Smart Parenting
Practical advice about raising children

Restful Tips for Sleep-Deprived Parents

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A full night’s sleep can look a little different for everyone. With kids — well, it can look somewhat grim. If you’ve found this article, chances are that grimness is what brought you here. Yes, those of us who have been blessed with non-sleepers know what it’s like to struggle with the morning light — even after a few cups of coffee.

But sleeplessness doesn’t last forever. Let’s hope not, anyway, or the world can just quit reproducing. The secret to actually sleeping in with kids is to take charge of your sleep. Here’s how:

Redefine “Sleeping In”

With diapers taking over your dreams, even sleeping until 7 a.m. can feel like heaven. Instead of considering what time you’re getting up in the morning, focus on the best way to maximize the times when you can sleep. Getting a good seven hours of sleep each night can improve your mood, focus and overall health. If you happen to get eight hours one night — well, you lucky dog, you.

Delegate Your To-Dos

Moms and dads these days are loaded with to-dos. Though asking for help may seem like some sort of weakness, it’s actually a truly valuable and strong skill. Take a look at what you need to get done for the week, and then see which tasks absolutely need to be completed by you. That teenager down the street may be grateful for a few extra bucks, so hire her to cut your lawn once a week. Time is money, and money can buy you time to sleep.

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Sleep When Your Babes Do

Many prenatal programs tell you this tidbit in their spiels: Sleep when your babies are sleeping. Why do they tell you that? Because it may just be your saving grace. Let the laundry pile up a little, drop your vacuum routine down to once a week and get some rest. And most importantly: Don’t feel guilty about it. If catching a few precious minutes of shut-eye during your kid’s downtime is what gets you through the rest of the day, don’t hesitate — just do it.

Go to Bed Earlier

Night owls, you know who you are! It’s hard to say this, but you may be doing more harm to yourself with your late-night routines. In fact, there are several reasons why going to bed late can be harmful to your health, many of which are caused by sleep deprivation. So, you see, sleep is super important for your overall well-being. With that in mind, raise your right hand and say the following:

“Yes, I love late-night television, but I love sleeping more. I swear to head to bed at least ten minutes earlier tonight so I can catch some much-needed zzzs.”

If you felt embarrassed doing that, don’t — your rest is important. If you just didn’t do it, press rewind and do it — your rest is important.

Establish a baby bedtime routine

A bedtime routine is important for the kiddos — and for you. When it comes to nighttime with little ones, 7 - 8 p.m. is your sweet spot for sleeping. Get that bedtime routine going with calming activities. Have your kids turn off their electronics, take a warm bath, and snuggle up in their pajamas with a good book before you tuck them in. Once they’re in bed enjoy your own calming bedtime routine.

Don’t Add Unnecessary Activities

If you’re the type to keep a detailed calendar, go over it to look for unnecessary activities. Prioritize your duties into must-dos, want-to-dos and those that can take a walk out the door. Once you’ve purged, don’t add anything else.

Eliminate Bedtime Screen Watching

Though it’s tempting to scan social media before bed or turn on a kid’s show for your toddler to watch while eating his bedtime snack, try to keep the temptation at bay. Use of electronics before bed can actually lead to restlessness and up to an hour of lost sleep. Instead, power down the screens a good 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime and opt for leisurely, calm activities, like reading, doing puzzles or listening to relaxing music. 

Watch What You Eat

Your kids have bedtime snacks, so why shouldn’t you? Well, it turns out that late night eating may actually be harming your sleep patterns. Eating late at night can actually cause your sugar to spike, which — in turn — can make you antsy. It can also be a mindless activity as you relax in front of the tube. This, in turn, can lead to overeating and stress out your digestive system. If you must grab a bite, grab a piece of fruit or a cheese stick.

Having kids is one of the best things in the world, but having kids and sleeping seven hours a night is something shy of nirvana. Take control of your sleeping with these tips and tricks, and wake up refreshed no matter what ungodly hour your little one decides is best for morning.

