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Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to Save

Sesame Place Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveThis is Part 2 of my Sesame Place series. Part 1 was about planning your visit and if the park is right for you. Part 3 will cover Special Needs Accommodations.

When you think of visiting a theme park, you probably think about parting ways with a good deal of cash. If you don’t go prepared it’s possible to drop a lot of money for very little. It helps to be savvy and to know what is worth your money and what’s not.

2012 08 29 13 01 24 461 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveFirst off, at Sesame Place you can save yourself some effort by getting the Discovery Dollars wristband. You can get it at Guest Relations just outside the park or the Welcome Center just inside. You give them your credit card, they put down a $50 hold, you are free to spend as you like without having to pull out your wallet. Your account will settle at the end of the day, so it’s not like you have to spend at least $50. If you’re planning on getting wet or leaving your things in a locker or in the car, this is a great option. I just hated the thought of digging through my bag full of diapers and extra clothes and such every time we needed something.

Parking is $17 for the least expensive lot. You can stay at the Sheraton across the street or try to find a local hotel with a shuttle to the park. (Though those may save you some cash on parking, you may also want to consider the non-monetary cost of waiting for a shuttle or walking to your hotel at the end of your day with wet, exhausted children. And the value of being able to keep extra stuff in the car just in case.) The cheapest lot really isn’t far from the park entrance. We’re not talking Disneyland parking here. We’re talking parking at the mall.

As far as food goes, Sesame Place allows you to bring in a small soft cooler for baby food and formula. So sorry, no snacks to get you through the day. It’s a recent policy change, and one that I don’t love, but it’s typical for parks. Keeping a cooler in the car for a snack break at the picnic tables is a smart idea. 

2012 08 29 13 01 16 597 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveWe did buy the refillable cup from one of the many drink stands. The cup, filled was $6.99 and refills were $0.99. Not cheap, but for a theme park it’s certainly not bad. Plus the cup came with a handle so we just hitched it to our stroller and it was super easy. Theme park drinks usually run upwards of $3 so a comparative good deal. Also it meant we could all share it since none of us have cooties. We used it mostly for water and lemonade to keep us all hydrated since we couldn’t bring drinks in the park. If you plan to return, it makes sense to get one to re-use on future trips.

As far as food goes, we’ve gone two different routes.

Dine With Me

If you are bringing Sesame-obsessed kids to the park, doing a Dine With Me meal may be a good splurge option. The Dine With Me meals are the only time your kid will have time to chat with their favorite monsters without a line of kids waiting behind them. Sesame is a little skimpy with the characters, and there’s usually a line, so this will win you big parent points. There’s a breakfast with Elmo & Friends that’s $19 for adults, $10 for kids. There’s also lunch or dinner with Elmo & Friends for $25 for adults, $15 for kids ($27 for adults at dinner). For these, you book a time and you get reserved seating. (As a bonus, if you book the early breakfast of 8:45, you’ll be able to ride in the park at 9:30, a half hour before the park opens. That is, if you can pry your kids away from Elmo…) There’s also a Cookie’s Country Breakfast and Big Bird’s Backyard BBQ, though be aware these are outside  whereas Elmo’s meals have air conditioning.

For our 2012 trip, our Dine With Me lunch was by far my favorite part of our Sesame Place experience. First off: the food. 2012 08 29 14 03 34 101 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveA buffet is a nice change from the a la carte dining you get in most theme park restaurants. I was pleased with the variety of food available. I was able to get a bunch of different, healthy choices for Graham, including applesauce, green beans, corn, rice and he even took a bite of salmon. They had plenty of kid-friendly options like mac & cheese and chicken fingers. But happily there is also grown-up approved food. There was salad, the aforementioned salmon, chicken stir fry and more. The line was never long.

At our assigned table we were waited on by very friendly staff who brought us drinks and refills. Graham’s milk came in an Elmo cup with a straw that he got to keep.

There were two family restrooms inside, which meant I could take my kids in and change them into their swim clothes in peace and quiet and without the insanity of a theme park bathroom. (This was the only bathroom we used while we were there and it was lovely. I can’t vouch for how the others were.)

