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Free S'mores at the Ritz! [and Other Free and Cheap Holiday Fun for Families in Washington, D.C.]


The holidays are a magical time in our Nation’s Capital with many special and unique seasonal events, festivals and activities set against the backdrop of the landmarks of this historic city. Celebrate the season with our top picks for free and affordable fun that are sure to get your whole family in the holiday spirit – yes, even those hard-to-please teens!  

National Christmas Tree Washington, DC

1     The National Christmas Tree and Menorah – FREE
The Ellipse near the White House is the scene of one of D.C.’s most beloved holiday traditions (and required pilgrimage for our family every December). The National Christmas Tree and surrounding Pathway of Peace, featuring 56 state and territory trees with handmade ornaments, light up from dusk to 10 p.m. each night. Located nearby is the National Menorah – the world’s largest! Free nightly music and dance performances take place on the Ellipse stage from Dec. 6th – 21st. Visit the National Park Service website for more information.

2     Season’s Greenings at the United States Botanic Garden – FREE
If you have a train lover in your family, then a visit to the United States Botanic Garden’s Season’s Greenings holiday train exhibit is a must! This year’s theme is Roadside Attractions. “Trains will chug around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights from across the United States.” In addition to the train portion of the exhibit, a collection of D.C. landmarks made from plant materials is displayed in the Garden Court. New addition this year: The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Season’s Greenings runs from Nov. 23rd – Jan. 1st. The Conservatory is open every day from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and select Tuesdays and Thursdays in December until 8 p.m. The best time to visit to avoid the crowds are weekdays early in December.

Season's Greenings at the United States Botanic Gardens

3     U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree – FREE
After visiting Season's Greenings, be sure to stroll over to the nearby U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, located on the West Lawn of the Capitol Grounds. This year's tree, a 79-foot Engelmann Spruce from Kootenai National Forest, will be decorated with thousands of handcrafted ornaments from communities across Montana. The majestic backdrop of the Capitol Building always makes for a great photo op.

4     Downtown Holiday Market – FREE Admission
Located on the F Street sidewalk across from the Verizon Center, the Downtown Holiday Market offers a unique outdoor seasonal shopping and dining experience featuring a wide variety of regional artisans, crafters, boutique businesses and specialty food vendors. Shop for gift items for everyone on your list while getting in the holiday spirit with live music and entertainment. The Downtown Holiday Market is open Nov. 24th – Dec. 23rd from Noon – 8 p.m. daily.

5     The Nutcracker – Save up to 39% Off Local Performances
For many of us, the holidays are not complete without attending a performance of this beloved ballet that’s as much fun for adults as it is for the kids. The Washington Ballet puts a unique D.C. twist on their rendition by Septime Weber, transporting us back in time to historic Washington, D.C. with waltzing cherry blossoms and starring George Washington as the Nutcracker! Tickets start at just $31 with this offer. Save up to 39% off other local Nutcracker performances.

The Washington Ballet Nutcracker

Photo credit: "Esmiana Jani" by Dean Alexander. "The Washington Ballet" by media4artists Theo Kossenas.

6     Georgetown GLOW Light Art Exhibition – FREE
The Georgetown Business Improvement District invites you to “re-imagine the season of light” at Georgetown GLOW, the region’s only curated exhibition of outdoor public light art installations. Located throughout the Georgetown commercial district (click HERE for a map), GLOW returns for its fourth year with works lit from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 8th – Jan. 7th. 

7     Holiday Trains & Planes at College Park Aviation Museum – FREE with Admission
From Dec. 16th – 23rd, the College Park Aviation Museum features a holiday-themed display of model railroads from the National Capital Trackers. Miniature trains, villages, tunnels, and depots spark the imagination as they bring history to life. Exhibit is FREE with admission. Admission for a family of four is only $8 with this deal (Save 60%)

8     ZooLights at Smithsonian’s National Zoo – FREE
One of the best free family destinations year-round, the National Zoo has extra special fun for the holidays. Their ZooLights event features more than 500,000 LED lights that turn the Zoo into a winter wonderland of zoological proportions, complete with dazzling light show set to music. New this year: GlowZone, a glow-in-the-dark play zone for kids, and a European-style outdoor holiday market. ZooLights runs from Nov. 24th – Jan. 1st (Closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31).

