Monday, June 23, 2014

Arctic Animals Come to Life with Polly and the North Star

{Read Around the World Summer Reading Series}

This beautiful picture book is a favorite of my boys (3 and 4 1/2 years-old). With beautiful, dreamy artwork and a lovely story of one girl's big imagination and even bigger love for her father, it is a wonderful way to begin to explore the Arctic with your children. They will enjoy meeting polar bears, caribou, snowy oils and grey wolves with Polly and will share her joy when her father returns back home safely after working to help these amazing creatures. I think your children or students will love this book as much as my boys do. I recommend it for ages 2-6. 

To explore these animals even more, check out Mother Nature Network or this Arctic Animals Photo Gallery from National Geographic

Plus, check out more books from this amazing series -- a great place to start is the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series Pinboard. Not on Pinterest? You can find a complete list on the fabulous Multicultural Kid Blogs site as well. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Nature Activities from The Weekly Kid's Co-Op

We've been spending lots of time in nature lately, so I thought highlighting some fabulous activities inspired by or involving nature from last week's Kid's Co-Op was a perfect idea! Summer is here (officially) for many of us -- get outside and play!! 

Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

from Like Mama Like Daughter

Now it's time to Link-Up and Play!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Perfect Rainy Day Activity -- So Simple, So Awesome and Free! #BanBusy #SlowParenting

Observation in Action: Watch, Listen, Look and Learn

It doesn't rain often where we live (Southern California), but the last time we had a really substantial rain, I did something different. 

I sat in the doorway of our open back door (screen closed) with Caterpillar (2 1/2) sitting on my lap. We simply watched the rain and listened. We noticed its ebb and flow - stop and go - heavier and lighter. We noticed how different everything looks when it is wet. 

We were snuggled up under a blanket. It was actually pure bliss. I was glad I stopped to take the time to cuddle with him and focus on some astute observation with him. The experience was peaceful, beautiful, and important. 

Caterpillar and I had been at odds lately -- pushing and pulling -- as he tested his boundaries. He is 2 and was making sure we all knew it. We were going through some growing pains, and most of the time, I just didn't want to deal with him. 

Having this positive, sweet time together was actually really good for us -- 
we both really needed it. 

I also learned something about him. I discovered that he loves the rain. He would sit quietly for awhile, but then he would start talking and telling me that he loves the rain -- the way it sounds, especially. He told me that it makes him happy. Since, it rarely rains here, I hadn't realized that he loved it nor had a noticed before that his mood does shift, for the better, when it rains. 

I watched the pitter-patter calm him. I watched him intensely focus on the birds that were coming out to find worms as the rain calmed and became a drizzle. I watched him smile -- with me, rather than doing everything in his power to defy me. 

How simple, I found myself thinking -- 
simple and wonderful. 

So, next time the weather drives you inside and you wonder what you'll do to keep the kids from going crazy. Try simply sitting with them and watching the storm. If they like to sketch, paint or draw, then perhaps follow up your observations with some simple art time. You might find some simple joy of your own. 

We also love rainy day books. My boys love Franklin and the Thunderstorm, which is kind of funny since I don't think the boys have EVER experienced a real thunderstore. Still, they love this books. Plus, J Daniel4's Mom has a wonderful round-up featuring 17 Rainy Day Books for Kids! Check it out!!  I also love this post from KC Edventures featuring 10 Umbrella Stories -- also perfect for rainy days!

I'm pleased to be sharing this as part of the Ban Busy Challenge from the Abundant Mama Project, which I LOVE!!  

Sharing this at Booknificent Thursday

What's your favorite rainy day book and activities? Do your kids love the rain or do they just want it to stop? 