There was also a plentiful dessert bar after the meal, including a soft-serve machine, cakes, cookies, cupcakes and more. You will not go hungry.

And, of course, the big draw: the characters. Our Dine With Me lunch had Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, the Count and Abby Cadabby. Big Bird, being quite tall, was kept in one place in the center of the room where you could take your kids for pictures. Elmo had a special spot for pictures, too. But later on in the meal he came into the center of the room where we snagged him.

Sesame Collage Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to Save
Graham poses and Elmo tries to nom Tessa

The other characters went to EVERY SINGLE TABLE in the place. Not only that, later in the meal they asked who hadn’t seen them and everyone was visited before a character left. It was wonderful. The kids had plenty of time for pictures and cuddles. Cookie sat at our table and the Bug was pretty thrilled. Each character also had a few minutes to perform a song for the kids.

I’d worried it would be kind of a madhouse, but our lunch was very calm and happy and once everyone realized they’d all get a chance to see everyone it was pleasant and lovely. The staff was solicitous and helped with spills, which is kind of a given with so many toddlers around. There were plenty of highchairs and lots of space. 

Eating Off-Site

My plan for our 2014 visit was to give ourselves a park break in the middle of the day and head off-site for lunch. I didn’t feel confident we’d be able to get a parking spot again so I did some Google Map scouting to find a good option nearby. Walking is not encouraged around here. My city kid was thoroughly confused and wondered why no one was walking. Spoiler: no sidewalks. Not very family-friendly. BUT there is one sidewalk heading away from the park and what do you know, at the end of that sidewalk is a Red Robin.

It took us about 5 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the restaurant. We had a nice meal, a good break from the craziness of the park, we all had plenty to eat, the kids got balloons, and overall it worked out very well. Initially we had a bit of complaining from a certain almost-5-year-old about leaving the park but once we were there he was happy as a clam. Happier once he got a balloon. 

On the way back we stopped at the car for our things to do our midday change to swimwear. Because we weren’t allowed snacks, I promised the kid an Elmo cupcake. It was only $2, cheaper than I can find cupcakes around here, and bought me some parent points.

A Two-Day Low-Cost Visit Plan

Here’s the way I’d master plan it:

Day 1: Eat lunch on your own, come to the park afterwards, around 12 or 1. Get in a few good hours, buy a refillable cup, and you can probably get out without a meal.

Day 2: Do a Dine With Me breakfast, get in a few good hours, and leave for a late lunch and a nap back at your hotel.

You get 2 days free with a 1-day pass, so you can get maximum park in without having to cram everything into one big day with some cranky kids. To avoid tantrums, make sure you chat about your plan with the kids in advance. You could also use this plan to have a “wet” day and a “dry” day, so you don’t have to worry about changing clothes and packing a big bag.

There are cabanas and lockers available, though I’d recommend you bring just one basic bag. If you’ll be getting wet with the kids, you will need a locker for your bag, or some kind of waterproof bag you can keep with you with keys and such necessities. If you have a stroller, bring it instead of renting one. It’ll also give you some extra storage space. I don’t think you need it for bigger kids, but if you have one you think will crash it’s not a bad idea to have it around.

2012 08 29 13 45 26 423 300x224 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveDespite our frugal tendencies, I did totally do the obnoxious parent thing. I bought a DVD of Graham on his first roller coaster. I could not deny the cute face. SO CUTE. Yeah, it was $16. I’m a sucker. But we all have those moments, right? I still think we played it pretty frugal. There are a couple gift shops in the park on the small side. They have better stuff than you’ll find at a lot of museum gift shops, mostly toys, stuffed animals, and shirts. Prices are high but not crazy. They’re also pretty easy to avoid, none of that funnel entry stuff some places force you into.

The fact that Sesame Place isn’t in the middle of nowhere makes saving money easier. You’ve got a mall, a Target and lots of hotels and restaurants close by so you don’t have to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. But make sure you check on whether re-entry is possible if you’re getting in your car to head out in the middle of the day but still want to come back.

