Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recovery of a Germaphobe

Today we hit the ground running. By 9:30 we were making a stop at our public school followed by visits to the bank, a large retail store and the public library. I had all three kids in tow. I know what you're thinking—is this the same self-proclaimed germaphobe who wrote this blog? What is my amazing cure-all for the constant battle of bacteria? How did I conquer my paralyzing fear of parasites? How did I finally let my kids drink from a public water fountain without slipping into cardiac arrest? The answer for me is simple: perspective and more kids than hands.

I was recently thinking back to the days when I only left the house kid-free and after dark, like a mommy-phantom cloaked in virus repellent; the days when library books were sprayed with Lysol and I would rather stick a fork in an electric socket than let my kids step foot in McDonald's Playland. Recovery has been slow and steady; one less pump from my Purell, resisting one Clorox wipe at a time.

For me, I realized I had a choice to make—avoiding exposure to germs also meant avoiding exposure to everything outside the four walls of our home, and that wasn't beneficial to anyone. It also became humanly impossible for me wipe every surface and keep everyone decontaminated every second of the day. And the funny thing was, I had more kids, we were out and about more than ever, and I didn't really notice an increase in our level of sickness after all. Imagine that.

As with all things, I am searching for the balance between being responsible (I am still a huge fan of Wet Ones and my cloth shopping-cart cover) and completely throwing caution to the wind. Have you seen the child who licks the cart handle or runs barefoot in the Chick-Fil A bathroom? *shiver* I'm not to that point, yet.

There will always be a public restroom worthy of avoiding altogether. There will always be something sticky on the library book that screams for a quick wipe with a Wet One. It is hard to find the elusive balance between being smart and safe versus sealing your house tightly in saran wrap. If you've never thought twice about infectious diseases or all the scary things out there, then I applaud you. But if you're bored and want a peak into the worst nightmares of a germaphobe's world, just click on a few links here. Happy reading!

*My original blog on germaphobic behavior landed us on the Tyra Banks Show in 2007.  It was not the proudest moment of my life, but it was definitely a memorable experience!

Monday, May 30, 2011

How I Let My Preschooler TP the Bathroom.

My 3-year-old always wants to help. We all know Preschooler Help usually means extra work for Mommy...hello, water on the floor. again.

Yet, the trade-off (I keep reminding myself!) is that these opportunities teach her initiative, how to work hard, and to have a servant's heart.

It can be challenging to find manageable tasks for a 2- or 3-year old, especially when they want to do big jobs they see an older sibling trusted with. But it's sweet to see that the simplest little things are very satisfying accomplishments for her! Her Important Job...that she takes Very Seriously...is stacking the toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet.

The average adult could do this in 42 seconds. For a preschooler with limited efficiency skills, this is a good 15-minutes of work. She typically opens the new TP package in the next room and then brings one roll at a time to the bathroom and stacks them meticulously. It's exhausting to watch, and yes, another opportunity for teaching...the subject of Time-Saving Tips!

Some other jobs that she helps with include: emptying the silverware rack from the dishwasher, wiping down baseboards with a damp rag, collecting the trash bags from bathrooms, folding clean washcloths and towels, bringing her laundry hamper to the laundry room, putting away some groceries/toiletries after shopping trip, folding the dinner napkins and setting the table.

As I try to welcome my kids' offers of help and allow them to share in the work, I am sometimes tempted to fix things after they finish and run off to play. A mentor once challenged me to NOT redo a job after my child's not-exactly-perfect-attempt. They will notice! If I re-make their bed or re-fold the towels, I send them the message that their best isn't good enough. I thought that was such great advice.

Someday my linen closet will have flat, neatly stacked towels again. Right now, a little lumpy is just fine!

How about your home...what chores do your little ones like to help with? Any creative jobs that you have given to them??

Sunday, May 29, 2011

You Say Potato, I Say Mr. Potato Head.

The toy pick of the week around here goes to Mr. Potato head. He isn't new or fancy, but sometimes the best toys are the ones that wait in the toy box for a month (or year) until that special time when a little one discovers the toy for him or herself. Let's face it, we can't force our kids to immediately love every new toy we throw in front of them.  

