Winter Craft Ideas for the Family

by Lindsay Davidson & Karla Burkman

Colder weather is here…and coming up with ideas to keep the little ones occupied are always welcome. The craft ideas below are perfect for this Christmas season.

Christmas card crafting station

20-minute reindeer thumbprint ornaments

Button tree

DIY printable nativity scene

Glitter dough snowflakes

Snowman in a jar

Wreath ornaments

Indoor snow sensory bin

Enjoy these fun projects with your little ones.

Indoor Play Options

by Melissa Edwards

Cold weather is on the horizon and it’s always nice to have some indoor “back up” plans for the rainy/snowy/cold days. Here are some of my family’s favorite indoor play areas:

Potomac Mills Mall Indoor Soft Play Area
Mall hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
2700 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge, VA 22192

Potomac Mills is an outlet mall, so you may find some better prices at some of the stores than at other malls. The play area is just outside of TJ Maxx, so I usually park near the mall entrance in that area. Walk in the mall entrance and make a right. You will pass the bathrooms (including a family restroom) as you head in the direction of the play area. My favorite thing to do is leave the kids with my husband or parents while I shop. This playground features objects to climb on, a slide, tunnel, bridge, and ship.

Pros: FREE, bathroom nearby, fully enclosed play area except for one entryway, Subway nearby for easy lunch, picnic tables nearby if you want to bring lunch

Cons: kids over 4 or 5 will start to outgrow

Tysons Corner Mall Indoor Soft Play Area
Mall hours: Mon-Sat 10-9:30 a.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
1961 Chain Bridge Rd. Tysons Corner, VA 22102

This is a huge and very nice mall! The indoor play area is very big and lot of fun and sometimes they have a train ($$) running around the food court area. They also do Santa pictures here. You can find it on level 3 near the food court and movie theatre.

Pros: FREE, bathroom nearby, fully enclosed play area except for one entryway, food court nearby for easy lunch

Cons: VERY BUSY all the time

Fair Oaks Mall Indoor Soft Play Area
Mall hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
11750 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, VA 22033

This brand new play area just opened. It is located on the lower level wing of JCPenney and the VA Dept. of Motor Vehicles off the mall’s new grand court. We haven’t had a chance to check it out yet so we can’t share our pros and cons, but it’s bound to be great fun!

Chinquipin Park Rec Center Soft Playroom
Hours vary - call ahead
3210 King Street Alexandria, VA 22302 (703) 746-5553

This is our favorite soft playroom because most of the time it’s open in the mornings (prime play time). Cost less than $5 per kid per hour. I recommend calling ahead to find out the hours for free play, because this room is also available for rental for playgroups and parties, in which case it is closed to the public. There is a ball pit, slide, and stacks of huge blocks that can be built up and rearranged into different climbing apparatus. There is an area sectioned off for smaller kids.

Pros: bathroom nearby, fully enclosed, fun for all ages, opportunities to build/manipulate environment

Cons: $$, must call ahead for availability

Lee Rec Center Soft Playroom

Hours vary - call ahead
6601 Telegraph Rd, Alexandria, VA 22310 (703) 922-9840

This play room has limited availability because it is not available during the Lee Rec Center preschool hours and is often reserved for parties and playgroups. You must call ahead every time for availability and hours. The entire room was recently redone with all new equipment.

Pros: bathroom down the hall, fully enclosed, fun for all ages, opportunities to build/manipulate environment

Cons: $$, must call ahead for availability

The Playseum
Hours: M-Sat 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sun 1 – 6 p.m.
545 8th St SE, Washington DC

The Playseum is a hands-on, kids wonderland! Housed in an old bookstore (you can buy books!), there are individual rooms/areas with different themes for children to play and explore. Make a pizza, shop at the grocery, be a cop...and much more! Admission is $7 per person over 1 year old (including adults).

Pros: Several restrooms, books for purchase, multiple areas for play, story time and crafts

Cons: $$, extra cost for some activities (beyond the play rooms), metered street parking can be difficult to find at times. Can get busy when school groups are visiting and is often busy on the weekends.

Give Back This Holiday Season

by Sara Stills

The holidays are a wonderful time for celebrating with family and many people also like to “give back” in appreciation for their blessings.

This year, Ft. Belvoir MOPS is assembling Christmas gift bags for distribution to children who are unable to spend Christmas at home while hospitalized at Children’s National Medical Center.

