Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mommy Bento Love

I first saw a photo of a Bento box in a parenting magazine when I was newly pregnant. It made me wish for a  live-in Japanese mother who could pack me an adorable lunch every day. Since that wasn't possible, I splurged and bought myself a Laptop Lunches box. When I was feeling frustrated by gestational diabetes, that lunch box went a long way to making lunch feel fun rather than like a carb-counting chore I had to do in between finger sticks.

And then I had babies. Babies who like to share a chair with me at meals. Babies who like to ask for another spoon, a paper towel, more milk, and on and on and on. In short, before I realized what was happening, I was in the habit of eating random stuff I could fit in between kid requests. A slice of sandwich bread here, a few crackers here, a cookie, the portion of banana I could sneak in before the kids started demanding the rest... as unbalanced and carb-loaded as it sounds here, I promise it was even worse in real life. And largely because I was doing such a bad job with midday eating, I found a little over five pounds over the course of the year. When you're itty bitty like me, five pounds shows. Everywhere and obviously. I'm ready to lose those five pounds.

So I'm back to the Mommy Bento box. Every night when the kids FINALLY go to sleep - even if it's 10:30 (or worse, sigh) - I pack a lunch for all three of us. It's a lot easier to make healthy, balanced choices for all of us when no one is whining or riding on my foot or throwing Legos over the baby gate into the laundry room.

Here's a recent Mommy lunch. I added some beets and balsamic dressing to the salad at lunch time. Beets, goat cheese, and balsamic is one of my absolute favorite winter combinations.

Here's a kid lunch I packed for a picnic recently. (Yogurt in the covered container. And that's puffed corn from Trader Joe's, not popcorn, which is a choking hazard for kids under 5. I have major fear of a popcorn choking.) 

The bento containers I use for the kids' lunches - Easy Lunchboxes. I had my doubts about them before I ordered them, but I love them even more than my Laptop Lunches box. With the silicon muffin cups and spill -resistant smaller containers, they're so versatile. And when we had our picnic recently, I was able to stack one for each of us in a small-ish backpack cooler from Target. So easy.

Bento boxes... because you're worth it.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stained Glass Numerals

A few weeks ago I was thinking that while Linus and Veda were doing great with identifying letters and counting, they could use some work in numeral recognition. We needed something fun that would draw their attention, and making something we could display would be a great way to continue reviewing. My answer? Stained Glass Numerals.

What You'll Need

  • Black construction paper or poster board
  • A white crayon
  • An Exacto-type blade (or scissors, but a cutting blade is easier)
  • A cutting mat (not necessary for those using scissors)
  • Sheets of gift wrap tissue 
  • Craft glue
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
How to Make It

NOTE: Only plan on making 1-2 of these per day to maximize attention given to each numeral and to keep interest in the project high.

1. Draw the numerals with the white crayon on the black paper. Be sure to keep the numerals nice and wide.

2. When the kids are taking a nap or otherwise occupied elsewhere, use the cutting blade to cut out freehand shapes in the numerals, being sure to leave enough room between holes for strips of glue. 

3. Tear the tissue paper into manageable pieces with the kids.
4. Apply a thin strip of glue around each hole and let the kids cover the holes with tissue paper pieces. By the way, single color or multiple colors of tissue paper per numeral - it doesn't matter. Either way looks great.


5. Leave the project to dry.
6. When the project is completely dry, cut out the numeral along the white crayon outline, thus also cutting off tissue paper excess.
7. Tape to window.
8. Admire.

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Indoor ABC Egg Hunt

This time of year, I think we're all ready for spring. On warmer days, we've been venturing outside, but on colder days, we're always sorry to be stuck inside. To break up the tired winter routine, we hatched an indoor ABC egg hunt. Our egg hunt was a week ago, and the kids are still talking about how much fun we had. We'll be repeating this one for sure.

