Introducing the Spark an Idea Thursday Meme

spark-an-ideaSparkplugging is the proud parent of a brand new baby Blog Meme:  Spark an Idea Thursday.

The idea is to get some idea juices flowing around a different topic each week – first here on the Sparkplugging blogs, then blossoming out in the blogosphere.

We kicked things off this week with this topic:

Spark an Idea to Entertain the Kids While You Work

Check out what the creative Sparkplugging Author’s have had to say so far today:

Now, if you’ve got an idea about entertainging kids while you get your work done that hasn’t been shared before – please jump in with a post of your own and link back to us so we know that you’re participating.

You can grab the Meme Graphic right here.

We hope you gain some great ideas from this and will look forward to next week’s topic!

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Friday Fun :: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Can’t. Stop. Giggling.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year from Staples via @BarbaraJones.

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Work from Home, Stay Sane & Get Work Done

Is there any better office space than at home?

Think about it. With a home office, there’s no commuting – which saves time, stress and money. Working from home means you can have lunch with your kids every day. It means you can take a half-hour and roll around with them in the yard. And if you’ve had a late night, no worries. You can roll out of bed minutes before your first appointment and still make it on time. The advantages go on and on.

But, there’s also some major challenges with working from home.

For instance, if you were working in an office building, it probably wouldn’t take your 15 minutes to use the bathroom because your kids are jumping all over you the minute you leave your office. Or, in our case with my wife being a stay-at-home-mom, your spouse thinking that it’s all right to interrupt you 67 times a day. Okay, it’s actually closer to 68.

Before my wife and I married and had kids, I’d worked from my home office for seven years. When we got married, I had no idea the challenges I would face. I figured she just understood that when I closed the door to my office I was unavailable. Nope. Same with the kids.

Now, 6 years later, we’ve worked out a pretty good system for making sure everyone’s needs get met in the family and in my business. All we had to do was create a few boundaries and establish a few rhythms:

  • Set office hours – AND KEEP THEM.
    When your office is just down the hall, it can be difficult to set work aside and have ‘off time.’ Yet, it’s really unfair to both you and your family if you’re bouncing in and out of your office at all hours. Establish specific hours on specific days where you’re working. Make this time as though you’re out of house. This is foundational to effectively working at home so I can’t stress it enough.
  • Remember your family has rhythms & schedules – AND HONOR THEM.
    One issue we had in our family is that I would need a breather a few times in the middle of the day and so I’d come out of my office and spend time with the wife and kids. This was always on my terms because I decided when I came out and when I went back. And since there was no specific time set each day for me to take these little breaks, my wife and kids would never know when I was coming out of my office. Such, this would interrupt their daily flow and their rhythms. So while fun for me, it wasn’t fun for my wife to deal with after I’d go back to work. So talk to your spouse, if they stay at home, and ask them how your mid-day breaks affect the family.
  • Set specific break times – AND KEEP THEM.
    One thing all of us look forward too is eating lunch together. I used to just come out for lunch when I could, which just created chaos. Now, we schedule lunch – as well as those mid-day breaks – so that all of know what to expect. My wife can plan her day and the kids know what to expect – both when the break begins and ends. It’s made our lives much easier.
  • Communicate your needs with your spouse – OFTEN.
    It’s highly unlikely your work’s exactly the same every day. Deadlines and problems can lead to all sorts of business turmoil. Or maybe you’re taking on large project that may require extra time. This may change your work rhythms – maybe you need to work a bit more, or maybe there’s going to be more stress. Talk with your spouse about this BEFORE it becomes an issue. If you’re going to take away from family time, be sure that your spouse agrees it’s a good idea, is supportive and has an idea how it’s going to change their life. Sometimes not taking a project that interrupts your life and hurts your family can be the best choice.
  • Put a lock on your door – AND USE IT.
    Seems elementary, but it’s wholly necessary. Sure, it’s cute when you’re on the phone with a prospect and your 3 year-old waddles into your office for a kiss. But it’s not so cute when they come running into your office crying while you’re on a conference call with decision makers at a company you’re doing business for. Lock your door and keep it locked when you’re ‘in your office.’ Make it habit.
  • Don’t unlock or open  your door during business hours – UNLESS YOU NEED TOO.
    The point of putting a lock on your office door – and using it – is so that your inaccessible just as you’d be if you were working out of the home. That means when your kids or spouse see your door locked, they don’t bother you. If the kids come knocking – and they do – you simply don’t answer. You resist the temptation to open the door. In short order, they’ll get it that when your door’s closed, you’re unavailable. Addendum: You’re also at home and always a parent. So, if you hear your 4 year-old telling your 2 year-old not to touch the hot stove, you quickly go out and deal with it – then return to your office and lock your door.
  • Have family meetings before work – DO THIS!
    Inevitably you and your spouse will need to talk about things throughout the day. Of course, if your spouse believes (s)he should interrupt you at every moment there’s a question – just because you’re at home – you’re productivity will suffer – as well as your patience. So create a time in the morning or in the evening – off from work – where you can talk about daily family business. This is the time to make plans, talk about money, pay bills, make decisions on kid’s classes, schedule doctor’s appointments, talk about dinner, remind you to get a hair cut, etc, etc, etc. Then, whatever needs to be talked about has a space and time so that it doesn’t have to be talked about during business hours.
  • Use the telephone to communicate during business hours.
    Just as if you were working 30 miles away, ask your spouse – and kids – to use the telephone to reach you if there’s something pressing. My wife and I do this and it works great – even though sometimes I can hear her voice through the door. And the kids can talk to me this way as well. It honors all of our needs while I’m working while allowing her a chance to get questions answered – or to just say ‘I love you.’ (okay, I’m a sap). BTW, IM and email works fine too.