Here's some simple indoor play ideas that would also be great for rainy days:

Simple Toddler Carwash
Puzzle Play - 10 Benefits/Ideas
Library + Coffee Shop "Outing" at Home

Plus, my Blizzard Board is full of Creative, Indoor Play Ideas.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mostly Meatless Meal Plan: Portobello Mushroom Philly Cheese "Steaks"

Heart Healthy Daddy + Kid Approved Meals

Graphic Designed with the Help of Wild Thing (4.5 years-old)
Meatless Monday - Portobello Mushroom Philly Cheese "Steak"
I've featured these Portobello Mushroom Philly Cheese Steaks on the meal plan before, but have not included our specific recipe yet. It is my adaption of this recipe from A Hint of Honey. I've had lots of requests for my recipe, so here it is with pictures! This recipe is for two servings, since I can't get the boys to go for mushrooms yet. 
Slice half of a red (or green) bell pepper and half of an onion in long strips.
Sautee in olive oil for 3-5 minutes on medium heat.
While the pepper and onions are cooking, slice 2-4 mushroom caps (you can also buy them already sliced). 

Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and add garlic powder, black pepper and herbs of choice.
Let the mushrooms sweat down for about 3-5 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, turn your oven to broil and toast your sub rolls. (Most recipes don't suggest pre-toasting, but I find it keeps the rolls from getting soggy when you add the juicy mushrooms). 
I love this Bragg Soy Sauce Alternative that is low in sodium and has no MSG.
Reduce heat and add soy sauce (I use Bragg's Alternative Soy), red wine and a bit more oil. I'm awful about measurements. I always eyeball it (probably 2 TBS of the soy and red wine, but 1/2 TBS of oil at this stage). If you don't have wine, you can use red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Finally, toss in some panko bread crumbs (or flour) -- about 1 TBS to add some crunch or to thicken your sauce. 

The key is to give your mushrooms enough cook time to darken and cook through thoroughly. You made need to add liquid as you go (the soy sauce or wine works fine).
This shows you how dark the mushrooms should be.
This is my favorite part - add the cheese, then put back under the broil to melt the cheese. 
We use mozzarella - either shredded or slices.

ENJOY!! Even my meat-loving husband absolutely devours these and requests them usually once a week.

Quick Ingredient List: Sub rolls, Portobello Mushrooms (2-4 caps), 1 bell pepper, 1 white or Spanish onion, Bragg's Soy Sauce Alternative, Red Wine (or red wine vinegar), Olive Oil (or grapeseed oil), Mozzarella Cheese, Herbs (your choice).

Confession: On Monday, the boys will have their own sandwich (peanut butter or ham as they don't eat mushroom). On Tuesday, I have to give them plain rice and then veggies separated out - broccoli, carrots, etc. 

Wednesday - Cobb Salad Rainbow Dinner inspired by some of our favorite rainbow books. 

We've been reading rainbow and color books, which inspired our rainbow eating ideas. These books got my boys interested in exploring colorful fruits and veggies: Rainbow Stew by Catherine Farwell, Planting A Rainbow by Lois Ehlert, My Colors/Mis Colores by Rebecca Emberley and Freight Train by Donald Crew

Cobb Salads are a perfect rainbow meal: green lettuce, red/pink ham or bacon, orange/red tomatoes, purple cabbage or purple onions, green avocado, and yellow corn. For the boys, we deconstruct it a bit -- and also make them fun rainbow grazing plates. 
It's a little hard to see our orange carrot in there. 
I pinned 4 different, colorful Cobb salads to my Meal Planning Pinboard as well as some rainbow fruit cups.  

I also LOVE these Summer Salsas from Conveying Awareness with Jessica David that will definitely make you want to eat the REAL rainbow. 
Check out her GREAT recipes!
Thursday - Low Cholesterol Mushroom "Sausage" Pizza with Rainbow Veggies on the Side 
Since we're trying to eat less meat, we're getting creative. As you noticed, all of our other meals this week barely had any meat (none on Monday, shrimp on Tuesday and just a little bit of ham on Wednesday). For Thursday, we swapped out the sausage we usually put on our mushroom-sausage pizza using Morningstar Breakfast Sausage Patties instead. I just crumbled them on top of the pizza. I also went very light on the cheese to keep this pizza low cholesterol. 