Fort Belvoir mom, Kiersten Weaver, shares how this gesture really brightens the day of a child who is hospitalized. Her daughter, Aili, recently received a bag filled with goodies from one of our MOPS members.

“We’re fortunate that our medical bills are covered, but other parents have to worry about this in addition to other fees – food, parking, gas, childcare for siblings, etc. Receiving something like a gift bag, something that may seem small to some, is truly a big deal to the parents and child. It instantly brightens the child's day, providing hours of fun, distraction from the pokes, prods and constant doctors,” says Kiersten.

We are asking our families to consider donating gifts with a value under $10 for assembly and distribution to a child at Children’s National Medical Center.

Collections will be 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3 (STRIPES) and Dec. 10 (STARS) at the REC next to Belvoir Chapel. You may also bring them to a MOPS meeting if unable to attend the collection date.

Great places to find quality, reasonably priced items include TJ Maxx, Ross, Kohls, Marshalls, Tuesday Morninng and Michael’s (especially when you use the 40% discount coupon regularly available). While “dollar stores” have bargains, the quality is often absent. One quality item that meets safety standards rather than five inexpensive ones that do not is preferred.

Gift ideas include:

Activities: Coloring books, crayons, construction paper, colored pencils, stencils, paint by numbers, stickers, books, puzzles, activity books (word search), Magna Doodle, Etch-a-Sketch, art kits (non-toxic), craft kits such as bracelets, looms, scrapbooking and bubbles

Sturdy wooden toys: such as Melissa and Doug or Kidkraft

Games: Card games such as Go Fish, Uno, and Old Maid; board games such as Checkers, Memory, Connect Four, Sorry, Candyland; and mini travel games

Toys: Matchbox cars, planes, trucks, boats, small superheros, Barbie’s, baby dolls, stuffed animals (new), small Lego kits

Misc.: Small beauty kits such as nail polish, chapstick, lip gloss, and hair bows; lap desk (pillow bottom and hard top); fun holiday socks; DVDs (G and PG rated)

Wrapping: Medium sized gift bags

Please note that we cannot accept:
•Spark-producing toys due to fire regulations.
•Latex (or rubber) balloons and materials because of latex allergy precautions and other safety factors
•Toys made of glass or brittle plastic
•Items with violent, frightening or adult-rated themes
•Toys that can break or have sharp edges

If you have any questions about the gift bags, please contact Sara Stills at

Additional service opportunities include:

Operation Christmas Child
Take your children shopping and pack a Christmas shoebox for another little girl or boy. Visit Samaritan's Purse ( for box packing ideas and information.
Drop off: Before Nov. 14 at Belvoir Chapel
Sponsored by: Protestant Women of the Chapel
POC: Tracey Bartolomei, 703-781-0299

Coat Drive
Donate clean, gently used or new winter coats of all sizes. All items are given to Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO).
Drop off: Nov. 9-17 at Woodlawn Chapel, Belvoir Chapel, or Fairfax Chapel
Sponsored by: Fort Belvoir Knights of Columbus

Thanksgiving Baskets
Help pack and deliver Thanksgiving Food Baskets to military families in need. Due to the weight of the baskets, only adults and children 12+ up are invited to help. Watch care will be provided for younger children.
Packing: Saturday, Nov 23, 8:30 am - 3 pm. Come as you are able.
Sponsored by: Fort Belvoir Chapel
POC: Marie Landwermeyer, 703-806-5745

Taking Better Holiday Pictures

by Randi Boyd

One of the most (if not THE most) exciting times of the year is quickly approaching – the holidays. This is one of the busiest and most fun times of the year, especially for those of us with families. We all whip out our camera and capture those special moments - carving the turkey, watching football, Christmas carols, cookie making, decorating the tree, watching the ball drop and letting the kids stay up really’s all worth remembering and capturing.

Here are a few tips to help kick your holiday photo taking up a notch this year.

1. Get in the picture. Most of us are alike in that we stand behind the camera and click, click, click to capture our little kiddos in their holiday clothes doing adorable things. If your kids are like mine, they probably love looking at photo albums and seeing pictures of themselves.

