Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sink or Float Fun

With the hot and humid temps this week we've been looking for some ways to stay cool and have fun. This quick and easy water play project was perfect the other morning.

First I sent Big Brother around the house to gather a collection of everyday items. While he did that I created this recording sheet on the computer.

Then we headed out onto the deck to do some "experiments." First we filled a large tub with water and set up some towels (for sitting) on the damp deck.

We had our basket of everyday items that Big Brother had collected. Using the recording sheet I wrote down what the object was (in the far left hand column) and whether he guessed if it would sink or float in the "Guess?" column. It was hard for him to restrain himself and make the guess first, but I felt it was important for him to start practicing this skill and this way we could do it in a fun environment. This type of guessing activity not only builds science skills but also preplanning and thinking skills that can be used in multiple ways. 

After he made the guess he would toss it in the bucket and I would record what it did on the sheet by checking he correct column. We'd talk about whether his guess had been correct or not. 

We went through the whole basket and then collected some new items. 

He continued to play "sink or float" for a while by himself afterwards. He stopped guessing and would just toss the item in and shout out what it was doing. (By that point we had practiced the pre-guessing quite a bit.) He completely soaked himself in the end, but of course that was part of the point. Get wet, cool down, have fun, and fit in a little learning too. 

** Safety note: As always, all young children should be supervised when playing with water. You know your own child best and know how hands on you need to be in the supervision, but always be mindful when creating these kinds of opportunities for kids.**

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: A is for Airport

This spring our family made some changes which are allowing us more time home together during the summer months. As my husband doesn't leave for work until early afternoon and I'm home for summer vacation we have most mornings together a week, as well as the weekend days. Like many families as summer approached we started listing all the things we hoped to do this summer. 

But then, we started thinking . . . keeping Big Brother's new interest in learning the letters of the alphabet in mind, could we take on the challenge of making our summer fun list follow the letters of the alphabet? We would still be doing the things we'd hoped to do and allowing him to explore the alphabet in a hands on and personal way. Hence, we began to brainstorm for our "Alphabet Adventures."

Our first goal is to find something we can do as a family of four for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Our hope is to finish it by the end of summer, while knowing we will probably go into the fall. We're also hoping to keep most of the adventures close to home, affordable (or even better free,) doable, and fun. We'll keep track of our adventures by collecting photos in a binder and adding an extension project for each letter.

We're excited about our challenge and this morning when we told Big Brother so was he. After we gave him the bag in the car he made up an alphabet adventure song.

Today was our first adventure: A is for Airport!

For each adventure the letter and a clue about the adventure will be in a small fabric bag. Big Brother very quickly figured out that today we were headed to the airport.

At the edge of our local airport's runway they have a small parking area and two picnic tables. The public is allowed to park here and picnic if they would like, while watching the planes as they land and take off. As a child my husband used to love going here and he's shared that with us. It was a great fit for our "letter A adventure." 

We packed a picnic lunch, complete with a special peanut butter and honey sandwich for Big Brother. 

We also added apples and apricots to our lunch. (As well as a few other foods that didn't start with the letter A.) 

At first we didn't think we were going to see any airplanes, but then we witnessed two take off in a row. 
All three guys watch the plane as it taxis and waits (Little Brother is sitting in Daddy's lap.) 
Big Brother eagerly waits for the plane to start its trip down the runway.  
I had planned for us to read a book at the airport and had brought along a copy of Jet Plane: How It Works by David Macaulay. But it was too hot and sunny, so we decided to read it at home this evening instead. It made for some great connections to what we'd observed. 

Big Brother and Little Brother take a break from the sun and heat by hanging out in the shade of the picnic table. (Both were actually much happier than they look in this picture.) 
After we got home, had some time to cool down, and Big Brother took his daily rest, we did our second letter A activity of the day. A is for apple! We did a slightly more "traditional" letter of the day project: apple printing. 

Both pictures from the adventure and the apple prints will go into our family binder. Big Brother also wants to add other words that he knows start with the letter A, specifically "alligator." Check back soon for images of the finished A pages!