Keeping Kids Healthy During the School Year

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It’s that time of year again when parents are rejoicing and children are lamenting about the upcoming school year. Suddenly, we are carefully checking school supply lists, scheduling haircuts, and trying desperately to get back into a routine. As you plan and prepare, take a few minutes to consider the ways you can help keep your kids healthy and thriving as they head back to class this fall. To help you on this journey, here are ten tips to implement this school year.

Use proper hand washing and hygiene techniques

Germs are everywhere, especially in the close confines of classrooms, locker rooms, and buses. Make sure your kids know how to properly wash their hands. Encourage them to create a good lather and sing ”Happy Birthday” two times while rinsing. Also, encourage a child to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and to always cough into their elbows.

Get adequate amounts of sleep

The rigors of school, extracurriculars and homework mean kids can easily become sleep-deprived.  This can result in poor school performance, attention disorders, mood disruptions, and immune systems that are more susceptible to illness. Experts recommend children get at least 9 hours of sleep every night.

Rethink breakfast

When many of us were growing up, we started our mornings with a bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, these traditional morning staples are loaded with sugar, added fiber, and synthetic vitamins or minerals. Look outside of the cereal box for alternative meal ideas, including whole grains and proteins, to fuel a child’s body and satisfy their hunger until lunch. For starters, consider adding eggs or oatmeal back into your family’s daily morning routine.

Skip the soda and juice

A study in the journal Nutrition found fruit juice has a comparable fructose concentration to sodas. That’s a lot of extra sugar! Encourage children to drink milk or water instead, and save the sweet stuff for an occasional treat.

Arm your kids with techniques to manage stress

Whether it is balancing grades and activities, homework, or scoring the winning touchdown on Friday night, kids feel a lot of pressure from parents, teachers, coaches and peers. This is especially true as they enter high school and start looking toward college. Let them know that it is okay to make mistakes and teach them methods to overcome setbacks and disappointments.

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Avoid sharing water bottles or personal hygiene items

We always teach our children to share, but this is one surefire way to pass germs and illness around a classroom. Tell kids, “if you put it in your mouth, don’t share”. Advise older kids to avoid sharing deodorants or razors after gym or practice.

Reclaim family dinners

Experts have been telling us for years how important it is to sit down as a family unit and share a meal. Besides building solid relationships, family dinners are a great opportunity to ensure kids are getting at least one nutritious meal a day.

Look for fun ways to get out and exercise

Whether it’s biking, jump roping, playing Just Dance, or catching Pokemon, look for activities that are fun and encourage you to get in shape while participating. If the activities are appealing to our kids, exercising will seem less like a chore and more like a treat. Consider how celebrities like Kelly Osbourne, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jason Mraz,  Beyonce, and even First Lady Michelle Obama are enjoying the hula hoop fitness movement and having fun at the same time!

Look for eco-friendly and healthy materials for packing lunches and snacks

Instead of wrapping sandwiches and meal items in questionable one-time use only plastics, consider utilizing safe reusable alternatives. While we realistically can’t avoid plastics, look for recycling codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 on the bottom of products before purchasing. These are the safest to use. Also, avoid microwaving food in plastic containers if at all possible to avoid chemicals leeching into our foods.

Limit the amount of technology in the home

Technology does have a time and place in our homes, but many children are spending too much time in front of a screen. Set a time limits of 2 hours everyday so they can enjoy social media, television, and research homework on the computer and still have ample time to be active while enjoying activities away from devices.

What advice do you have for keeping your kids healthy this school year?

5 DIY Kid Friendly Backyard Ideas

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Summer vacations to sunny and sandy destinations are loads of fun, but the vast majority of summer memories happen right at home in our own backyards. Many parents focus on one week of summer vacation at the beach — but why not invest in where the other dozen or so weeks of summer will be spent?

Your backyard is full of potential, especially to kids. Here is a look at how to build the ultimate family friendly backyard wonderland.

Make Safety a Priority

Your backyard should be full of fun, but without unnecessary anxiety or worry. Unfortunately, over 200,000 children ages 14 and under are taken to emergency rooms each year because of injuries on playgrounds and about 80% of those injuries result from falls.

Any upgrades or new equipment you add should meet basic safety and common sense standards. You can prevent injuries by following installation instructions and common child-proofing practices. Be sure to survey potential problem areas yourself, too.