But in 20 years, they will love seeing pictures of YOU. I promise, they will think you look young and beautiful. They think you’re perfect now. And when they look back, they will want to see you. So put aside the worry that you ate too many holiday cookies or that you haven’t colored your hair or put on make-up. Just hand the camera to someone else and jump in the picture.

2. Get down on their level. It’s so easy and quick to just pick up your camera and snap an image of your kids opening presents or eating Christmas cookies as you stand over them. But if you bend down and get on your knees (or your belly!!) and get eye to eye with them, you capture their size and their face in a whole new way.

3. Fill the frame with your subject. Basically, zoom in. Or take a few steps closer to them if your lens doesn’t zoom (don’t worry, mine doesn’t either). Capture your subjects in their environment by zooming in and leaving less “space” around them. Less sky, wall, floor, etc. Capture their cute faces.

4. Watch background distractions. When posing your subjects, pay attention to what’s behind them in the picture. Be intentional about what is in your backdrop. If you have something distracting in your background, it WILL take away from the awesomeness of your subject. Watch for telephone polls that seem to stick out of someone’s head, trash cans, shoes piled in the corner by the front door, etc. Simple backgrounds allow subjects to “pop” more!

5. Get them in close. People tend to stand awkwardly when you tell them you’re going to take a group shot. To make them look more natural and comfortable, give brief instructions to get in closer, loop arms and hold hands. Put simply, TOUCH each other. They will look less stiff and more natural. Plus, when you’re close to others, it hides any flaws some of us females seem to want hidden.

6. Print your pictures. The best tip I can give is to actually print your pictures. Print them and stick them in a photo album or scrapbook with them. Make a photobook online and actually order it. You will never regret having those print images printed to enjoy. If a picture is REALLY great, print it BIG and hang it on the wall. You will love looking at it every day.

Enjoy the holidays. And don’t forget to take pictures! Our children truly are only little once.

Randi Boyd is a fellow MOPS mama who is a professional photographer. Learn more about her and her work at

Resources for Local Family Fun

by Jamie Kaun

The Northern Virginia/DC area has an amazing number of activities and destinations for families. Sometimes, it’s almost overwhelming how much there is to see and do.

There are quite a few local blogs and Facebook pages that feature events and activities around the area. Listed below are the two that are among the most helpful.

Kid-Friendly DC
Kid-Friendly DC is one of the best blogs I’ve found that does a wonderful job of letting you know what’s going on in and around DC. It’s written by a mom of young children who lives in DC. You can sign up for weekly e-mails for a comprehensive list of what’s going on that week.

Fairfax Family Fun
Written and maintained by a Fairfax County mom, this blog features events and activities around the area.

Two additional local resources that are wonderful destinations for families are the Fairfax County Libraries and the Fairfax County Parks.

Fairfax County Library
The libraries offer free story time, host authors, educational programs for kids and much more.

Fairfax County Park Authority
The parks offer playgrounds, nature centers, programs and much more. Be sure to sign up to receive Parktakes, a quarterly guide to events, classes, camps and more. You can sign up here

Our Favorite Local Playgrounds

by Melissa Edwards

Playgrounds are universally loved by children and there are an amazing number of them in the Northern Virginia area on and off post. Enjoy the cooler (hopefully!) weather at some of our favorite parks below.

Playgrounds on Ft. Belvoir

Castle Park
Located on South Post, near the water (Tompkins Basin area). Follow Warren Rd. west then turn left at the foot of the hill onto Johnson Rd. Kids can watch the water traffic, animals, etc. but that can also be a negative if you want them to stay away from the water. There are bathrooms and shaded picnic areas, although the playground itself offers no shade. Landscaping is pebbles so be sure to bring some dump trucks or other toys for “moving” the pebbles around.

“The Yellow Park”
Not its official name, but this is what some kids call the park located on 15th and Middleton, behind Pullen Field next to the skate park. This rubber surface park is a large, wheelchair-friendly park with accessible ramps and swings. Bring toys for the sandbox. It’s fully fenced with minimal traffic in the area. Offers no shade or restrooms (closest are in the bowling center).

Pirate Park
Located directly behind the marina at 5465 Hudson Rd. in River Village (near Mt. Vernon and Hudson roads). This fully fenced park has a fun pirate theme – kids can pretend to be pirate ship captains with a steering wheel, portholes and more!  Features a tire swing, baby swing and climbing structures along with rider toys for younger children. There are benches for parents, a picnic shelter and some shade although there is no restroom (closest are in the George Washington Neighborhood Center).

