Family Bike Ride: Mason Neck State Park

mason neck bike ride

Many of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around my pastel colored bicycle.  Bike riding provided a type of freedom as a child that I craved, and this love has carried into adulthood.  With 2 older children that are pretty good at riding, I was patiently waiting for my baby to be old enough to pop in the seat attached to my bike.  Mason Neck State Park was the choice for our family bike ride on a beautiful fall day.

mason neck nature trail

This past weekend was our first family excursion with baby in tow, on our bicycles.  And Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia was the perfect location to go ride and be outside to enjoy the beautiful fall scenery.  Mason Neck State Park, along with Pohick Bay is tucked into the corner of Fairfax County, Gunston Hall to be specific.  It’s right next to Lorton, and just down route 1 from Woodbridge.  A quick turn onto Gunston Hall Rd. and you feel like you are way out in the country.  You will pass some large horse farms that look straight out of the movies.

mason neck family bike ride

If your children are older and can handle a longer ride, I recommend actually parking at a pullout on Gunston Hall Rd.  and riding on the awesome paved trail into Mason Neck Park.  Seeing as this was our first attempt with the baby seat, we actually drove a little further, into the actual park and nature preserve, to park at the trail lot.  Your other option is to drive all the way to the education center on the water, and park there.

mason neck family bike ride

The best biking is done on the High Point multi-use trail.  It is rated easy, and is paved which makes for great riding.  The awesome thing about this trail with kids is that it is pretty much flat, just a few rolling hills, and you basically have the trail to yourself, even on a beautiful fall day.  In over an hour on a Saturday, we only had one other cyclist pass us.  With that being said, I wouldn’t ride this trail alone for obvious safety reasons.

mason neck family bike ride

Along the High Point trail are a few picnic tables as well as restrooms.  At the Visitor Center you will find rangers ready and willing to answer questions, some interactive displays, and life size bald eagle statues.  There is a children’s learning room with lots of items for them to feel and touch, as well as some aquariums with fish and frogs.  Outside of the visitor center has bird houses set up which make for great viewing,  And if you are lucky you will spot some Bald Eagles on your trip.  Take some time to look at beautiful Belmont Bay, it offers some peace and quiet from the business of Northern Virginia.  Looking for other weekend outdoor fun, check out my guide to Great Falls hiking with kids.

mason neck visitor center

 

Wildlife Viewing

Though exploring the refuge is restricted to established nature trails, you’ll find that these winding forested corridors are rich in nature and history. Visitors to the refuge can enjoy hiking our 4 miles of trails to view birds and other wildlife, or simply enjoy the solitude.

Download the bird list (pdf)

mason neck hiking trail

Hours of Operation

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, including federal holidays, from 7AM – 5PM October 1- March 31 and 7AM-7PM from April 1 – September 30. Staff temporarily closes the refuge during managed deer hunts in November and December. Call the headquarters office or check this website for scheduled closures.

 

Location

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

Its address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Mason Neck?  Where else do you go biking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Great Falls : Kid Friendly Outdoor Recreation and Nature

 

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Perfect weather on an October weekend in Virginia meant we were taking it outside to a favorite destination, Great Falls National Park.  Great Falls is a unique treasure so close to the urban center of DC.  A trip to the waterfalls and hiking trails makes you almost forget the traffic and fast paced life of the surrounding areas.  The Great Falls National Park is nestled right off the beltway.  The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area.  It also provides  excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations.

The Virginia side is officially named Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  The main attraction, which is the gorgeous cascading water of the Mather Gorge, visible from both sides, makes it all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Activities available at the parks include hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, fishing and kayaking.  Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers which is nice to stop in with children.  There are interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the local area.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park.  It is just under five miles, winds through trees, outcroppings of large rocks, and along  paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. This fun yet rugged trail offers awe inspiring views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit difficult for young children.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

There are designated overlooks of the falls on both sides Great Falls Park. In Maryland, there is lookout  just a short walk from the parking lot, where you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. Both offer equally beautiful views of the Gorge.

As with many activities near DC, there can be crowds.  On a nice weekend the parking lots tend to fill up early and there can be a line of cars waiting at the entrance.  If possible try and visit on a weekday, or at least arrive early on a weekend.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Some useful tips to note if planning a visit;

  • wear good shoes for hiking, there are rocks and uneven footing on the trails
  • restrooms are located at the Visitor Center on both sides of the park
  • swimming is NOT allowed
  • Concessions are available but it is much more fun to bring a picnic

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $10/vehicle, $5/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD

Looking for other day trips to take, check our apple picking guide in Virginia and a review of Great Country Farms.

