Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kids Co-Op: Link-Up & Play!

I love being part of the Weekly Kids Co-Op and checking out all the other great activities and ideas that get linked up each week -- over 200 last week!! 

Since my Wild Thing loves anything that goes (cars, trucks, planes, trains), I loved the pool noodle race track from Ramblings From Utopia - frugal, creative family fun at its best.

She's got very thorough instructions on how to make this at home, so head over to her site and check it out - and don't forget to browse the link-ups below to find other great ideas! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1 to 10 for Tuesday: Number Identification, Values & Counting

I once heard a seasoned Early Childhood Educator talk about parents thinking their children "know" their letters or numbers because they can recite them (reciting them well and quickly). She shared that often when she would ask that same child to identify a letter or number, they could not or could only identify some, but not all. 

With that in mind, I wanted to do a game with my Wild Thing (toddler) that would reinforce not only counting, but would also incorporate number identification with counting and would demonstrate the value of numbers (i.e. demonstrating what 3 actually means). 

I set out 10 mostly clear and mostly glass containers from smallest to largest. The sizing of the containers was designed to help Wild Thing (he's 2 1/2) begin to understand number values - smaller number, smaller jar.

I labelled each container with its corresponding number, both with the number symbol and with the number spelled out. I would write the number and match it with its container, then Wild Thing would count the corresponding number of raisins and put them in each jar/container (also good for fine motor skills).

He liked looking in each container --I encouraged this to underscore what 6 looks like.
To reinforce counting and number values, we did the same thing again, only this time we added liquid to each container, adding the corresponding correct number of teaspoons of our dyed liquid. As we did this, we looked at the numbers on the paper and counted out each teaspoon added. Then, I would encourage him to look at the containers and notice what 3 looked like in comparison to 2, and so on. I also talked about which numbers and containers were bigger and which were smaller.

I often asked him to find a certain number for me. The major bonus came with clean up time, which he turned into a game deciding it was really fun to get to pick a numbered paper to give to me for clean up -- proudly announcing the number he chose. 

I like this activity a lot because we can build on it as he gets older and gains increased knowledge of numerical concepts. We can keep it fresh by coming up with different items to count into the containers and can explore different measurements. These types of containers could work for elementary school aged children learning about greater than and less than. (When I ran an after-school program, I noticed that greater than/less than presented a challenge for some students, and I think having the corresponding visual would really help).

Finally, inspired by Marnie at Carrots Are Orange and her Early Financial Literacy Series, I realized sized containers would be great for exploring coins and money value. Here's the basic concept, though I haven't had time yet for a full activity with Wild Thing.

Larger coin and dollar values would go in larger containers with the containers laid out in the appropriate order. What would be interesting is for kids to sort their coins and dollars and see when the order of the containers would need to change. For example, if they have 6 pennies, the penny container would move to the right of the container holding only 1 nickel because the 6 pennies would now be worth more than that single nickel. 

BOOK UPDATE - Recently got this book at the library and it pairs really well with the value/counting/number identification exercise, especially since the end of the book also really shows the difference between 1 and 5, for example. Plus, my toddler really loves the book - simple can be quite good. 

You might also like: 
10 Tips for Making Comic Books with Kids
Outdoor Mural Painting

Monday, May 28, 2012

Meditation Monday: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Cherish It

I've certainly had my fair share of mommy meltdowns--moments where I hit my breaking point and feel frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed.

However, becoming an emotional mess doesn't make anything better, and I end up modeling very poor behavior for my toddler. 

Occasionally though, I manage to find beauty in a potentially frustrating and overwhelming situation that might otherwise disarm me completely. Life can throw crap at me (literally) -- but I decide how I react to that crap.

With that in mind, I'm sharing two instances where I didn't sweat the small stuff and managed to create moments to cherish instead.

#1-Little ones in the car and excited to go to the duck pond and feed the ducks. We pull out of the driveway to discover that we have a flat tire. NO!!!!!!!

Wild Thing (my toddler) desperately wanted to see the ducks. He is NOT happy. I can sense the fit coming on, when I notice...