There certainly are other things you can do to establish a home/work environment. The most important things is that you and your family set boundaries that work for everyone. Boundaries that allow you to get your work done while honoring your family’s needs and your responsibilities to them.

Just remember that it’s not all about you getting your work done. You have an impact on them as well. So honor their needs, their rhythm and the ‘work’ they’re doing in and for the family.

As I always say, a peaceful home provides a peaceful home office.

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Off to the Zoo… to Let My Brain do the Work for Me

I am taking the morning off today & taking my kids who are on spring break to the zoo. I’m finding more and more lately that leaving my home office to either get out of the house (or even go clean other parts of the house!) has been pretty critical to my ability to think strategically about my business. When I am focused on ‘what to do next’ my brain sometimes just freezes. But when my brain is occupied with fun or mundane stuff, the back of my mind spins new ideas and problem-solves for me while I’m not even trying. In fact, this is how I came up with my new soon-to-be-announced business name.

So in the spirit of giving our brains a break, please leave a comment and share with us what you are going to do today (or sometime in the next few days) to walk away from your desk & get some fresh air. I’d also be curious to hear about what problem, challenge, or question you have been pondering lately that just might get resolved when you go have some fun!

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TLC Launches New TV Show :: The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom

TLC launched a new show last night called The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom. They are finding women who have been stay at home moms for several (many?!) years, and giving them a shot to ‘go back in time’ and regain the dream careers they left behind to raise their families.

Now, I’m not much of a TV kind of gal, but when I do watch, it’s usually TLC. With this new show they are finally shining a spotlight on one of the biggest under-served issues in motherhood :: leaving and re-entering the workforce (hello, why did it take so #$^& long?!). In fact, it’s such a strong need with women in their 30’s and 40’s, Shannon Hutton and I are going to be launching a blog soon dedicated to helping moms work through these difficult transitions.

SLSM Host Tracey GoldI have to firstly give TLC and show host Tracey Gold a standing ovation for putting this show on the air in the first place. Interestingly, some moms that I consider some of my best blogging buddies in the industry aren’t so thrilled with the idea, and are being quite vocal about their concerns.

OOoooooohhh, controversy. Gotta love it. :)

Here’s the TLC show description:

Being a stay at home mother is an all consuming career – and while most moms are wonderfully fulfilled by this choice, other women may wonder about the dreams they left behind. TLC’s new series The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom takes a stay-at-home mom and gives her a chance to secretly live the life she gave up to raise her family. Each hour-long episode profiles the story of a mom as she experiences what her life could have been like if she had chosen to juggle career and family. Guided by Tracey Gol, Mom spends one week outside of the carpool lane and back in the fast lane. The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom gives moms a chance to get back into the careers they left behind.

Episode I :: Adrian Stark

Without telling her family, stay-at-home mom Adrian Stark secretly goes back to work as a high-end fashion designer, while her doctor husband tends to their three girls.