What You'll Need

  • A set of letters to fit inside your eggs (We used our Leapfrog refrigerator magnet set, but they were just slightly too large for the eggs. Consequently, we used tape to keep some of our eggs closed, as you see in the photograph below. If you don't have a similar set of letters, you could always write out the letters or print the letters out on paper and then cut them out.)
  • 26 plastic Easter eggs
  • A chalkboard and chalk, a dry erase board and markers, or even a piece of paper large enough to write out all the letters of the alphabet 

How to Play
  1. Check to make sure that you have all of your alphabet magnets, and make a note of any missing letters. (Our X is in pink on the chalkboard because it was missing on the day of our egg hunt. Knowing we didn't have it in the first place kept us from searching endlessly for it.)
  2. Have the kids help you place one letter in each egg. 
  3. Write out the alphabet on your chalkboard/dry erase board/paper. Be sure to use capital letters for early learners and lower case letters for more advanced alphabet learners.

4. Instruct the kids to hide in their bedrooms until you have hidden all of the eggs.
5. Hide the eggs in fairly obvious places around 2-3 rooms.
6. Tell the kids which rooms to look in, and tell them to bring the eggs to you when they find them. (one at a time)
7. When a child brings an egg to you, ask him/her to identify the letter inside the egg. Then ask him/her to find the same letter on the chalkboard.
8. When the child finds the letter on the chalkboard, cross it off. 
9. When all of the letters have been crossed off, you'll know that all of the eggs have been found. 

**One additional tip: I kept clean up to a minimum by putting the eggs and letter magnets back into their respective bags as the kids found them and we crossed them off our board. 
**Oh, and see how I wrote my Z on the chalkboard with the slash? It's an old habit, and I didn't even realize I'd done it until Veda was utterly confused by it. So, yeah, no slashes through Z. 

We hope that you have as much fun with your egg hunt as we did!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No-Prep Themed Collage

Here's a fun arts and crafts time activity Veda and I worked on this week. (Linus was more into play dough that day.)

I pulled a couple of magazines out of our old magazine stash and helped Veda select a theme for the pictures she would select and cut out from the magazines. On this day she chose Animals.

She flipped through the magazines to find pictures that fit her theme. On this occasion she found a dinosaur, some dogs, and a pig. While her cutting skills are pretty good for her age, she still needed a little help. Next time I might pull the pages with the pictures she chooses out of the magazine first to make it easier for her.

Then she glued them onto the paper. This girl loves to glue.

Finally, she requested some pom poms to add a little pizazz. 

The finished product...

In this simple activity, we worked on cutting and pasting skills. But we also worked on some literacy skills. Scanning pages to find images and then discerning whether those images fit within the parameters of a given theme - it's something we grownups take for granted, but for little ones, everything is new.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Preschool Homeschool

I semi-follow a few preschool homeschool blogs. Those moms are amazing, but I have absolutely no idea how they do it. A couple of hours of prep for an activity that takes five or ten minutes? Not going to happen around here. I've written before about my thoughts on the purpose of preschool and appropriate methods of educating little ones, so I won't rehash that here. I'll just tell you about some of the stuff we're doing to get ready for kindergarten.

1. Kumon workbooks - These little books are great for learning skills like cutting, pasting, cutting, and folding. The kids are usually excited to work in their Kumon books when I suggest it (I would NEVER suggest forcing a preschooler to complete workbook pages against their will). The pages are bright and colorful, the pictures are fun, and the skill level required to complete the work increases at an appropriately gradual pace. We started these at about 2.5 years of age.

Let's Sticker & Paste! (Kumon First Steps Workbooks)

2. Usborne Ready for Writing Books -

Ready for Writing [With Marker] (Usborne Wipe-Clean)

This is a new addition for us at 3 years of age. The book progresses from tracing straight lines through tracing and writing letters, and since it's wipe-clean, it can be done over and over again for lots of practice. Under careful supervision, it also makes for a great waiting room activity (beware the marker).

3. Early Learning Sticker Activity Books -

Sticker Activity Numbers (Early Learning: Sticker Activity)

What child doesn't love stickers? We have this book in both the numbers and letters varieties. These books are perfect for a waiting room as well.

4. Alphabet and Number/Counting Games

Learning should always be fun for little ones, so it's important to incorporate lots of games and toys. These are some of the no-prep ways we work on alphabet and counting skills. We don't have a set routine for doing most of these things. We just do them when the time seems right.