...a new bloom in our yard, one I had not noticed before. I show the Wild Thing and send him on a "flower hunting" mission to see what other new beauties might have sprung up around the yard. By the time he tired of that, the AAA driver had arrived with his tow truck to fix the tire and the ducks were certainly long forgotten by the excitement of the truck and the "magic" of the tire changing process.

#2-While wrapping up packing, work stuff and other prep the day of our red-eye flight to NYC, Wild Thing and Caterpillar (the baby) had some playtime that was much less supervised than normal as I focused on getting everything done. I come back from the laundry room to check in on them and discover... empty linen closet with every single clean towel, wash cloth, blanket, pillowcase and sheet emptied onto a not-so-clean floor.

The baby is buried underneath the mess somewhere. :)

The situation could have been a source of major frustration with another mess to clean and more laundry to be done. Instead, I cherished the extra time to get things done as the two little ones played together happily and recalled my own childhood memories playing among a pile of blankets and pillows.

I'm drawing on these two experiences this week for my meditation focus because sweating the small stuff makes no sense at all and keeping that knowledge front and center makes me a better person and a better parent. When I get frustrated and overwhelmed and give in to those feelings, the situation often gets worse (because the children's emotions feed off of mine). But, when I take deep breaths in the face of a flat tire or unnecessary mess and realize it's not worth it, well the pay off is roses and childhood memories. 

Please also visit Carrots Are Orange for a very moving post about Gratitude and Hugging Tightly as she eloquently expresses the importance of letting the small stuff go because at any point, everything can change.

You might also like:
I know that we don't know enough.
Make A Magic Pond
Outdoor Art

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Simple Sunday: Free Rice-Learn & Give

Keeping it very simple this Memorial Day Weekend by sharing a powerful and simple way to give back and help others. Kids love it, and I know some adults that have gotten addicted.
It's simple, go to the Free Rice site , pick a subject (there's several ranging from Flags of the World, English Grammar and Multiplication to SAT Prep and Language Learning), and then play. 

Games are multiple choice and correct answers equate to donated grains of rice. 1 right = 10 grains, 5 right = 50 grains. The more you play, the more rice that will get donated to individuals in need.

This tool became one of the best ways to encourage students to work on their multiplication facts at the after-school program I used to run. One of my teachers brought in 50 grains of rice to show the students just how little that was, which was a smart way to motivate them to play more. 

At the site, you can also watch a video of rice being distributed and find out more ways to get involved and fight hunger. So, what are you waiting for? Visit Free Rice and started playing.

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's Friday - Time for Kid's Co-Op & Pizza!!

Who doesn't love pizza? It's become one of my favorite go-to meals to make at home (I use store-bought pizza dough balls). Kid-friendly, fun to make, easy and with minimal dirty dishes, pizza making is a big hit in our house. Here's three of my favorite pizza varieties to get you inspired. Get creative and have fun!
The Simple Pizza: brush crust with olive oil, add sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni.
Farmer's Market Pizza: spray with oil, add sliced carrots and cook 10 minutes, add asparagus, goat cheese, 10 more minutes.

Favorite Pizza: pesto, mozzarella, sliced mushrooms (pre-sauteed) and sausage (pre-grilled).

Tip: Save the flour you use for rolling the pizza out and use it for pretend cooking or play-dough. Plus, here's 5 other great pizza recipes/activities:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ten for Tuesday: Make Your Own Comic Book

Guest Blogger: Dani Dixon

I love comic books. I love how happy they make adults and children, and I love the stories I get to tell in this medium.

The artists I've worked with are quite talented.

However, one needn't be a professional to illustrate an idea. I've taught children as young as 8 years old how to create their own comics. For the first lesson, I like to start simple. Here's something you can try using whatever art supplies you have on hand (a ruler or straight edge might help with making panels, but even that needn't be perfect). The most important tools will be your child's imagination and your enthusiasm!

Story Challenge: Why did the chicken cross the road?

