Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10 Books to Read to Learn About the Year & the Four Seasons

As we head into the start of 2015, and the month of January, it's a great time to start thinking with kids about what makes a year. One of the best ways to help kids understand about the four seasons, the 12 months, and the changes we see across a whole year is to read about it. This can especially be even more meaningful if you are able to combine the reading with a kick off of a year long project. (See the bottom of our post for a few year long project ideas.)

10 Books to Read to Learn about the Year & the Four Seasons
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We've put together a list of 10 books you can read to learn about the whole year and the four seasons. Some are favorites, others are new titles for us. 
(Click on the book images for affiliate links.) 

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Eve Countdown Bracelets

We wrapped up our Christmas fun this weekend and started looking forward to the next big event: New Year's Eve. We'll most likely be home that evening but we're still looking forward to the fun of the night. As we look forward we're putting together a few new ideas to add to the festivities of the evening.

New Year's Eve Countdown Bracelets
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Last year we started the new tradition of New Year's Eve Bags for the Whole Family. We're hoping to continue that tradition this year. But we did start thinking this week about how we can prepare a little more for the coming night. Big Brother has been really engaged with the ideas of numbers and counting sequences lately so we put together these Countdown Bracelets. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

30 + Crafts, Activities, and Recipes to Keep Kids Entertained at Family Holiday Parties

We're blessed to have a large group of family and friends, which also means we're pretty busy at this time of year.We attend many family holiday parties over the course of the month of December. Since having had children I've found it can be really helpful to plan ahead and have a few crafts, activities, and recipes up my sleeve that can keep kids entertained (and let's face, just not too wild) while the adults get to visit. Although we're nearing Christmas Day itself, we still have several parties to attend. So here's our list of -- Crafts, Activities, and Recipes to Keep Kids Entertained at Family Holiday Parties.

30 + Crafts, Activities, and Recipes to Keep Kids Entertained at Family Parties

Friday, December 19, 2014

Easy Christmas Tree Pop-Up Cards

It's been a quiet post week as we've been focusing on lots of Christmas projects, parties, and fun. But I've also been down and out with a knee injury, which has made me a little distracted. However, we did want to share these Easy Christmas Tree Pop-Up Cards we've been making over the last week.

Easy Christmas Tree Pop Up Cards
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A few weeks ago we shared a tutorial post on how to create an easy flower pop-up card. To put a holiday spin on it we've been creating a small stack of these easy Christmas Tree Pop-Up Cards for family and friends. For the full tutorial, check out the original pop-up card post

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Tree Numbers (for the Light Table)

There's something about these dark days of December that instantly make us want to get out our light table to play. With the coming of Christmas we decided to do some holiday themed light table play and incorporated Christmas trees.

We've done some alphabet play with the light table before with our light table letter match activity, so it was fun to try a number activity. Lately Big Brother has been really interested in numbers, reading them everywhere we go and trying to count to 100. The "teen" numbers still trip him up just a little when he's reading and saying them, although he's usually pretty comfortable by the time he gets to the twenties. I decided to make this activity be focused on the numbers 1 through 20. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Fruit Wands

We go to several holiday parties over the course of this month, which can sometimes be hard as our boys can have moments of being picky eaters. It's hard sometimes at a large, busy meal to try and get them to really eat much of anything. So I'm often trying to thing of something I can bring that I know I can get into them easily. The one thing both my kiddos consistently love are fresh fruit and veggies. We like to put a fun spin on the traditional fruit and veggie platters though to match the holiday season.

Last weekend for our first holiday event we tried making Christmas Fruit Wands.

Christmas Fruit Wands
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Last year we had a lot of fun creating our Holiday Veggie Platter for several events. 

This year we know we'll make some of those again, but we also wanted to create something new. 
So we came up with Christmas Fruit Wands. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cardboard Christmas Tree

We have the tradition of getting our tree a little later in December, so that we can keep it up a little past New Year's Eve. A few years ago Big Brother started noticing other people had their tree up earlier than that, and started asking why we couldn't have one sooner. That's when we started the tradition of creating a cardboard tree.

Cardboard Christmas Tree
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The fun of the tree is that each year we build it, paint it, and decorate it — and at the end of the season we recycle it. That way we get to start fresh the next year. It's great to keep in either the boys' room or the playroom after we get our real tree as it's a little smaller. And, this could be a great idea for a classroom or preschool where they might not have room (or money) for a real tree.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gingerbread Baby Playdough

There is something so magical and fun about gingerbread houses, and the boys are looking forward to decorating a real one with their Pamma later this week. But until then we've started playing with gingerbread houses in other ways and reading several gingerbread books.