And in case you wanted to try your own alphabet adventure, here's a few other ideas of places families could go with the letter A: animal park, apple picking, art museum, art show, and air show. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Virtual Book Club: Seed Exploration with Gail Gibbons

This month the Virtual Book Club author was Gail Gibbons. We read several of her books including "Dogs," and "Fire! Fire!" But the book we chose to do an activity around was From Seed to Plant

It felt like a natural connection to the family garden we planted last month and the other Gail Gibbons' book we had read during that time, The Vegetables We Eat.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Almond Lemon Berry Tart (Gluten Free)

As a family we don't need to eat gluten free but we have several friends and coworkers who do. So I'm always in search of a few easy dessert recipes I can create for events which are gluten free. Last week for our end of school year potluck I created this Almond Lemon Berry Tart by combining several different recipes I found online.

Almond Crust-
2 cups whole almonds
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter (melted)

1 cup white chocolate chips
8 oz sour cream
1 block cream cheese
2 tbsp sugar
1 small lemon

2 cups berries (I used strawberries, but raspberries or blueberries would also taste really good.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Toast the whole almonds under the broiler for a few minutes and check frequently. (I set the timer because they can be quick to burn.)
3. Let the almonds cool for a minute and then place into a food processor and grind until they resemble coarse crumbs. 

4. Mix the brown sugar and nutmeg into the finely ground almonds and then stir in the melted butter. Stir until the whole mixture is damp and the almonds have absorbed all the butter. The mixture is similar to a graham cracker crust.

5. Press the mixture firmly into a tart pan. Bake for about 20 minutes until the crust is slightly golden. Let cool completely. (I actually made mine the night before, letting it cool before covering it with plastic wrap for the night.)

6. Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat. I like to use a double boiler to melt chocolate as it allows for more even melting. Sometimes I find melting white chocolate a little tricky, but a small splash of vegetable oil can help if it's clumping. 

6. With an electric mixer blend the white chocolate, cream cheese, sour cream, and sugar. 

7. Zest the lemon into the mixing bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the white chocolate and cream cheese mixture. A small, metal strainer will help catch the seeds. 

8. Spoon the filling into the tart shell and smooth with a spatula. 

9. Top with berries and chill for at least one hour in the refrigerator before serving. 


And in case you were wondering, the original recipes I adapted are from here and here. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

ABC Raceway

Using household materials, high interest toys, and a little bit of balance to explore letters:

ABC Raceway

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Reflection

I met my husband as I was finishing high school. Since then we've had 13 years to grow with each other. Like all relationships, it's taken communication, work, compromises, care, laughter, and love to get us to where we are today. Of course life isn't always easy, but when we rely on the foundation we've built together I know we're a strong enough family unit to weather whatever the fates hand to us.

I hadn't known him long when I had the chance to observe him interacting with his little cousins and my little brothers, and I knew that someday he would be an incredible dad. What I never expected was how his becoming a dad would make me love him so much more. From the first day we welcomed Big Brother into the world I was amazed at how much watching him love our son impacted my feelings for him. From observing his enchantment and pride in our new, little guy to watching him change the first diaper, I knew I loved him more that day.

These feelings changed and intensified as I watched him grow as a father as Big Brother grew. Together we learned how to care and adapt for each new stage, how to communicate about our parenting, how to set clear guidelines and tones we both agreed on, and how to foster fun and love between all three of us. As we entered the crazy chaos of toddlerhood I would have moments when I would observe him and Big Brother together and my heart would swell. Simple moments of listening to them read together, or his off key singing while giving a bath, or the two of them "working" together outside, these are moments that make me love him more.

This spring when Little Brother entered our family, I knew that I would get to witness more acts of fatherhood and I knew it would only add more layers to these emotions.

Of course parenthood isn't always perfect. Sometimes we both get frustrated, sometimes we disagree on  the right parenting action to take. Sometimes Big Brother pushes buttons until he gets reactions. Sometimes I watch my husband have to visibly refocus his strategies and energies. Sometimes I'm a a little too flexible, sometimes he's a little too rigid. And sometimes it's the opposite. Sometimes we miscommunicate and there are misunderstandings. But always we fall back on the foundation of communication and trust we've built together; we take a breath, we have a laugh, and we carry on. 