Consider These 7 Backyard Wonderland Ideas

You can include the kids in bringing some of these ideas to fruition, but for others, you may want to call in a professional. Here is a range of ideas — from budget-friendly to extravagant — that can help make your backyard the ultimate summer destination.

Show Movies Outdoors with a Backyard Cinema

To make your own low-budget, super simple move screen, all you need is a white sheet, some nails and two trees. Or, you can opt to build an outdoor movie screen that will make the highest viewing quality for the projected film (turns out they make a fabric for that). 

After you create your screen, you can move on to the fun part: the furnishings. Arrange comfy outdoor chairs, beanbags and picnic blankets near the screen. If it’s a cool night, encourage friends to bring sleeping bags--perfect for snuggling as a family. Pop some popcorn and enjoy!

Swing in a Hammock

Do you have an avid reader in the family? A hammock is a great way to ensure they enjoy some fresh air while reading. Be sure to properly hang the hammock. If you prefer to leave your hammock up — instead of taking it down every time it rains — be sure to look for a mildew-resistant material.

Set up a Zip Line

Many families own swing sets or jungle gyms. If you want to level up on your backyard activity center, try a backyard zip line. You’ll likely want to enlist the help of your talented handyman of a father-in-law or your friend who is a contractor by day. The supplies are surprisingly simple, and there are even zip-line kits ready to go for purchase if you’re not much of a DIYer. Keep in mind, safety is paramount when allowing children to hang from rope, so helmets and harnesses are a must.

Paint an outdoor Chalkboard Wall

Kids have been using chalk to decorate sidewalks and driveways for ages. There will always be a special place in our hearts for hopscotch boards and four square outlines etched in sidewalk chalk.

Elevate your love of chalk art and use chalkboard paint on fences or wall installations to create an outdoor artist’s canvas. You can hang a bucket of chalk for easy access and clean up, or simply use a plastic container with a lid, so the chalk won’t get wet if it rains.

Build a Backyard Teepee

The backyard playhouse is ubiquitous. Most kids have seen a mini house in a backyard, but what about a teepee? Create a backyard teepee using painter’s canvas as the fabric, which is sturdy but won’t cost a fortune. There is no hammering or power tools involved, so the kids can help and then decorate it as they wish. You could also use this opportunity to teach them about Native American history.

If you put a bit of sweat equity into your backyard, your family will enjoy a fun and creative summer. Consider trying one — or all! — of these projects to create a wonderland in your backyard to enjoy for the seasons to come.

3 Ways Yoga Inversion Can Boost Your Child's Mood

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I remember a couple of years ago, being at the new home of my ex-husband and his young girlfriend, for my sons’ birthday celebration. My kids had asked their father to host this party and that I come along and celebrate with them. Of course I said yes, in spite of the heavy emotions I knew this would bring up for me. As the party progressed, I recall looking desperately for a spot to lift up into a handstand. I couldn’t explain this urge to be upside down, but it was there, and when I found a wall (because I admit I am a yogi who needs a wall), and got myself inverted, I felt instant relief, and had a moment to literally look at the whole situation from a different perspective.

Kids of all ages feel stress, anxiety, sadness and other emotions as much as adults, and often don’t have the tools to cope. When in the midst of a troubling situation, or feeling overwhelmed conversation isn’t always the answer. Kids respond viscerally to a multitude of experiences, and often, getting them to do something physical gives them a more immediate way to safely handle what is troubling. Helping kids learn to invert gives them another way to not only change their physiology but also their outlook.

What are inversions?

To invert really means to have the head below the heart. Inversions don’t need to be intimidating. Often, the idea of headstands or handstands can bring on a bit of fear and anxiety, so unless these are desired inversions, there are others available to do the job. Downward dog is always a favorite, and readily available for everyone. Other options are wheel, shoulder stand, legs up the wall, happy baby and simply folding over one’s own legs from a standing position There are safe ways to teach head and handstands with the support of a wall and a teacher. One of my favorite headstands uses blocks to do a no-head headstand, taking the weight and pressure off of the neck and head. Whatever the preference, inverting feels great and is extremely beneficial.