National Zoo ZooLights Christmas

9     Festival of Lights at the Washington D.C. LDS Temple –  FREE
A D.C. area tradition in its 40th year, come see the majestic LDS Temple (or, as my daughter calls it, “The Castle!”) adorned with over 650,000 lights. The festival also includes an exhibit of crèches from around the world, a life-sized outdoor nativity, and Christmas trees decorated in international themes. Admission to the grounds is free. Tickets are required for nightly indoor musical performances. Located in Kensington, Maryland about 10 miles outside of D.C., Festival of Lights runs from Nov. 30th – Dec. 31st from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily.

10     Alexandria Waterskiing Santa – FREE
This is one my kids never want to miss! Since 1986, every Christmas Eve, Santa, his band of Crazy Elves, and the jet skiing Grinch take to the water along the historic Old Town Alexandria waterfront and ski from Founders to Waterfront Park. After the show, Santa and his friends greet families in the pavilion on the waterfront and behind the Torpedo Factory. Santa hits the chilly Potomac at 1 p.m. on Dec. 24th! Click HERE for more information.

11     Family Christmas Service at Washington National Cathedral – FREE
The site of many significant national events and services, including presidential inaugurations, funerals and memorials, the Washington National Cathedral is a special place to celebrate the season for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. On December 23rd, the Cathedral hosts a special Family Christmas Service with Christmas carols and the Nativity story, including live animals! Children are encouraged to come dressed up as angels, animals and shepherds to be part of the story.

12     Holiday Activities at Mount Vernon – FREE with Admission
Celebrate the season at one of the most beautiful spots on the Potomac River, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon features special family-friendly holiday fun starting November 24th, including a meet a greet with Aladdin the Christmas camel and chocolate making experience and tastings – FREE with admission. Located just 15 miles from Washington, D.C. across the Potomac River, Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Save 40% on daytime admission with this deal, valid Nov. 1st – Jan. 7th (except Nov, 24th).

Mount Vernon Christmas

13     Holiday Fun at National Harbor – FREE
One of the newer venues in the D.C. area, the National Harbor has quickly become a holiday tradition for many area families. The holiday fun kicked off on November 12th with the lighting of the giant National Harbor Christmas tree and continues throughout December with special seasonal fun, including free holiday movies on the plaza every Saturday. Get your holiday shopping done while strolling the waterfront boutiques, grab a bite at one of the many delicious restaurants, and check out the jaw dropping holiday decorations at Gaylord National Resort. This is an outing the whole family will love.

14     FREE Holiday Musical Performances
There are many opportunities to enjoy free live holiday musical performances in beautiful, historic and unique settings around our Nation’s Capital. Here are just a few of our favorites:

National Gallery of Art: Local chorale groups perform Christmas carols in the Rotunda the weekends of December 9th/10th and 16th/17th. Click HERE for performance times.

The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage: The Millennium Stage hosts free concerts every evening at 6 p.m. year-round – no tickets required. December is filled with special seasonal performances you don’t want to miss. Some highlights include The Army Chorus on December 6th, Target Family Night: MERRY TUBACHRISTMAS! on December 12th, Holiday Vaudeville on December 13th, The United States Air Force Band’s Chamber Players on December 19th, and the 19th annual All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam on December 25th. Click HERE for a complete schedule. 

The Willard Hotel – Located two blocks from the White House, this historic and iconic D.C. landmark hosts free holiday concerts from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. nightly throughout December.

United States Air Force Band at DAR Constitution Hall – The USAF Band performs several holiday concerts at historic DAR Constitution Hall from Friday, Dec, 8th – Sunday, Dec. 10th. Concerts are free, but tickets are required. They will perform a special Holiday Matinee for Kids on Friday, December 8th at 10:30 a.m. Click HERE for more information and link to ticket information.