My little guy was digging through the toys this week and was suddenly in love with Mr. Potato head. He is a fan of Toy Story, so it makes sense that he would love this nostalgic toy that has already withstood the test of time.  My big kids--ages 4 and 5, also love changing things around on Mr. Potato head.  If you want to read all about the history of this great toy, check this out.  

The great thing about Mr. Potato head is that he can play along as a main character in any Toy Story your kids may create on their own, but he can also be used as a refresher course to identify face and body parts since they are fun, and removable. 

My little guy loved pointing out the hat, shoes, arms, eyes, mouth, teeth, etc.  I also try to double up on learning moments when they arise during playtime by also throwing in some color training (ex. blue shoes, green hat, pink ears.)  Some kids aren't willing to sit and go through 50 flashcards or board books when they have so much toddler energy, but they think it is fun to learn when they are playing with a toy. Mr. Potato head is also another great small-motor skill developer for those little ones, and also the big guys!  Many other toys out there have these same learning capabilities, but for us this week, the award goes to Mr. Potato head!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ice Cream Cones and Lazy Summer Days.

Even though my kids are still very young and are not all in school yet, we went ahead and kicked off our own little start to Summer Break this week. We spent many hours applying and removing sunscreen, and also a few hours in the sprinkler and the baby pool.

I started out the week with high aspirations. Of course I wanted to teach all my kids to read on an 8th grade level, to tie their own shoes, ride a bike, become fluent in a foreign language, teach myself to play the guitar, etc. So far we have managed to get out of our PJ's by noon (almost every day!) and we survived our first kiddie trip to the dentist, which was a big accomplishment. And it's flip-flop season anyway, so the shoe tying lessons can wait.

At any rate, we have lots of fun activities already on the agenda for the next few months including trips, weddings, camps, and I think we might just need to make our home a place of fun and relaxation for a while. If we can do a little learning along the way, that's great, but my kids are young, and the lazy Summer days are long but fleeting.

One thing we plan on squeezing into our schedule is scooping and enjoying plenty of ice cream cones. My family loves ice cream and this is the perfect time of year to take them outside and hose down the mess when everything is gone! A few days ago I treated the kids to a post-lunch ice cream cone. I went inside to grab some napkins and when I came back out, I discovered this:

Hmmm. Mysterious Ice cream drops all over the sandbox step. Gross.

Ok, here is the rest of the cone. Where is the little guy?


Oh, there he is.
Please note the ice cream AND SAND all over his mouth. 
I wonder where he got the idea to lick the dropped ice cream off the sand box?


Enjoy your summer and don't feel guilty if you have a few lazy days!

Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thankful Thursday!

Today we are starting a new quick discussion format: Thankful Thursday!

I'm sure many of us are anticipating a lovely long holiday weekend with friends and family and are looking forward to cookouts and pool time. It has been blazing hot here all week and I am thankful to be currently sitting near a vent that is blowing chilly air on my bare feet. 

When we started this blog, Kylee and I wanted a place where other moms could get involved, share our experiences and maybe present a few creative ideas, but we also want this to be a place where moms can be thankful for what we have today—right now. We presented this idea here and we hope that in the weeks to come we will be able to look back at the comments and discussions on Thankful Thursday in a way that will eventually begin to change the way see things daily, in the moment.

Please join in the discussion and feel free to comment on the thanks of others!!!  I'll get the ball rolling by listing a few things I found myself thankful for in the past few days. 
(I scratched them down here and there since I have lost all ability to keep a mental note.)

  • Kids painting sandy sea shells with thin tempera paints
  • My little guy walking around with a plastic pink phone, jabbering away.
  • Morning baby smiles. I love greeting my little guy in the morning because he is always happy to see me!
  • Hot, Dirty Bare feet.
  • Chasing the baby—the way he runs away from me, but also BACK to me when he gets too scared.
  • Sibling Love. Is there anything better than when a brother and sister play in harmony?
  • Brothers tumbling on the floor like puppies.
  • Overhearing my little girl say, “I love you” while holding my little guy in her lap.
  • The magical mess of a melting summer ice cream cone.
  • Twirling. Always twirling. “Watch me twirl. Watch me!!!”

