Create Quality Time with your Kids, Even on Busy School Days!



Now that we are well into the first half of the school year, today we have a favorite guest writer on Pensacola with Kids.  Mandy B. Fernandez is a fan, a writer and most importantly a parent of two children trying to create quality time with her kids, even when it seems impossible!   Mandy has some great tips for how busy parents (like us) with school age kids can create meaningful moments with our children while still maintaining the hectic schedules that back to school brings!  Thanks Mandy!  Be sure to read the full story and to check out her site, too.

By:  Mandy B. Fernandez

Now that school has been back in session for several weeks, are you finding yourself short on quality time with the kids?  Days and nights are hectic with homework, extracurricular activities and chores.  As a busy parent, I found myself missing valuable moments with my children.  I felt guilty until I realized that even when I cannot give my family quantity, I can still offer them quality.  I can create fun memories even in the hustle and bustle of our school year in several, easy ways:

1. Keep mealtimes simple during the week and prep with kids on weekends – I regularly ask my oldest child to help me meal plan and prep food ahead of time so I’m not rushing around in the mornings for breakfast or in the evenings for dinner.  Together we spend an hour or two each weekend making pancakes, muffins, packing lunches and making other foods.  I give my daughter a list of options and let her select one or two for the week.  This makes our meal times go smoother and we can instead spend time chatting about our days.  I track our meals so I can rotate the recipes every few weeks.

2. Go for a walk in the evening or at night – Unless the weather is awful, my family and I go for a stroll almost every evening after dinner.  My oldest daughter loves to walk our dog.  The time varies as to when we walk – at dusk or under the night stars.  We have even walked the street in our pajamas!  Whether you walk five minutes, twenty minutes or an hour, it does not matter.  Take in the scenery.  Point out nature.  Discuss vocabulary words or just share stories.

3. Play a game – Even on chaotic days, I find time to play one game with my children.  If my kids happen to rise earlier than usual instead of me waking them, we play a board game like Trouble or a card game such as Go Fish!  While my children are getting dressed, I disappear for a few moments to play Hide and Seek.  When we’re in the car driving to and from school, we play I Spy, Wacky Wednesday or read signs on the roads.  I have to be more creative but I still manage to incorporate a game into our busy schedule.

4. Combine a chore with a fun activity – My kids must complete daily chores – take baths and brush their teeth.  However those duties are more enjoyable if I add something fun to the mix.  We read books or eat dessert in the bath.  I let my girls color on the tub walls with washable crayons.  My oldest daughter and I will sing silly songs while she brushes her teeth or dresses herself.  We see who can climb into the car fastest and buckle in.  We add a unique twist to our routine while managing to bring smiles to all our faces.

5. Put on music and dance – If all of the above fails, then I put on music and dance around with my children for a few minutes.  I find tunes that we all like.  We shake our bodies and act silly.  Sometimes we put on costumes.  If dancing doesn’t feel right on a certain day, then we choose another physical activity such as tossing a ball around, jumping rope or having a quick race in the yard.   By moving around to start and end our day we all better.

These are the memories that children will remember as they grow older.  If time is short, then offer your family more worthwhile, unforgettable moments for as long as it is possible.

Mandy B. Fernandez is a freelance writer living in Pensacola with her husband and two children.  She has a B.A. in English with a minor in Technical Writing.  Mandy has contributed articles to Gulf Coast Parent News, Natural Child magazine and other publications.  She has written professionally for several companies, organizations and groups.  Mandy is an active member of the Write On! Pensacola writers group. Learn more about her or see samples of her wit and work at

Ideas for Days 1 through 7 of 77 Days of Summer with PWK

A few weeks ago, I shared our 77 Days of Summer with Pensacola with Kids list and mentioned that I would share daily activities that coordinated with the list. I am a little behind but I figured since Santa Rosa County just let out the other day that is okay. I will double up on some days in the middle of the summer to catch up so we get all 77 days taken care of before Escambia County goes back to school.

Day One – Create a summer journal (#1 in the first column of the 77 Days list).