And just like most theme parks, make sure you check their website for promotions and deals as well as local vendors. Check with the hotels listed on the Sesame Place website in particular to find out about discounts.

Do you have any tips on saving money while traveling, visiting theme parks in general and Sesame Place in particular? Please share!

I received passes for Sesame Place for our 2012 visit to facilitate this review.

Sesame Place: Before Your Visit

Sesame Place Sesame Place: Before Your VisitThis is Part 1 of my Sesame Place series. Part 2 is on saving money and Part 3 will cover Special Needs accommodations.

We visited the park twice, once in 2012 when the kids were 3 and 6 months, and once in 2014, when the kids were 5 and 2. I’ve updated this post to reflect any updates and to help give a broader look at the park. Our first visit had complimentary tickets to help write our review. 

Is Sesame Place Right For Your Family?

The park is geared at children ages 2 to 7, and I think that’s pretty accurate. While there is a substantial portion of the park devoted to water rides, your kids over 7 are probably going to get bored after a few hours. 3 to 5 years old is your sweet spot where they can go on most rides, enjoy the shows and the parade, and really have a great day.

sesame 300x224 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit
Picture by BlueK9

As for infants and toddlers, I’d give Sesame a miss. I’m not saying you can’t bring them. The park makes a lot of allowances for strollers. While it can be a little tough navigating through the water park side with one, you also have a pretty good baby wave pool. Baby Tessa’s visit was pretty smooth, but I don’t think it’s really fair to her that she was stuck in her stroller for so much time. Besides the carousel, there aren’t really rides you can carry a baby on.

Admission is $63 for everyone 2 and older. You can get a 2-day ticket for the same price and it’s worth considering depending on your children and your other plans. Doing two half-days would probably be easier on kids than one long, full day. (And easier on you, too.)

If you can’t get to one of the Disney parks, there aren’t a lot of amusement parks fit for little kids, especially not ones with Elmo. (I think Graham prefers Elmo to Mickey, just between you and me.) So this is a good option if you’re on the East Coast.

What’s In the Park

The park basically has two sides: the wet and the dry. You’ll need to know that going in to make sure you have the right clothing and supplies. There isn’t a lot of shade so bring plenty of sunscreen. There’s also very little around with air conditioning, so when you’re looking for shows with the kids, consider going to the ones in the indoor theaters that are nice and cool. They no longer allow food and drink inside except for formula, baby food, and medically necessary items. So if you’re packing your own lunch have a cooler in the car. There are picnic tables just outside the park gates.

The dry side is going to be better for the little ones, with the exception of the roller coaster right at the front of the park. There are a whole bunch of rides together now that Cookie’s Monster Land has opened. We got a few good hours with both kiddos and they probably would’ve happily stayed there for a good while. Even the 2-year-old could ride nearly everything over there, though she was too little for the giant swing so I distracted her while her brother got a shot. There are a few rides we skipped due to excessive spinning because a parent’s got to make it through the day, you know? Lines on the dry side aren’t too long, which is why I definitely recommend going there first and getting some good time in before you surrender to the crazy of the wet side.

The wet side of the park will amuse your older kids a lot better. The older ones especially congregate at The Count’s Splash Castle, which is basically the biggest spray park-slash-playground ever. You can let them loose in there and you may not see them again for a while. But there’s still plenty for the littles. Mine weren’t too pumped about the loud spray and play areas, but they really loved the lazy river and the slides that even the little ones can go on. The 2-year-old was a huge fan of Slimey’s Chutes, where we rode in a double tube. 

There are some beach chairs around the spray park areas but not a lot. And there aren’t many places to stash towels so you’re probably best off leaving them in the car or a locker. There isn’t much in terms of seating or shade, so I recommend you pace yourself and not try to do too much. You won’t have a lot of options to rest.

