I've known about Crystal Springs Family Aquatic Center in East Brunswick for years but just never got around to trying it out -- until today. And I wish I had gone sooner. It is a smaller water park, but offers a lot, and it is easily within a short drive for many in Central Jersey and a very good value.
Their web page really under sells this attraction so I'm going to tell you some more about it and my experience there. We arrived a little before 1 pm and the parking lot was pretty full but there was a short line for the ticket booth and once inside it was pretty busy (a lot of camp groups were there) but not overly crowded. Four our family it was $84 ($22 per adult and $18 for my son who was under 48 inches. If you live in East Brunswick, it's even cheaper for the day.
There were two very cute areas for the smaller crowd. The first area had a set of 6 small slides that you accessed via a little wading pool with a mushroom waterfall. The slides dropped into a 2 to 3 foot wading pool that had a few sprinklers and "dunking" areas. I'd say this area is most enjoyed by children up to 6 years old, because of the slide, but preschoolers and older (like my son) may want to quickly move to the Splash Pad area.
The Splash Pad area was a lot of fun for kids of various ages and even for adults. There were animal spray fountains that kids could aim at each other, rings of sprayers and more water dunking buckets that are very refreshing on a hot day. My husband took great pleasure in pushing me under one.
There is a very neat area that has a Lily Pad and a Log Crossing. My daughter is about 52 inches tall and could do the Lily Pad fairly easily but she was not tall enough for the Log Crossing. It still was a lot of fun for her.
Of course, there is a lazy river which is just that, a river that flows along but it's a nice ride and it was just as nice as the one we tried at Six Flags White Water in Georgia.
There are several pools including a lap pool, a pool that went up to 5 feet and a wading pool that went up to about 3 feet (you could access it if you wanted to leave the lazy river). The 3-foot wading pool was a nice area to relax with a chair and dip your feet in the water while the kids played.
The water park also offers 3 water slides that look like they would be fun for kids at least 8 years old. We didn't try the slides because my 10-year-old doesn't like slides that don't use mats so I can't really comment on how "fun" they were.
You can bring food with you and have a picnic or grab a bite at the concession stand which I thought was pretty affordable. We got 4 hot dogs, 3 fries, 3 waters and a slushie for $20, which is comparable to what we've spent at McDonalds or Burger King except this tasted better.
If you have older teens or daredevils, they might become bored with this park after a couple of hours and prefer something like a Six Flags or Action Park. However, for kids who enjoy swimming with a little extra fun - and especially toddlers to elementary school kids - this is a great way to beat the summer heat.
Great things about the park:
Things you might miss:
There were animals everywhere! There were bears in pajamas, dogs, a Backyardigan or two, an Angry Bird and even a dinosaur. And there were plenty of entertained kids.
Kids, some in PJs, brought their fuzzy (or not so fuzzy) friends to the Somerset County Library for the Stuffed Animal Sleepover. They sang songs and listened to stories before leaving their friends for some overnight fun at the library. We've gone the past few years and my kids love it.
I particularly enjoy seeing the photos of what these animals will be caught doing while the library is closed. My kids love it, too.
But it's also a great way to encourage a love for reading and the local library. Right now, both my kids are reading books. My 4-year-old is scanning a book while cuddling his stuffed lion, Lolly (his all-time favorite animal so he didn't go to the Sleepover but Roly-Poly did - the round dog in the photos). When I tell them we're headed to the library, they're always excited about getting books or what event they'll be going to.
And what's more these events are free!!
So be sure to visit your local library this summer (here is a list of NJ libraries) and join a summer reading program. And if your local library doesn't have a Stuffed Animal Sleepover, tell them how much fun it can be and maybe they'll host one.
Children under 5 years old are twice as likely to die in a home fire as the rest of the population, according to the American Red Cross. Hopefully this shocking statistic will give all parents the motivation to take a long, hard look at whether their family is doing all it can to keep safe.
National Fire Prevention Week 2011 runs from October 9 to 15, 2011. Some local fire companies and schools are holding educational events to celebrate this important week. The National Fire Prevention Association is celebrating National Fire Prevention Week with the release of the first picture book featuring its mascot, Sparky the Fire Dog. (Read our review of the book).
We have compiled some fire safety resources that can help parents and their children review their fire prevention knowledge and brush up fire safety.
If you have duplicate cookie cutters (for some reason I have three snowmen and four stars of slightly different sizes) or just don't use them for baking anymore, there are two crafty ways to give them a second life.