*If you are having trouble thinking of anything to write today, start keeping a list soon, you'll be surprised how quickly they add up!

I'm very thankful for these 3 very special little people!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fun Family Feuding

Looking to vary your family night a little from the usual pizza and movie? Try these memorable games! They all work great with a larger group too, in case you're having friends over for a Memorial Day cook-out and want to throw in some friendly competition. They're all geared for ages 5 and up. We even professionally tested them with our junior high youth group. I will testify that the Shape Sorter Tournament was one adrenaline-pumping contest...down to the last-shape-in-by-a-mere-1/2-second finale!

Shape Sorter Challenge
Oohhh, noOOo...this is NOT just a toddler toy! We actually own 3 of these super-fun shape sorter balls that I picked up at yard sales (trying to get 2 complete sets of yellow shapes)...but you can play this game whether you have one, two, or an unwieldy collection.

With one toy, just race against the clock. Time how fast each player can get all the shapes in, and make a big deal about posting each person's time on a scoreboard. With two balls, race against each other and keep brackets. The winners keep advancing until you have a Final Match and a Champion. This is an addictive little competition.

Pickle Spitzers
This is a game of great skill with the title of Super Pickle Spitzer at stake. You need a jar of miniature, whole pickles (I kinda like Kosher Dill), a marked Launching Line, and a way to measure distance--a tape measure, some markers such as tent pegs or rocks, and maybe even a plastic tablecloth or tarp layed down to easily see where pickles first hit. The first player (or one player from each team standing side-by-side) stands at the marked line, puts a pickle in his mouth and prepares to spitz it as far as he can on signal.

You can compete as individuals with a couple of rounds of pickle spitzing...or with a bigger group you could play in teams, have each player spitz 2 pickles, and add the total distance of all pickles for each team. I recommend you play this game before dessert.

Q-Tip Combat
This game is a wee bit messy, but your kids will lloooovve it.

Put about ¼ cup of water in 2 small dishes. Get out the food coloring and tint the 2 dishes different colors. Give each player a drinking straw (need the wider ones that are usually white with narrow stripes, like those at fast-food joints. Thin/bendy straws won't work). Also, get a package of cotton swabs.

Take a marker and an old white t-shirt and draw a grid on the front and back with point values in each square. Now have Mom or Dad put ON the shirt (safety goggles would be helpful) and assume position as a Human Target.

Divide the family into two color teams and take turns dipping one end of a Q-tip into the colored water to shoot at the target. Load the straw with the Q-tip—in the end that goes in your mouth to give you the longest distance. Blow the swabs at the target--either a timed round or so many Q-tips per player. Add up the "hits" at the end of the round. Turn your Target around and play another round. Bring out 2 different colors of food coloring, change out the Victim Target, and play again!

Hope you have as much fun as our family did! But remember, first things first...go charge up the video camera!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trash...Our New Toy.

I've been saving trash lately.
My family won't even blink at this revelation. After all, this is the girl who dressed up as a Giant Trash Bag one halloween at age 12. Yeah, in what I thought was creative genius, I began attaching boxes, cans, eggshells, and plastic wrappers onto a big black trash bag with holes cut for my arms and eyes. Well, I retired my Garbage Get-Up after collecting candy at just 2 houses. Junior high boys were home at the second house...a few snickers (not the edible fun-size variety) brought an embarrassing halt to my trick-or-treat days.

But the trash this time was not for dress up. It was to create a Grocery Store for my kids' play-shopping enjoyment. We do own plastic play food, but amazingly, real items are novel and fun! I gathered clean pasta boxes, cereal boxes, egg cartons, milk jug (well-rinsed!), etc. and attached paper price tags to each. Of course, you could use full containers (we included a few unopened cans), but with a 21-month-old in the mix, I didn't care to risk a carpet-ful of rice or mashed in raisins.

