Top national parks for families

  • Written by ARA

(ARA) - Each year, hundreds of millions of people visit the 397 destinations that comprise the country’s National Park System. Summer is the ideal time to explore many of these parks, as the kids are out of school and activities in the parks are in full swing. Here are four national parks that are worth putting on your family’s life list.

Yellowstone National Park

Spanning parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park tops the list. Yellowstone was the first national park, created on March 1, 1872, in an act signed by then President Ulysses S. Grant, and it is the eighth-largest national park in the United States, which means there is a lot to see and do. It is home to the most geologically active lands on the planet. The gushing geysers and bubbling hot springs are the park’s signature features. But the wildlife is famous, too. Get ready for the priceless look on your children’s faces when they first see a bison crossing the road. With all this action, it is no wonder that Yellowstone is one of the country’s most-visited parks as well. “If you want to miss the crowds, enter the park early in the morning, which is a great time to see the wildlife, too,” says Nathan Borchelt, an editor and national park aficionado at “Or better yet, stay the night in the park for sunset views that day-trippers rarely see.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Covering more than a half a million acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee is the most-visited national park in the country (drawing in around 10 million visitors annually). This park makes the list because it provides easy access to nature and is within a day’s drive of nearly a third of the U.S. population. The park has nearly 800 miles of hiking trails and 16 mountain peaks higher than 6,000 feet. Families will see plenty of diverse wildlife, such as black bears, elk and a diverse collection of fauna and flora. Also, the park encompasses more than 90 historic buildings to explore.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine, delivers the full outdoor experience. It was the first national park created east of the Mississippi, and it is best known for its boulder-lined coast and former carriage-path trails that wind through the forest. Go hiking or trail running on Cadillac Mountain and enjoy the beautiful views and fresh mountain air. Also, explore the shores and islands with the family by kayak or canoe; areas such as Eagle Lake and Porcupine Island are stunning. Be sure to snag some of the area’s famous lobsters and blueberries. And if you have time, plan a day-trip to Nova Scotia on the ferry.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park, also jokingly known as the eighth wonder of the world, brings in more than 5 million visitors each year. Hiking below the canyon rim or rafting a section of the Colorado River will ensure the whole family experiences more than just a panoramic view from the top (though that’s one stunning view). Tell the children that the rock they just touched is more than 2 billion years old, and you will most certainly see a look of wonder. If you are really adventurous, you can plan a mule-trek into (and out of) the canyon, but be sure to drink lots of water and put on sunscreen, as it will get hot as you ascend almost 4,500 vertical feet.


  • Written by Susan VerGowe, Bellevue Christian School
While this may seem like a silly question, (Camp IS for FUN!), there is so much more that goes into a successful and truly FUN camp experience.   There are as many different definitions of FUN as there are different children.

As a parent, how do you find the best camp for your child? By focusing first on who your child is, the process of choosing a camp is greatly simplified. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

•    Where does my child thrive?  In small intimate settings or large groups, in high action or quieter activities?

•    Is my child a hands-on learner or more contemplative?

•    Does my child like to dream and imagine stories and characters?

•    Where does my child naturally excel? Where does my child struggle more?

•    Is making new friends easy or hard?

•    Is an overnight camp exciting or stressful?

•    What type of activities truly excite my child?

Once you’ve sorted through these questions you are on your way. And by now, your heart likely has an idea of what general type of camp would be the most fun for your child: dance, overnight,  adventure, drama, Spanish,math, art, technology, swimming, cheer, video, wrestling, basketball or horses.

Now it’s time to add in the “where.”  Here is where your goals as a parent come in, too.  First and foremost, look for a reputable organization and read closely their program missions and goals. Camp IS about FUN — but true fun, for any child, requires safety, comfort, trust, respect and a deep sense of individual recognition and personal value.

Good questions to ask are:

•    What is the student/instructor ratio? This varies by type of camp but needs to be low enough to ensure good individual attention.

•    What are the qualifications of all individuals who will be supervising/teaching your child?