1) Tell the story in one panel.
2) Use only stick figures!
3) Play with color. Choose a color - yellow, purple, green - for the chicken and color everything else differently.
4) Tell the story backwards!
5) Play with assumptions: What if the chicken is really an ostrich, or a pterodactyl?
6) What if the road isn't a country road, but the Autobahn?
7) Use no words, only simple expressions - think emoticons.
8) Use the same picture, but use different word bubbles in each panel.
9) Play with genres: What if it's a swashbuckler tale or a science fiction story?
10) Make it funny! Create the best visual punch line you can think of for one of the world's oldest jokes.

Some kids will enjoy the art more. Some will get more into weaving a story. Who knows? They might be future artists, or writers - or both!

Dani Dixon is a comic book creator, publisher (, and filmmaker. Dani speaks around the country on topics such as diversity in comics, preparing professional portfolios and women in sci-fi. She has spoken at the Writers Guild of America on the influence of comics on Hollywood and regularly consults on comic book adaptations.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Simple Sunday: Veggie Broth

Veggie scraps become vegetable broth. No worries about sodium, pesticides or other undesirable additives.

I'm a member of a farm-share and get a beautiful crate of organic produce for about $20. I make my own vegetable broth using the scraps and peels from the produce. I have large freezer storage bag that I put scraps or peels in when I have them. When it's full, it's time to make broth.

For no additional cost or real much effort at all, I get organic vegetable broth. Bonus: friendly for the Earth (no extra packaging required). It's simple. Empty the frozen scraps into a large pot.

If you want (you don't have to), add some fresh veggies to the pot as well. (I usually add carrots and onion because I seem to always have extra). 

Fill the pot with water, bring to a boil and simmer for 25-45 minutes (until the color and taste tell you it is done). Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the vegetables with tongs and/or a spider (the utensil you see below) .

Pour the remaining broth into a spouted container, then strain it into your storage container (I usually use glass jars). This time I poured the broth through the tea strainer and straight into my crockpot for a bean soup recipe. 

See -- super simple and a great budget-friendly cooking tip. I have low-sodium, organic vegetable broth at no additional cost!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Busy Bags, Books, an Egg Carton(?) & More!

By the time this goes live, I will be flying high in the sky with Wild Thing (my toddler) and Caterpillar (my 9 month old) as we go across the country to see family. I'm sure we'll also take the subway and a car service (with carseats) at some point. We're excited about the adventure. Wild Thing keeps talking about getting to sleep on an airplane, since our flight there is an overnight flight. As long as nursing the baby conks him out, we'll be fine.

The flight, back however, provides more challenge as it's cross country during the day. Here's what I've planned for toddler/baby entertainment:

This egg carton full of surprises will be hidden from Wild Thing until the flight back. It's inspired by the egg games we did after Easter. There's 3 sets of eggs that having matching goodies (the monkey eraser, coins, and foam travel stickers). Those eggs provide opportunities for a matching through sound game. The die gives us a counting game, as I have eggs numbered 1-6. The pom-poms are fun to push through the egg carton when it is closed, and the yarn will be for stringing cheerios or fruit loops.  Another snack related activity will be sorting trail mix. It's great for fine motor skills and color matching. Plus, packing snacks provides a 2-in-1: food and fun!

Here's the trail mix sorting activity we'll be doing on the plane.
Wild Thing also gets to bring his own backpack (very important!) filled with special books: the amazing Quiet Book his grandma made him, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown, Brown Bear What Do You See? Since I have both in small board book form, they can be handed off to the baby with no worries of being ripped up or eaten. The backpack items were selected with the overnight flight in mind as they are quiet books and favorite items that comfort and calm both kids.
The small pockets contain 3 little transportation books that Wild Thing loves and a special bag with cards (his recent obsession-he pretends to check out books and pay for things), as well as 2 toys just for baby, and a piece of fabric with shape buttons sewn on. Caterpillar (baby) loves to play with this and Wild Thing loves identifying shapes.

I also put together a simple busy bag with a crayon roll up (that's the baseball fabric), stickers, notebooks, a 3D coloring book (that comes with 3D glasses) and a small recipe book because Wild Thing seems to love them (thought this could be handy to have for potential wait times).