U.S. Botanic Garden – The Conservatory stays open late select Tuesdays and Thursdays in December until 8 p.m. for live seasonal music concerts in the Garden Court. Performances include jazz, Irish folk rock, a cappella, Jewish, Russian folk and more. Click HERE for the full concert schedule.

15     Life-Size Ice Lounge at CityCenterDC –  FREE
Located in the heart of the District at 10th & H St, NW, CityCenterDC is home to many fabulous shops and eateries, and their seasonal decorations never disappoint. In addition to a dazzling 75-foot decked out holiday tree, two 25-foot reindeer, and an overhead holiday display on Palmer Alley, CityCenterDC will unveil a life-size igloo-style Ice Lounge made of 36,000 pounds of ice blocks this year. The Ice Lounge opens on December 1st at 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. and will also be open to the public December 2nd and 3rd from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

CityCenterDC Christmas

16     Light Festivals in the D.C. Suburbs – Save up to 50% Off Admission
The nearby D.C. suburbs in Maryland and Virginia are home to many dazzling light displays. Here are some of our favorites with links to save you up to 50% off admission.

Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights

Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights in Vienna, VA:  Walk through more than a half mile of paved trail adorned with lighted trees, nature displays and holiday themes. Some of my daughter’s favorites include the jumping fish, butterfly garden, and Lakeside Lights - an animated light show with over 40,000 lights set to music! If you need warming up after your stroll, stop by the large roaring fire before heading out and grab some S’mores kits and hot chocolate for the kids. Admission is $16 for one adult and one child with this offer (Save 31%).

Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, VA:  For 14 years, the Bull Run Festival of Lights at Bull Run Regional Park has drawn thousands of visitors from hundreds of miles away to Centreville, Virginia, just outside D.C. After enjoying two and a half miles of light displays, don’t forget to stop at the Holiday Village! Complete with bonfires, s’mores, holiday merchandise, and free children’s activities, the Holiday Village is fun for the whole family. Don’t forget to get your photo taken with Santa! Admission is $15 for one car with this offer (Save 27%).

Gaithersburg Winter Lights Festival in Gaithersburg, MD:  This 3.5 mile drive-through light display, nestled in Seneca Creek State Park, takes you past sparkling wrapped trees, more than 380 illuminated displays, and 60 animated vignettes that light up the night. Drive slowly past a world of wonder that includes themed areas like Teddy Bear Land, Winter Woods, a Victorian Village, a Fantasy Castle, the North Pole, and more. $8 for admission for one car + two pair of prism glasses with this offer (Save 50%).

Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD:  Brookside Gardens is transformed into a magical winter wonderland illuminated with more than one million twinkling colorful LED lights shaped into hand-crafted original art forms of flowers, animals and other natural elements. Warm up inside the Conservatory watching miniature G-scale trains wind through a seasonal landscape, past one-of-a-kind models of the Brookside Gardens Conservatories, the Dentzel Carousel and the Chautauqua Tower of Glen Echo Park. Admission is $20 for one car with this offer (Save 20%).

Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point Park in Annapolis, MD:  A scenic two-mile drive along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay with more than 70 spectacular animated and stationary displays illuminating the roadway. In addition to popular classics that visitors have enjoyed for years, guests will be treated to two new themes this year: North Pole Village and Enchanted Fairy Tales. $13 for admission for one car + two pair of 3D glasses with this offer (Save 35%).

17     Outdoor Ice Skating – $8+/person + skate rental
Ice skating is a fun, affordable family activity all year round, but there’s something especially magical about an outdoor rink, especially during the holidays. While perhaps nothing can top the experience of skating at Rockefeller Center in New York, D.C. has some pretty unique venues of our own.

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink

Sculpture Garden Ice Rink – 7th St. and Constitution Ave, NW: Skate in the middle of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden on the National Mall while surrounded by extraordinary sculptures by contemporary artists, and with the National Archives as your backdrop. A truly unique D.C. experience! The rink is open Nov. 18th – March 11th, weather permitting. Click HERE for more information and daily hours. Admission starts at $8 + skate rental.