Where To Stay

Sesame Place is North of Philadelphia, pretty close to New Jersey and not far from New York City. If you’re planning a visit of Philly or NYC, you can certainly come in just for the day and get back out again. But if you’re making a special trip and want a hotel nearby, I’d definitely recommend where we stayed in 2012: Homewood Suites by Hilton® Newtown. (I wanted to stay there again in 2014 but it was booked. Apparently the secret’s out.)

Traveling with young children is not easy. I made the 2012 trip solo with a baby and a 3-year-old. Absolutely essential to me was a suite where I could close a door to separate sleeping space from living space. This usually limits me to Homewood Suites, Embassy Suites (both Hilton) or Residence Inn (Marriott). I’ve had great experiences at all 3 chains, but after doing some research I decided for this trip to go with Homewood and I’m glad we did.

The hotel is about a 10 to 15 minute drive from Sesame Place. It’s located in a small industrial park that didn’t have too much traffic and there were plenty of signs directing you from the freeway.

Our suite was a 1-bedroom with a King that had a living room with a pull-out sofa and a kitchen. The kitchen had silverware and tableware included and a good-sized refrigerator/freezer. There was a microwave, dishwasher, coffeemaker and a full stove/oven. The bathroom was attached to the bedroom and had a full tub/shower. It was a huge relief to be able to put Tessa down for a nap, then shut the door and let Graham run rampant and watch TV or whatever. Sleep can definitely be the most stressful part of that kind of trip. Since it was just me, I had the two kids in bed with me, but it would’ve been easy to put Graham on the fold-out and Tessa in a crib. I was very pleased with the cleanliness and quality of the room. I’ve stayed in a lot of mid-level hotels and this was one of the better ones.

homewood 300x300 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit
A look at the King Suite and the lounge at the Newtown Homewood Suites

They offer a full breakfast in the morning that continued past 8 a.m. (Hooray! I hate it when I have to wake up early for breakfast.) The hot items were nothing to write home about, as is generally the case with hotel breakfast. But the variety was really extensive. Along with your hot items (of which there were 3 or 4, including eggs, bacon, potatoes, etc.) there was a make-your-own-waffle station, oatmeal, cereal, pastries, bagels, fruit and juices/coffee/milk. It was quite easy to get enough different items to please my picky 3-year-old and myself each morning.

In addition, there was a light evening meal Monday through Thursday which included complimentary beer, wine, lemonade and iced tea. For me this was a big plus. Right after we got back from the park I needed a pick-me-up big time. And so did the kids. A great alternative to stopping for fast food or trying to survive a sit-down restaurant while we were all tired and cranky.

The hotel had just a few Sesame-going families, it was mostly businesspeople. The breakfast area was never close to full. The staff was top-notch, very kind and helpful.

The only real criticism is that there is nowhere to eat within walking distance. But the hotel guide in the room had menus for several local restaurants, including many that delivered.

There are lots of other hotels nearby. The Sheraton is within walking distance of the park though due to the lack of sidewalks in the area, walking may not be a great choice. And there are a few hotels with shuttle service to the park, which may save you the $15 parking fee. Many are listed on the Sesame Place site.

Planning Your Visit

This is a theme park, so you’re definitely going to have issues with crowds during peak times. In 2012 we went on a weekday in late August when a lot of kids were already in school and found it very manageable. In 2014 we went on a weekend in June and it was more crowded, though not as bad as I expected. They start full-days in May, so that may be another good time. And since it’s mostly outdoors, keep in mind you may have a hot crew on your hands.

sesame place site 300x158 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit
SesamePlace.com

The Sesame Place website is very very good and has virtually all the information you’ll need to use on your trip. They even have the menus of all the in-park restaurants listed. That’s gold, my friends. The park isn’t so big that you won’t be able to know in advance where the best spot to eat for your bunch is.

You can also get information on other items in advance that you may want to book. Think about the Dine With Me lunch. Characters like Elmo aren’t all over the place and you’ll appreciate the break to sit and cool off. (More on our Dine With Me lunch in the next post.) There are cabana rentals if you plan on spending a lot of time in the pool area. We didn’t get to try one, but they were off in some quiet areas and looked pretty swanky. When I had a stroller with us we didn’t use a locker, but when the kids were walking it became kind of essential for us to manage the water rides. You can rent strollers and wheelchairs.