Let me start out by agreeing with Char and Elizabeth on the one thing I just don’t get – why does the premise of the show entail these moms being secretive about this week in career nirvana? Nobody likes to see family members lying – even on reality TV. I guess it serves up a ‘dramatic twist’, but I think it is both unnecessary and undermines the great intentions of the show – to help women pursue a dream they put on hold. And I have to say the Mr. Mom segments were a little cliche – it’s an old joke that reinforces stereotypes.

But that’s all the negative things I have to say about it – the rest of the show was exciting, uplifting, and it even almost made me cry a couple of times. Adrian left the fashion industry 10 years prior to the making of this show, and she was crystal clear about the fact that she enjoyed every minute of the privilege of being a stay at home mom for such a long period of time. There were moments in the fashion designer’s office in which she was freaking out, wondering if she could pull it all off – and when she not only earned the respect of her coworkers, but they wanted to include her designs in a prestigious fashion show, she had one of those brilliantly beautiful moments where she realized that she was not only living her dream but succeeding at it… ah, it brings a tear to my eye again just thinking about it!

Honestly, I think the show started off well, and I can only hope they touch more mom’s lives as they move forward. Will it reignite the infamous Mommy Wars? I guess we can only wait and see about that one, but I give the show creators kudos for respecting both sides of motherhood in this episode.

Want to get on the show?

From the looks of their preliminary TV schedule, they have filmed 5 pilot episodes. Makes me think that there’s plenty of room for one (or ten!) of you to jump on this opportunity and hopefully experience a life-career-changing week yourselves!

From the Get on TLC page:

Celebrating Stay-at-Home Moms!
Are you or is someone you know a stay-at-home mom? Is your life filled with driving the kids from soccer practice, piano lessons, dance classes and back home with barely enough time to get food on the table? Do you feel like everyday is for someone else with no time left for you? If your answer is yes, TLC is looking for you to be a part of a wonderful new show celebrating “soccer moms”.

If you’ve put your needs on the backburner to run a world of diapers, dishes and laundry, we want you! E-mail us your information at: soccermomcasting9@gmail.com

If any of you want me to put in a good word for you, I’ve got your back. ;)

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The Snow Day Toolbox for the Work at Home Parent

With about 10 inches of snow on the ground this morning, and no end in sight to the downfall of coldness, my kids were ecstatic when they heard the phone ring at 6:00am this morning. My teenager yells “SNOW DAY” from the shower, and immediately my other two little ones were out of bed an hour early and wide awake as can be.

It is so funny how they can suddenly be so self sufficient on a Snow Day. While they usually need me to help get them dressed, eat breakfast, and go through the bathroom routine, they have done ALL of this themselves before 9:00am today because they are so anxious to get out into that snow. I know that snowmen and snowforts are fun and all, but it won’t occupy them all day. Luckily I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I know how to keep them busy while I have to work… and I also know how to manage my work so that I can have a little fun with them today, too. ;)

The post I wrote at the beginning of last summer 94 Ways to Keep Kids Busy for the Work at Home Parent is to this day one of the most visited posts on this blog. I wrote it to get me through the summer, so it can definitely get you through one measly snow day.

Seeing I was onto something with that article, I hired Shannon Hutton to write our Seasonal Kids’ Activities Blog to continually provide simple, fun projects that you can do with your kids. She was also just featured today on 5 Minutes for Mom with a set of Super-Simple Valentines Day Projects.

Char Polanosky writes 2 kid-friendly blogs that have been a hit with both parents and kids. Printables4Kids offers just that, lots of free downloadable worksheets and coloring pages. And Doll Diaries is a blog dedicated to the girly fun of dolls, especially the American Girl dolls.

Derek over at Dad Balance has written a post or two to help you out on a snow day as well. Check out his archives in the Hobbies & Interests and Family Time categories.

And Supermom in NY sent me a link I wanted to add, she’s got recommendations for 5 sites for kids I hadn’t heard of before, and they look awesome.

Most of all – put down the laptop or your mouse and go have some fun today. Even if you aren’t sitting on a foot of snow, it’s Friday, so take advantage of the fact that you work at home and get some extra time with your kids today!

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14 Educational Games to Teach Your Kids About Business

If you have ever seen the presentation Shift Happens, then you, like me, likely lose sleep over the fact that our educational system really isn’t set up to teach our children real-life business and entrepreneurial skills.