We didn’t get very creative with our summer journal. I just grabbed two spiral notebooks leftover from the school year. I wrote their names on the front and they are going to decorate them with stickers from our summer adventures. My goal is to have them write at least three entries each week. My 7yo will write a paragraph and draw a picture to go with it. My 5yo will draw a picture and I will write sentences that she dictates. We will add any brochures, tickets, or pictures that we collect along the way.

Day Two – Go blueberry picking (#21 in the first column of the 77 Days list).

Blueberry picking season is going to be nearing the end in the next month or so. Head to your favorite blueberry farm and pick some berries. Even if you only pick a few pounds, they are cheaper than buying them in the store and it is a fun family activity.

Day Three – Blow bubbles outside (#25 in the second column of the 77 Days list).

Now that the weather has cleared up a little bit, spend some time together outside as a family. I bought a big tea dispenser (the kind with a spigot at the bottom of it) and filled it up with a large jar of bubble solution (the bubbles were $2.49 and the jar was $5). The jar has a permanent home outside next to little cannisters of bubbles. Whenever my kids run out of bubbles in the little cannisters, they can fill them up themselves with the larger jar. I got this idea from Come Together Kids where she also shares some bubble recipes.

Day Four – Go stargazing (#10 in the third column of the 77 days list).

If the weather continues to hold, head out to Pensacola Beach on June 15th and join the Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association. They will be hosting a stargazing event at Ft. Pickens Battery Worth Picnic Area from sundown until 10pm. You can also head out on your own. A few weeks ago, we downloaded the Google Sky app and used our phones to locate constellations and planets while we waited for the Blue Wahoos fireworks to begin. It was a great way to waste away the time while we waited.

Day Five – Watch a free movie (#5 in the first column of the 77 days list).

The free movies are in full swing! There are a number of free movie offerings at many of the theaters around town:

Day Six – Visit a state park (#6 in the second column of the 77 days list).

I don’t know about you but after being inside all week, I am ready to go for a walk. We have a number of state parks in our area. Call ahead to see if they have sustained any damage from the flash floods.

Day Seven – Donate to the Wildlife Sanctuary (#5 in the third column of the 77 Days list).

In the 77 Day list, I have Bring supplies to the Wildlife Sanctuary and learn more about the animals. Unfortunately, the floods from a few days ago have devastated their buildings. According to their FB page, they are currently without power, phones, Internet, or dry storage. If you are willing to donate, they are asking for giftcards for supplies and groceries or monetary donations so that they may buy things as they need them. You won’t be able to learn about the animals but you can still help out. See their FB page for more information.


2013 Summer Reading Programs

Keep your kids reading during the summertime with these local and national summer reading programs.

Kid’s Summer Reading Club at West Florida Public Libraries – Dig into Reading!- From June 3rd to August 10th, register at any West Florida Library to participate in free games, programs and prizes. There are story times, special programs, and more.

Kid’s Summer Reading Club at Santa Rosa County Library – Dig into Reading!- From June 2nd to July 19th, register online starting June 1st  to participate in free games, programs and prizes. There are story times, special programs, and more

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading – This actually kicked off on May 18.  But it’s not too late to join in on the fun!

Chuck E Cheese Reading Rewards Calendar – Read every day for two weeks and get 10 free tokens. Food purchase required. This is a national program. Call our local program to check for participation.

iVillage PBS Kids Summer Reading Community Challenge– Sign up to receive daily emails beginning June 17th with literacy building tips and activities from experts at PBS Kids and Scholastic. You can also get book suggestions, discounts, free downloads of PBS shows, and a daily chance to win prizes.

77 Days of Summer with Pensacola with Kids

School is almost out for Escambia County and Santa Rosa County is only a week behind Escambia. I can’t believe it is already summer yet, at the same time, it feels like summer has taken forever to get here!

We have 11 weeks of summer and that is a lot of time to fill. My children helped me create this list of 77 things to do this summer. Last year’s list had 55 things, but I decided to fill in the weekends so you had more activity choices. Some of the activities will look familiar but it is easy to put a different spin on them.

