Get organized for Back to School: Daily school readiness routine, and a Giveaway.

Can you believe we have less than a month before the school starts? This is usually the time when “back to school” anxiety starts affecting both kids and parents: so much to do, so many questions (“Will I get a nice teacher or a mean teacher this year?”– we hear that a lot around here these days.)

Today’s Back to School Inspiration may be just the thing to help you tackle that anxiety and enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation, as well as have a smooth start to the new school year!  I have teamed up with 11 other bloggers to give you a really fun…

Back To School

Each of us are sharing a super fun “Back to School” themed idea today:  I am sharing our school readiness routine.

We’ve been relying on our “school readiness” routine for a couple years now. It has proven to be very effective in keeping the stress level down, and making sure things run smoothly not only at the beginning of a school year but also throughout the rest of it. In addition to maintaining order and piece of mind, it helps the kids learn self-reliance and efficiency: I am a strong believer in teaching kids to be independent and self-sufficient from an early age.

Here is what goes into our “school readiness” routine:

** A list of things that needs to be completed every day/night before kids go to bed:

It took me some time to come up with a message board that would be a)easy to use, b) durable, and c) easy and inexpensive to make.  As a result, I created the following set up:

school readiness routine

We purchased a magnetic board from Ikea (not a dry-erase kind), and my husband hung it on the wall right next to the family calendar. I also bought two small dry-erase boards from Wal-mart and attached them to the magnetic board using a couple of peel-and-stick magnets. Then I used my label maker and printed “rows” and “columns” to mark a semi-permanent lay out — it can be easily switched if needed, but it stays put and doesn’t smudge from every day use.

The top board is a “To-Do” list for the kids. I divided it into three columns, one for each kid, marking the columns with strips of the label maker tape. This board is where I write chores (or “to-do”s) for the kids to do daily, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it in this post.

The second board is titled “School Readiness”. It was created in a similar way–using my label maker, I printed the board title, kids’ names, column dividers, as well as items for the kids to check off as they go through their routine to get ready for school. The items include:

- homework: this one is self-explanatory

- backpack: it is the kids’ job to make sure their backpacks are packed, and it gets done the night before.

- lunch: the kids make their own lunch the night before (more on this later)

- snack: snack goes in the backpack the night before

- room and bathroom: general pick-up, making sure nothing is on the floor, etc.

- clothes: the kids set out an outfit that they plan on wearing next day.

An hour or so before dinner, I remind the kids to start on their “school readiness” routine. Right before bedtime I see if they have checked off every item on the list– there is a dry-erase marker and an eraser in a magnetic cup attached to the bottom of the board.command center in the mudroom

The memo board and the calendar are located in our office/mudroom. I am SO happy with this set up: it helps streamline the whole process of dealing with school stuff. The backpacks hang right under the magnetic board which makes it easy for the kids to pack and unpack. There is a desk to the right of the magnetic board.  Basically, all their school related things are located in one area. All they have to do in the morning is grab their backpacks, step to the mudroom area to put their shoes on, and head out the door.

**Lunch and snack prep:

- Lunch: to keep it within the spirit of learning self-sufficiency, the kids are responsible to pack their lunch the night before. To streamline this process, I put a small magnetic board (a locker dry-erase board actually) on the side of the fridge. It is used for writing what they have prepared and put in the fridge in order to put in their lunchboxes in the morning. This way I know what each of them is taking to school, plus it is a good visual for the kids and a reminder to actually prepare lunch! I plan to write a separate post on food choices for kids lunches and snacks.school readiness routine

-Snack: we keep a basket labeled “school snacks” in the pantry, which makes it very easy for the kids to grab a snack, put it in the backpack and check off this item of the list on the magnetic board.school snacks basket in the pantry

I love the fact that the kids are learning to stay organized, keep track of their “to-do”s without me asking them fifty times if they have done this or that. Who has time for that?

 

And here are the rest of the projects, that I am sure you will find super  useful! They range from teacher gifts to advice for the anxious child heading to school. So be sure to check them out!