Woodlawn Village Neighborhood Park
5375 Dairy Ct., Fort Belvoir, VA Leave post from Pence Gate and take Rt. 1 north. Turn left onto Old Mill Rd (by Roy Rogers). Turn right onto Pole Rd. Left onto Plantation Dr. into Woodlawn Village then right onto Dairy Ct. Younger and older children can enjoy this park which features long slides with a tall playground structure, monkey bars, swings, small play area for the little ones and more. Offers some shade, benches for parents, fencing between the playground and the road, a picnic shelter, and nice restrooms across the street in the Woodlawn Village Neighborhood Center.

Playgrounds Off Post

Chessie’s Big Backyard
6601 Telegraph Rd., Franconia, VA 22310 (right next to the Our Special Harbor splash park) This rubber turf park offers bridges, multiple slides, monkey bars, climbing structures and more. It’s designed for children 5-12 years old although toddlers (over 2 years) can enjoy many of its features. It is a large structure so it can be difficult to keep up with little ones or multiple children. Shaded picnic area and numerous benches offer seating. Also features a “tree house” bridge that’s shaded and offers a short walk through the trees. In addition, there is an easy trail that offers a short hike through the woods. Bathrooms are close although they tend to be closed in the winter (you can use the restrooms inside the rec center). There’s also a smaller, more manageable playground with a mulch surface that has climbing structures with slides next to the tennis courts for the younger kids. Bring some sand toys to play in the sand volleyball court (when not in use). Neither play area offers swings.

Jones Point Park
125 Jones Point Dr., Alexandria, VA 22314 (Old Town) This park can be a bit tricky to find the first time using GPS. No matter where you’re coming from, in the last steps, your directions should tell you to turn onto Royal St. Simply follow that until it ends. You’ll see the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. What isn’t as easy to see is the entrance to Jones Point on the left by the recycling bins. This National Park was under renovation for several years and now includes two new fully fenced playgrounds. The first one, designed for ages 2-5, is on the north side of the bridge and has a soft rubber surface along with landscaped areas. It includes two play structures with slides, several rocker seats, a seesaw and eight swings. The second park, for ages 5-12, has soft surfacing with abstract climbing structures. There’s a large area under the bridge (restrooms are also located here) that’s perfect for letting little ones ride their bikes (the Mt. Vernon trail winds through the park as well). Kids will also see planes overhead flying in and out of Reagan National. This site is historical and includes the Jones Point Lighthouse, built in 1855, that served as a warning light for naval ships approaching the Washington Navy Yard. There are several benches for seating, but there is no shade and with the abundance of trees, it can get a bit “buggy.”

Grist Mill Park
4710 Mt. Vernon Memorial Hwy., Alexandria, VA 22309 Features three side-by-side fast slides and a tall climbing structure for older kids. Also a smaller playground for the little ones with fun features. Although the park isn’t fenced, it’s set very far back from the parking lot and road. It has wide open spaces, and sports fields and a dog park nearby. Shaded benches and picnic tables, but the playground is in the full sun. No restrooms but it does have port-a-potties. 

Windmill Hill Park
501 Union St. Alexandria, VA 22314 (Old Town) One of the only parks we’ve found that is fairly shaded in the morning. It has two sections fenced into one big playground. The upper section is mostly shaded and features a sandbox, teeter totter, baby swings and a slide. Stairs lead you to the lower section which has a playground for older kids. Kids can climb up ropes instead of the stairs to get from the bottom to the top section. Shaded picnic tables and benches, but no bathrooms. Dog park nearby. Attracts mosquitoes because of the shade. Volleyball (bring sand toys!) and basketball courts. Kids will also see planes overhead flying in and out of Reagan National.

Clemyjontri Park
6317 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22101 This park is so incredibly unique, it’s definitely worth the drive. It’s fully accessible, allowing children of all abilities to play side-by-side. A racetrack circles the perimeter of this two acre  playground which has multiple sections – a learning area with a maze; several types of vehicles for pretend play; a fitness and fun section with various jungle gym components; and a carousel (open on weekends until Oct. 27). Because the area is so large, it can be difficult to keep up with multiple children. The playground is fully fenced, has rubber surfacing, and a shaded picnic area, but the playground itself is in the full sun. Restrooms are available.