A couple of waffle block shelves and a cardboard box cooler made our store aisles. Any tables, boxes, benches, or small bookshelves you have would work great! We added some signage—store name, sales, an OPEN/CLOSED sign with ribbon hanger for the doorknob. Baby doll strollers became shopping carts.

We had some toy money, and a nightstand became the check-out with toy cash register and shopping bags. My kids are busy right now making coupons...{already junior deal-hunters!}, and tomorrow I plan to show them how to do pencil rubbings on real coins and cut them out. I wish we had an Adding Machine...having a receipt print out would be super fun. I have been scouring thrift stores for one, but no success.

The Grand Opening was today. I actually set everything up last night so my kids could be surprised with it this morning...although I'm sure they would have enjoyed the fun of making signs and putting things in place too. Our store had a couple of Doorbusters and great sales going on. If your kids are old enough to add money, this could be good summer review of math skills.

We'll leave it up for the rest of the week. Then, easiest toy clean-up ever...just throw it all away! So there you have it...a way to get some family fun out of your garbage.

Just don't try wearing it...take it from me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What happens when you neglect the runny-nosed baby?

This was a busy week filled with the usual runny noses and busy tasks.  We were playing on the floor and I neglected to give my little guy a tissue when he desperately needed one. 
I left the room for a few minutes and when I came back I discovered him doing this.  He had taken care of business himself and was wiping away on the drapes.  They were soaked.  Whoops.

He seemed to think it was hilarious.

And now, time to do a quick Google search: how to remove baby snots from drapes?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Treasure Hunting for Wisdom

My husband started this idea with our children a few months ago. He chose a couple of verses from Proverbs that were especially applicable to their little hearts, wrote the references on small papers, and then hid them. For their Bible story before bedtime, he read Prov. 2:1-6 and explained how God's Word is full of wisdom that must be searched out like valuable treasure. Then he had them search for the papers. What kid doesn't love a good hunt!? After the hidden treasures were found, he read those Proverbs and spent some time talking about them.

Being the good sport he is, he let me craft-ify things a little and make some treasure coins for hiding. I traced circles on silver posterboard, but then found gold scrapbook paper at Hobby Lobby. I tried making a printer version...if you like, you can print them here. The gold paper didn't take our printer ink very well, but they would print fine on yellow or gray cardstock.

I decided to go a step further and break out my handy little home laminator to make them re-usable and a little more durable. Now we can write a verse with sharpie marker and then wipe it off later with rubbing alcohol.

If you don't have a laminator accessible to you, fret not. Just cover both sides of the coins with wide, clear packaging tape, stick it to itself, and trim around. Instant lamination!

A few Proverbs we are working on with our preschoolers are these:

Anger – Prov 10:12, 14:17, 15:18, 16:32, 29:22
Boasting- Prov. 27:2

Cheating/honesty – Prov. 11:1, 20:11
Friends – Prov 1:10, 13:20, 16:28, 17:17, 18:24, 27:6, 27:17
Guarding your heart – Prov. 4:23
Tongue/Speech – Prov. 4:24, 10:18-21, 10:32, 15:1, 15:4, 16:24, 21:23
Lying – Prov 12:22
Listening to correction/obeying authority – Prov 1:5, 1:7-9. 9:9, 13:1, 13:18, 15:5, 15:32
Wisdom - Prov 16:16

I had this little rustic wooden treasure chest which we've started using to hold the kids' Bible story books...and our Wisdom coins. It's all a great visual reminder, and keeps our coins handy for reviewing the wisdom we're trying to seek out.

Time to Lose Your Marbles.

Here is a quick indoor (or outdoor!) activity.  This has been the hit of the week around here!
My son returned from a trip to the beach with his grandparents and along with other souvenirs, he was the proud new owner of a bag of marbles.

I know what you're thinking. Marbles? Really? How can marbles possibly compete with Leapsters, the Wii, and other more fast-paced games?

I'm going to suggest you spend a few dollars on a bag of marbles (or break out the bag that didn't sell at your last garage sale) and give them a try. My kids are in love!