Back to School

Start of the Year Basket by Garay Treasures’s ~~ 1st Day of School Traditions by Mrs. Coach Sims ~~ 10 of the Best Back to School Teacher Gifts by Tales of Beauty for Ashes ~~ Back to School Fashion by Words About Waverly ~~ Creating a Portable Homework Station by Living In This Season ~~ Take Care of the Teacher by bybmg ~~ 5 Easy Fine Motor Skills Activities by Our Life on a Budget

Back to School

School Room by Abiding in Grace ~~ Back to School Party by All Kinds of Things ~~ Back to School Organization by Morganize With Me ~~ Preparing an Anxious Child by Almond Place

 

Of course, we didn’t want the fun to stop with the inspiring ideas… so here is a fun giveaway for a $60 Target Gift Card! Click on the a Rafflecopter giveaway link to enter. The winner will be announced on August 12th!

 

***

What tricks do you use to have kids get ready for school? Please share!

 

Summer learning tips.

Today I am sharing how we keep our brains from getting rusty during summer break.

summer learning tips

I believe, and teach my kids, that learning is not a chore that they have to do because their teachers and parents expect them to. We talk a lot about the value of “developing their brain” and different ways they can do it. “Summer knowledge loss” is a well-known fact. I have been questioning the rationale behind a three month break from school, and came across different explanations and theories (this and this are good reads). Regardless of how and why we have such a long summer break, I don’t want my kids’ academic skills to hibernate all summer long.

In my previous post, I showed that we fit short learning sessions in early afternoon– after some fun activities outside the house, chores and lunch. I feel like by that time the kids are ready to sit down and let their brains do some work before they go on running around.

Here is what goes into our summer learning:

1.  Reading: Every two weeks we go to the library and each kid picks a stack of books to bring home. We also buy books on Amazon or in Half-Price Books. We talk about their favorite books: I love seeing the kids discuss the books they all have read, sometimes it makes me pick up one of their books and read it myself! In addition to fiction, we encourage reading daily news (online and/or print) and non-fiction.

Or we just read whatever we find in the basket with magazines, while trying to sit in the said basket

Or we just read whatever we find in the basket with magazines, while trying to sit in the said basket

2. Basic math/language skills (especially important for my 7 year old): I put a few sheets that I tear out of old work books or print from the Internet in the left pocket of a folder, and have kids complete them and move to the right pocket. Whenever I have a minute later in the day I go over their work and see if they need help, or just need to make corrections.summer learning

3. Science experiments: this is, of course, a huge hit with my 7 and 10 year olds. At first, their creativity was flowing completely free, and so were my cooking ingredients (vanilla extract is an essential part of body moisturizer, apparently). So we talked how we can channel creativity in a more productive way. We agreed that we should use a basic recipe found online (say, bath salts) and then play with it, modify the way we like it, and write down observations in a journal. I think this is a good way to balance creativity with science skills (observation, research, note taking).

science experiments

“Volcano” (we were out of red food coloring)

I hope that when school starts in a month, my kids will not be shocked and overwhelmed with a wave of assignments and work that will be coming their way.

Do you have any tricks to engage kids’ brains during summer? What are your thoughts on the “summer knowledge loss” phenomenon? I’d love to see your comments!

Sharing this post at Morganize with me!

 

 

Summer time management (is not an oxymoron).

I have been trying to figure out my blogging schedule so that it did not interfere with my off-line life. I am not sure how to best fit in with everything else that’s going on here on a daily basis. I miss regular blogging, but at the same time resent the fact that my time writing posts and working on the blog is the time not spent with my family. I am letting things decide themselves naturally, and intend to post whenever I have a chance.

We are almost half way through with the summer. June was very eventful for us. The first couple of weeks were hectic with lots of appointments that I had put off till the school is out– will not repeat that mistake again. After things settled down and we officially began “relaxing” and taking it easy, it became obvious that unstructured “chilling” is not going to work.

I realized (or confirmed) that my kids do not do well without a certain type of structure, and become bored, overwhelmed with all the free time, and eventually express it through whining, bickering and drama queen shows.

To save the summer and my sanity (with four children, including a fire-cracker under 2, and no extended family in town, I need all the tricks I can come up with) I put together a daily schedule that I hung in our family command center next to the calendar.

Summer time managemen

I did not bother to make it pretty (I may get to it, but it has been doing its job as is), or permanent. It still did magic to the order of things here: a lot less boredom- induced stress, a lot more productive and fun activities.

The icing on the doughnut has to match an outfit for better tasting experience!

The icing on the doughnut has to match an outfit for better tasting experience!