The first is to use them for a painting project. Just grab some paper and choose your paint colors and dip your cutter into the paint for a quick masterpiece. Wash the cutters when you're done and you can use them again and again. Depending on the shape, you can create a paint project for a particular holiday or just for fun.
Use the cookie cutters for play doh or clay. Your child can roll out the play doh and then use the cutters to make their different shapes than what came with the play doh set.
If you are working with baking or air-dry clay, then you can use the cutters to make clay jewelry, clay coasters (if the shapes are large enough) or fun art objects.
There are some great options for plush toys, whether you're shopping for the Christmas holiday or another occasion. (For more gift ideas check out our gift guide).
Dolls and plush animals by Noukies is the brand I am most familiar with (and they have been in business the longest) so I admit to being a little favorably biased. My daughter was introduced to the Noa doll (see photo on right) when she was an infant and now more than 4 years later, this doll is almost as soft as when we got her. She has been washed multiple times, thrown, caught in a door, tossed in the tub and has held up very well (her skirt had a mesh-type lining that frayed and had to be cut out but the rest of her looks wonderful). We have since bought Lola the Cow and Paco the Donkey and although they don't get as much abuse they are still very well made.
There are a host of characters from hippos and lions to other dolls and more plushes for boys and girls (although I think there are more choices for girls). Besides plush toys, they offer blankets, rattles, pull toys and rockers. The one major down side is since FAO Schwarz stopped carrying the brand, it can be difficult for U.S. customers to locate and buy them. There are several British online merchants who will not ship to the U.S. and Amazon rarely has them, leaving parents with the option of having a friend in Europe or the United Kingdom buy and ship for you or purchasing them on ebay. There are often items on ebay but if you're searching for a particular character (such as Noa who is not readily available), you could be waiting a while and paying a hefty price tag. However, I think the cute factor, durability and the fact that my daughter still adores her Noukie dolls 4 years later (she still snuggles with Noa every night) makes it worth the effort.
Prices varies from $8 to more than $100 depending on the character, its size, the toy (ie rockers are expensive) and merchant location.
These dolls are so "ugly" they're cute! The Ugglydolls tend to look like little stuffed monsters but like those found in Disney's Monsters, Inc, these cuddly creatures are not scary. They're covered in a soft fleecy material and the stitching is very kid-friendly (although I still wouldn't leave an infant with any stuffed animal unattended).
We've only had two Uglydolls for a few months, the Pink Ox for my daughter and Little Ugly Turny Burny for my son, but they're popular toys in our household. My son is only a few months old and the Little Ugly is a great size at 7-inches tall and light enough for him to grasp during playtime. Ox is one of the larger plush toys at 14 inches tall and is perfect for a toddler or preschooler to tote around. My daughter plays with Ox, sleeps with her and sometimes even uses her as a pillow.
Because we've only had them a short time, I can't say what their lifespan will be although there's no reason to think they can't hold up being washed and handled for years. Like Noukies, there are several characters that will appeal to boys and girls. They also make other items including clothing, blankets, adorable action figures, tin toys and more. Their site also has a fun arcade section with games for older kids.
Unlike Noukies, you can find these dolls fairly easily: directly through the company's website, on Amazon and through other specialty stores in your area. The Little Ugly Dolls tend to cost around $10 while the larger ones are sold for about $20 and there even 2-foot dolls for $50 but you can find them for less, particularly on Amazon, depending on the character.
Little Ugly Dolls (7-inch) tend to be about $10; 14-inch dolls are usually $20 and 2-foot plushes are typically $50.
Disney's Pook a Looz are a snuggly addition to any child's household for a reasonable price (for most characters). I don't own one but I have seen them and they appear to be kid-tough and kid-friendly. The really neat thing about these plush dolls besides the cuddle factor, is the wonderful selection of favorite Disney characters for boys and girls. Just some of the Pook-a-Looz character lines available include:
The Pook a Looz plushes are typically 12 inches but there are some 10-inch toys and can range in price from about $12 to more than $30 depending on the character and its popularity. They can be purchased at the Disney Store, Toys R Us (although they had a limited selection of plushes) and Amazon. Right now, the Disney Store is selling certain Pook A Looz for 2 for $20.
As with many Disney themes, they don't stop at plush toys. There are Pook A Looz pins, keychains, Wobblers (which appear to be the Pook-A-Looz version of Weebles) and wind-up toys.
