Visiting National Parks with Toddlers


Enjoying the National Parks with Kids.fw

We booked a job in Utah so we decided to take a circuitous route through Arizona (Grand Canyon), Utah (Bryce Canyon), Wyoming (Grand Tetons), Idaho and Nevada. We ended up the next week in California for our next booking. The plan was to enjoy four national parks with our three year old and one year old.We wanted to visit Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Tetons National Park.

We expected to spend a week driving around and plunking down $30 for each national park. We visited AAA to get our maps and set out. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I told my family that we could do it. I told them it would be fun. Here are some tips that we picked up along the journey:


Crossing the bridge back from Mossy Cave outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.

#1 Buy the Pass

I knew that each park would cost $30 per carload to get in but what I didn’t realize was that there is a pass that will get you into all the national parks for the low price of $80! We paid $30 to get into the Grand Canyon and then found out that though the park is fine, the canyon doesn’t stop once the official park gates are behind you. After exiting the park, we noticed that the Grand Canyon (a huge gorge) runs for miles and miles outside the park. I pulled over to the side of the road and took a peak … for free. Hmmmm …

Next up was Utah. There are plenty debates over whether Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park was the better park. I didn’t want to spend $30 for each park when I knew we’d only be able to visit for a few hours each. I decided to do a little Googling. Sure, I’d like to see the both parks but if it was going to save me $30 I don’t mind being cheap. We decided to visit Bryce Canyon National Park ($30 saved from not paying for both parks). The night before we reached Bryce Canyon National Park we realized that there is a hike that is perfect for toddlers with the same views of the hoodoos outside of the official park gates.  *slaps forehead* Instead of plunking down another $30 we did the free hike and spent about two hours viewing the little waterfall, crossing bridges, playing in the stream, and taking photos. We, of course, drove right by the actual park and I would have gone in …  if I had known that for $80 there was a pass that would get me into all the national parks …  but I didn’t …  so I didn’t …  and we missed a great opportunity and see Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Along with the Annual Pass, there are also passes for seniors, passes for 4th graders and their families, and passed for disabled folks. View all the passes here.

Grand Canyon 2017 - Horseshoe Guillermo chillin

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona outside of Grand Canyon National Park.

#2 Enjoy the Outskirts

Some of our most enjoyable times happened just outside of the national park we planned to visit. I mentioned the hike we did up to Mossy Cave outside of Bryce National Park. It was an easy hike for both children and it provided a way for them to engage with nature (playing in the stream, touching the rocks, ducking into the cave, crossing the bridges, etc.).

I didn’t mention the short hike up to Horseshoe Bend outside of Grand Canyon National Park (outside of Page, Arizona). It was the best part of visiting Grand Canyon National Park. Driving around the edge of the Grand Canyon was cool but I wouldn’t run to do it again. Doing the short hike up to Horseshoe Bend was exhilorating. It’s free, it’s a bit of a challenge (there are uphill parts on the way there and the way back), and of course the view is beautiful. I had seen photos of it but I didn’t realize that it was outside of the park grounds. Taking time to explore things outside of the park made the trip memorable and made us feel like we were having a trip that no one else was having.


Shoshone Falls 2017 - Snake River Guillermo

The view of Snake River from Shoshone Falls platform.


#3 View the Little Things

On each trip, we tried to visit small, local things to break up the drive and help us learn a bit about local culture (can you tell we’re unschoolers? Lol). After driving through a snowstorm we realized that some of the streets in Yellowstone National Park were closed and it probably wasn’t a good idea for us to continue on. Instead we spent the day in Idaho visiting the Space Museum, getting stuck in the mud trying to find Hell’s Half Acre (volcanic rock), and made it on down to Shoshone Falls. Crossing from Nevada into California, we found Donner State Park (yes, where they ate each other) and spent a morning chasing butterflies and learning more about the native peoples in the museum. Taking time to stop and see what’s around us, instead of only focusing on reaching the next goal, makes for an enjoyable trip and give the kids time to get out of the car.

Utah 2017 Kids running

The kids enjoying some free time before the drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.

#4 Find a Park

Yelp is our friend. Little ones need to stretch their legs and RUN. At least once a day we find a park in whatever city we’re in to let the kids run around. I try to think of our trips as family endeavors, not just things I wanna see. To that end, we make an effort to let the kids have free time to play. It does take a little time away from the drive but it’ll save everyone’s sanity when the kids are sleeping after a run and a meal. Take my advice, find a park.