Gingerbread Baby Playdough
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One of our favorite books which includes a gingerbread house is Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett.


This spin on the classic tale tells the story of a little gingerbread baby who runs away from everyone. But instead of being eaten by the fox at the end, the little boy who made him also makes him a beautiful gingerbread house to live in. We've been rereading the book over the last few weeks and it inspired our Gingerbread Baby Playdough.

To begin with, we tweaked our basic playdough recipe to make it smell like gingerbread by adding some yummy smelling spices. We like to make a cooked playdough. so the directions below should be done by an adult as they involve using the stove. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bird Feeder Ornaments (As Inspired by The Night Tree)

We're really excited to participate in the Christmas Read + Play blog hop. We participated in the Halloween Read + Play collection in October with our Halloween Sticky Collage and loved all the great ideas we gained then.

For this series, over 20 bloggers have chosen a favorite holiday book and paired it with a fun play, craft, or learning activity. There are several great books and ideas to get you through the whole season! We love seeing what great, new ideas we can gain from all these other fabulous bloggers.

Bird Feeder Ornaments (As Inspired by the Night Tree)
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Several years ago I fell in love with the Christmas story The Night Tree by Eve Bunting.  It tells the story of a family who has a special Christmas tradition: every year they head into the woods to decorate a tree with popcorn, fruit, and seed balls. This tradition not only provides them with the opportunity to be together as a family but also to practice the spirit of giving by leaving treats for the animals of the forest. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Easy Flower Pop-Up Cards

Although this week officially marks the rush into the holiday season, for us last weekend was a rush of birthdays. We had quite a handful or friends, big and small, who were celebrating their birthdays. One of our favorite types of cards to make for friends are pop-up cards.

Easy Flower Pop-Up Cards
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This method makes it easy enough to make more than one at a time, so while Big Brother created one for his friend's birthday present, I made one for a friend too. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Maple Pumpkin Pancakes

A few weeks ago we shared on Facebook how much we've been enjoying pumpkin pancakes. A quirky thing about me is I don't really enjoy pumpkin pie. But I do LOVE all other pumpkin baked goods, and that love definitely extends to pumpkin pancakes.

Maple Pumpkin Pancakes

We shared a recipe we've always enjoyed from allrecipes for pumpkin pancakes. Over the last few weeks we've tweaked the recipe to be our own version with a special ingredient within the batter: maple syrup.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Books to Read While You're Waiting for Winter

Winter is on our doorstep, the warning of snow has been in the forecast for several days. And although we've already had a little dusting it will be any day now that we get our first major storm. The coming of winter is a mixed blessing. Everyone is excited to play in the snow, and of course snow now might mean a white Christmas next month. But of course snow also means slippery roads, damp snow gear, and lots of shoveling. No matter how you're feeling, winter is coming. Here's our recommendation of 5 books you can read while you're waiting for winter.

5 Books to Read While You're Waiting for Winter

Some these books I've enjoyed reading in my classroom over the years, and others are books we've recently been exploring. Of course, there are many more that get you in mood for winter, but these books look at either preparing for the winter, or the first snow fall.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Indian Corn Mosaics and More

This week we've been sharing different activity ideas we had for exploring "indian corn." Our final activity put to use the kernels we'd taken off the cobs the other day by combining them with salt dough to make mosaic decorations.

Indian Corn Mosaics (with 15+ Indian Corn Activities and Crafts)
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We've used basic salt dough before, we find it an easy material for even the littlest of hands to create with. For these creations we tried something we had not tried before, pressing and baking something into the salt dough. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Indian Corn Sensory Play

Last week we explored Indian Corn. This material has proven to be great for exploring different types of sensory play. The textures and colors have been just one way we've been able to get into our explorations.

First we painted with the corn cobs, which gave us colorful, textured prints. Later, after the cobs had dried, we created a different type of exploration: Indian Corn Sensory Play.

In getting ready for this play experience, I started reading a little about indian corn, also called flint corn. There is a great article over at the History Channel which gives a little more information about the story behind the corn. 

To set up for our play experience we put the ears of corn into a our large, plastic tub. With it the ears we added a miniature muffin tin, large tweezers, and a magnifying glass. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Toddler Painting with Indian Corn

As we've headed further into November we can see signs of the end of fall everywhere. One of my favorite symbols of fall is indian corn, also called flint corn, and as we get closer to Thanksgiving we see it in decorations everywhere. It's amazing how varied the different colors can be.