The Washington Harbour Ice Rink – 3000 & 3050 K Street NW in Georgetown:  Enjoy beautiful views of the Potomac River while skating at DC's largest outdoor rink at Washington Harbour in Georgetown. The rink is open mid-November through mid-March. Click HERE for more information and daily hours. Admission starts at $9 + skate rental.

Canal Park Ice Rink – 2nd & M St. SE:  Located in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood near Nationals Park, the Canal Park Ice Rink offers a different experience in that skaters traverse around a track. This is an urban skating experience with city views around every turn. The rink is open Nov. 17, 2017 – February, 2018. Click HERE for more information and daily hours. Admission starts at $8 + skate rental.

18     S’mores by the Fire at The Ritz Carlton Georgetown – FREE
Escape the M Street shopping crowds and the cold temps and warm up and relax by the fire at The Ritz Carlton Georgetown. Located at 3100 South Street, N.W., The Ritz Carlton Georgetown offers complimentary S’mores every evening from 6:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. in front of their wood-burning fireplace in the Living Room.

CertifiKID was founded by a mom with a passion for helping parents provide the best experiences for their children on a budget. From outings to adventures, classes to camps, theatre to sporting events, amusement parks to getaways, CertifiKID provides the best family-friendly experiences at unbeatable prices. 

~ Kim

Tags: free cheap holiday fun kids families Washington, DC

CertifiKID KINDness Challenge: 25 Acts of Kindness for Kids (and Parents, too!)


Let’s face it, it’s been a rough year. With so much tragedy, devastation, anger, hate, division, and just plain scary stuff all around us, it’s easy for adults, let alone kids, to lose faith in humanity and feel afraid and helpless. I think one thing we can all agree on is that the world is in desperate need of more kindness.

You may be familiar with this quote from the late, beloved Fred Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers' . . . To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.

Arguably our most important job as parents is to raise “helpers” - kind, caring human beings to stand up against the meanness, hatred, anger and fear around us. Yet, it seems many of us are not doing a great job making kindness a priority in our everyday lives, at least according to our kids.

Kindness Quote Albert Schweitzer

In a study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 80% of kids surveyed said their parents care more about their achievements over whether they are being kind. They were also three times more likely to agree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member.” Trying to live up to parents’ achievement expectations also increases stress and depression and “makes kids less happy”. 

Conversely, research consistently shows the enormous psychological and physical health benefits of being kind. Kind people have stronger relationships, are less stressed, more confident, more grateful, and are ultimately healthier and happier - and even live longer! In other words, teaching and valuing kindness is not only important for our schools, communities and world, it’s also integral to our kids own well-being. 

But simply lecturing our kids on the importance of being kind is not enough. We must both talk the talk and walk the walk, says Mary Gordon, an internationally recognized empathy and parenting expert. “Kindness isn’t taught, it’s learned. In order to be kind, you have to experience it at home." Likewise, Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in neuroscience and positive psychology says, “Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.”

While kindness and giving should be a natural part of what we do every day of the year, the upcoming holiday season provides the nudge many of us need to refocus our hearts, minds and actions on what’s truly important. To help you get started, we invite you to participate in the first ever CertifiKID KINDness Challenge! Print out our KINDness Challenge board and work together as a family to complete as many of the 25 activities as you can between now and the end of the year. Tip: These would make great Advent Calendar stuffers, too!

To download a full-size printable version, click HERE. (Note: You must download to your computer first before printing in order for the board to print as a full letter-size document).

Kindness is contagious! Encourage others to get involved by sharing photos of your acts of kindness on your social media accounts (or, post on our CertifiKID DC/Baltimore or National Facebook pages) using the tag #CertifiKIDKINDnessChallenge (We will surprise some of our challenge participants with little acts of kindness of our own, so don't forget to make your photos public so we can find them!). 