Inversions and the body

Turning things upside down actually has great benefit to the body. Inversions help strengthen the core, arms, and shoulders, and serve as good practice for balance. There is increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, providing more clarity and an increased ability to focus, and improved circulation. This also helps to invigorate and energize the body. As we know sometimes kids get stuck in a pattern of negative thought, or feel drained, and heavy with emotions due to fatigue. Inversions such as headstand, handstand or forearm stand can give kids a mental boost that helps increase their energy and ability to tackle issues at hand. They can be a fun, quick, “pick me up!”

More soothing inversions, such as legs against the wall or happy baby can have a calming effect on the nervous system. When kids are stressed or upset, their sympathetic nervous system has usually taken over and they are stuck in a reactionary fight or flight mode. Calming inversions can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and increase ability to make clearer decisions, slow down breathing, find homeostasis in the body’s functioning, becoming and feeling more in control of a situation.

Photo by Susan Verde

Inversions and perspective

In addition to physiologically affecting the brain and the nervous system, inversions can both literally and emotionally “turn that frown upside down.” Having safe and effective choices and options for handling stress is important for children, as they encounter many varied situations into adulthood. Sometimes what kids need is a different way to see things and that is what inverting does. Being upside down builds confidence, boosting a child’s view of his own ability to handle his emotions. When we can look at an event from another point of view, we cultivate empathy and compassion, as well as providing ourselves with more options to cope.

Looking at a situation from another angle also brings an element of playfulness and fun into the moment. Sometimes this shift is all that’s needed to change one’s mood and bring on a real smile from ear to ear.

Susan Verde is a yoga and mindfulness teacher, and author of the picture books The Museum, I Am Yoga, You and Me and the forthcoming The Water Princess.She lives in East Hampton, New York with her three children. 

10 Fun Outside Activities for Kids and Families

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It's now a distant memory, but before the days of video games, tablets and other electronic devices, there was actually a time when kids loved to play outside. In fact, there was a time when parents thought their kids played outside too much, and they had to find ways to coax them back indoors.

Times, of course, have changed. For a variety of reasons, kids just don't go outside as much as they used to. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Here are 10 ways you can get your kids to go outside and help them learn to love it.

Take Them on a Walk

This is the simplest option, of course, but take your kids for a walk. Make it a part of your evening routine – rain or shine.  This will have the double effect of helping your child get used to going outside regularly, along with exercise for you both. You could also bump it up a notch and take your kids on a hike.

Sleep in the Backyard

For many children, sleeping outside is an adventure. You may eventually want to take them on a real camping trip, but before that you can get a little practice but setting up a tent and camping in the backyard. This will include more than just sleeping, of course. There will be plenty of time to have a meal and play some games, all while spending time outdoors.

Stare at the Sky

Looking at clouds and discussing what they remind you of may be one of the oldest games in the book. But it can be an easy way to spend some time with your child outside and spark up a conversation and get their little wheels turning. Who knows? Maybe they will blossom into a full-fledged cloud appreciator.

Experiment with Sports

The world of ultra-competitive youth sports can be a daunting proposition for many parents, but you don't have to have a child on the top traveling team for them to learn and enjoy all sports. The point is just to get them outside--childhood play is key for developing a wide variety of skills. Try a wide range of sports. Play catch with a football or baseball. Toss a Frisbee. Kick around a soccer ball. Shoot some hoops. Allowing your kids to try their hand at all manners of sports will help them appreciate the pros even more.

Start a Garden

Gardening with your children will not only get them outside on a regular basis, but it will also help them learn the basics of botany and plant life. Not only that, but the whole family will benefit from the fruits, vegetables and herbs you grow together. There's just something about homegrown food that makes it taste that much better.

Get Near the Water

Teaching your kids to swim early in life will help them in the long run, but being around water doesn't always have to be about swimming. Depending on your child’s age, there are countless other water activities available, too! Water skiing, snorkeling, body surfing or fishing are all water activities you and your kinds may choose to partake in. You can also enjoy the water without actually getting in it--take in the beauty and serenity of a local lake, pond, river or stream.