I picked up several different ears last week at a local farm stand and got excited about sharing some different activities with the boys. Over the past week we've been enjoying exploring indian corn in many ways. The first activity was one designed for Little Brother: Toddler Painting with Indian Corn.

Toddler Painting with Indian Corn

It's always fun to explore different painting strategies with toddlers. A few of our favorites include splatter painting, comb painting, and feather painting. It allows toddlers the opportunity to paint, create art, and have a sensory experience all at the same time. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Buttons Come and Buttons Go (A Pete the Cat Game)

We were excited when we discovered that this month's Virtual Book Club for Kids author was Eric Litwin as it meant focusing on his Pete the Cat books. We discovered Pete the Cat a few years ago and love Litwin's easygoing, rhythmic style. (Scroll down to the bottom of the post for links to a few of our favorites.) The boys love his stories and I love the messages they convey about not sweating the small stuff.

Buttons Come and Buttons Go Math Game

For this month's activity we decided to focus on the book Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons. Not only does it convey a great message about not getting upset over the loss of some buttons and finding positives in the outcome, it also builds early math skills right into the storyline. We extended the book into our "Buttons Come and Buttons Go" math game.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Family Made Thanksgiving Wreath

With Thanksgiving approaching there is no way you can celebrate the holidays without at least one hand traced turkey. This traditional craft remains a classic, except this time we put a new spin on it.

Family Made Thanksgiving Wreath

We decided why stop at one turkey when we can have a whole family of turkeys? And why not display them in a fun way, like a wreath?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thanksgiving Table Activity Bag

With the beginning of November it's officially time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Our Owl Paper Bag Puppet post the other day reminded me of these fun and cute Thanksgiving Table Activity Bags I put together last year.

Thanksgiving Table Activity Bag

Although we don't usually have a very formal Thanksgiving meal, I still wanted something to entertain the kids at the table after they finished eating and the grownups were still talking. I love having little activity sets for kids no matter where we are, so I put together these activity bags for the boys and their cousins. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Look Whoo's Counting Paper Tube Owls

We've continued enjoying reading and learning about owls this week. A coworker made some adorable, cardboard paper tube owls at the beginning of the year to decorate a classroom space in the school. This combined with a favorite owl book inspired an owl themed math activity.

Look Who's Counting Paper Tube Owls

Owl crafts are all over the web and Pinterest these days. I'm not sure exactly where those at school found their inspiration, but it looked something like these

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Owl Paper Bag Puppets

Over the last year we've been excited to hear owls close to our house in the woods behind us. So with the days now shorter it seemed like the perfect time to start learning about our owl neighbors. We've been reading several books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as talking about owls and their sounds.
Our first owl craft was a quick and easy one, Owl Paper Bag Puppets. 

Owl Paper Bag Puppets

We've made paper bag puppets before when we created our "Puff Dragon" paper bag puppets. It's such a fun and fast way to create a puppet, and can be made as a variety of animals. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ghost Mud

Halloween is almost here, but we're still having some fun with different Halloween play ideas. Over the weekend we decided to get a little creative with some sensory play and experiment with a different take on cloud dough, which we're calling Ghost Mud.

Ghost Mud Sensory Play

We've made what is often called cloud dough in the past (you can see one example as Snow Dough here) which is made using flour and baby oil. We've also enjoyed making oobleck (corn starch and water) so we decided to try and mix up the two recipes by trying corn starch and baby oil together. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Toddler Airplane Activity Binder

A friend of mine starts an amazing adventure this weekend as she and her husband travel internationally to adopt the child they've been waiting for for almost three years. It's been eye opening and inspiring to watch them as they spent the last few years working and waiting through the paperwork process. And now their moment is here. Among hundreds of questions and concerns, my friend mentioned the long airplane ride back to the United States with their little toddler and what she was going to do for activities. Although many of her questions and concerns were ones I could only listen to with empathy, this was one that got my brain churning. Before they left our family gift to them was a Toddler Airplane Activity Binder.

Toddler Airplane Activity Binder

Although I won't know for several weeks if the binder was successful, I'm hoping it is helpful on the long plane ride. I can also see it being used in other settings where toddlers need some purposeful activities, such as waiting at a doctor's office or in a restaurant. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Witchy Playdough Play

We had so much fun with our Room on the Broom post that we decided to continue our witchy themed fun. We found a pack of "witch fingers" while doing some shopping. Big Brother and I instantly got excited about the idea of some witch themed playdough play.