The list includes adventures around town, things you can do at home, and day trips. Many of the activities are free or just cost a few dollars. Even if you will be traveling or the kids will be in summer camps, many of these activities can be done on the weekends or during an evening together as a family.

Each week, I will highlight seven of the activities from this list and share ideas, recipes and more to help you make the most of your summer with your family. I will also be bringing back our Summer Road Trip Celebration to share things to do in locations that are less than a day’s drive away (first up is Chattanooga!).

There are three ways to print this list: 1) The easiest way to print out the list is to click on this 77 Days of Summer link. It will open a window with the link. Click on the second link and it will open the list in PDF format.  Print.  2) Click on the photo below.  It will open a window with another photo.  Click again and print.  3) Print this post.

Here is the list! Is there something that we should add to the list? Stay tuned for weekly updates!

{   }  Create a summer journal.

{   }  Visit the library and pick a new book to read. Stay for one of the summer activities.

{   }  Attend the Grand Opening of the Community Maritime Park.

{   }  Have a day with no electronics.

{   }  Watch a free movie at the theater.

{   }  Visit the public pool.

{   }  Find a playground that is new to you.

{   }  Go bowling.

{   }  Go on a nature walk.

{   }  Go to the beach and look for shells.

{   }  Grab your flashlight and explore a fort.

{   }  Visit the MESS Hall.

{   }  Drive down Hwy 98. Visit the Butterfly House, the science center and more.

{   }  Visit the newly renovated Gulfarium.

{   }  Visit the Children’s Discovery Museum.

{   }  Treat yourself to some frozen yogurt.

{   }  Attend a Bands on the Blackwater Concert in Downtown Milton.

{   }  Go for a sail or take a dolphin cruise.

{   }  Have a backyard campout.

{   }  Write a letter or draw a picture to mail.

{   }  Go blueberry picking.

{   }  Watch a Blue Wahoos baseball game.

{   }  Play a board game together.

{   }  Eat at a local restaurant you haven’t tried.

{   }  Pack a picnic and go to Bands on the Beach.

{   }  Make your own sidewalk chalk paint.

{   }  Learn something new in a Gulf Islands National Seashore program.

{   }  Have a family slumber party.

{   }  Donate something or do a service for someone.

{   }  Visit a state park.

{   }  Tie dye or decorate t-shirts.

{   }  Play mini golf.

{   }  Drive to Mobile and visit the USS Alabama, Fort Conde, 5 Rivers and more.

{   }  Make your own play dough.

{   }  Shop the dollar bins at the craft store and have a crafty afternoon.

{   }  Drive the cars at Fast Eddie’s or Sam’s.

{   }  Take a class.

{   }  Visit the fire station.

{   }  Make a bird feeder.

{   }  Stay in your pjs all day and make breakfast for dinner.

{   }  Write a story.

{   }  Try something new.

{   }  Watch the sunset at the beach.

{   }  Have a food tasting.

{   }  Try the rootbeer at the Pensacola Bay Brewery.

{   }  Spend the day in the kitchen baking.

{   }  Paint some pottery.

{   }  Take a drive to Gulf Shores and visit The Wharf, the zoo, Waterville, and more.

{   }  Blow bubbles outside.

{   }  Visit the pet store.

{   }  Go to a Lowes or Home Depot Kid’s Clinic.

{   }  Wash and detail the car and your bikes.

{   }  Make marshmallow poppers.

{   }  Visit the zoo.

{   }  Create a scrapbook or timeline with all of your summer memories.

{   }  Bring supplies to the Wildlife Sanctuary and learn about the animals.

{   }  Watch the Blue Angels practice and visit the Naval Aviation Museum.

{   }  Plant flowers together.

{   }  Try something outside of your comfort zone.

{   }  Rent a tube or a canoe and float down the river.

{   }  Go stargazing.

{   }  Go roller skating.

{   }  Take a walk on the pier and look for sealife.

{   }  Watch fireworks.

{   }  Do a scavenger hunt at the farmer’s market.

{   }  Fly a kite.

{   }  Watch an IMAX movie.

{   }  Write and act out a play.

{   }  Visit a farm.

{   }  Do an art project.

{   }  Have a dance party in the living room.