There are 3 parking lots, priced at $17, $20 and $30 for VIP which is booked in advance. The $17 and $20 lots really aren’t that far and if you get there early you’ll have just as good a $17 spot as the people in the $30 lot. We arrived at 10:15, not long after the park opens at 10, and decided to go for a close and shady spot in the $20 lot since the $17 lot was already looking pretty packed. But no parking spots are really that far away.

If you’ve got the cash and you don’t want to waste time you can buy an Abby’s Magic Queue pass which allows you to skip the lines on certain rides. While this may not be the most democratic approach and maybe not the best “teachable moment,” it’s your money and your kid and this is the age of the FastPass.

If you forget anything, fear not: there is a Target just down the street from the Sesame Place. (I might have stopped there both times…)

Other Attractions

You’re close enough to Philadelphia to visit the Zoo, the historic sites and I’ve heard great things about the Please Touch Museum, which is also geared at kids 7 and younger. It’s about 90 minutes away from Atlantic City.

 

Stay tuned for more in my Sesame Place series, including how we handled the park and accommodations for special needs families…

 

Disclosure: I was provided one-day passes to Sesame Place for my 2012 review.  All expenses in the park, including food, parking, etc., and my stay at Homewood Suites were paid for myself for both visits. Images of Homewood Suites Newtown were provided by Homewood Suites.

Toddler Gear Review Roundup

review pic Toddler Gear Review RoundupSo I’ve had a few different toddler/baby items that I’ve been trying out over the past few months and I’m here to spill all the details with you. I like having some time with products before I write about them to see if they really last. (For example, I can confirm that last year’s absolute hands-down still most-loved review item is the Chuggington Stack Track trains which are pulled out on a near-daily basis.)

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupFirst off we’ve officially moved Tessa out of the highchair and into a booster seat. She is enjoying eating at the table like a big kid. And drinking milk from her cereal bowl like a big kid. Making it possible is the Bumbo Booster Seat, which we ordered in pretty red.

Height is perfect. Seat is soft. Wiping it down is a breeze. It’s easy to strap on the chair and secures both around the back of the seat and under the bottom of the seat. We’ve been quite pleased with it and Tessa is comfortable sitting in it. My only real complaint about it is that the back of the seat is relatively low so the straps holding her in just barely go over her chubby legs instead of something more around the waist or over her lap. But she’s certainly not complaining.

Next up: the battle of the diaper pails. We had a diaper champ we used for years with Graham and I was ready to retire it by the time Tessa was a year old. The major problem I have with the Diaper Champ is that any mess from a diaper goes on the pail itself and has to be wiped up. Not my favorite and it’s not the easiest thing to clean in the first place. Initially I got it because I could use my own bags, but ultimately I decided to bite the bullet and try the pails that have their own bags.

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupThe first one I got: the Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Pail. It was cheaper than many of the other pails and I’d passed on most of those pails when I was looking the first time around so I bought it. I won’t lie, the first few months bugged me. This pail has a seal that closes on the bag when you close the pail, reducing the smell. And it has a baking soda insert to help. But I was having so many problems closing the lid that I almost got rid of it. I finally contacted them for help and was told that the problem was the baking soda getting into the gears. So I rinsed out the entire pail (a breeze, the bag system works well, any mess gets on the bag and not the pail, and it was spotless) took out the baking soda insert, and never used one again. 

Since then? It’s been fantastic. Still no smell. The baking soda is unnecessary. The lid works well most of the time, though it can be a little more difficult when the bag gets closer to full. The bags are on the small side, which gets a bit more annoying when I’m putting toddler-size diapers and kid-size pull-ups in there. But they seal closed tight when you’re done so you don’t have to deal with any smell when you change bags either.

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupAfter my good experience with Munchkin/Arm & Hammer, I was feeling magnanimous and agreed to review the new Tommee Tippee 360 Sealer Diaper Disposal System. It is bagless and has a special plastic that seals around each diaper so you can just take the bottom of the pail out and dump it. Love the idea.