Take a look at a few facts from the movie:

  • The top 10 jobs we will have in 2010 did not exist in 2004 (as in, we are currently educating our children for jobs that don’t exist yet)
  • In 2004, Nintendo invested more than $140 million dollars in research and development, yet the US Government spent less than half that much on research and innovation in education
  • A week’s worth of content from the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.

One of the driving forces behind the content on this site is to encourage and push more people to go into business for themselves rather than depend on a company for income, which in my mind is more risky than being an entrepreneur.

And I think it is critical that we find ways to teach our children the same – there is no way we can teach them to truly prepare for what they will face 10-15 years from now – but we can teach them to innovate, think for themselves, and give them the skills necessary to make a living no matter what the world is like in 2017.

So this holiday season, give your children a gift that will teach them a thing or two about business. I promise you they will love it if you find them one that fits their interests – my kids are particularly fond of Zoo Tycoon – see below!

Kids Business Games - Monopoly

Monopoly

The grandfather of all money & investment games, and also one of the best. My kids LOVE playing Monopoly (except when I win!!). These days you can find a version of the game to please anyone, like the Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition, Horse-Opoly, or even the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition

The “Official” Product Description In 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, an unemployed heating engineer from Pennsylvania created the game of Monopoly. Realizing that his get-rich theme might appeal to other Americans, he had the game printed and distributed in a Philadelphia department store. When he couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming requests for more sets, he arranged for Parker Brothers to take over the game. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Kids Business Games - KidsWealth

KidsWealth Money Kit

This isn’t just a game, but a way to teach your children to track and manage their own real-life money in a fun way. Where were these things when I was a kid?!

The “Official” Product Description This unique, tested, and proven program uses a practical hands-on approach to teach kids to manage real money in a safe, structured, and supported manner. Kids learn the value of money, how to build smart money habits, and develop a mindset for personal and financial success. Incorporating powerful psychology and advanced learning methods, the award-winning KidsWealth Money Kit makes it easy for parents to open positive, healthy discussions about money.
Kids Business Games - Sims 2

The Sims 2: Open for Business

The Sims is one of the most popular PC games of all time, and with this expansion pack, you can build businesses with the characters you have created. I like this one because you can build just about any business, whereas many of the other games are limited to one area of interest.

The “Official” Product Description In Sims 2: Open For Business you’ll get to design your own clothing boutique, beauty salon, florist, high-end electronics shop, bustling restaurant chain, or virtually any other type of business. Hire your staff as the business grows and put talented Sims to work making toys, running the register, crafting floral bouquets, giving sales pitches, or manufacturing robots. But watch out for slacker employees and be prepared to fire them on the spot. Will you build a thriving business empire or become an eccentric entrepreneurs designing the next big thing?
Kids Business Games - Stock Rush Game

Stock Rush Game

Although I haven’t played this one, I love the idea of teaching children to invest and to risk wisely.

The “Official” Product Description Stock Rush is a fun and exciting board game that includes all the basic principles of trading used in the real world. The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player through trading (buying and selling) Stocks, Commodities, and Franchises.
Kids Business Games - Zoo Tycoon

Zoo Tycoon

I LOVE this game – my daughter has it and she plays it all of the time (and the other kids beg to get their turn!). It teaches kids what it is really like to run a business, from cash flow to inventory, marketing to fundamental business planning. But it’s all done while they are in an open and engaged environment. If your child has an interest in animals, I can’t recommend this game more highly to teach your children how to think like an entrepreneur.

The “Official” Product Description Zoo Tycoon allows players to create their own completely free-form zoo. Start with fences for exhibits, then pick animals and give them toys, foliage, and anything else you want. For customers, you can lay down paths to lead them around, then add food stands, amusement rides, even maps and trash cans.
Kids Business Games - Rollercoaster Tycoon

Roller Coaster Tycoon

I have to say ditto on this – my kids have this one too. Since they have a stronger interest in animals, they play Zoo Tycoon more than Roller Coaster Tycoon. But the principles are the same in this and the following “tycoon style” games.

The “Official” Product Description Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is a brilliant reworking of the classic management strategy game. An unlimited combination of roller coaster designs and landscapes to help you build the coolest park imaginable!
Kids Business Games - Fairy Godmother Tycoon

Fairy Godmother Tycoon

This has GOT to be the most creative spin on the Tycoon-style games ever. Learn business by setting up a potion shop?! Brilliant!!