Witchy Playdough Play

To begin with I made a batch of basic cooked playdough. I dyed the playdough a bright green color by mixing in green and yellow food coloring. After cooking I kneaded in about 1/4 cup of green glitter for a little extra fun. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Room on the Broom Memory Game

This month's Virtual Book Club for Kids Author is Julia Donaldson. As she is not an author we know well we were looking forward to reading some new books and discovering a new author. Which is part of the fun of the Virtual Book Club for Kids! And of course it's also always fun to see what great project and activity ideas can come from these books.

Room on the Broom Memory Game

We decided to read Room on the Broom because it's a great fit for Halloween. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cork Bats

The other day we were headed to a play date with two good friends who also love to craft and we wanted to bring something fun to do. We quickly put together this fun cork bat craft, which is perfect for October and was easy to assemble.

The kids (ages 4, 5, and 7) were able to do almost all of the work themselves, which made them all feel really proud of their creations.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halloween Character Votives

Earlier in the summer we had a lot of fun using recycled baby jars to create Under the Sea Votive Holders. Now that it's a new season, it was time to create a new set with a new theme: halloween!

These votive holders are really so easy to make, and can turn out really colorful and fun. We added a new lighting source for this set: finger lights from the dollar store. The lights are very bright and make the candle holders really glow. Plus they are easy for Big Brother to turn on and off  by himself. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

5 Books for Helping Kids Learn About Anger

Since the beginning of the summer, and shortly after turning four, Big Brother has been experiencing some spells of bigger emotional outbursts. While it is worrisome as a parent to see him get so upset and struggle with how to express these emotions, the research I've been doing leads me to believe that most of what he is experiencing is a developmental phase not uncommon to some four year olds.

One of our jobs as his parents are to help him to understand that it's normal and okay, to have these big emotions (anger, sadness, frustration) but that when we have them we need to express them in a way which is safe and controlled. 

5 Books for Helping Kids Learn About Anger
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Although we've been helping him work through these spells using a variety of techniques, one of our go to strategies is to read books during non-upset times. These are 5 books we've been using over the last several months to help Big Brother start thinking about how to express his anger without hurtful words or actions. Most of them give concrete strategies or the words to express the emotions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halloween Sticky Collage

It's October, which means it's that time of year where our family is pretty excited to be getting ready for Halloween! It's definitely a top family holiday. 

Halloween Sticky Collage

This year we were excited to participate in the Halloween Read + Play blog hop. Over 25 bloggers each picked a favorite halloween book and have paired it with a fun activity or project, there are some great ideas in this series!

For our project we chose the book Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming. The story is filled with fabulous rhymes, a catchy rhythm, and helps the reader imagine they're on the street trick-or-treating for the evening. 

After we read the book, we created our own halloween street using the "sticky collage" approach. We call it a sticky collage because the base is contact paper, which allows little hands to stick the items to the collage without needing glue. We've enjoyed several other types of sticky collage before. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gourd Bowling

I love the sight of miniature gourds as they begin to pile up at our local farm stands and always want to buy oodles of them. This year I finally broke down and bought a bunch so we have plenty for creating fun projects with. With Big Brother's inspiration we've already created some gourd pirates, but we also wanted to do something a little more active with our gourds. This led us to create Gourd Bowling. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gourd Pirates!!

This week we've been exploring some fall fun with miniature gourds. On the day we were picking up some at the farm stand Big Brother became inspired with his own project idea: GOURD PIRATES. He eagerly picked out his own gourds and actively began making a plan for when we got home. 

Big Brother listed out all the items that he needed and together we gathered the supplies he wanted: craft foam, permanent markers, sequins, scissors, tooth picks, googly eyes, and the hot glue gun. I was still having a hard time imagining his vision, but as he eagerly got to work he clearly had a plan. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

5 Books to Read Before You Go to the Apple Orchard

If you're like our family, and live in the right region, around this time of year you're probably headed to a local apple orchard to pick apples. For our family it's an annual tradition. We have two different orchards we love to visit each year and often try to go with our extended family one weekend day a year for picking.  

This past weekend was the perfect day to go: warm, sunny, plenty of delicious apples, and lots of family fun.

Before going we often try to read some apple books as part of our lead up to the trip. It's a great way to get excited about going and to learn about the trees, an apple life cycle, and the orchard. Here are our top five picks to read before (or after) an apple picking adventure.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Leaf Color Match Walk

Our Quick Pick and Project of the Week involved another nature walk. Nature walks have really been a great activity for us this fall as it involves all of us, being outside, and enjoying a place we're so lucky to live in. 
Leaf Color Match Walk

For this walk I wanted to link it to the approaching season and the leaves which are beginning to change.   