25 Random Acts of Kindness CertifiKID

Nurturing kindness and compassion in our children and empowering them with tangible ways to make a difference has never been more important. In this often overwhelming world, even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge difference. When we're kind to someone, we are sending the message that their life matters. And that one small act has the potential to start a ripple effect of generosity as people are inspired to 'pay it forward'. Let's join together to transform our homes, schools and communities with KINDness this holiday season and beyond.

~ Kim

Tags: random acts of kindness kids families holidays Christmas Advent generosity

CertifiKID Field Report: Grow Your College Savings with Virginia529!


Virginia529 save for college

Paying for college is one of the most stressful issues parents face as their children grow. One minute, you're helping them learn to tie their shoes; the next, they're in high school and you're only a couple of years away from writing that first tuition check. As a parent of a high school sophomore, I know this all too well.

College costs are soaring. According to the Consumer Price Index, the price tag of a college education increased 63% from 2006 to 2016, significantly outpacing overall inflation. A four-year, in-state public university education now averages over $24,000 a year. Despite these sobering statistics, earning a college degree has never been more important. But how do you pay for it without going bankrupt, or saddling your children with crushing student loan debt?

The first thing parents can do is to start saving as soon as possible. Compound interest is a powerful tool over a long period of time. The earlier you start saving, and the longer you let your investment sit and earn interest, the more money you will have when that big tuition check comes due. As our oldest child approaches college age, we realize one of the smartest decisions we made as parents was investing in Virginia529 accounts for all three of our children before they could even walk. 

Virginia529 college saving

A 529 account is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle specifically for post-secondary education expenses. Virginia529 is one of the top-ranked 529 plans in the country, and one of only three plans to earn Morningstar's best-in-class Gold rating for 2016. After careful research, here are the top five reasons we chose Virginia529 plans for our children:

  1. Our money grows free from federal and state taxes, and disbursements are never taxed if used for qualified higher education expenses, which include tuition, fees, room & board, textbooks and many other educational-related expenses.
  2. Virginia taxpayers enjoy the additional benefit of deducting up to $4,000 in contributions per account per year from Virginia individual state income taxes. 
  3. Virginia529 funds can be used at eligible educational institutions nationwide, not just at Virginia schools. This includes both public and private two- and four-year colleges and graduate schools, and even some vocational schools and job training programs.
  4. If one of our children doesn't attend college, receives a scholarship, or the money in their account exceeds qualified expenses, we can transfer the account to another child, or even to ourselves or another member of the family with no penalty at any time. We can also withdraw the funds, if necessary, subject to tax payments and penalties.
  5. Virginia529 offers a wide variety of flexible saving options that take into account investment objectives and timeline and risk tolerance level that let you customize your investments based on your preferences, and save at your own pace.

When we opened our first Virginia529 account, we were barely past college-age ourselves. I had left my job to stay home full-time with our son and we were the proud owners of our first home . . . and mortgage. We certainly didn't have much to put aside for something that seemed like a lifetime away. However, we knew that starting small was better than not starting at all. 

An initial $25 minimum deposit is all it takes to open a Virginia Invest529 account. After that, you may contribute as much or as little as you want at any time. While we choose to have our funds transferred automatically from our checking to our children's accounts each month, it's also possible to make periodic one-time contributions whenever you have extra cash, like a tax refund or birthday money. All of this is easily managed from Virginia529's secure online portal. Family and friends may also contribute to your account using the Virginia529 online Gifting Center.

Virgninia529 college savings

Virginia529 offers two primary saving programs: Invest529, which allows you to save at your own pace through a range of saving account and investment portfolio options and Prepaid529, which eliminates the uncertainty of tuition inflation by allowing you to pre-purchase semesters of in-state tuition and mandatory fees at Virginia public colleges or universities.

We chose Invest529 target-date investment portfolios for our children, a "set it and forget it" option that automatically adjusts our investments over time with more aggressive investments in the early years and becoming more conservative as our kids approach college age. You can also choose from a variety of static investment portfolios where the type of investment remains the same over time, or a more conservative FDIC-insured saving account where contributions are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000.