#5 Let ‘Em Explore

Half of the fun of visiting the national parks is enjoying the wildness of it all. We do babywear and put them up when they are tired or we need to keep them safe but often you’ll find our kids running loose along the trails. Touching things, looking at things, dipping their fingers and toes into things ….  it’s how kids learn. Instead of us always telling them how to play and where to play we try to let them lead the play. It leads to things that I wouldn’t have thought of and the kids enjoy.

We really enjoyed visiting the national parks and look forward to visiting more. See you on the trails!


Managing Foster Care Trauma in Infants


Grilling up some bubbles at beach during our staycation.

We met our daughter when she was eight months old (she was in foster care). We were told that she had one rather large medical problem (that could be worked through with years of physical therapy) and a few social emotional issues that caused her to scream in public and have to be carried all the time, yes even when in the house.

None of the information was accurate. Our pediatrician thinks she was manifesting her unhappiness with the family she lived with before (we are her third family).

In adoption class, a social worker told us that it would take twice as long as the trauma to be able to navigate the trauma and behave differently. Since she experienced 8 months of trauma (more if you throw on whatever may have happened during the nine to ten months while she was baking) it will take her around 16 months to be able to behave differently. My plans was give her until her second birthday before I really expected her behaviors to change.

She surprises me every day.

Right now, she’s 20 months old and she’s so different from how she was when we met her. She’s amazing! She’s never had any physical challenges (with us) and her behavior was different from the moment she got her out of that house. This week, we had a staycation and went around visiting touristy places in our city. She’s been smiling and waving to people and wandering around. Strangers in public have ever referred to her as a happy baby! Last night she slept in her own bed all night. She plays with her cousins (running around the house screaming and laughing) and is like any other little kid.

I look at her now and I can’t imagine our lives without her. I’m glad that her record didn’t scare us off. The paperwork does not tell the whole story. Both our kids had some challenges on paper. Both of our kids are perfect. They are absolutely perfect. I’m thrilled every day that I get to help raise such wonderful beings.

Most kids in foster care have experienced trauma but it happened to them, it doesn’t define them. With someone to love on them (we use attachment parenting and gentle parenting) and support them these kids will blossom. Managing foster care trauma in infants is easy: just love them.

Worldschooling Provides Perspective


A mural about the liberation of South Viet Nam in Saigon 2016.

Most people have heard of homeschooling but few have heard of unschooling (we’re giddy everytime we something about it like here and here) and even fewer have heard of worldschooling.

Homeschooling – doing school stuff at home.

Unschooling – there is no set curriculum. You follow the child’s lead in regard to what they’d like to learn.

Worldschooling – letting the world be your child’s learning environment.

I like to think that we are an unschooling-worldschooling family. We already travel a lot so why not make a conscious effort to educate our children about the world they live in while were’ doing it. When we were in Viet Nam we visited a few museums. It was interesting to see the war from the other side. I’m thrilled that my children will learn about world events from different perspectives.

We’re just getting started but so far my oldest (he’s two) has visited Chicago, Oahu, Dallas, Atlanta, Niagra Falls, South Africa, Brazil, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore. We’ve seen forests and waterfalls. We’ve visited museums.  We’ve eaten new things. We’ve met new people. We’ve experienced lots of new things and we’ve come across TONS of similarities.

I can’t wait to talk with them about  tidbits in history, mathematics, physics, music, and anything else that we might come across! I don’t know what our future holds but I hope it helps shape them into the best versions of themselves.

Climbing Out of …. Everything #ToddlersGonnaToddle


So this week we’re staying at a new hotel. This hotel has a “kids room” with a door and a tv and bunkbeds. I basically thought it would be a good place to put them when they are playing because our toddler still sleeps in the travel playpen and the baby sleeps in our bed.

When we arrived, the toddler runs over to the bunkbeds and begins playing on it. The little one soon joins in. Both children seem to be enjoying the new toy. The toddler asks to be put on the top bunk and my partner is worried that 1) he wouldn’t be able to climb up 2) he might fall off 3) that he might fall on the baby. I’m a free-range parent and I generally let the toddler make his way in the world (as long as it’s not obviously a risk for death). I will support him emotionally (“Stretch your toe and you’ll be able to feel the ground. You can do it!”) and physically (giving him a “spot” as backup) but I try to leave the decisions about actions he can attempt up to him.

