levels of membership you can explore, as well, and more extensive membership plans mean discounts on classes, as well as the perks of fuller membership. You can check out the deal with memberships here. Read more »

Things I Don’t Care About Since Becoming a Parent

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Does motherhood change you? I never really thought so. I’m the same me I’ve always been, only with a permanent plus-one. I mean, sure, I have less “free time” or “me time” (or just … time), and yes, I talk more about poop and preschool tuition these days and less about that story in the New Yorker or whatever, but those are all circumstantial changes related to living with a toddler. They’re not core changes. Read more »

8 Places for Hiking in Philadelphia with Kids

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The playground is fun and all, but going for long walks — in nature — is something that benefits everyone in the family. Babies can nap, kids can get some old-fashioned outdoor time, parents can get in some exercise. And ya know what? You don’t have to be a “hiker” or know how to cook beans over a campfire to enjoy the local trails. (You can even wear your skinny jeans if you want.) Here are eight great spots close to Philly that are worthy of the trip.

In Philadelphia
What: The Schuylkill Center in Roxborough is the largest privately owned tract of land in Philadelphia, and its entire raison d’etre is to connect people with nature. There are 340 acres of trees, streams, and fields, and three miles of totally doable hiking trails.
Why it’s great for kids: There’s an actual “center” here, which has a strong, kid-focused educational mission. That means a nature preschool, summer camps and solid weekend programming, including exhibits, hikes and activities. The trails will loop you through wooden bridges, ponds, and play areas. Picnics are allowed. Read more »

How I Made My Nights 20 Times Happier

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Fifteen hours a week. I’m embarrassed to point this out, but I only spend 15 hours during the work week with my kids. There’s the frantic morning hour between wake-up and school drop-off, and then there’s the couple of hours between school pick-up and bedtime. When I add it up, our Monday through Friday together time clocks in at about 15 hours. I spend more time in meetings than I do with my own kids.

But that’s not even the most gut-wrenching part. The real tragedy is that I spent years of those precious after-school and after-work hours in a bad mood. The kids are tired. I’m tired. They are hungry. I am hungry. I’m sick of having the same arguments about why the oldest can’t have jelly beans for dinner, and I’m sick of picking the baby’s food off the floor. I want to get them to bed, because hanging over my head are the millions of other things I need to do around the house, the work I need to finish, the dinner I need to cook, the emails I need to return—all before I could relax for the first time that day. The kids are aware that our time together is limited, so they want all of my attention. (Who can blame them? See: 15 hours a week.) Recently, as we were slogging through the usual arduous dinner-bath-bed routine, I looked over at my husband and saw the frustration and exhaustion on his face, which no doubt mirrored my own. At that moment, I realized that what should be the most cherished time of my day – the few hours we spend together as a family — is actually my most difficult.  Read more »