Build a Clubhouse

Putting together a good old fashioned clubhouse has multiple benefits. Not only will it get your kids in the habit of going outside regularly, but it will also give you plenty of bonding time while you build it together. Kids always enjoy feeling like they have access to their own private sanctuary, and having one in the backyard is a good way to do so while keeping your peace of mind intact.

Collect Things

Like many things on this list, starting a nature collection with your children has benefits above and beyond getting them out of the house and into fresh air. For one, it can teach them--and you--about everything from leaves to plants to bugs to birds. Starting a nature collection can also teach them values such as appreciating and respecting nature.

Ride a Bike

It may take a while to teach your child to ride a bike, but once they do there are hours of fun ahead. Riding with your kids will teach them all sorts of things, including the geography of your city your town, how to properly obey traffic laws and how to properly maintain and care for a bicycle. Bike riding, of course, is also an excellent form of exercise.

Just Play

It’s sad that in the last 30 years the time devoted to play in a preschooler’s day has dropped from 40 to 25 percent of the day.  Play is critical to a child’s development and, the truth is, it doesn't really matter what they're doing to play. The key is just getting them outside and playing in the first place.

There are several initiatives that drive home this point, including the NFL's project to encourage kids to play for at least 60 minutes each day. Getting them out of the house for an hour a day will help them appreciate the outdoors while also keeping them healthy.

Summer Yoga at the Beach for Kids

Photo by Susan Verde

Summertime is almost here, and with the beautiful weather comes beach time! Between the sunscreen, gathering the snacks and towels, other “equipment,” and loading everyone into the car for your drive, beach trips can feel a bit overwhelming. But once you’ve “landed” it is actually a wonderful opportunity to fit in some yoga and mindfulness. From the sand to the water, the beach is an opportunity to connect, relax and play. Try these active and calming exercises to infuse your child’s beach day with a bit of yoga fun.


The beach is the perfect place to get your kids practicing mindfulness, and that particular attention paid to what is happening in the moment. Take some time to really observe the water, what is its color? Are there waves? Are they big or small? How do they form and move? Can you sync your breath to their ebb and flow? Once in the water what does it feel like against your skin? While immersed, ask, “How do you feel inside your body as each wave approaches? Nervous? Excited?” Engaging all of the senses can turn a dip into a mindful experience and a practice of awareness and appreciation for the beauty and wonder of nature. Taking a beach walk and collecting shells is also a great option. Feel the sand between the toes. Listen to the crunch with each footstep. Look closely at the details of each shell. Who lived in there? Can you hear the ocean?

Photo by Susan Verde

Salute the sun

Taking your child through a series of sun salutations can not only support everyone’s appreciation for the gift of the sun, but it’s a wonderful way to warm up the body after getting chilled in the water, and great exercise to boot! Start standing with feet hip distance apart. Inhale and reach up to the sky as if taking the sun in your hands. Exhale and fold over the feet, inhale with hands on shins and look up. Exhale and fold. Step each foot back into a plank and drop to the belly. With bent elbows and hands on either side of the body aligned with the chest, palms pressing into the ground, push the sand away as you arch the back and look up at the sky in cobra pose. Coming back to all fours lift your hips in the air, keeping hands on the ground and arms straight. Gaze at your belly and wag your tail in downward dog pose. Jump your feet to your hands and squat in frog, then straighten the legs and fold over them as you did from the start. Raise your arms towards the sky as you slowly roll up and then bring palms pressed together to your heart.  Repeat this sequence as many times as feels good. Build up a sweat and say “Thank you Sun!” Kids will be ready for round two of wave diving in no time!

Get upside down

The softness of the sand is perfect for trying more difficult poses and removing the fear of falling which can often hold kids (and grown-ups) back from inverting. Kids can kick up their heels and practice handstands or crow pose. Give kids the challenge and they will rise to the occasion. Children naturally love to turn upside down and look at the world from a different perspective and the beach is a naturally supportive setting for this exploration.