•    What is the daily structure/schedule of the camp, Keep in mind you are looking for an environment YOUR child will thrive in — no camp “fits all”

•    What is built in to the camp for developing positive relationship between the campers?

If, after covering all these questions, a camp sounds exciting for your child and you don’t know the organization well, ask for parent referrals of prior campers.  A brief conversation with another parent, or two, can quickly make it clear if this is a good match for your child.

So, now you’ve found the camp that you and your child are both excited about.  It’s time to send them off, enjoy your time off, and welcome them home with a willing heart to hear about their adventures.

After it’s all over, how do we know if it was worth the time and cost?  Here are some exceptional,  and perhaps unexpected benefits, besides FUN, to be watching for:

•    A child busting with stories to share

•    Refreshed children and parents

•    Children with a renewed vigor for new activities and challenges in their lives

•    Great family discussion topics about the camp experience-what they loved and what they would do different if they were the camp director.  You’ll be amazed at what you will learn about your child in these discussions!

•    New older mentors for your child found in your child’s counselor/instructor.  Campers admire and adore their camp counselors and from watching them they learn how to serve others

•    A desire for your older child to work as a camp counselor, (may sound far away now, but many great camp experiences build future counselors who in turn feed positively into other children’s lives).

•    The building of responsibility and shared positive experiences in camp help develop strong self-esteems and self-awareness.

And finally, remember that if your family enjoys lying with their backs in the cool lawn while gazing up to find rhinos and piglets floating by in the blue sky….camp time will enrich this quiet pleasure of the slower summer days!

The Role of Grandparents in a Child’s Life

  • Written by Staff Educators at Bright Horizons School.
Parents and children of today face a very different world than those of the previous generation. Awareness of these differences can help today’s parents navigate the role of grandparents in a child’s life and, on the flip side, help grandparents play a special role in the family.

These days, health and safety issues are of much greater concern.

For example, today’s grandparents who had children before 1967 took them to school, to the playground and to their grandparents’ homes without the benefit of seat belts or car seats. Given what we now know about the dangers of automobile travel, it is unthinkable that anyone, much less infants and toddlers, would travel this way.

In addition, for many parents, second-hand smoke was an unknown danger to their children. Now, aware of the health risks it poses, today’s parents are becoming more conscious and making different decisions than their parents once did.

However, some things will never change  — love, genuine concern and dreams for our children. It’s important for grandparents to check with their grown children and be in sync with their parenting.

Does this mean grandparents have to follow the rules at all times? Probably not. What grandchild doesn’t like to stay up late at grandpa’s house, get another scoop of ice cream or rent an extra DVD? Grandma’s house can be a very special place with its own set of routines and rituals — it’s not meant to be the same as home, but be certain that the fun is still within the parenting parameters set by the child’s parents.

Communication and respect are key aspects of the grandparent-to-parent relationship.

If you’re a parent:

• Check  with your parents and partner’s parents. After you and your significant other, there is no one who loves your child more. Grandparents can be a wealth of knowledge .

• Let them know your expectations for your child. Sometimes this is difficult to do. How do you tell your own mother or mother-in-law, that you would like things done differently? The answer is honestly and respectfully.

• Find out what your child’s (and his/her partner’s) expectations are for your time with the grandchildren.

• Are there routines that they’d like you to maintain? Knowing just the right sequence at bedtime may make the time infinitely more pleasant.

• Learn your grandchild’s schedule. Knowing when meal time occurs, how much time the child needs to get ready for an event, when outside playtime is OK will allow you to provide more consistency for your grandchild.

• Are there some activities that are taboo? You don’t want to be the reason your grandchild loses privileges.

As grandparents, remember — your children are now the responsible adults who have created an entirely new nuclear family. You went through this process years ago, so remember how good it felt to be respected and have your decisions validated.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech – What makes it unique?