When he tried to climb the ladder, you know he tried to climb the ladder, I encouraged my partner to support the toddler in his attempt. My toddler climbed up, down, back up, and down again with no problem!

I was over the moon that he had achieved his goal. We did a happy dance. He started to go up again ……  and he fell off. We told him that we all make mistakes and we were proud of him for trying. You know what? Without any encouragement to try again …. he started climbing again. He did it a few more times and didn’t fall.  =)

What I didn’t realize was that this meant he could also crawl out of his travel playpen. We used to be able to pen him in and eventually he’d go to sleep. Those days are gone.   =(  #ToddlersGonnaToddle


Two Under Three on a Flight



My babies at a park. A year and a half apart. #DoubleTrouble Lol

We are taking two flights in the next few months. One is a coast to coast flight (baby girl’s first) and one is a short one-hour flight. I’m a bit anxious about it. My biggest concern is what to do with them both while on a long flight.

Usually the boy goes back and forth between our laps. He really enjoys looking out of the window. Well now …. she’ll probably want to go back and forth between our laps. He’ll have his own seat now but I’m not sure if that will be better or worse. Lol

I’m excited that:

  • The toddler has first first airline points account.
  • The toddler will have his own seat.
  • The toddler will be able to have his own bag.
  • Baby girl is taking her first flight.
  • They will be able to entertain each other.

I’m worried that:

  • The toddler will want more attention that we can give.
  • Baby girl will not like flying.
  • It will be hard to juggle two little ones.

Early morning siblings.

We’ve gone on a few driving trips and we’re getting comfortable traveling as a family. I usually get all worked up about something, try to research and plan, and it’s not as big a deal and I had worked myself up for it to be. Let’s hope that pattern continues. Lol

Anyone have any tips for traveling with two little ones?


Toddler Activity Set for Flights

We’re going to be doing lots of traveling this year and I’ve been looking up things for out toddler to do on the plane. We don’t check bags so I need things that are cheap or free, light weight, small, entertaining and non-destructive (no stickers). So far I’ve found:

Felt drawing

I love this idea. I have purchased some felt drawing kits, but they are much too large to take on a flight. Cutting out a few shapes and folding it up into a bag is perfect! I can’t wait to make a few.

The name puzzle? LOVE IT! I’m totally making this one for him.



Simple, cheap and small! YES! I’m thinking about making mine in a small book format. The small, store-bought puzzles are right up my alley and perfect for tiny hands.


Building Toys

I have so many Popsicle sticks! I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to find this cute, light weight homemade toy. I can color and glue the velcro on in an afternoon. How fun!



Cotton Balls/Pom-Poms

A toddler can throw these around (not very far) or “pour” them from one cup to another cup or …. something. Toddlers can make anything interesting! Lol



Maidu Museum & Park

Maidu-Museum-SignWe were looking for things to do with toddlers in Sacramento when we came across several blogs that talked about he fun their kids (both toddlers and older kids) at the Maidu Museum. That lead me to do a little digging and to find out that there is also an awesome themed park called …  you guessed it …. Maidu Park!

Museum Highlights

Storytelling under the stars – Sit under the stars at our outdoor amphitheater to enjoy native stories around the campfire. We’ll provide roasting sticks and marshmallows for a sweet program’s end to this fun family event. Museum doors open at 7pm. Program starts at 7:30pm. Fee: $5/person, $16/family of four, $5 each additional person. Under 2 are free.

Nisenan Maidu village – “Visitors can see the village site as well as petroglyphs and other cultural features along the easy half-mile trail outside the museum.”

Maidu Park

Maidu Park

Park-Maidu-FortThere are tons of photos over at Sacramento Sidetracks.

Park Highlights

Play structures designed like buildings in a old west European American town.

Play structures designed like trains with a little train station.

A little fort-themed maze that’s great for toddlers.

I’d also like to check out the parks at Hillsborough Park (pirate ship theme) and Royer Park (castle theme). You can find more parks listed with photos at Sierra Moms.