Although we have many common interests and beliefs, another strong element of our parenting teamwork is that we don't always approach things the same way. He is the silly and sometimes rowdy. I am the calm and focus. I am the think and talk about it, he is the experience it. I am the emotional, he is the concrete. I am the create it, he is the play it. We both bring our own interests to the table and we give the boys both exposures. And along the way we teach each other too. 

I was reminded of the importance of that today as we celebrated Father's Day. I like big celebrations, and tend to want things to be more of a creation and show. My husband likes things simpler and less planned. On Mother's Day I requested dinner out, and was delighted when our three year old encouraged us all to dress up, tie included. Our dinner involved some of the best Chinese around and ended with gelato from a new, upscale dessert shop. 

For his Father's Day activity my husband requested a hike in our local state park with hot dogs. We raided our fridge for some dogs, veggie snacks, and drinks. We packed his "trapping basket" with the needed items, made a quick stop at the local store for chips and marshmallows, and all (dog included) headed into the woods. 

And just as we had a great time on Mother's Day, we had a terrific afternoon today. We hiked in the fresh air, cooked hot dogs and s'mores over a small fire, found wild strawberries, climbed trees, and relaxed in the quiet of the woods.

And while we were there, I took a moment to think about not only how much I love my husband for himself and as the father of my boys but also to reflect on the journey we've had so far . . . and the rest of it that is still to come. 

A Father's Day Gift: Spicy BBQ Rub

My Dad loves to grill. In fact he continues to grill year round even when there is several feet of snow on the ground. So I was pretty excited when I saw these personalized grill utensils at Pick Your Plum a few weeks ago. (I'm new to Pick Your Plum, and I love seeing their daily deal arrive in my inbox each day. This was my first order and I was pleased with the ordering and delivery process.)

I knew I wanted something else to go with the utensils, so I decided we could create a BBQ rub. We gave BBQ rubs as part of our food baskets at Christmas. They are easy to create and keep, and there are lots of flavor options and ideas to play with. I combined several recipes I found on the internet to create our "Spicy BBQ Rub" recipe. 

The Recipe:
(I actually used double these quantities and made a little too much, so I'm writing up smaller amounts here. Be prepared to package up around 3 pints with these amounts. Half pint containers make a nice gift size.)

1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ground cumin
1/2 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground black pepper
1/4 cup red cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dried minced onion
1/4 cup smoked paprika
3/4 cup paprika

Ingredient note: One of our local stores sells spices in these convenient, large containers. I would also recommend finding them at a bulk store like BJ's or Costco when making a large recipe like this. Using the small containers usually found at a grocery store would add up in cost.

Big Brother was able to help with this recipe. We measured the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. 

Next we mixed the ingredients with a wire whisk. The rub smelled pretty spicy at this point, both our noses were tingling. We did test it out at dinner by using it on some pork we grilled. It didn't taste as spicy after it had been cooked. 

We used a measuring scoop to put the rub into mason jars.

  We had a couple of other people we wanted to present the gift to besides my Dad, so we packaged up several jars of the rub and saved some for ourselves. 

I again created some labels using our word processing program and some free clip art. 

We added a little ribbon . . .

 . . . and we had the perfect complement to our utensils. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Busy Boxes (Part 1)

The past few months many people have asked us how our transition from a family of three to a family of four has been. Of course the real answer is that we're still transitioning. In fact, I think we'll always be in a state of readjusting as both boys enter new stages and other family changes occur. It's just one of the many balancing acts of parenthood, how to stay consistent while also remaining flexible.

But, beyond that there are several things we did both ahead of and during the midst of the transition that have made some parts easier. One of these things was creating "busy boxes." During my pregnancy I noticed the term busy boxes on Pinterest and blogs. Busy boxes (also sometimes called "busy bags") are small boxes of activities, materials, projects, and kits which are meant to engage kids independently (and usually quietly.) They can be made from a variety of materials and individualized to fit a child's interests and developmental level.