If you have older kids and want to join them or teach them how to play a real game, here are the official rules.

If your kids are ages 5 and under, like mine, then I will suggest a few modifications:

  • It is best to have a large "shooter" marble for each child.
  • Make a "ring" with yarn or tape on the carpet, sidewalk chalk if you are outside, or if you have a rug in your home with a large shape, just use that.  We have been using a square on our living room rug.
  • Try to have around 30 marbles and place them inside the "ring."
  • The kids take turns "shooting" or tossing the large marble into ring. If they knock a marble out then they place it into their pile. Keep shooting until all the marbles are out.

Basically, break out the marbles, help them get started, but also encourage them to think of new ways to play! This is a great game to show kids how to take turns while fine tuning those small motor skills. Obviously if you have little ones around you'll want to do this during nap time and pick up the little round temptations before the baby wakes up.  Have fun and be prepared to hear the jingling sound of marbles in a bag! 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finding Lessons Hidden in Cologne Clouds

As I said earlier, I have found myself hurrying a lot lately. I hurry to get my son to school in the morning. We hurry to get through the store so we can hurry and get home before we hurry and eat lunch so that we can hurry and get back to the school car line to pick up my son; then we hurry back home for the baby's nap.

It's exhausting.

For the past few weeks I have been trying to train myself to see and think differently. I like to go fast—it doesn't come naturally for me to slow down and be aware of the truly important things going on around me, so I am learning to stop in the moment and really evaluate what's going on.

Last week I dropped my son off at school, then I took the little ones into our lovely local Wal-mart with a long list of necessities to buy. As we rounded the corner of the bubble bath aisle we almost crashed into a man who was covering himself with a strong-smelling “men's body spray.” While we started choking in a cloud of cheap cologne, the man nervously kept spraying himself. He gave us a huge grin and asked me how old my kids were. He began telling a story about when his kids were young.

He continued spraying.

He also continued talking to us—he barely stopped to let me respond and he barely stopped talking to breathe. He would talk, then squirt himself several times with cologne. I purposely stopped myself in the rush of it all; I reminded myself that there was no need for me to walk away from this man other than the crazy body-spray smell that would inevitably permeate us for the rest of the day.

Then he began sharing with me about how much his woman loved the perfume and couldn't get enough of it. I was thinking about telling him it might be too much of a good thing when he suddenly pulled up his sleeve to show me where he'd had dialysis earlier that morning. As he continued spraying cologne everywhere he went on to tell me about previous treatments and how he was recovering and things were looking up. He was upbeat and positive, he quickly talked about the important things in life as though he'd had plenty of time to really think about it; he wished his kids were still young and living at home. He would do things differently.

I looked over at my kids in the cart, who were staring at the stranger and his cologne-spraying trigger finger, and in the moment I realized I had found a practical teacher in the Wal-mart bubble-bath aisle. So, these are the big times in my life, not the times I should be wishing away? We hear this all the time, but do we do anything to change our thinking or our actions?

I hurry my hours and errands and outings and days and months, and soon there will be nobody left to sit in my lap or push in a cart or sing silly songs or ask me for a snack. How do we discipline ourselves to make moments? How can I stop to focus on the truly important stuff?

The stinky stranger returned the nearly empty bottle of cologne to the shelf—I'd like to think he eventually went back and bought it; we continued filling the squeaky cart with boxes and bags—precious little necessities.

Smelly with cheap body spray and a head full of morning thoughts, we pushed through aisles of crackers and cereal and cheese. Life with kids is loud and it's fast; it's squeaky and stinky. Can we all push our carts a little slower, can we listen to the little questions and the not-so-little questions with open ears?  I can think of many worthwhile things I can do while calmly and patiently strolling the aisles instead of rushing around with blinders on.  Sometimes our to-do list and our true priority list need to be shuffled around a little, and sometimes the most important thing we can do at Wal-mart is listen.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Eph. 5:15-17)

Exploding Cans, Chasing dreams.