  • Melissa & Doug Alphabet Train Puzzle - When we work this puzzle, I sing the alphabet song while pointing to each letter as I sing it. When we get to a gap in the train, I call out the letter that comes next, and the kids search the pieces for the next car on the train. We place it on the train while saying the name of the letter as well as the corresponding animal. ("T for Tiger!") Then we sing the alphabet song again until we run into the next gap in the train. 
  • VTech Sit-to-Stand Alphabet Train - Linus and Veda have aged beyond the 36 months upper limit for riding this toy, but they still have fun finding the letters I call out and putting them down the train's chute. (As for the train's tinny electronic commands to insert the letter blocks into the slots? They couldn't care less.)
  • LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnets - I keep this toy and its many parts in a big ziploc under the kitchen sink. It's great for pulling out when I need the kids to occupy themselves while I'm cooking dinner. The letter magnets could have any number of uses on their own. We've got plans to do an indoor egg hunt this winter with the letters tucked inside the eggs.
  • Alphabet Puzzle - There are so many wooden alphabet puzzles out there. Some of them talk. Some of them have pictures underneath. I bought our basic model for about $4 when Border's was going out of business. 
  • Chalkboard Games - We have one of those two-sided easels in our playroom. On the chalkboard side, I'll write a few letters. Then I call out the letters and have the kids either erase the letter or cross it out with chalk. It's also fun to draw shapes and ask them to count them. ("How many squares did I draw?") We also have fun playing copycat. I draw a circle, then they draw a circle, etc.
  • Super Why ABC Letter Preschool Game - This one is on our wish list for 3.5 years of age. It seems a bit old for us right now, but for Super Why fans, it looks like a super fun way to learn about the alphabet and phonics. 
  • Chutes and Ladders and Candyland - Remember these games? They're still excellent for counting practice. 
  • Alphabet and Number Cookie Cutters with play dough or cookie dough
  • Melissa & Doug Write-A-Mats - With washable crayons, these place mats can be used again and again. They give us things to talk about at meals, and if I ever get it together, I might remember to pull them out for the kids to work on when I'm making dinner.
Melissa & Doug Alphabet Write-A-Mat
  • Found Counting Objects - I used to think I needed to buy a set of counting bears. Nah. Waste of money. There are so many other things to count: paperclips, matchbox cars, crayons, etc. Remember our acorn counting game I described earlier? 

I shook ten acorns up in a couple of plastic cups, bartender-style. Then I'd hand a cup to each kid and let the kids count out the acorns. Fun, and (if you already own a couple of cups and have some access to nature) FREE!

  • Bathtub Letters and Numbers -  I like to keep about 7 letters and numbers in the tub at a time and rotate them out to keep it from being overwhelming. 

5. Baking Day - Linus and Veda love helping me cook, especially when we're baking a treat. Helping out in the kitchen is perfect for teaching fine motor skills, patience, and control ("*Gentle* stirring, please!").

6. Arts and Crafts - It doesn't have to be anything fancy, and at our house, it usually isn't. Coloring, drawing, cutting up magazines, pasting pictures from old magazines onto a collage, finger painting, painting with tempura paints, stamping, painting with watercolors, playing with play dough... there are so many possibilities. With the exception of crazy days, we try to fit in arts and crafts time daily around here.

7. Library Storytime - Our library's storytime involves books, singing, playing kiddie instruments, catching bubbles, and creating a craft. That's a lot of good stuff for little guys. And it's FREE.

8. PBS - Sure, it's no good to sit a child in front of the tv for hours on end, but an episode of Sesame Street and Super Why... that's some good stuff.

9. Encouraging and Exploring Interests - One of an educator's goals should always be to encourage a love of learning. One of the best ways to do that is by helping kids pursue deeper knowledge in whatever their fields of interest might be. It's no secret that Linus is REALLY into rocket ships. We took him to Kennedy Space Center this summer, where among other adventures, he got to touch a piece of the moon and walk under a real Saturn V rocket. His favorite evening bonding activity with his dad is watching videos of launches on YouTube. We've amassed a small collection of rockets that we shoot off on the weekends. We check out library books about all things space. It's all worth it to overhear him making up a conversation between John Glenn and Mission Control.

10. Miscellaneous Activities I Find on Pinterest - Isn't Pinterest wonderful? You can follow my Homeschooling - Preschool board HERE. I try to limit my pin selections to things that require minimal prep and provide maximum learning payoff.

11. A Daily Reading Routine - There's probably nothing else so critical to a child's future academic success as being read to. We aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of reading daily between nap time and bedtime readings. Sometimes one or both kids aren't up for sitting still in my lap. That's okay. It's still beneficial if they can listen.