Finally, since my Wild Thing loves transportation and stickers, I've got special paper and foam stickers (from the Target clearance section) that can also keep him occupied in a pinch. They fit inside a handy reusable bag.

Travel with little ones can be intimidating, but it can also be worth it (this trip means my brother and my dad and his wife see the baby for the first time). Mamascout gives other great reasons to travel with kids. So, be fearless this summer and take a trip with your little ones. Here's some great blogs and resources to check out before you hop on/in a plane, train or automobile:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kids Co-Op Link Up: Free Library

I love this community building and literacy building "activity"  that a friend shared with me, so I'm passing it along as part of this week's Kids Co-Op. 

It's called the Little Free Library. Go to the website to see how creative some communities have been with the design of their "libraries" and to learn more.

Hope you love this idea as much as I do -- 
plus, check out all the great linked-up activities below!! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Pretend Cooking, No-Science Experiment, No-It's Art!!

Evolution of a "Keep My Kid Busy While I Cook" Activity!

1st-Old Salt & Expired Baking Powder for Pretend Cooking

Add water and food coloring-it bubbled and became science

Add more colors, corn starch and the spatula means it's time to paint

More painting

Done with 1st masterpiece and a box comes out of the recycle bin along with bubble wrap for the next painting adventure

Take that Jackson Pollock!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

S is for...Superhero and...

...Secret Identity. I'm bordering on being TWO days late (just like my first son) with my Mother's Day post. Yikes!!! But, alas, here it is -- a Mother's Day post about superheros, or rather about secret identities.

Much has been said about mothers being superheros. What often gets overlooked in the talk of mommy as superhero is the alter-ego, the secret identity. It shouldn't. Every mom has one - an identity and world that gets left behind so that she can delve into a world of messes and make-believe. (And lots of moms find themselves juggling both identities at once, hoping they don't arrive at the office with their superhero cape sticking out...or with kid food stains on their skirt). Me?

Receiving Founders' Award at the Riverside International Film Festival

I'm the "Movie Makin' Mama." In addition to being a mommy I'm an independent filmmaker. My latest film was produced while pregnant with my 2nd son and with my toddler going with me to get food, props, costumes, etc. The film, SMUGGLED, is currently on the film festival circuit. We took the family to an awards night because that seemed appropriate. (My husband wrote/shot/directed/edited the film).

In preparing to talk about Mommy Superheros, I sent out a call to a great group of other blogging caregivers asking about their secret identities and absolutely LOVED what I discovered:

Iron Woman (AKA Sense of Wonder who is a welder - how cool is that?)

Super Shape Shifter (AKA At Home with Ali who quickly changes from coal miner to environmental geographer to graphic designer to mommy in the blink of an eye)

The Justice Leaguettes (AKA military women from Kids Stuff World and Critters and Crayons - you can read about her secret identity with her Company Command here).
Turtle Defending Toddler Tamer (AKA Rainy Day Mum whose secret identity includes being a conversationist who saves sea turtles)

Master of Medicine and Magic (AKA Mama Smiles who has a PhD in Medicine)

Bewitching Brewer (AKA Creative with Kids. Her and her husband own a craft brewery, Mother Road Brewing Co.) 

Dazzler of Design (AKA Kids Creative Chaos who was an architect)

Cupcake Captain (AKA Famiglia & Seoul because of her baking prowess) and

The Crafting Countess (AKA Red Ted Art, who is the UK's answer to Martha Stewart -- plus, she actually is a countess).

I couldn't get to everyone, (like the sink fixing runner at Little Moments, the amazingly brilliant mover and shaker and her heavy metal hubby over at Glittering Muffins and others), but rest assured that if the group was ever together in the same place we could revolutionize education, have our own small army prepared to undertake successful humanitarian interventions, fix many environmental problems/disasters and build a crafting empire to rival Martha Stewart all while playing our own amazing theme song!

So - Happy Mother's Day to Mommy Superheros everywhere -- even if it is a day (or 2) late!! Oh - and to see what amazing kid stuff all these superheros do, check out the Kid Blogger Network Activities & Crafts pinboard or find activities by entering search items in the custom search below.