  • Written by Abigail Parris, MS CCC-SLP, Bothell Pediatric and Hand Therapy

One of the more controversial diagnoses a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can make in young children is childhood apraxia of speech.  This is largely due to how significant the impact can be.  But this diagnosis can mean many different things.  The term “apraxia” comes from the word praxis meaning “movement.”  An “a-praxia” suggests a lack of coordinated movement. This lack of coordinated movement can be mild, moderate or severe.  A child with apraxia of speech:

• May not coo or babble as an infant

• Uses only a few different consonant and vowel sounds

• Has problems combining sounds; may show long pauses between sounds

• Makes inconsistent sound errors that are not the result of immaturity

• Can understand language much better than he or she can talk

• Has difficulty imitating speech, but imitated speech is more clear than spontaneous speech

• May appear to be groping when attempting to produce sounds or to coordinate the lips, tongue and jaw for purposeful movement

• Has more difficulty saying longer words or phrases clearly than shorter ones

It is often difficult for a child with apraxia of speech to communicate their wants and needs using words.  These children typically have normal, if not strong overall communication skills and can compensate well.  For example, when a child is unable to sequence the sounds in “big,” he could gesture using his hands while attempting a vocal approximation of “big.”

A quick look at treatment:  Childhood Apraxia of Speech involves difficulty coordinating the muscles used for speech; it is not a muscle weakness.  Use of strength-building exercises will not improve the coordination difficulties observed in these children.  Speech therapy for apraxia focuses on improving coordination for specific sounds, syllables, and words.  Basically, the goal is to “over-learn” which muscles need to be activated and in what order to produce words.  If you have concerns about your child’s speech sound development, do not hesitate to schedule an evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist.

To find a Speech-Language Pathologist near you visit BPHT’s staff profile page at or The American Speech and Hearing Association at

Hidden Thoughts How Negative Emotions Can Shut Down Language and Learning

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Dartmoor School
Violence. Failure. War. These words trigger unpleasant thoughts — so unpleasant, in fact, that our subconscious minds don’t want us to think about them too deeply, researchers at Bangor University have found. Their pioneering study, originally intended to shed light on the inner workings of the bilingual brain, stumbled across surprising evidence that our subconscious minds block access to language in order to mitigate the impact of negative emotion.

It was a complex experiment. Psychologists Yan Jing Wu and Guillaume Theirry gave a group of English-speaking Chinese students multiple sets of English words pairs and asked them to determine whether or not the words were related in meaning. But this wasn’t a test of reading comprehension. Instead, the researchers secretly engineered English word pairs for the test that, when translated into Chinese, would yield counterparts with similar sounds. Words that sound similar but have different meanings take a longer time to process than words that both sound different and mean different things; so while the English word pairs could be processed relatively quickly, their Chinese counterparts would take a longer time.  Meanwhile, researchers measured participants’ brain activity and correlated that data with participants’ response times.  Through measuring response times to word pairs, researchers confirmed that Chinese students were typically accessing the Chinese counterparts to the English words they were shown as a part of the language processing necessary for the task.

But not always. In word pairs where the first word indicated a negative concept, Chinese students maintained consistently quick response times, regardless of sound similarities in the Chinese translations of the word pairs. Though participants were unaware of any difference in their thought processes, their test responses clearly indicated that the Chinese counterparts to the word pairs were not included in the language processing task when the words were negative. In other words, participants’ brains were blocked from accessing negative ideas in their native language. Why? Because negative concepts are felt more deeply when they are embodied by words from one’s native language. By blocking participants’ brains from accessing their native speech, this spontaneous censorship created a mental buffer between negative ideas and participants’ feelings.

The study brings up a wealth of other questions about the role of subconscious processes in learning and language. After, if simply looking at a bad word is enough to trigger subconscious language suppression, then how might real-life experiences affect language function, memory, attention, and a host of other cognitive processes required for learning?  What else might our brains shut down to shield us from negative experiences? This study adds to the growing pile of evidence that learning and emotion are deeply intertwined, whether learners themselves are aware of it or not. The bottom line for parents and educators?  Learning involves our students’ hearts as well as their minds, and we are thus charged with caring for both.