{   }  Become a junior ranger at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

{   }  Do a science experiment.

{   }  Slide down the waterslides at Sam’s.

{   }  Go birdwatching.

{   }  Visit the splash pad and then have lunch or grab a treat on Palafox.

{   }  Make puppets and have a puppet show.

Swimsuits for Easter

Easter is on Sunday and if you celebrate, were you like me? I, er…I mean the Easter Bunny, was running around trying to find those last minute basket fillers without breaking the bank.

We always get each child a new swimsuit for the bunny to bring.  Even though my children are only 5 and 7, they are already wondering what kind of swimsuit the Easter Bunny will be bringing them. By the time Easter rolls around in Pensacola, we have gotten out last year’s swimsuits and worn them a few times already. We know they aren’t going to last into the summer.  Some years, we get dressed up in our new swimsuits and head out to the beach to spend Easter Sunday together building castles in the sand.

This year, each child is getting a new swimsuit, a cover-up for Little S and a rash guard for Big S, a movie, a LEGO minifigure (the new ones for 2012 have been released!), a Skylander (which is currently the favorite video game of the household). The kids love getting new items for the beach and I don’t end up buying them a bunch of junk they don’t need.

In addition to the gifts, I always add some of their favorite candies like Jolly Rancher Jelly Beans, Hershey’s Kisses, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (our favorite!). Big S gets a box of blue Peeps and Little S gets a box of pink Peeps. I always sneak a bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs. I may or may not have already gone through more than one bag of these.

Do you have any Easter basket traditions in your family?

If you are still trying to throw together some Easter activities or recipes, stop by Hershey’s Bunny Trail.

*Thank you to Hershey’s for the lovely Easter basket with a few of our favorite candies. We have already replenished the bags of candy because they were gone practically as soon as they were delivered!


What should you do with all that Halloween candy?

It is November 1st so that means it is time to start talking turkey!  I am going to put away all of the Halloween decorations today.  The kids have gone through all of their candy, picked their favorites, and traded the ones that they wanted to give away.  However, between the Downtown Trick or Treat, trick or treating around the neighborhood, treats from friends, school and more, we are innundated with candy.  There is no way we could possibly eat all of this nor should we!  What do you do with your leftover Halloween candy?

Donate it to the USO Northwest Florida.  They have list of candies and other items from 2010.

Check with your children’s school.  The teachers sometimes use treats as rewards or during parties.

Take it to a dentist or orthodontist participating in the Halloween Candy Buyback Programs.  Bring your unopened candy to Shehee and Callahan (1007 Airport Blvd) from November 1 to the 4th.  Everyone who donates candy will receive a free firefly light-up toothbrush and goody bag.  Everyone who donates at least a pound of candy will earn a chance to win prizes.  The candy will be donated to the local USO and will benefit local military.

Donate to Operation Shoebox.  They will go through the candy and ship it to the troops.  According to their website, their mailing address is: Operation Shoebox; 8360 E Highway 25; Belleview, FL 34420.

Do you know of any other locations that are accepting extra Halloween candy?


Summer Craft – Dinosaur in a Cave

Big S had to read an arts and craft book for his library summer reading challenge this week.  He chose Crafts for Kids Who Are Wild about Dinosaurs by Kathy Ross.  Yesterday morning, the kids were reading the book and wanting to try a craft.  Of course, not being prepared with lots of craft supplies I chose Dinosaur in a Cave on page 31.  We modified the directions because we were missing a few supplies.  Aren’t they great dinosaur scenes?

Dinosaur in the Ocean!


  • construction paper in many colors
  • glue
  • scissors
  • markers or crayons


  1. Trace your hand on construction paper.  This is the dinosaur.  The thumb is the face and the rest are the legs.
  2. Cut out your dinosaur.
  3. Glue your dinosaur on another piece of paper.
  4. Color a scene for the dinosaur.  We colored a volcano scene, a forest scene, and a water scene.  Little S drew her dinosaur in Hawaii!

Dinosaur in the sky!

Hurricane Season Begins Today. Are You Ready?