Hate the product. Basically, mine didn’t work at all. It wouldn’t create a seal around the diaper. I checked the system, I reinstalled everything. Still didn’t work. I contacted them asking for help… and no response. So now I have a rather large and useless hunk of plastic in my living room that I wouldn’t donate to anyone because it’ll do them more harm than good. Also it’s certainly brought down the reputable Tommee Tippee brand that I’d thought well of before. 

At this point I don’t think we have much more gear to get. It feels good to be moving out of the “gear” stage, even if it means toys are taking over my house. I can take it.

Any great new products you’ve tried and loved? Or anything the rest of us should steer clear of?

Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

review pic Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracksTrains are big at our house and I know we’re not alone. We also live in a small apartment, so if Graham decides he’s going to pull out his wooden tracks, odds are it’ll take up half the living room when he’s done. The wooden tracks have served us well, but I admit that when I first saw TOMY’s Chuggington StackTracks all I could say was, “My kid would love these.” affiliate links pic Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

 Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracksI’ll be totally honest, I saw those StackTracks at a party at BlogHer in 2012. I gushed and gushed over them to the person repping TOMY. But it wasn’t until this year that I finally got a chance to review them. I did not let the long wait hold me back, I jumped at the chance. If anything, Graham was way more ready for them now than he was a year ago.

There are a bunch of Chuggington StackTrack playsets, we received the Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks with the accompanying ChugPatrol DVD. The fact that the playset has an accompaying episode is cool, though it hasn’t influenced Graham’s play, but I do think it’d be good for the re-enacting types.

So, parents of train enthusiasts, here’s the skinny: The StackTracks come with a variety of pieces, some flat, some going up, some going down. There’s a bunch of hills and turns and other stuff that makes trains go fast. There are guard rails on the side so you won’t lose your train on tight curves. And there are supports to stack to hold up the elevated parts of the track. The set came with 2 trains (Koko and Wilson, who Graham has always called Rilsen because it’s the name of a kid in his class last year) and they’re die-cast plastic. 

20130830 185335 768x1024 Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

Overall, it’s very easy to assemble for an adult. The track pieces fit together very simply and obviously. It may take a child under 5 a little effort to figure it out but they’ll make progress quickly. The supports are also easy to attach. There are some extras that come with this playset: a gate to break through, a boulder to chase you down the hill. These extras are a little harder to get on and off and click on over the supports. The track looks a little intimidating. But it comes with instructions for 4 layouts. One of them has a detailed set of instructions to assemble, the others are pictures. Once I’d gone through one assembly, I was good for the rest by sight. Younger children will probably need a parent to assemble for them.

The Pros:

  • As I’d hoped, it takes up less space than the wooden tracks. The stacking means they can go up instead of all over the floor.
  • The kids get way more into it than with the wooden tracks. We’ve had it for over 6 weeks and I’ve waited to see if it wears off… but it hasn’t.
  • The trains look just like the ones on the show, lots of character and the kids seem more eager for pretend play with them than some of the trains we have on the wooden set. 
  • The price of this one set is about the price of one stinking Thomas train. Seriously, the price of Thomas merch is ridiculous. I am HAPPY to expand beyond Thomas gear.
  • I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to do anything with this set beyond the planned layouts. It took Graham about a month before he started building his own tracks. They may be wobbly and he may ask for help, but he’s showing creativity, and he gets to show a lot more of it than he can with the wooden tracks. 
  • There are multiple StackTrack sets and they all can fit together. And yes I will be asking for StackTrack merch for Graham this Christmas because I think we could design some wicked awesome tracks.
  • The trains can couple up, always good. And it’s a more secure coupling than the magnetic wooden trains.
  • Price is good, a new train is $5.99 or so and a set runs from $20 to $40, with expansion packs varying in price. 
  • They’re just plain fun. Here’s a look at Graham playing with the set:

Cons:

  • Younger kids will need help. As I mentioned, some of the extra elements like the gate are harder to connect.
  • Some layouts are wobbly. The supports don’t actually click into place, you just push them together like legos. So if someone bumps the track this can lead to a big collapse. This only happened to us on a couple of layouts, but it is an issue. The tracks themselves are nice and strong, it’s the supports that I wish were better.
  • The many kinds of track pieces may frustrate some kids.
  • Overall, I’m just not sure this is going to be a good product for kids who are very perfectionist, anxious, ASD, etc. If you think they’ll have a meltdown if the track falls down, this may not be the set for you. With that said, Graham can certainly fall into that category sometimes but he’s at the point now where a track that falls down can mean extra excitement for the story he’s telling in his head.

20130831 091906 1 1024x768 Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

Both kids have really enjoyed playing with these tracks and I find that for us the positives outweigh the negatives by a good amount. I’m weary of putting together wooden train tracks, there’s only so much I can do with our limited amount of straights and curves. We just have more fun putting these together, whether we follow the instructions or not.

So, would you like to bring one home? The kind folks at TOMY are giving away one Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks  and a Chug Patrol – Ready to Rescue DVD Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks for your kiddos. Want to enter?

Mandatory entry: leave a comment on this post letting me know the train lover in your life who’d love these StackTracks.

Bonus entry: Tweet this: “Win Chuggington StackTracks from @Tomy_Toy from @jessicaesquire! http://bit.ly/1ae53QQ” and make sure you leave a comment with the link to your tweet. (You can find it by clicking on the timestamp of the tweet.)

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/31/13 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a Chuggington StackTracks playset and a Chuggington DVD, a retail value of  approximately $40 US. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by TOMY Toys. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited

Disclosure: Thanks to TOMY for providing us with these products for review.

Indoctrinate Your Children Well

affiliate links pic Indoctrinate Your Children WellThere are lots of things you have to teach your kids: how to ride a bike, how to be kind to others and, of course, which sports teams they are supposed to cheer for. 

I admit, this is not my strongest area as a parent. I am ambivalent about a lot of sports these days. But Graham has picked up on a lot of what’s going on around him. And then there was the day he brought this home from school:

 Indoctrinate Your Children Well

And then my trip to Fenway means that Graham is now obsessed with the Red Sox. When he sees a Red Sox symbol, when he hears them mentioned on the radio, he shouts, “Red Sox, Mom!!” There are a LOT of Red Sox symbols in Boston, you guys. This happens constantly.

Here in New England where people are particularly passionate about their teams, I’ve learned it’s best not to fight it. Go with it. When in Rome and all.

But when I’ve seen kids’ sports team gear it’s never particularly cute. I’ve learned it’s much better to go online. And I’ve got the best Red Sox and Pats outfits for your kiddos. With the World Series coming up and the Sox doing pretty awesome, it’s definitely time to blend in and show some spirit whether or not you’re a local. (And come on, like you’d go with the Cardinals?)

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adidas Boston Red Sox Preschool Girls Pleated Polo Dress – Navy Blue/Red – $27.95

This dress comes in Preschool and Toddler sizes. I like the preppie style and tennis-style skirt. Though there are bunches of dress styles if you’ve got a girly girl of a sports fan on your hands. There’s also a Patriots version.

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Majestic Boston Red Sox Infant Bases Loaded 3-Piece Creeper Set – Navy Blue/Ash/White – $24.95

Babies make the best accessories, right? And babies decked out in sports gear are always all over my Facebook feed when football season heats up. (I’ll add nice Patriots pack for girls that’s not super girly. The nice ruffle sleeve is cute without having to go straight up pink.)

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’47 Brand Boston Red Sox Youth Navy Blue Basic Logo Adjustable Hat – $12.71

And, of course, the classic hat. (A bunch of hats are marked down right now, too.)

 

 
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New England Patriots Toddler Cheer Jumper – Navy Blue – $33.95

This is definitely de rigeur for the tiny Patriots fans.

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New England Patriots Youth Mascot Tassel Hat – Navy Blue – $16.95

And since football also signals the end of summer, a cozy hat for the kids is a great choice.