We called this Mario Pizza (as in Super Mario Bros.) and got the boys to eat it!
  On the side, we also had a rainbow veggie medley. 
I mixed the green basil in with plain yogurt to make a yummy dip.
Friday - Keep it Simple! 

This usually means we eat leftovers or enjoy a classic standby - popcorn, fruit and cheese. 

What's for dinner at your house tonight? Do you plan meals or roll with it? What's your favorite meatless recipe? I'd love to know! 

You might also like:
Kids in the Kitchen
Top Recipe Picks
Edible Food Play

10+ Sensory Activities from The Weekly Kid's Co-Op

Sensory play is always a hit at our house. It fosters quality sibling play opportunities. I can usually set up an activity that both my 2 and 4 year-old will play with happily. In celebration of all things sensory -- I'm highlighting some fabulous sensory bins, tables and play ideas from The Weekly Kid's Co-Op. 
Click on bold text to see the activity.

Sensory Nature Play and Kids Fern Prints from My Nearest and Dearest

Plus, four of my most popular sensory posts:

Sharing this at Montessori Monday and Tuesday Tots.

Now, it's time to Link-Up and Play!!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

{Summer Reading} Books That Inspire Outdoor Play

Activities for underGROUND by Denise Fleming: Ways to Move, Eat, Draw, and Learn!

Inspired by the Virtual Book Club for Kids, we discovered Denise Fleming and, as is our tradition, found ways to Move, Eat, Draw and Learn with this fun non-fiction picture book. 

Move - To get moving, it made perfect sense to get outside and explore a bit. We did some digging to see what we could find underground -- mainly a few bugs and a tree root. 

Then, we decided to bury/hide some turtle eggs, since the book taught us that some turtles create underground "nests" of sorts for their eggs to keep the eggs safe. This was a fun way to reuse our plastic Easter eggs. 

Eat - Of course, we had to make "dirt" cake. Our variation including crushing up some chocolate cookies and mixing in some chocolate rice crisp cereal. We then adding some peanuts to represent rocks, larvae or eggs hiding underground. 

Wild Thing decided to add a fake flower growing from his!
Draw - We took this art activity outside using coffee grounds as our dirt and cupcake liners to create flowers. Add in a few herb sprigs and you are all set. (I just added a little water to my used coffee grounds to create dirt paint). The boys had so much fun!

Learn - This simple learning activity proves that you do not have to be a talented artist or crafter to engage learners. I certainly am not. Having read the book several times and noted what animals live underground and which live above ground but find their food underground or hide their food or eggs underground, I drew pictures of the different animals and items from the book. Then, I put a piece of cardboard in a box to divide the box into above ground and underground. Next, we added some coffee grounds for dirt (underground) and some green playdough for the grass. 

Then, Wild Thing (4.5) helped me cut out the different items and decide if they belong above ground or underground. (P.S. There's also more activities for this book on Denise Fleming's site.) 

Can you see our turtle eggs hiding back there? 

Now for some Outdoor Book-Play Inspirations from The Weekly Kid's Co-Op

This week I found some lovely gardening activities shared at the Kid's Co-Op, so I'm highlighting this post from KC Edventures featuring Gardening Books for Kids that you could pair with these gardening activities: Let's Play Garden from Such A Mama and Garden Markers using Painted Stones from Adventures In A Box.

And if your children get really excited about gardening/green outdoor activities, why not take on a family outing to help a chronically ill or elderly friend or neighbor by weeding their yard like Pennies of Time?

I also loved the very cool Upcycled Bug Hotel shared by Playful Learners. In fact, it's my Pick of the Week! 

This would pair so well with various books including your favorite bee books (we have a few), spider books, lady bug books or any fun book about bugs. One of our favorite bug books is The Icky Bug Counting Book, and we love all of Eric Carle's bug books, many of which which are included in No Time for Flashcards fabulous round-up of 19 Books About Bugs

Two more top picks from the Weekly Kid's Co-Op were June Books for 4 Year-Olds from Planet Smarty and 3 Boys and a Dog with her list of Good Beach Books for Kids

I'm also sharing this at Booknificent Thursday

Now it's time to link-up and play!