Today is June 1st.  Not only does it mean that school is almost over, but it also means that Hurricane Season is upon us!  It is time to replenish your hurricane supply!  Even though we haven’t had a major hurricane in awhile, we still need to be prepared just in case.  I usually purchase our hurricane supplies and when hurricane season comes and goes, we work our way through the supplies so nothing goes to waste and we don’t waste money.  Here are a few tips from one of my previous posts: 

From the Archives:  Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

If you have small children, it is important to have them help you prepare.  This will alleviate some of the stress if a hurricane does head into the Gulf.  Here are a few links to help you prepare:

Make sure that you have all of the basic neccessities.  These include things like bottled water for a week for each person in the household, non-perishable food for every member, non electric can opener, etc.  You can find an example of a list of the things you should have here.  You might have heard the saying that the “First 72 Are On You” but do you know what that means?  It means to be prepared.  Have at least 72 hours worth of supplies.  Response to a disaster could be earlier, but you need to be ready to handle the first 72 hours on your own. 

Here are some of the things that we make sure we have outside of the necessities.  These are not must haves, but we like to have these items around.

  • paper goods
  • propane camp stove and plenty of mini propane tanks (this is good to have around when you want to do something other than grill out!)
  • battery operated fans
  • fun flashlights for each of the kids – this year we are going to let the kids pick out their own to put in the kits
  • new books and toys that can be brought out when the initial excitement of no power wears off
  • a storm radio/tv – We watched an entire marathon of Hell’s Kitchen for a week because we were able to get that one channel on our hand crank/battery operated storm radio/tv

Once you have all your supplies, as a family you can pack them up in a container or put them in a cabinet designated the Hurricane Cabinet.  Do you have any additions to this list of things that are not really necessary but make us more comfortable?  Comment below!

The Pensacola News Journal ran their annual hurricane guide this week.  If you missed it, you can find it on their site.  The guide includes preparation information, evacuation routes, recovery, and more.

Planting a Garden (when you have never planted one before!)

I can’t keep plants alive.  I can’t even keep the ones alive that don’t need any loving care so when my husband suggested we start a garden this year, I laughed at him.  Even though my first reaction was to laugh, he seemed so excited about doing this together as a family, how was I to say no?  I figured that even if nothing grew, it would be a great family activity. 

How on earth do we get started?  We have never done this before so of course I turned to the Internet for help!  I did some quick research on Burpee Seeds to see what was good to plant right now and I also got some information from this post my sister wrote about planning a garden.  Two weekends ago, we loaded up the car and drove to Lowe’s and picked up a few supplies.  Here is what we left with:

  • 2 2×8’s cut in half
  • four bags of soil
  • one bag of compost
  • seed packets
  • three small plants (two strawberry and one pepper)
  • a couple of pots for flowers and herbs

When we got home, it was time to get to work!  Daddy J built the box with 2 2×8’s cut in half, making the box 4×4.  We filled the box with soil and compost.  For a 4×4 box, we used all four bags of soil and the whole bag of compost.  We probably could have used another bag of soil.  We let the kids map out the garden and plant the seeds under our supervision and with our help. 

Gardening with Kids Hint: When planning a garden with your kids, be sure to purchase a few seedlings to plant.  This will ensure that your children have some plants to keep an eye on when your seeds begin sprouting.

Make sure you take the plant out of the container it came in!

A week later, we couldn’t believe our eyes as all of our plants started to grow.  We have watched with amazement as our seeds turned into plants!  It only took about a week to get to the what is pictured below.  During that week, the kids have watered the garden and kept a close eye on it. 

Gardening with Kids Hint: Buy a couple of cheap spray bottles to fill with water.  This will make it easy for your kids to water the garden without drowning the plants.  It will also extend the amount of time they can spend watering the plants.  My children would water the plants all day if we would let them!

Our plants are doing so well that we actually need to move a few because they are so close to each other! 

We aren’t quite sure what to do next, but we will keep you updated as our garden grows!

Are you an avid gardener?  Have you been thinking about starting a garden but don’t know where to begin?  Leave us a comment with your gardening experience and advice (I need plenty of it!).

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