First time horse riding

First time horse riding

Here are some things that I considered while putting the schedule together:

1. Weather: here in Texas you do not want to be outdoors in the middle of the day, so most outdoor activities were scheduled for morning hours.

2. Baby’s nap time: she is not the type of a child that can peacefully tag along and fall asleep anywhere any time. And if she misses her nap, the whole family will hear it later in the day.

3. Chores and studying: with the general expectation of summer being a season for “all fun and games” I wanted for the kids to remember that daily chores are not going to do themselves. Same goes for keeping up with basic academic skills: I do not see a need for their brains to rest all summer. I believe intellectual activities are good for you all year long.

I can’t stress enough how much following this schedule has helped us stay in control of our time, letting us enjoy this summer so much more. It also proved to be a great way to minimize the time spent playing video games and watching TV.

I should note that the schedule is not set in stone, and allows for flexibility if there is a change of plans.

Here is our summer schedule in a nutshell:

8.00–8.30 Breakfast, clean up
9.00–10.00 Chores (me: gym)
10.00–12.00 Fun activities (out)
12.00–1.00 Lunch
1.00–3.00 Nap (baby); Educational activities, reading, exercise (kids)
3.00–3.30 Snack
3.30-6.00 Play(friends, electronics, TV, etc.)
6.00–7.00 Dinner
7.00–8.00 Pool, play
8.00 Baby’s bath&bed
9.00    Kids shower&bed

I don’t time the activities with a stop watch. As I said, it is a flexible schedule, a guideline for the day. I will write a further breakdown of this time management system in other posts (how we handle chores, educational activities, outings, meals).

“Summer” and “time management” are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite:  this time management system let us get the best out of this summer break! I am sure I will rely on it to enjoy our next summer, modifying it reflect our needs.

What tricks do you use to keep your family happy (and your sanity intact) during summer break?

Sharing this at Morganize With Me

 

 

 

Crock-pot Bean and Spinach Enchilada Casserole.

It’s been some time since my last post: after posting regularly for a couple of months I realized blogging is time consuming. If you have a blog, you knew that already. And if you don’t have a blog– you know now. And though I enjoy blogging, I also enjoy a whole lot of other things, and then there is a whole lot of things, not necessarily enjoyable, that  have to be done. Less time online directly translates into more things getting done off-line, and I am fine with that for now.

One thing that I do love about blogging is the exchange of useful ideas. Today’s great idea is this crock pot spinach and bean enchiladas. bean and spinach enchiladas crock pot

via Morganize with Me

 

The idea is not mine, I borrowed it from Morgan (she has a lot of other great ideas on her blog, so be sure to check it out when you have time).

Three things make this recipe appealing to me: 1) it can be easily modified based on what you have on hand, and on your preferences, 2) as far as enchiladas go, this one has a higher ratio of filling to tortillas, which is a plus in my book, and finally 3) It is done in a crock-pot– this one is self-explanatory, right?

You will find the original recipe on Morgan’s blog. Here is my version:

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef*

1 15.5 ounce can black beans, rinsed & drained

1 15.5 ounce can re-fried beans, (I use no-fat kind)

1 16-ounce tub fresh baby spinach**

1 cup frozen corn

1 tsp ground cumin

2 cups grated cheddar cheese***

3 cups enchilada sauce

9 6-inch corn tortillas

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

 Tips:

* Whenever I brown ground beef for a dish, I make sure to make extra, portion it out in freezer bags, label and stash in the freezer. I do the same with chicken. It has become a standard way for me to come up with quick dinners during the week.

** I used to cook with frozen spinach until I tried using fresh spinach, lightly sauteed and drained. I will not go back to frozen kind– the texture of fresh spinach is so much better. I don’t mean those  huge bunches that require triple washing though (too time consuming), but the pre-washed kind in a plastic tub.

*** If you use good quality cheese and grate it yourself, you will need LESS cheese (=lighter dish) to achieve great taste. I like Tillamook brand.

Method:

1. Brown the ground beef, breaking the clumps. Move to a plate.

2. Saute spinach in a little bit of oil until it wilts (it only takes a few minutes). Move to a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as possible by pressing it against the sides of the colander with a wooden spoon.