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fall Leaves Handprint Tree

It's been a while since we just posted a craft that's just for the fun of doing a craft. So, to get back to our "roots" (pun moderately intended) we're sharing our Fall Leaves Handprint Tree. 

We've been having fun exploring leaves this week as our leaves are just beginning to turn color. My hope is in a few more days we'll be close to really seeing that beautiful New England foliage. We love handprint art, and used the idea of a handprint tree in our Thankful Tree project in some of our Thanksgiving Posts previously. So while waiting for the leaves to turn, we created our own fall foliage tree. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Leaf Print Playdough

The leaves are just beginning to turn colors in our part of New England and as the weather continues to cool I'm sure we'll see more. But, while we're waiting we're exploring creating our own fall leaf creations.
Leaf Print Playdough 
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One easy way we created fall leaves was by using pressing leaves into playdough. 

To begin with I made a batch of basic cooked playdough. I kept it white while I cooked the dough. I wanted three colors, so before kneading it I divided it into three pieces and added different colored food coloring to each piece. This did make the colors a little more muted than when I usually add it during the cooking process, but we were still able to have three colors. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tractor Sensory Bin

Little Brother has definitely been finding an interest in all things vehicle related, just like his Big Brother. But lately he's seemed really interested in tractors; whether it is the ones we read about, our toy tractors, or the ones we see out in the real world. To play off this interest, we created a tractor sensory bin.

Tractor Sensory Bin
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It's been a while since I set up a sensory bin, and as soon as I started Big Brother was eager to help. I didn't realize it had been quite a while since we had one to play with but his excitement (even though I was trying to connect this to his brother's interest) reminded me we need to get back into our bin and small world play. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quick Pick & Project of the Week: Going for a Nature Collection Walk

Many of our Quick Picks and Projects involve an arts or crafts component, but sometimes a quick book extension can also be as easy as going for a walk. 

I've always enjoyed reading kids the book Hannah's Collections, and going for a nature walk is a fun and active extension. After the walk there are several different ways kids could use their collection too. 

Going For A Nature Collection Walk

The book  is about a little girl named Hannah who loves collecting things and has several collections  including popsicle sticks, stamps, barrettes, and more. The problem is now she needs to bring a collection to school, except she has so many collections how will she ever choose one? What's so engaging about the book are the illustrations which are a mix of collage with images of real items. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grilled Kielbasa Dinner

Even though summer is officially "over" we still love to grill as much as we can. In fact, you'll probably find us grilling until there's at least an inch of snow on our deck. 

And although we still enjoy some of the basics, we also like to make some recipes that remind us more of fall. This grilled kielbasa dinner is perfect with all the yummy veggies coming from our fall CSA. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Organizing Car Toys

At this point in the year there's a ton of great organizational items in the stores primarily aimed at college kids headed off to dorm rooms and kids headed back to school. But even though those items are meant for different places, they can have a variety of uses in our everyday lives too.

Organizing Car Toys

Lately I've been trying to organize the car. We like to keep a wide range of activities and books in the car for the kids, but often it feels like they take over the whole car and everything is really cluttered. It lead us to think about some new ideas for organization.

I've tried different containers before to contain the clutter, but our recent attempt seems to be the best yet: using a shower caddy! The small compartments are perfect for holding different objects and it fits evenly between the two car seats. 

We purchased our bin at Wal-Mart, it's made by Sterlite and cost about $3.50 at the time. It came in four different colors. Big Brother picked the blue first. 

Inside the bin there are five compartments. In the back compartment we have space for different coloring and activity books. 

In the front bin we hold small picture books and a few board books. 

In the larger side compartment we have a few toys primarily for Little Brother; a small etch-a-sketch, flashing ball, toy cars, and something that makes noise (either a phone, car, musical instrument, etc.)

On the other side of the bin there are two small compartments which are perfect for holding crayons and markers for Big Brother. 

We still keep a few larger picture books and activity books in the pockets on the back of the seat. I also keep at least one small stuffed animal in the car, as you never no when someone might need a little cuddle from something.

Both the kids and I are pretty excited about how organized their stuff is now. Me because it was no longer all over the car and the boys, Big Brother especially, because they could now see what stuff they actually have in the car. We went back a few weeks later for another one to create a similar set up for Daddy's car. When we were there, Big Brother asked for a third to organize the art supplies he wants to keep in his room. He created this set up when I was at work when one day all on his own, pretty great huh? 

What is your favorite "back to school" item for organizing household or car stuff? If you're a blogger, I'd love to see your link in the comments below. 

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