Virginia's Prepaid529 program allows you to pre-pay for one or multiple semesters of in-state tuition and mandatory fees at two- and four-year Virginia public colleges or universities. You may pay up front with a one-time payment in full or spread your payments out monthly, depending on your budget. Prepaid529 accounts enjoy the same tax advantages of Invest529 accounts, but the account owner or beneficiary must be a Virginia resident when the account is opened.

However you choose to save, remember that there's never a better time to start investing in your child's future than right now. Thinking back to when we first set up our children's Virginia529 accounts and the tiny deposits we made back then, it's an incredible feeling to see how far we've come. And the peace of mind we have knowing we can afford to pay for college is priceless. 

Ready to jump start your child's college savings? CLICK HERE to enter for your chance to win a $529 Virginia529 account! The winner of this sweepstakes will receive a $529 contribution to a new Invest529 account or your existing Virginia529 account.

~ Kim

This post is sponsored by Virginia529. However, we only promote businesses that we genuinely believe in and think will appeal to CertifiKID subscribers.

Tags: Viginia529 college saving family kids investment

CertifiKID Field Report: Lucky Strike Bethesda


Lucky Strike Bethesda Bowling

Planning a group outing that appeals equally to kids and adults can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. When we came across Lucky Strike Bethesda, we knew it was the perfect venue for our next Team CertifiKID family event.

Conveniently located on the first level of Westfield Montgomery Mall, Lucky Strike Bethesda is part upscale sports bar, part swanky bowling venue. With funky lighting, posh décor, music pumping, and a menu filled with both inventive ‘pub grub’ and a long list of craft brews and specialty cocktails, this is not your grandparents’ bowling alley.

Lucky Strike Bethesda is smartly designed with the chic gastropub up front and the dimly lit, glowing alleys tucked away in back. They have managed to strike the perfect balance between cool adult hang out and multi-generational family fun all in one pretty sweet looking venue.

Lucky Strike Bethesda Bowling

When we arrived, Lucky Strike Bethesda's welcoming staff escorted us back to our private party area with our own lanes, seating and dining areas. The kids headed straight for the bowling balls, while the adults settled into cushy leather sofas. With big TVs stationed at every lane, Lucky Strike Bethesda makes it easy for adults to sit back and chill while the kids have a blast bowling. And guard rails for the littles means no gutter balls or tears! #winning

Lucky Strike Bethesda also offers a lot of fun little extras you don't see at your average bowling alley. There's an area for corn hole and various board games strategically placed throughout, offering a nice alternative when you tire of bowling or while waiting on your next turn.

Lucky Strike Bethesda Bowling

Also markedly different from your typical bowling alley fare of rubbery hamburgers and hot dogs, Lucky Strike Bethesda's "Gastro Kitchen" offers everything from slightly dressed up pub standards like chips & guac, pretzel sticks, and wings to creative salads, sandwiches and pastas; brick oven pizzas; large plates featuring seafood, chicken and meat options; and even several different kinds of sushi. They also have your standard mac & cheese and yes, hot dogs, for the kiddos.

Our group opted for a variety of finger foods, sliders and pizzas, and of course the kid-favorite, "crispy chicken bites" (aka chicken nuggets). From the looks of the empty platters at the end of the evening, I'd say we all thoroughly enjoyed the food. And for dessert, LUCKY Charms marshmallow treats. A definite hit with the kids! They also allow you to bring in your own cake, if you'd like.

Lucky Strike Bethesda Bowling

Thanks to Lucky Strike Bethesda, this was our best Team CertifiKID family event yet! They took care of all of the details, made sure we received top notch service throughout the event, and the venue provided the perfect mix of relaxing adult entertainment and high energy kid fun we were seeking. We highly recommend Lucky Strike Bethesda for a fun outing with family or friends, or for your next private event. They will work with you to create the perfect party package to fit whatever you are looking for - kid or adult birthday parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, bachelor/ette parties, fundraisers, corporate events and more.

Lucky Strike Bethesda Bowling

This post is sponsored by Lucky Strike Bethesda. However, we only promote businesses that we genuinely believe in and think will appeal to CertifiKID subscribers.