12. Music - We have a repertoire of songs with ASL signs that we like to sing during bath time. We also have a small collection of instruments - an egg shaker, some maracas, a tambourine/drum, some rhythm sticks, and a retro Fisher-Price xylophone. One of Linus and Veda's favorite things to do is to turn on their Pandora station (The Wiggles, with tweaks) and dig into the instrument box. And there's also car singing, which is fun for me too... until I get shushed.  

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Day You Turned 3

This kid started the day out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

This kid... did not. In fact, this kid has been waking up in bed with me for the last couple of months. Thanks to separation anxiety, Veda pages me every night at some point between 12:30 and 4. It does make for some cramped sleeping conditions, but I know that it helps her feel safe, so it's okay.

Veda, at a mere three years old, you have a whole world of possibility ahead of you. One possibility that's off the table, however, is that of you being a morning person. Here you're all snuggled up with your Thomas cozy while waking up to a little PBS. 

Linus was pumped up about his birthday breakfast: pancakes with syrup and scrambled eggs. I'm pretty sure he slipped most of his eggs to Mimi.

Oh, and here's a prime example of the #1 thing you guys do that drives me crazy. Walking around the house, Linus randomly picked up this piece of train track and set it down on the table... for no reason whatsoever. Why do you do this??? 

Here Veda is laughing about our inside Thomas the Train joke. We always laugh together at the "Your Loving Daddy" line in the Thomas opening. It's one of the little details of our Saturday mornings I want to remember forever and for always.

Gummy bear multivitamins are also a part of our morning routine. Heaven forbid I forget them.

After breakfast, Veda helped me get the dishwasher started. Putting in the detergent packet is one of her favorite chores. 

It was time to get dressed. Here is moi in my mommy uniform. With all of the playing in the floor and cleaning I do, yes, sweats are absolutely called for. But no pajamas during the day. I have my standards.

Here's Little Man playing with a matchbox airplane...

... while Veda cooks. Oh, that hair clippy? It's there to manage a little patch of sticky syrup hair.

Arts and Crafts time! Veda wanted to work on a Kumon book today. Linus wanted to do play dough. 

Then Nana paid a birthday visit to drop off a few Christmas gifts from out-of-state family.

Linus playing in the floor with a Hex bug.

Mostly playing with blocks, with a side of eating lunch (vegetable soup).

Linus is turning in a particular little person. He got a little soup on his sleeve, so the entire shirt had to be removed. Immediately.

Time to see how tall we are! Linus was just a little over 37".

Veda was a little shy of 35".

Playing with the Darda track.

Time for a nap. These are the books we read together beforehand.

Veda has been on a growth spurt, so she had to sneak in a little snack while we were reading.

All cuddled up in bed with the 50,000 objects he requires to go to sleep.

Trying to shake the post-nap grumpies.

When everyone was sufficiently awake, we headed down the Commons to shoot off some model rockets.                  

We counted down to ignition and launched.

Then the retrieval crew set out.

Next up, we decided to hit up Smart Toys & Books for a little birthday treat. Except here's the thing: IT WAS CLOSED. Not good. Not good at all. But toy store promises had been made, so we pouted our way over to Toys R Us. 

It was a trip to a toy store. It should have been a joyous occasion, right? No. No. It was miserable. Linus found a three pack of emergency vehicles with lights and sirens quickly enough. But Veda had a hard time finding anything. I could complain about TRU's narrow definition of girlhood, but we'll gloss over that. Here we are in the Thomas the Train section... where we spent probably 45 minutes. Veda kept asking for things that she either already had or already had a similar version of.... Oy, it was frustrating. There may have been some lip quivering. Finally I convinced her to get a play dough ice cream toy. It's kind of a crappy toy, but by golly, we made it out of that big box toy store alive. (Talk about your first world problems...)

On a happier note, our next stop was frozen yogurt. Here's Linus with his new ambulance.

We finished up our evening at Salsarita's with some chips and queso. 

By the time we finally got home, it was late. Maybe 9:30. Yeah, p.m. So for maybe the second or third time ever (since you were newborns), you guys went to bed without a bath. Phew. We were tired people. 

But we sure were happy.

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