3. Combine the beef, spinach, and the rest of the ingredients, except for 1 cup of cheddar.

4. Spread 1 1/2 cups of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a crock pot.

5. Spread three tortillas and add 1/3 of the bean mixture, layer and repeat two more times.

6. Top with the remaining enchilada sauce and cheddar. Cover and cook until heated through, on low for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

The entire family loved this recipe, including the picky 7 year old. I did not take a picture because it turned out a little mushy due to the fact that we let it cook longer than specified in the directions: we got distracted. We were busy doing this:

IMG_3155

That giant cup of tea was not gonna drink itself.

IMG_3158

After the tea and dessert at La Madeleine cafe were done (a great Mother and Daughter date idea) , we headed back home and gobbled up that bean and spinach enchilada (with beef). It was that good!

 

 

Tips from my kitchen: no-recipe cooking.

no-recipe cooking

In my every day cooking I rarely follow a specific recipe. That is how women in my family have always cooked. Growing up I was involved in the kitchen a lot:  first as a dishwasher (who could have known that you are supposed to wash both sides of the plate ?!), and then as an assistant chef. My first independent cooking project was an egg, onion and pickle salad, which my parents *said* was great.

I wanted to share my process for selecting and cooking dishes without using a recipe.

***

Though I do use complete recipes occasionally, it is rare that I have all required ingredients on hand. That’s not a problem! Substitute similar ingredients for the ones called for in a recipe, sticking to the same basic food category.: green beans for asparagus, yogurt for sour cream, black beans for kidney beans, etc. Example: this pasta dish, where I used green beans instead of asparagus.

Penne-with-Asparagus-and cherry tomatoessource

***

I eye-ball ingredients all the time. Have you noticed how celebrity chefs pour oil straight from the bottle and say, “Add about 2 tablespoons of oil”. The fact is that if you end up pouring 2 and a quarter tablespoons of oil, it is not going to mess up your dish. Bottom line: it is rarely necessary to keep exact measurements while cooking (this is my opinion and I am sticking to it).

***

If I am pressed for time and have no plan for a dinner, I rely on fridge/freezer and pantry staples, and put together a dish based on this formula: lean protein+ veggie side+ grain.

Some of my favorite “spontaneous” combinations include (but are not limited to):

*salmon patties (canned salmon), steamed broccoli/green beans (frozen), brown rice (boil-in-a-bag)/couscous.

*quesadillas: mushroom and onion, cheese, bean and cheese, chicken (using leftover cooked chicken that I stash in the freezer).

*Italian sausage (frozen, defrosts in the microwave in minutes), pasta/ravioli, salad.

*Shrimp (frozen, defrosts in a bowl of luke-warm water in minutes), sauteed bell peppers and onions, grits.

Tip: preparing spontaneous meals think a theme: Italian, Greek, Asian. This helps to pick out ingredients that will work well together.

***

When I come across an interesting recipe, I like to make it my own by adding to it based on what I have in the fridge, what I feel will go well with the original recipe (see Tip above), and based on our preferences. Herbs, beans, veggies, cheese make great add-ons. By the same token, I sometimes omit or cut down on some ingredients (usually fat and sugar) when I feel like the final result will not be affected negatively.

It is helpful to know a few basic rules to abide by while cooking, to make sure you don’t end up with a total flop (been there, done that). But my most favorite rule is: there are NO RULES! You are the boss, and your dish will come out unique and edible delicious. It may take a bit of practice, but it will give you freedom of being able to cook on the fly, and avoid take-outs and pizza delivery.

What is your cooking style? Do you feel “safe” or stymied by using a written recipe?

Did you find these tips helpful? Share them with your friends using the buttons below!

 

 

 

Simple organization: basic principles.

simple organization principlesI started writing a post about how I organized our pantry a few days ago, and got more and more overwhelmed with trying to cover every detail. It was taking me five times more to describe the process than it did to actually organize the pantry!

So I decided to break this post into several mini posts on organization, to share what went into this organization project (and typically goes with similar projects).

I want to start with describing four basic principles of organization I follow regardless of the type and size of a project:

*Simplify: Organization to me is more than moving things around. The main principle that I keep in mind is simplifying and keeping stuff to a minimum. I have been amazed at how little we need for every day life– it is a very liberating feeling. I am a firm believer in “less is more”!