The “Official” Product DescriptionFairy Godmother Tycoon gives you the chance to the power behind the world of fairy tales. Climb the ranks of the Fairy Godmother’s operation, then set up shop in different villages across the land. Check the weather forecast each day to find out which curses will strike the peasant village. Buy supplies and upgrades to create magic potions, set your prices, manage your inventory and hire contractors to help move your product.
Kids Business Games - My Horse Farm

My Horse Farm

Another cute spin on the same game concept – you would think this one would be geared at really young children, but according to the reviews on Amazon, your child has to be at least 8 or so, because there is a lot of reading involved.

The “Official” Product DescriptionTake good care of your horses and build your business as you breed champions. Outfit your riders, from head to toe, by choosing from an array of clothes, accessories and hairstyles! Spend your money wisely, make good decisions, and train your horses to become world-class champions.
Kids Business Games - Restaurant Empire

Restaurant Empire

I am seriously considering getting this for my husband, even though it is targeted at a younger audience. Hubby has always wanted to open a restaurant, and I can’t think of a more fun way to “fulfill a dream” than in the virtual world (unless, of course, you can do it in real life!!).

The “Official” Product DescriptionRestaurant Empire is the first game that faithfully recreates all the challenges of building and operating a restaurant franchise through a unique blend of business-simulation and RPG gameplay. Starting with nothing except some cash and a passion for food, build a restaurant from the bottom up–hire waiters, decorate, even cook the meals! Buy, build, outsell and, underprice your competition.
Kids Business Games - Lemonade Tycoon

Lemonade Tycoon 2

I believe this is the second version of one of the earliest ‘tycoon’ style games – what’s cool about this one is that your kids can play it on the computer then take what they learn and start applying it in real life… as in, see below!

The “Official” Product DescriptionLemonade Tycoon 2 juices up business simulation and takes to the streets of NYC! It’s jam-packed with awesome graphics, tons of customer types, loads of equipment upgrades, and tons of equipment upgrades, and 19 different locations.
Kids Business Games - Lemonade Stand and Maker

David Kirk’s Happy Giddy Lemonade Stand & Presto Homemade Electric Lemonade Maker

SOOoooooo cute – and so affordable! The lemonade stand is less than $25 – and really encourages your kids to get out there and take a shot at running a business for a day. Make it easy for them to make lemonade that people actually want to drink with this nifty lemonade maker (also for less than $25).

The “Un-Official” Product DescriptionThe Happy Giddy Lemonade Stand is built from fiberglass (PVC-style) pipes and polyester fabric, measuring 47 3/4″ Height, 23 3/4″ wide, 11 1/2″ Deep. It can be used indoors and outdoors.
Kids Business Games - Play Snack Shop

Learning Resources Pretend & Play Snack Shop

It’s a little hard to teach younger children the more complex strategies of money management and business – but give them the opportunity to get interested in business early by encouraging role playing business games with products like these.

The “Official” Product DescriptionThis convenience store is truly convenient. Simply set it up on a table whenever your child wants to play. The tri-fold board comes with more than 104 pieces including snacks, play money, write and wipe board for daily specials and many more shop items, all in a convenient and sturdy tri-fold board with carrying handle.
Kids Business Games - Supermarket Role Playing Sets

Learning Resources Supermarket Checkout & Pretend and Play Supermarket Set

Call me old-fashioned, but I really don’t like to see the new toys that have been coming out in the last few years with play credit cards. I don’t think it’s wise at all to teach our kids at a young age to spend on credit – good god, we do a good enough job at that on our own as adults. The last thing our kids need is learn to spend without learning what really happens in a transaction.

That’s why I like these playsets – they have “real” play money that teaches kids the basics – including that money indeed changes hands when you buy something!

The “Official” Product DescriptionYour child will love “checking out” the Supermarket Checkout Set. Young supermarket checkers can simply slide food items across the working conveyor belt as the scanner light flashes. The register will beep when it’s ringing up the sale. Set includes working produce scale, swivel price display, nine plastic food items, plastic credit card and shopping basket.

The Pretend and Play Supermarket Set has everything kids need to open a pretend store. This 93 piece set includes a durable cotton apron with nametag, a colorful shopping basket, groceries, assorted dry-erasable sale signs, coupons, assorted play money and more.

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