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Great Falls?  Where else do you go hiking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Pumpkin Crumb Cake

pumpkin crumb cake

Fall is finally in the air this week in Virginia.  Waking up in the mornings is around 40 degrees, enough to be really chilly at the bus stop.  Pumpkin desserts are one of the first things I think of making, as I just love the taste and smell of anything pumpkin.

Pumpkin crumb cake tops the list as one of my favorite desserts.  It is so incredibly delicious that you will not want to miss a crumb on your plate.  You have the soft and tender pumpkin cake, loaded up with all the fall spices.  The smell of nutmeg, cinammon, and  ginger will fill your house as you bake.  Atop the cake is a delicious and buttery crumble, yes the kind you go in the kitchen to secretly pull a crumb off the top and eat before your kids see you!  I like to finish it with a dusting of powedered sugar and if I’m feeling fancy some whipped cream.

pumpkin crumb cake

The ingredients are mostly pantry staples.  And feel free to ramp up the spice amounts, use Allspice, or whatever tastes great to you.  I also tend to cut down on sugar amounts when I bake.  This one has already been reduced from the original recipe, but feel free to cut more if you would like.  Sour cream and Greek yogurt can also be used interchangably.

pumpkin crumb cake

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Pumpkin Crumb Cake

A soft and tender pumpkin cake, topped with a delicious, buttery cinnamon crumble.  Finish with a dusting of powedered sugar and whip cream.

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 12
Author Nicole

Ingredients

Crumb Topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

For the crumbs:


  1. In a bowl whisk together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and use fingers to break up clumps of brown sugar.  Pour in melted butter and fold with a spatula until evenly moistened.  Set mixture aside.



For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, or use parchment paper.

    In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all spice. Set aside.

    In the bowl of an electric stand mixer blend together granulated sugar and brown sugar to break up clumps. Add butter and vegetable oil to sugar mixture and blend to combine. Mix in eggs one at a time. Then mix in pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt and vanilla. With mixer on low speed slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until just nearly combined. Remove the bowl and fold batter until combined.

    Pour batter into prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over batter. Bake in preheated oven until center is set, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

    Dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.

    Enjoy!

pumpkin crumb cake

For more fall inspired posts, check out my Virginia Apple Picking Guide.

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Fidgets: Quiet Ways for Fidgety Kids to Release Energy

 

Fidgets have become increasingly popular both at home and at school.  Used properly, they can be a great tool.

Some kids are in constant motion.  They are moving, tapping, bouncing, touching, or talking.  Often when these are occurring in a group or a classroom, it becomes a disruption to learning around them.  This is when parents and educators need to come up with a creative toolbox of quiet fidgets for children to use to burn that energy.

Fidgets are all the rage right now.  They are all over the news, as well as schools.  As a result fidgets are also getting a bad rap and are being banned.  But there are many more types of fidgets, beyond the fidget spinner that is in every store.

What is the Problem?

Certain children, such as those with autism or ADHD, may be in constant motion.  Asking them to sit quietly in a seat is impossible.  They are kicking, squirming in their seat, ripping paper, or walking around the room.  They may talk a lot while sitting or make other noises.

Why Does This Occur?

It is thought that impaired motor control centers in the brain are the cause of fidgety, hyperactive behavior.  Impulse-control problems also play a part.  The hyperactive child is unable to inhibit the impulse to move around.

How to Help

Parents and educators need to provide physical outlets that let these children  release pent-up energy and improve focus.

Types of Fidgets

fidget spinner

Fidgets are really anything that can be quietly squished or handled. Not having to focus on staying absolutely still conserves the child’s energy for focusing on class lessons or other activities.  First year special education teachers, it’s definitely worth collecting some of these for your classroom.  Here, are my recommended soothing, effective fidgets for children who focus best when they are chewing, squeezing, picking, or  spinning.

Wikki Stix

wikki stix fidget

Wikki Stix are a combination of wax and yarn that your child can bend, twist, roll and sculpt to create art.  They are durable, cannot be pulled apart, and can be cut.  They help with fine motor skills and sensory stimulation, and are great to strengthen little fingers.

Silly Putty

silly putty fidget

Silly Putty is a tried and true inexpensive favorite fidget.  It can be squished, pulled and squashed which provides lots of handheld stimulation.  There are different brands such as TheraPutty and Power Putty which have different resistance levels depending on the child’s hand strength.

Dog Tag Chewies

Dog Tag Chewies fidget

If your child is always chewing things such as nails, hair, or objects than these dog tags provide a more sanitary and appropriate alternative.  They are a discreet alternative that provide oral stimulation and tactile.  The chewies are made of silicone that is free of BPA and can be put in the dishwasher for cleaning.