Today I came home from church and as I was setting the table for lunch, 3 full cans of cherry Dr. Pepper rolled off the top of my refrigerator, exploded against the tile floor and splattered everything in the room with tiny, sticky-fizzy drops. 

As I scrubbed the walls, cabinets, kids, floor, and furniture in my Dr. Pepper-splattered church clothes, it struck me again that these unpredictable moments continue to splash me in the face on a daily basis. They are going to keep happening. How will I respond?

After lunch I was cleaning up the rest of the mess—it was a big mess, and decided to reward my clean-up efforts with a little blue DOVE chocolate square that I found in the bottom of the Easter candy basket—yes we still have lots of Easter candy left (and Halloween candy for that matter.) My metallic blue wrapper, as always, imparted me with an amazing tidbit of inspiration: “get out there and make your dreams happen.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, DOVE. You are right, time to make some dreams happen!

Just then I smelled it. A dirty diaper--yet another dirty diaper. As I set aside my scrubbing sponge and switched gears back to mommy mode, I tried to figure out how a dirty diaper could possibly fit into making my dreams happen. It often feels like a cruel contradiction—I want nothing more than to live my dream of staying at home with my kids, but the daily demands and details that require my patience and the dirty work starts to wear away at the glamour of this dream. And I wonder if the messes will ever stop. Will they ever stop?

Yesterday I was scouring the bathroom sink late in the afternoon, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror; I saw that crazy-haired lady with bloodshot eyes and a dirty shirt. It certainly wasn't June Cleaver or Donna Reed. This lady was bedraggled and needed a hairbrush and make-up and lots more coffee.

The “How To” books I've read on child-rearing and home-making rarely speak about the moments we see ourselves in the bathroom mirror, holding a toilet brush and pretending we don't hear the baby who is already awake again after the world's shortest nap. The books don't talk about kids who won't eat anything but Cheez-its or the sharp toys you will step on while walking through the house barefoot in the middle of the night. Parenting books fail to mention that often when you hold the baby above your head to play he will drop drool directly into your mouth. It will happen, so be ready.

These days are spent knee-deep in diapers and spilled soda and pyramids of toppling toys—and when I read a phrase on a metallic DOVE wrapper telling me to get out there and make my dreams happen it is hard to see past the messes and keep my true priorities in check. The poster children for this dream have dirty faces and ketchup stains on their clothes. For me, it requires great effort to consistently respond to the exploding cans correctly.

When the kids are well-rested with full bellies and we are driving to Sunday morning church wearing ironed clothes, it is easier to put the images inside a picture frame on the mantel. But when everyone is screaming for food and needing a nap and the clothes are covered in cherry Dr. Pepper, I have to remind myself that the dreams are messy after all. And the mess is what keeps this our home—a place where we don't feel guilty when our clothes don't match and when we eat out of a Kraft macaroni box because we didn't quite make it to the store.

We don't always put the chaos in a frame for world to see, but the cluttery disarray and how we respond to it is generally what defines our home and our dreams in the end. All we can do is roll with the messes and latch onto things that really matter, because there will always be exploding cans and babies who discover 6-month-old teddy grahams under the kitchen rug. 

This is one of my favorite Phyllis Diller quotes, “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shadow Charades

It's fun to think back on my grade school Christmas concerts: Skits riddled with loudly whispered prompts...reluctant singers squinting in stage lights...Christmas carols attempted by the school band... Oh, I cringe for the parents just thinking back to those carols they endured on our screechy reed instruments and off-key blaring brass.

One fond memory is our 6th grade class Shadow Play...it was a take-off on Ten Little Indians. I wore a twirly skirt and a long, bouncy ponytail. The acting was verrrryy critical--I had to lean forward and hold my head precisely for the no-contact-just-shadow-tricks Big Kiss finale!

Well, this memory sparked an idea for a game...uh, a SHADOW Game. It's a twist on charades that really will entertain ALL ages. C'mon...who doesn't like pullin' out their best butterfly or barking dog hand shadow with the flashlights when the electricity goes out?!

We played Shadow Charades as a family recently and my kids thought this was The. Best. Game. Ever.