Tags: family fun bowling lucky strike washington dc maryland montgomery county bethesda birthday party

CertifiKID Field Report: Greenlight® - The Debit Card for Kids


This is a photo of my son's shorts about to go in the washer, an all too familiar weekly scene in our laundry room. I don't even want to know how much cash he's lost around town (**insert facepalm here**). Despite all our teaching about financial responsibility and money management (yes, he owns a wallet!), we needed some help. When I heard about Greenlight, I was excited to give it a try.

Greenlight is a debit card just for kids that parents can fund and manage in real-time right from an app on their phone. There are a couple of things that impressed me right away about Greenlight compared to other options we considered: (1) There is no minimum age requirement (Our credit union wouldn't issue a debit card or even a low-limit credit card to our son until he turns 16.) and (2) Greenlight allows you to view and control accounts and spending limits for up to five kids all in one place for one low monthly fee, which is super convenient and cost effective for families with multiple kids like us. Even better, with this CertifiKID deal, your first month is FREE and you even receive $20 to spend just for trying it out!

We decided to get Greenlight cards for all three of our kids, ages 8, 13 and 15. Setting up our Greenlight account was quick and easy - no burdensome paperwork to fill out or credit check required. Everything is done right on your phone through the app. All I needed was my mobile phone number and other basic identifying information to get started, and the account number for a valid debit card to fund my kids' cards. If you want your child to be able to view and manage their account on their own phone, you need to enter their mobile phone number as well and download the app on their phone.  

About a week after setting up our Greenlight account, the kids' cards arrived in the mail. It was an exciting day!

Things we love about Greenlight so far:

Permission-Based Spending

Greenlight allows you to set both general spending limits, as well spending limits for categories (e.g., gas or restaurants) and even specific stores. For instance, you can fund your child's card with $25 to spend wherever they choose and/or $25 they can spend only on gas or only at Target. How great is that? We set up automatic pay for our kids' weekly allowances (more on that below), which is their "Spend Anywhere" money. We also funded each of our sons' cards with money they can spend only at our neighborhood grocery store. Thanks to Greenlight, we can send them on errands to pick up groceries without having to dig up cash or worry about them losing it somewhere along the way!

During a recent trip to Busch Gardens, our boys went off on their own with their Greenlight cards funded with money they could spend only at the park. We received a notification on our phones every time they made a purchase and could see how much money they had left throughout the day. When they ran low, we were able to immediately transfer money to their accounts right from our phones instead of having to meet up with them to hand over cash. Greenlight even let us specify that any change be automatically refunded to our Parent's Wallet at the end of the day.


Automatic Allowance
Greenlight allows you to pay allowances automatically on a weekly or monthly schedule - no more remembering to hit the ATM or cleaning out your own wallet on pay day. This is also a great visible way for kids to see progress toward a goal if they are saving up for something special, as they watch their Spend Anywhere money grow with each deposit.

Built-in Budgeting
Greenlight has already proven helpful in getting our children, especially our two oldest, to better appreciate and adhere to a budget. It's easy for them to see exactly where their money is going and how much they've spent. If like mine, your kids are constantly coming to you begging for money to meet their friends at Chipotle, or Starbucks, or Chick-Fil-A, Greenlight makes it easy to set a monthly budget for food purchases by funding their cards a set amount that can be spent only at restaurants. Once our oldest is driving, I anticipate using Greenlight to set a monthly gas budget, too. 

Peace of Mind
If your child's Greenlight card is ever lost, misplaced, or stolen, it can immediately be shut off from either your or your child's phone. No more keeping track of loose bills or worrying about cash falling out of your child's pockets or backpack (or going through the wash!). It's also great not having to worry if I've sent the kids with enough money when they go off on their own. I can transfer money to their accounts any time right from my phone. And if they are ever short, they can request additional money right from the app. Greenlight even integrates with Apple Pay, so kids with iPhones who forget their cards at home can still pay for purchases at participating stores.