Photo by Susan Verde


Lying on a towel, soaking up the rays (with lots of sunscreen on of course) is one of the best parts of a beach day. Encourage your kids to take some down time, stretching out on their backs, closing their eyes, and letting their whole body and the thoughts of a busy day just go. Some deep breathing in and out through the nose will allow their muscles to loosen and their minds to clear. Having the sand beneath them is great for a tense and relax exercise or a body scan. While in this restful position have your child tighten different parts of the body and then on an exhale, relax them or bring their attention to each body part imagining they are sinking into the soft sand.

Beach yoga and mindfulness can give kids a chance to reset their bodies and minds, and can help to manage the transitions and busy schedules that the season can bring, which makes for a happier summertime experience for the whole family!

Susan Verde is a yoga and mindfulness teacher, and author of the picture books The Museum, I Am Yoga, You and Me and the forthcoming The Water Princess. She lives in East Hampton, New York with her three children.

4 Tips for Summer Safety for Kids

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Planes, trains, automobiles or backyards: What will be your pick for family fun this summer? The minute schools let out, the kids are officially on vacation. That means that mom and dad have to be on elevated alert to make sure the home front is also a safe zone for fun.

Those precautions can extend to the family vacation as well. It doesn't take a lot of effort to protect your loved ones, just a little planning. Do it right and they won't even notice you've become a super safety monitor. Here's what to keep in mind:

Around the Outdoors

The moment your kids step outside to play, they should be lathered with sunscreen. The minimal SPF factor is around 15. Thankfully, sunscreen companies have gotten with the program in terms of "ease of use." Now, you can find safe sunscreen options that come in sprays as well as lotions. Most sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. This is especially true if your kids are around water or sand, where the sun's reflections intensify. Keeping babies and toddlers covered with hats and long sleeves is also a good precaution.

If given the chance, the average kid would hit the backyard in the morning and not come back inside until it's time for dinner. As with sunscreen, you also want them to stay hydrated. That means taking drink breaks at least every twenty minutes when out in the heat. Make it easy by setting up a cooler of water. Keep in mind that the minute your kid feels thirsty, they are already dehydrated.

Depending on where you live, you might need to do a tick check when playtime is over – particularly if you’ve been in a wooded area. Ticks can be tricky and hard to spot, but you definitely want to catch them before they latch onto you or your child. If you find a tick, make sure you follow proper tick removal and disposal techniques.  

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Around the Pool 

If you have a pool in your backyard, it could become the most popular spot on the block. Rule number one: Never leave young kids alone by the pool. Ever. It doesn't matter how skilled they are at swimming or diving, they need supervision. You are the lifeguard now. Even your teens should know that you're keeping an eye out on them to prevent horseplay that can lead to injuries.

When enjoying your typical pool session, make sure you've got a phone outside, along with flotation rings and a shepherd's hook. For extra vigilance, take a CPR course. With a couple of hours’ training, you'll be good to go.

When visiting a new pool at a hotel, theme park or community center, make sure you give it the once over before the kids dive in. Specifically, make sure all the drains are covered, especially in the deep end. It doesn’t hurt to check the inspection reports as well, since as many as 80% of public pools had at least one violation in a recent study.

Around the Car

If a road trip is on the agenda, make sure your car is ready for the adventure. It might be time to review your child safety seat setups to make sure they conform to recommended standards (1 in 4 car seats are not used or installed properly).  Of course, you should also travel with an emergency road kit, to help if the car breaks down in bad weather.

Once you get behind the wheel put down the cell phone. Between the road ahead and what's going on in the backseat, you don't need any other distractions.

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Around the Grill

Summer is all about grilling. As you work up your new marinade recipe, review the hot zone areas with your kids. There is nothing wrong with getting them to help out with the cooking, but make sure they’re aware of the potentially dangerous situations.

Ask any top chef and they'll recommend that before grilling, you bring meat and poultry to room temperature. This means setting it out on the counter for a bit, keeping it covered in a bowl or on a cutting board. After handing any type of raw meat or poultry, wash up and avoid using the same bowls or trays to transfer cooked meat, to avoid cross-contamination.

Of course, nothing can prevent your fair share of scrapes, cuts and bug bites. Fortunately that’s nothing that can't be taken care of with a well-stocked first aid kit. Between that and common sense precautions, your family can look forward to a super safe and fun summer.