Palm Weight

palm weight fidget

The soft beanbag-like pillow with a hook-and-loop strap fits in the palm of your hand, or on the back of your hand, and is then secured by a strap. The weight steadies and calms hands. It provides proprioceptive input and sensory feedback to help encourage proper writing position and better handwriting. The weight calms fidgety hands so children and adults can concentrate on writing. The weight has just the right input to help improve handwriting and boost writing skills.,

Cheww Stixx

chewie stixx fidget

Children who chew pencils and erasers often don’t realize they are doing it, it can be a dangerous habit.   Cheww Stixx are oral fidgets that fit on the end of a pencil and satisfy the need to chew.  they come in lots of colors and designs, are free of BPA, and can be washed in the dishwasher.

Fiddle Linx

FiddleLinks Fidget

This was designed by a hand therapist and has interlocking and rotating pieces to provide light stimulation and strengthen fingers.  It allows the children to keep their eye on the teacher, and is a good choice for the older student.

Ziggy Pasta

ziggy pasta fidget

Ziggy Pasta is tons of colorful noodles that slide through your fingers as you squeeze.  It provides a soothing sensation for a child that is highly sensitive to different textures.  It does not make any noise and is a favorite choice of teachers.

Denim Pocket Lap Pad

denim lap pad fidget

Weighted blankets are great choices for schildren with sensory processing disorder and ADHD but not a great choice in the classroom. This smaller version allows the child to keep it on their lap at their desk and also slide their hands in the pockets.  It provides calming pressure and helps remind the child stay in their seat when restless.  It is a bit expensive but is durable and will last a long time.

Boinks

boinks fidget

Boinks are a small tube of nylon with a marble sealed inside.  You can squeeze or slide the marble back and forth, bend it, fold it, squeeze the sleeve together and roll the marble like shaking a bell. 

OVER TO YOU

Does your child fidget?  Have you or a teacher tried any of these fidgets?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Video Games to Help Improve Executive Functioning

video games

A little extra screen time spent on video games can actually help improve executive functioning in children with ADHD.  The following post contains some of the best choices in gaming for your child.

Executive function, the skills we need to plan, organize, and regulate behavior, can naturally be developed by the use of games.

video games

Go and Play Your Video Games!

Honestly in the past this was something I would NEVER say to my children.  But then I started looking at what was the allure of video games? Why do children with ADHD seem to love video games, to the point of missing meals and not going to the bathroom?  The utter concentration employed during the game, the ability to fail at a task and keep trying until they beat that level.

Games contain the ideal ingredient for motivation.  They are attractive, take a realistic amount of energy and the chance of success are good. The feedback is immediate as are cognitive rewards. So then I wondered, How can this  translate to completing homework for students with executive functioning difficulties?

As kids work through levels of the game, they learn what mistakes they made and to not do them again.  They know the goal, or endgame.  The child needs to develop their own strategy to beat the level, and they receive immediate feedback.

When it comes to homework, the resistance for some children with ADHD and executive functioning difficulties may be the lack of clear short-term goals with purposeful objectives. There is an absence of immediate feedback and reinforcement.

super mario bros wii

 

Video games such as Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii help to exercise working memory skills, one of the key executive functions.

zelda

 

Legend of Zelda

Players attempt to save kingdoms, battle monsters and follow a story line. They use flexible thinking, planning and working memory skills as they navigate the game. They need to solve puzzles, learn how to master swordplay and deal with other characters. All of this goes on with distractions in the background.

minecraft

Minecraft

Minecraft is a video game that your child can customize. Players must figure out ways to use virtual blocks to build communities. They also must mine the materials they need to make tools, food, clothing and whatever else they need to sustain their environment. Multiple modes of game play give players a chance to see how different plans pan out. If one doesn’t work, players can rebuild from scratch.

 

portal 2

 Portal

Portal is set in a 3D world called Aperture Science Enrichment Center. Players work together to get around obstacles that keep characters from getting out of Aperture. Tasks get harder as players improve. They range from putting an object in the right place in order to open a door, to getting through multiple portals in a short time. Schools often use Portal 2 because it’s a fun way to think about spatial reasoning and basic physics.

scribblenauts

 Scribblenauts

Scribblenauts is much less action packed than some other video games. But it uses critical reasoning in a unique way. Players have to solve the spatially oriented obstacles the hero encounters as he goes through the levels. And they do it by literally writing the solution and having it appear. Players can write simple things, such as “ropes.” Or they can write crazier things, such as “Yeti the snowman-like creature on a lawnmower.

 

sim city

SimCity

The object of SimCity and SimCity Creator is to build a civilization from the ground up. Players have to plan and anticipate what the city will need as it evolves. A society that begins with hunters can quickly grow into one that needs factories and school. Players need to know zoning laws and municipal codes as they build. They also must use problem-solving skills to find ways to meet the challenges of supply and demand.