 Indoctrinate Your Children Well

As for me, I’m doing my best to show a little Red Sox spirit with my boring grey hat. What I really want, though? This one. So cute.

 

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’47 Brand Boston Red Sox Ladies Avery Military Adjustable Hat – Navy Blue – $17.21

Admit it, you’re indoctrinating your kids. Which team have you told them they’re obligated to root for?

Distract Your Preschooler With PBS Kids Apps

Disclosure: I was invited to an event put on by PBS Kids and WGBH Boston. I did receive a gift bag, though I’m going to giveaway some of the contents to a lucky reader…

Maybe there are people out there who have never given their phone to their child to keep them quiet. I applaud you all. But for the rest of us, well, it happens. And we want to have a “safe” source for games and apps to keep them from wandering through the Wild West that is Youtube.

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 We need technology for our kids. Our kids want to have fun. And thank goodness PBS Kids means I have programs I can give them where I don’t worry about frying their brains.

Graham and I went to an event by PBS Kids to talk about some of their new apps and games. They want to tie in the shows and characters kids enjoy to appropriate learning content for their age group. In particular they want to boost math performance by helping parents at home. 

I’m not trained in child development. I have no idea what my kid is supposed to be learning about at particular ages and how best to teach it to them. An app designed by people who have studied the way kids learn best is exactly what I need.

So obviously you have your tv guides and your app stores to find stuff for your kids. What you may not know about is the PBS Kids Lab, funded by an educational grant to help teach kids. The lab has resources you can use on a computer or mobile device. (I recommend hitting the “All Games” link and searching by age.)

These really are age-appropriate games. Graham tried out one of the offerings for younger kids: Bubble Pop with Curious George. This is a counting game that uses your microphone so a child can clap or speak to pop a bubble. 

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Photo provided by event photographer

Another one Graham enjoyed is Meerkat Jubilee from The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! It’s a path-building game that wasn’t too advanced for little kiddos. It gives them choices for which piece to use along the way in a trail from start to finish. Good for kids who aren’t quite ready for mazes yet.

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A Mobile app Graham enjoyed was Classic in the Jurassic from Dinosaur Train. It had bridges. Graham loves bridges. I had a hard time getting him away from it.

My personal favorite for the little ones is the Play and Learn app, which is free. And it’s really for PARENTS as much as for kids. (Some apps are paid, others are free. Everything in the lab is free.) What I love about this is that it’s an app that you can use for no-screen activities for those of you who may try to avoid passing off the tech to entertain the littles. It’s also based around places you normally go. So say you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. You pull up the app on your phone, hit grocery store, and there you have a short game your child can play plus a list of activities divided by your child’s age. From everything to how to talk to your baby about what they see around them to having your toddler learn words at the checkout to rhyming and measuring games for preschoolers. 

If you’re one of those parents who tries to avoid the screen for your kid if at all possible, this app is a great way for you to keep your kid engaged when you are feeling a little low on creativity. (Or patience.)

Definitely take a look at what’s available in the lab and search PBS Kids in the app store to find more for your tablet or phone. I am definitely going to be recommending some of these apps to my son’s teacher. I think these are the kinds of apps they’d love for the pre-K kids that can also tie in to at-home learning.

And don’t worry, there are also plenty of games and apps for kids age 6-8 with shows like Wild Kratts and Martha Speaks

PBS Kids was generous enough to give us redemption codes for some of their paid apps and I couldn’t keep them all to myself. (Though Graham insisted on the Dinosaur Train All Aboard app. Sorry.)

I’m giving away redemption codes for the following apps:

Receive one entry by leaving 1 comment about your child’s favorite PBS Kids show or character.

 Official Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. Up to one entry per household according to the directions set out in this post. Limited to entrants over 18 in the United States. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on Wednesday, May 1st at 6 pm Eastern Time. One winner will be chosen. The winner will receive the aforementioned app codes. Prize has value of approximately $10. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be selected using the “And the Winner Is” plugin. Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If a winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Don’t Mind the Mess, codes will be distributed via email. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited.

Good luck!