*Productivity: The time spent vs. the benefits gained is important.  I keep my organization to 15- 20 minutes time frame at a time. Turns out, one can accomplish a whole lot in a a few minutes. I used to dread large-scale projects, like organizing a pantry, because of a time commitment it would require. Until I realized that I do not have to do it all in one seating: organizing in small “chunks” is how I have been tackling various areas around the house.

*Form after function: Visual appeal is important, but not at the expense of my time (and money) budget.  Once I have let go of the (self-imposed, Pinterest-induced) expectation to have all matching containers and pretty labels, I was able to move on much faster and show great progress.

*Think outside the box: A space should be organized based on how it is used by your family, whether or not it fits the “default” expectations. For example, we keep silverware on top of the counter instead of in a utensil drawer, because it works better for us this way. We put our mudroom in the office, again because that is how we use our space, though I am sure that mudroom corner was not intended as such by the builder.

Important note: A sign of effective organization is that the organized space stays organized long-term. Most of my organization projects turned out to be easy to maintain, again, due to the key points I just described. And if something is not working, it is tweaked.

Organization does not have to be daunting and/or expensive, with the help of these principles. It is totally doable on a small budget and within the limited time that we have. I have been able to make good progress with organizing our house (though I have WAYS to go!).

I already shared in detail how I organized our silverware and water glasses. I will be sharing my pantry and other areas in the future posts.

 

Quick dinners: grilled pesto shrimp skewers.

Here is another recipe that meets my requirements for a quick and healthy dinner: it has two ingredients, and is ready in under 20 minutes. It couldn’t be easier to prepare, but tastes like a gourmet dish.

grilled pesto shrimp

For light grilling like this one, I like using my Grilla pan from Ikea. It is perfect for grilling shrimp, a couple of chicken breasts, or some veggies.grilla-grill-pan

 Ikea Grilla pan

I buy peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, they defrost very fast. They can be thawed in just a few minutes if you put them in a bowl with lukewarm water.

I served the shrimp with some tomatoes and green beans. Any frozen veggies, that can be prepared in the microwave, would also make a great speedy side.

Here is how to make it:

  1. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of pesto with shrimp and let sit on the counter for about 10 minutes (you can start your side veggies at this point).
  2. Put 5-6 shrimp on a skewer. Preheat the grill pan on medium.
  3. Spray the grill pan well with cooking spray and grill the skewers for 2-3 minutes per side, until they turn opaque.
adapted from Closet Cooking.

 

I have been obsessed with pesto lately! I have made a batch and have been putting it on sandwiches, wraps, chicken breast, etc. Here is another great idea using pesto: Morgan, who writes her blog “Morganize with me”, shared this healthy pesto salad that is perfect for a quick and healthy dinner. Morgan has a ton of ideas for organizing your home and family life, as well as healthy living.

Do you have a recipe that calls for pesto? I would love to add it to my list.

Sharing at Morganize with me.

New Easter traditions.

I realize I am a week late writing about Easter, but that’s how my timing works. The past week was packed with kids activities and catching up on chores and errands– our normal rhythm these days. The daily life pressures and rewards augmented what truly is important: I just don’t have time and energy for anything that requires going through the motions.

In that spirit, I really wanted to step away from our typical go-through-the-motions way to celebrate Easter, which used to include dying some eggs with a store-bought kit, and having an egg-hunt in the backyard (recycling the 100+ plastic eggs every year). All the egg stuffing and unstuffing just didn’t sound appealing anymore. I still wanted the kids to have fun: the thrill of looking for treats, and, of course, the treats themselves.

So, I decided to re-package the fun in the shape of a Easter treasure hunt. I wanted to keep it very simple and used what I had on hand for the supplies. I did buy a small gift for each child (lip gloss, sticker book, collectable cards, a book) and some sweets for them to share.

Easter treasure hunt

Then I hid “the treasure” inside the house, and made several cards with clues leading to it. The clues were “scrambled” names of the rooms that they had to go to and look for the next clue. Once they found the card with the clue, they had to “unscramble” the word and find out which room to go to next. I put a number next to the clue indicating how many words were in the clue: 1 for “kitchen”, 2 for “dining room”, etc.

Easter treasure hunt cards

I must say it didn’t take them long to find and unscramble all the clues.

IMG_3028Next time I might make more elaborate clues, but this simple treasure hunt worked fine this year.