I decided to create some for Big Brother to use when Little Brother arrived. I envisioned we would use them during nursing times. But I have found they are great for lots of different times: when we're inside for quiet nap times, when Little Brother needs my focused attention for bathing or going down for a rest, while I'm making dinner, sick days, and rainy days. Due to my maternity leave and the arrival of Little Brother in general we're spending more time home than we used to, so these can help break up the day. I keep them in a closet Big Brother does not use so he doesn't have steady access to them like other toys. They go back to the closet when the time period we need them for is over and we don't use them every day. Therefore they stay special.

Below are photographs of some I created for Big Brother and for a young relative who was also expecting a new sibling. Some great places for finding materials include the dollar store, craft stores, your junk drawer, and yard sales. When you're creating, think about your own kiddo. What tends to hold their interest? (Art, trucks, science, etc.) Developmentally what are they doing? (For example, if they still put a lot of things in their mouths than several of the ones below would not be recommended.) Is there a new skill or subject area they're interested in? (Bugs, counting, etc.) I find they work really well in small, plastic boxes with latch lids.

I'm calling this "Part 1" because I have several other ideas of busy boxes I'd like to create and as these lose their novelty I plan to introduce the new ideas.

 Busy Box Ideas
Beading Box: Large wooden beads and pipe cleaners. (Can also be used for color matching.)

Number Box: Large flat marbles, index cards with circles 1-6, and number counting cards for matching, counting, or other kid directed ideas. 

Funny fingers: Small ink pads, paper, and finger tips from office supply store (with raised dots for gripping.) 

Pattern box: Two sets within one box. Set A) Laminated pattern cards with small colored dots. More stickers or pompoms for recreating patterns. Set B) Laminated pattern strips with small foam blocks for recreating patterns.

Dino World: Floral rocks, small dinosaurs, and fake flowers. (Could also use fake insects or small zoo animals.) 

Construction Site: Floral rocks and construction vehicles. (Actually the same box as the dinosaurs, I just swapped in vehicles instead.)

Magnet Box: Magnet wand with magnet balls, cut pipe cleaners, paperclips, and random magnetic and non-magnetic materials. (Big Brother's favorite these days.) 

Sticker and Punches: Small punches, glue stick, scrap card stock and project papers, and stickers. (Big Brother loves to create bookmarks for the adults.)

Flower Fairy Garden: Aquarium rocks, small terra cotta pots, small buckets, foam stickers, and fake flowers. Fairies created from clothespins, felt, ribbon, and fake flowers.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spring Orzo Salad

With the coming of barbeque season comes the need for pasta salad. I love creating different types of salads, especially when they can go together quickly and simply. Lately I've been experimenting with creating an orzo salad we all like. This is the family-friendly recipe I've come up with for the spring events we've been going to. Older kids could be easily involved in the cooking by cutting the tomatoes and cucumbers and helping to stir. In our house we enjoy the blend of simple, sweet vegetables with a slightly tart dressing and salty feta surrounded by the great texture of orzo.

Spring Orzo Salad
This recipe makes a large bowl, great for a potluck and serves at least 8 as a single side. For smaller dinners cut the quantities in half.

1 lb. orzo (one 16 oz. box = a pound)
1/4 fresh lemon juice
1/4 white wine or rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 english cucumber
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese*
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh scallions

(Note: I have also tried this salad with an herbed, crumbled feta. This added some extra flavor and was delicious.) 

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to box directions. (8 to 10 minutes.)
2. While pasta cooks slice tomatoes in half and cut the cucumbers into quarters. Thinly slice the scallions and finely chop the parsley.
3. In a large mixing cup combine the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil and mix with a small whisk to create a dressing.
4. When the orzo is cooked, drain in a colander and rinse under cold, running water. Let the colander sit in the sink for a few minutes until more of the excess water drains out.
5. Combine the cooled orzo, vegetables, herbs, dressing, and feta cheese in a large bowl. Gently stir until mixed.
6. I like to sprinkle a small amount of fresh ground pepper and salt on top.
7. Chill in the fridge for at least a half hour. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
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