Pook-A-Looz Plush Toys can range sell for about $12 to more than $30 depending on the character and the retailer although the Disney Store is selling some of them for 2 for $20. Pook-A-Looz Wobblers, keychains and wind-up toys tend to sell for about $6.
The Hey! It's Free! website is a great site for finding freebies in a user-friendly manner. You can periodically check the home page for the latest free stuff or visit the various categories, including children, to see what new offers there are.
For example, if your child is still in diapers, Hey! It's Free! often has codes that you can use for the Huggies Enjoy the Ride and Pampers Gifts to Grow rewards programs. All you do is copy and paste the codes in your account and you have free points. If you haven't signed up for either of these rewards programs and you buy Huggies or Pampers products, you should take advantage of the free rewards program (and Hey! It's Free! has a 100-point code for new Pampers enrollees by Nov. 30).
This site is a great way to keep informed of upcoming offers for free samples as well and you can check it as often as you like or even sign up for updates.
Paint tray is clean with plastic cups
Those plastic containers for Jello, pudding or fruit (such as those packaged by Dole) are really handy for snacks on the go with your children - especially when you buy them on sale.
But I've always felt guilty about all that packaging, even though I've always put them in the recyling bin. So here are some ways to get a Second Life out of these containers before you toss them (hopefully in your recycling!):
Ok, first I have to confess that I am NOT fond of Elmo. His high-pitched voice and incessant laughter are grating to me so listening to any DVD that includes him - or worse, features him - is not appealing to me. But it's not always about what the parent wants because my 4-year-old daughter happens to like him. I tolerate him, not for her sake, but because I think the Sesame Street learning DVDs are entertaining and educational.
Let's get another confession out of the way: we all let our kids watch TV. I try to justify its use by trying as much as possible to steer my daughter towards programs that have some educational value. I've also realized recently after watching Preschool Prep's DVDs with my daughter that entertainment value is not to be underestimated either.
For example, repetition is the foundation of teaching a new skill or concept to children such as learning their numbers or letters, but I felt that Meet the Numbers and Meet the Letters by Preschool Prep were beyond excessive. The videos would show a number or letter and repeat it more than a dozen times (I stopped counting after that). Even my daughter asked, "Why do they keep saying the number over and over?" I'm not sure whether her reaction is proof that the suggested age range - 18 months to 5 years - for many of their DVDs is too broad but her response certainly showed she didn't enjoy it (and the fact that she hasn't asked to watch it since).
In contrast, Sesame Street's 123 Count with Me offers a kind of backstory to the numbers game with Ernie counting in real-life situations. There is repetition to enhance learning; however, it isn't delivered in a near monotone like Preschool Prep and the numbers are repeated in a larger variety of settings. Don't get me wrong, songs like "1 and 2 and 3" sung by three crows will certainly get stuck in your head but it didn't bother me as much as simply hearing a number said multiple times with basic animation.
I still cringe at Elmo's rapping about the number 5 on this DVD but it happens to be one of my daughter's favorite parts. I tolerate it to humor her and because overall the program offers a storyline, jokes and cute characters to present numbers in a fun as well as educational format.
I do think Preschool Prep's DVDs might be more valuable for a younger child. Personally, I think Meet the Numbers and the like are more suited for children under 2 years old and they might make a nice introduction to the concepts of letters and numbers for that age. However, I still think if you had to choose, Sesame Street's DVDs have much more to offer and really can be enjoyed by children of various ages; and as a mom who is listening to this stuff, the Sesame Street format is easier to tolerate.
Other Sesame Street DVDs worth trying include Learning About Numbers and Learning About Letters.
Summer fairs and festivals are a great opportunity for some family fun in New Jersey. From agricultural fairs to balloon festivals, families can really enjoy the Garden State in the summer months.
You can find information on different types of fairs - from crafts to music - at Fairs and Fun. You can find the various New Jersey agricultural fairs on the NJ Ag Fair website. We've highlighted some below:
Looking for a local playgroup for your toddler? Maybe you want to find other parents interested in exercising. Or perhaps you want to discover other families seeking to foster a foreign language.
Then you should check out Meetup.com, where you can search by location or interest to find like-minded groups. Many are run by concerned parents and are free to join. Some charge a nominal fee for membership. Several groups host activities and social events.
For example, some groups focused on play or socialization as well as a support group and adult-only events:
Parenthood NJ Picks