IMG_3030

Egg dying is a favorite tradition as well. Again, we went with what we had on hand. The  kids were fascinated with watching how natural dyes worked.

naturally dyed eggs

We only tried three colors, and decided to expand the palette next year. We did not follow any specific tutorial– pure experimenting! Here is how we dyed our Easter eggs:

1. Add dye to a 2 quart pot filled with water.

2. Put 3-4 eggs in each pot, cover, simmer for 15-20 minutes.

3. Let sit in the water until cool.

For the dye we used skins for two large onions, 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric, and 1 beet cut into small chunks.

The best part of egg-dying tradition is the egg war ritual:

1. Each person grabs an egg.

2. Holding an egg firmly in your hand, smack the egg in another person’s hand. The egg that cracked is out of the game.

3. The surviving egg continues to smack other people’s eggs until it cracks. Then the egg that cracked it and remained whole takes the lead.

4. The egg that survived the round of smacking is announced a winner.

I like seeing the kids enjoying our family traditions. They look forward to such special moments, and remember funny stories from the years past.

Do you have special Easter traditions? I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

Adjusting the focus: living in the moment.

live in the moment printvia

The last couple of weeks have been exceptionally enduring and demanding around here. We have had physical injuries (my son broke his ankle…again), behavior issues coming from my 7 year old, and loads of negativity coming from external sources– people that we wish we didn’t have to deal with, but don’t have a choice.  All that on top of the typical daily pressures and commitments.

I sometimes (ok, always) struggle with finding a balanced response to negative external influence. That’s what happened this time around. I let the circumstances take the best of me, and leave me frustrated, mad and defeated.  They were taking up too much of my energy and mental health.  That is not the place I wanted to be!

I felt the need to set my priorities straight and took time to refocus: I realized that though changing the circumstances is not in my power, changing my attitude is. Once I made that decision, I immediately felt like things fell into place!

I am thankful for a few reminders I got that helped me adjust my focus:

*my husband and my mom– both wise and level-headed people, reminded me to focus on, and appreciate, all the positive that there is in my life at the moment.

*a parenting book I just finished reading: there were no revelations in it, but a reminder to operate out of love and not emotions during especially frustrating times.

*this print: I mentioned Ann and her blog in my Spring Wreath post. Ann designs some art, that can be downloaded and framed. I loved the design and the message of this print, though being a planner and a worrier, it didn’t come easy to fully accept it. But that’s what balanced life is to me. Putting more emphasis on the “right here, right now” helped me see the insignificance of some things that frustrated me.

* a conversation with a neighbor, that brought up life-threatening health issues: it hit the nail on the head, and reminded me to treasure the time and experiences we got with each other.

I decided to focus more on the people that I love, and put them above all the negativity that I had no control over: an ice cream date with my son, more one-on-one time with my seven year old, dismissing the people that personify negativity as non-deserving my attention, hanging the “Live in the Moment” print by the front door.  Simple steps! But I can’t believe the huge change in the way I, and by extension my entire family, feel.

ice cream date“Superman” flavor ice cream has magic powers: makes mom happy! (and gives you a blue and red mouth)

I believe it is possible to take control of stressful and destructive circumstances. I am not saying it is easy, but it is doable, by adjusting focus and priorities.

What has helped/helps you find your balance when you feel like you are losing it? I would love to hear from you.

 

Did you like this post? Please feel free to share it with your friends using the buttons below.

“Walk, don’t run! “: How to fit in walking workouts.

sport shoesRegular exercising and eating healthy has become a part of our life. I mentioned earlier why it is important to me: the only way for me to be on top of all the demands of day-to-day life is being in the best physical shape: strong, flexible, energized, and healthy. I have shared some of my experiences with this lifestyle. Neither exercising, nor eating healthy have burdened me in terms of time, effort or money. With time, I have figured out the right combination of healthy vs. doable, and found the balance that I have been able to maintain.

Today I want to focus on one element of that combo: walking workouts. Walking, of course, isn’t rocket science, and any amount of walking you can do is a plus. However, to count as a workout, it has to meet a couple of key points. I am not a fitness expert, and these are just some tips that worked for me, plus the result of my personal research.

How to walk:

* Speed: it has to be so fast that you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. Or other way to put it is, if you were to walk any faster it would be running. That is why in my opinion, the best way to do a walking workout is solo. I think walking with a buddy is great for socializing, but it is not as effective as a workout. Unless you and your walk buddy keep quiet and keep on walking side by side (which Brian and I frequently do).