You need just 3 things:

1) a large sheet—white or light-colored
2) several pins or tacks to hang the sheet
3) a table lamp (ours worked great with no shade)
Choose a wide doorway in your house between two rooms where you can pin up the sheet. We pushed tacks through the sheet into the top molding of our door frame. The bottom of the sheet should almost touch the floor and the sides should meet or overlap the edge of the door frame.

Set the lamp on the floor about 6 feet behind the curtain and turn off all other lights in both rooms. The first actor should take his place behind the curtain, standing very close to the sheet to make a sharp shadow.

The easiest clues are going to be simple actions with big movements. You may even want to write out some Action cards ahead of time, especially at first to get players thinking. Older kids will have great ideas of their own. Small children will probably act out an animal on every turn...be ready to distinguish those subtle shadow differences between a cheetah and a tiger.

Now you're ready for some crazy fun on your next family night or rainy weekend at the beach house!

...strangely, I now have an urge to go find my long-forgotten trombone. I wonder if I still remember The First Noel...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Know How to Play.

Sometimes, when we are having a busy week or an especially busy day, I feel overwhelmed with the need to fit in some special time with my little ones.

But I am tired of picking dried play-doh from the carpet, I have banned glitter for at least 2 years, and the Easy-Bake oven will not be re-appearing again until Grandma visits. Yes, you heard me right, Grandma.  

So, is there ever an alternative to an organized craft project or reading every story book in my library when we really just need a few minutes of special bonding time?

For us, floor time is the answer.  When it has been a day of scurrying around with my 1 year old and 3 year old under my feet, chasing two steps behind me as I cook and clean, I eventually take a few minutes to stop. I simply sit or lie on the floor.  I am instantly transformed into a jungle gym, a racing horse, a hugging bear, or another 1-3 year old who is low enough to really listen.  

Is it always fun to bend our creaky knees and our aching back to sit on the carpet or hard floor—the floor that is usually scattered with leftover Ritz cracker crumbs and tiny Lego pieces? At first, no. But my kids love it when we play together on the floor, even if we are just talking and tumbling around, and I'm sure yours will, too. The positive results (smiles, laughs, talks) are immediate.

Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” So, let's all devote a few more moments to research (via playfulness) with our kids on the floor 
this week!

Friday, May 13, 2011

All About Me

Yes, you are going to want to encourage the use of the words “I,” “me,” and “my” as much as possible in this project. But I promise, this is one time you WILL be happy with the results!

Stored lovingly in a closet at my parents' house is a turquoise 3-ring binder. It's my treasured All About Me book, crayoned at the tender age of 5.

I vaguely remember working on it over the course of several months...Mom would have me add a page or two a week. And the enjoyment in looking through it now certainly was worth every painstakingly printed letter in that awkwardly-gripped, fat-pencil scrawl of long ago.

My 6-year old son and 3-year old daughter started their own All About Me books this week. I grabbed a handful of white printer paper, my 3-hole punch, and a couple of 3-ring binders I had around. Each page has a sentence or two about one part of their life. My son printed his own sentences...sometimes copied from my writing. I took dictation from my daughter. Then we pulled out the markers and crayons and they illustrated their own works. As they colored, I remembered my own book...and the all-important belly button detail!

These are some pages we'll try to include:

My name is... I am ___ years old.
This is my family...
Here is our house...
When I grow up, I want to be...
My favorite vacation was....
I have the most fun when I am...
My favorite animal is...
My favorite food is.../My least favorite food is..!
My favorite Bible story is...
I am thankful to God for...
My best friend is... What I like about him/her is...
My Mom/Dad is a...(occupation).
Our family enjoys....together.
The place I would most like to visit is....
I like to pretend that I am...
If I had a million dollars I would...
My favorite book/toy is...
A chore I can do is...
I would like to learn how to...

My plan is to add pages once or twice a week over the summer.

I can't wait to see how these stories develop! I know they will be two of my all-time favorite reads.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh, Do You Own a Muffin Pan...?