Computer Games

There are a number of computer games thought to help develop certain specific brain functions such as memory and attention. Here are some online sources of “brain games” to consider:

Fit Brains

Lumosity

Managing fantasy sports teams requires executive skills, along with task initiation and time management.

OVER TO YOU

Does your child struggle with executive functioning? Do they love video games?  What are you thoughts on the topic, I would love to hear.

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, ADHD,  reading instruction.  and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

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Executive Functioning: The # 1 skill needed at school

child at school

The #1 Skill Children Need to Be Successful

We all want our children to succeed at school.  But that is not always an easy task.  You may wonder, what is the #1 skill needed for my child to succeed at school?  The answer is Executive Functioning.

What does this really mean though?

It’s mentioned a whole lot nowadays, but why?  Is it really important?

Yes, because executive functions comprise the essential self-regulating skills that we all rely on everyday to accomplish just about everything.  Executive functions help us to plan and organize, learn from our mistakes, make decisions, control our emotions and impulsivity, and shift between thoughts and situations.  Kids start their day by relying on executive functions to get dressed for school and rely on it for every other task until bedtime.

Children who have poor executive functioning skills, often times this goes hand in hand with ADHD, can be quite disorganized.  Their backpacks are an explosion of papers.  Their school desks have piles of garbage in and around their desk.  Homework agendas are not filled out.  They take forever getting dressed, and completing one chore can often take a really, really long time.  Long term assignments are left until last minute, as is studying for a big test.

Well there is help.  And many learning specialists have devised strategies that can help students with poor executive functioning.  Improving organization skills can be achieved through specific strategies and alternate learning styles.

Here are some skills to help students, and parents, get that homework done as well as some other tasks around the house!

Checklists

The steps necessary for completing a task are often not obvious to kids with executive dysfunction.  Defining them clearly ahead of time makes a task less daunting and more achievable. Following a checklist  also minimizes the mental and emotional strain many kids with executive dysfunction experience while trying to make decisions.

With a checklist, kids can focus their mental energy on the task at hand.

You can make a checklist for nearly anything.  For example, posting a checklist of the morning routine can be a sanity saver: make your bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, have breakfast, grab your lunch, get your backpack.  Click MORNING ROUTINE task cards to grab a free copy of a morning checklist.

Set time limits

When making a checklist, many experts recommend assigning a time limit for each step, particularly if it is a bigger, longer-term project.  Talking about the steps to create a poster timeline project for example, requires research, finding pictures, gathering materials, creating a rough draft, and the final draft.  Discussing the time needed for each part can help the student see the bigger picture.

Use that planner

It is crucial that students learn to use a planner.  Most schools require students to use a planner these days, but they often don’t teach children how to use them.  It will also not be obvious to a child who is overwhelmed by—or uninterested in—organization and planning. This is a bad combination because kids who struggle with executive functioning issues have poor working memory, which means it is hard for them to remember things like homework assignments. And working memory issues tend to snowball. Fortunately many teachers also use online platforms and their websites to post homework assignments and test dates.  This comes in handy when that planner or agenda comes home blank, again.

Spell out the rationale

While a child is learning new skills, it is essential that he understand the rationale behind them, or things like planning might feel like a waste of time or needless energy drain.  Kids with poor organizational skills often feel pressured by their time commitments and responsibilities.  Explaining the rationale behind a particular strategy makes a child much more likely to commit to doing it.

Explore different ways of learning

Because everyone learns differently, it is good practice to use a variety of strategies to help kids with executive dysfunction understand—and remember—important concepts. Using graphic organizers as a reference for visual learners is one example.

Other kids remember things better if there is a motion supporting it, like counting on their fingers, which is good for visual and tactile learners. Younger children benefit from self-talking to reduce anxiety and Social Stories, which are narratives about a child successfully performing a certain task or learning a particular skill.

Establish a routine

This is particularly important for older kids, who typically struggle more to get started with their homework.  Check my post of the ultimate after school routine for some ideas.

Use rewards

For younger kids, you can try putting a reward system in place.  Something like a star chart, where kids see the connection between practicing their skills and working towards a reward, works very well.

For older kids who aren’t as motivated by things like rewards, parents should still be encouraging.  Parents need to be checking in with older kids.  Ask how things are going or offer help. Tell them you appreciate all the hard work they’re doing. School is really hard for a lot of kids and they should be recognized for their effort.

We use our organizational skills every day in a million ways, and they are essential to our success in school and later as adults. Following these tips should help to put your child on the right track.

OVER TO YOU

Does your child struggle with executive functioning? Do they seem to be unorganized? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to child learning, ADHD,  reading instruction.  and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

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