* Distance: the longer you walk, the better (earth-shattering, I know). My goal is two miles. However, it is important to start out with the distance that you are comfortable with, and add to that. Over-doing it is a sure way to burn out and quit. After my fourth baby was born, I could barely walk around the block at first. It took me some time to get up to speed.  And that’s totally fine– slow and steady wins the race!

* Technique: Landing heel first and rolling through your foot is one thing to remember. Another thing is keeping your posture, and engaging other muscles, especially your core muscles, as much as possible. If it feels unnatural at first, be conscious of your body, and it will eventually become a habit. This makes the workout more productive.

Where to walk:

* Outside: walking with a stroller is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. The kid gets some fresh air, and you get a work-out. Pushing a stroller definitely adds weight, and makes walking harder. I consider it to be a “weighted” workout.

*Indoors: I have a mini treadmill, and it is my preferred way of walking.manual treadmill It is set on the incline, and it is manually powered, meaning I have to push the belt with my feet while walking. It is a terrific leg exercise, in addition to cardio. I plan to write a more detailed review of this little treadmill, but for now, I really recommend it if you are shopping for one.

When to walk:

I know that this is probably the most challenging part of the process: fitting workouts in your daily routine. To be successful,  be realistic about your schedule, physiological clock, and outside limitations. If you are not a morning person, you will most surely not get up early to go for a walk. Here are a few possible scenarios how you can fit in walks in your routine:

*During lunch break: when I was working full-time outside of home, my office was close to my house, so I had an opportunity to work out on my treadmill for 20 minutes, clean up, and eat lunch quickly. Not everyone works within a five minutes drive from home though! But I am pretty sure there is a number of small gyms with affordable membership around where you work. With a 20 minute walk on a treadmill, a shower and a quick bite to eat, a gym could be a perfect solution!

*Right after work, before diving into family activities and dinner: keep workout clothes in the car and change before leaving work. Make sure to eat a snack late in the afternoon to have enough energy for the walk. After the walk, you will feel more energized to tackle the evening rush at home (I know I always do!).

* After dinner, while you take the kids to the park. When my then-youngest was 2.5 years old and my oldest was 11.5 I was working that office job I mentioned above, and was a single mother. My favorite part of the day was taking the kids to the playground and walking around the playground, keeping an eye on them, and then joining them on the playground.

*During your kid’s practice/dance class: to quote my friend, a mother of two with a full-time job: “I take my son to swimming classes a couple of times a week. Once a week, while he’s swimming, I will work out, instead of waiting for him and catching up with other moms or running errands. If he’s not missing his swimming class, I’m not missing my workout either!”

*If you work from home (because all mothers work!) you may have more flexibility with scheduling a walking workout: while taking your kids out in a stroller/while the kids are napping/while the kids are watching a movie (save it just for this time of the day).stroller workout

I like to say, “if there is a will, there is a way!”  As busy as life is, when you cannot find time to exercise, you have to make time for it, if it is a priority.

Special equipment:

*None is required: the beauty of walking workouts is that you don’t need any special equipment. Just make sure you have comfortable walking shoes, and you are good to go! I don’t believe you need to spend a lot of money on exercise gear in order to make your workouts productive. All my workout clothes comes from Target or Walmart and has been performing just fine.

* A source of music/podcasts: I recommend music because it is a very effective motivator, and it is a great opportunity for a “me” time. On the other hand, it is also great to use your walking time to contemplate and listen to your inner thoughts. For me it is usually both.

*An app on your phone: I found it helpful to use an app for tracking my speed and distance. I use a free app called MapMyRun. I only use it for basic speed, time and distance tracking, but it has a lot useful features, like sharing your workouts with a group of friends, inviting friends to join you “virtually”, log your progress, and even track your calorie intake.

Real Simple magazine, February 2014 issue,  had a great article on this topic. I recommend the printed edition, but if you cannot find it, you can read some of it here and here. 

You may be interested in reading my posts about how to keep up motivation to exercise and how exercise helps maintain healthy wait.

What is your experience with walking as a way to work out? Please feel free to share any tips you have!

If you like this post and know somebody who will be interested in reading it, feel free to share it using the buttons below!

Sharing at Morganize with me.