Excited about trying Greenlight for your family? With this CertifiKID offer, try Greenlight FREE for 30 days and receive $20 in your account. After your trial ends, pay just $4.99 per month for your whole family.

~ Kim

This post is sponsored by Greenlight®. However, we only promote businesses that we genuinely believe in and think will appeal to CertifiKID subscribers.

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CertifiKID Field Report: LePort Montessori Schools


As soon as you walk on to the campus of LePort Montessori School in Reston, you can tell this is a special place. Your eyes are immediately drawn to their large, open natural playground built right into the landscape of the school, nestled within the shade of mature trees of all different species. While I don't suggest judging a school merely by its playground, in this case, it is indeed a reflection of what is fundamental to both Montessori education in general and LePort themselves.

Like most parents, I had a vague understanding that Montessori has something to do with more broadly structured, student-directed learning. My visit to LePort Montessori Reston taught me that authentic Montessori education is nothing like I imagined. Based on an extensive body of research on how kids learn best, LePort Montessori empowers children with the autonomy to explore and deeply engage with learning in a comfortable, family-like community, but within the structure of a sequential, challenging curriculum. LePort produces independent, self-assured, creative thinkers who actually love learning! Who doesn't want that kind of education for their children?

At the core of the Montessori method and LePort's educational approach is compelling research on the importance of unstructured, child-directed play in promoting healthy physical, cognitive and emotional development. Through play, children engage with and learn about the world around them, conquer physical challenges, use their imaginations, learn to think creatively and problem solve, and develop physical and emotional strength, competency and self esteem. 

Research has shown that not only do children need play, their bodies and minds crave outdoor play, something that is sadly in short supply these days as children spend more and more time indoors and on electronic devices. Frequent exposure to an enriching, natural environment with rocks, trees, running water and a wide variety of sensory experiences and physical challenges - just like we all experienced as kids! - is vital to healthy development. You know those trendy outdoor preschools and nature-immersive classes that are popping up all over these days? None of this is new to Montessori. They have incorporated nature-based play and learning in their teaching for over 100 years.

That brings me back to that amazing natural playground I mentioned earlier. While the playgrounds at all of LePort's locations are designed as nature-immersive, LePort Montessori Reston's new natural playground is special; something LePort intends to implement across all locations over time. Unlike traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment and artificial materials that children grow bored with over time, natural playgrounds are, by design, always changing, presenting new experiences and stimuli daily. Each element is designed to be used in conjunction with nature itself - rocks, leaves, sticks, sand, mud, water - to provide boundless experiences for children to explore, imagine, and create.

In keeping with the Montessori ideal of child-directed learning, LePort Montessori Reston students chose the elements that they wanted on their playground. There are boulders to climb and explore, which double as seats for an outdoor classroom experience; a labyrinth and walking paths for quiet reflection, meditation and stress release; deep sand pits for digging, pouring, sifting, scooping and measuring; outdoor musical implements for creative stimulation and self-expression; and sheltered nooks to climb in and hide away. A water sluice provides endless possibilities! Whether children want to simply feel the sensation of the cool water running through their fingers, clean their daily treasures, or make some squishy mud to play with, they can do it here. And I'd be remiss not to mention a kid favorite - the climbing wall!

While there is much more to a school than its playground, LePort's commitment to bringing sensory-rich outdoor play and nature-based learning to their schools sets them apart not just from traditional preschools, but from other Montessori schools as well. If you are looking for an authentic, high quality Montessori education for your child, LePort Montessori currently operates 21 schools, including six Northern Virginia locations serving infants through 6th graders in Aldie, Ashburn (Broadlands), Chantilly, Fairfax, Herndon and Reston. While school starts this week, LePort welcomes students year round and will meet your child wherever they are in their educational journey. Contact the LePort Montessori School nearest you for more information or to enroll your child.

This post is sponsored by LePort Montessori. However, we only promote businesses that we genuinely believe in and think will appeal to CertifiKID subscribers.

Tags: kids child school education Montessori Northern Virginia learning play development nature natural playground outdoor

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