This is an easy-peasy little sorting activity to prepare for your preschooler. Mine will do it over and over several times. I just keep adding another item to increase the “difficulty!” All you need is a muffin tin and then six or more “collections” of small items that your child can sort out into the separate muffin cups.

Think of little things you have around such as:
paper clips
safety pins
dry macaroni noodles
dry beans
small blocks
small rubber balls
wooden beads
rubber bands
game pieces such as checkers
puzzle pieces
alphabet letters

Mix the items all together in a bowl or pan and then show your child how to sort the like things together in each muffin cup. After they do it a time or two, you could make it more challenging by having them sort by color, size, or shape instead.

To make it more toddler-friendly, choose just a couple of categories and maybe three of each item. They may need lots of guidance and praise to get the hang of it.

Of course, if your child tends to puts things in their mouth, DO NOT use any items that would be a choking hazard. Stay close by while they sort, just in case! This may be a good activity to do while baby is napping.

And I would advise not using food items like cereal pieces that will get mixed with dirty coins. I'm sure they can find their immunity-boosting edibles somewhere else.

Let's teach those organizational skills early on! Just think of the pay-off when they reach adolescence. Surely this will translate into neatly organized closets and dresser drawers...surely.

Cardboard Cornhole

I am a big fan of cardboard boxes.
I keep a little stash in the basement. I have my favorite haunts for finding them. Ever hap to drive behind a pet supply store or bookstore or outdoor furniture showroom? They usually have a huge dumpster labeled Cardboard Only. Score! Yes, I actually have scavenged by hanging over the side with my feet kicking up behind me. I consider it Active Recycling...it's my way of Living Green. And, as any seasoned parent knows, boxes are an endless source of entertainment for children!To give our little familia a good excuse to stay out and enjoy these spring evenings, and because I had some boxes looking for a new life, I decided to make a little cornhole-esque game. We do not own a fancy cornhole set made of wood and bright cornbags. So whipping up a little homemade version great for inside or outside play sounded like a happy project for me and my crew.

Materials needed:

  • 2 cardboard boxes similar in size...ours were approx. 14 in. wide x 20 in. long x 14 in. tall
  • boxcutters or a pair of scissors to cut cardboard
  • packaging tape and pen
  • paper plate or small dinner plate (for a template)
  • 8 pairs of socks (beanbags are ideal if you have them...socks are a fine substitute) Fold each pair up into a ball. They do not have to match—THIS is the day for which you've been holding onto all those mate-less socks!
  • acrylic craft paints, spray paint, or markers if you want to get all fancy

Assemble your boxes and tape down all the flaps. It is absolutely not necessary to paint the boxes, but if you do you will feel very crafty and the game will look even more “official.” Spray paint is fast and easy. Set up a spray booth outside (technical name for throwing down some newspapers or larger piece of cardboard, set your boxes on top and spray them.) They'll dry pretty quickly.

Now turn each box on its side and trace around the plate close to one end (the side will work better than trying to cut through flaps and paint over tape). This is a bigger circle than regulation cornhole, to accommodate our preschool players. Cut out the circles with the boxcutters or scissors. Whew. Dangerous work over.

To add an artsy outlet for the kids, I had them each decorate a box. Using craft paint I had on hand, I squeezed several colors onto a paper plate, gave out brushes, and let them go crazy.

One box had a lot of markings, so I had spray painted it white. But my daughter completely covered it with her painting, making my pains unnecessary. I underestimated how much fun they would have on this step—they spent close to 90 happily-occupied minutes unleashing creative energy!

Let paint dry. Rinse off kids. Ready for the second wave of fun! Set the boxes about 6-15 feet apart, depending on children's age and ability. Divide into 2 teams. Teammates should stand at opposite boxes. Give the one or two players on one side 4 pairs of socks each, and have them take turns tossing to get the socks in the hole of the opposite box.

Keep track of points with official Cornhole rules
here or just give a point for any socks that land in the hole. Then their teammates on the other end will take their turn tossing socks back.

Oh, the hours of fun about to ensue! Well, maybe we'll play later...

Right now I need to run out and replenish my box supply.

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