Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Arts and Crafts

Life has been super busy around here and I haven't had time to update my blog in awhile. We have been doing lots of home improvement projects and we are also getting ready to put our house up for sale. Between all of this and my normal busy life as a mom of four year old twins, there hasn't been much time left-over.

I had good intentions of sharing some of our fun Thanksgiving projects but my life was so busy that I forgot to post. I wanted to give you a few easy and fun Christmas art projects as the Christmas holiday will be here before I know it.

Hand print Wreath: This is super easy. Lay out a large piece of white construction paper as well as a shallow pan of red paint and a shallow pan of green paint. Very lightly (in pencil) draw a circle in the center of the construction paper. Have your child dip his/her hand in the green paint and press it all around the circle. After the hand print circle is complete, instruct your child to dip his/her finger in the red paint and then press it around on the green hand prints. The hand prints are the greenery of the wreath and the red dots are berries. I also cut a red bow from construction paper for my kids to place on the wreath. You can cut the wreath out or leave it displayed on the large piece of paper.

Rudolph: You can trace your child's hands and feet on brown paper, cut out and let your child assemble and glue onto a piece of white (or whatever color you choose) paper for this project or you can use painted hand prints and a footprint. Rudolph's face is the foot shape and his antlers are the hands. Decorate with eyes and a red nose.

Shiny Candy Cane: Draw a large candy cane shape on construction paper and cut out (or let your child do the cutting). Mix red tempera paint with a small amount of corn syrup. Let your child paint the candy cane. When dry, it will have a shiny wet look like real hard candy.

If I get the time, I will try to post some pictures of these projects in a few days.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween / Harvest Festival Fun

Happy Halloween! Last weekend we went to a pumpkin patch which was a lot of fun. We painted our pumpkins and once they were dry, my kids decided they wanted to carve them into jack-o-lanterns too. They did all of their own painting but mommy ended up doing most of the cleaning and carving of the jack-o-lanterns. My kids are still not fond of the pumpkin "goo".

I wanted to share a few fun Halloween activities for you to enjoy with your children:

~Make orange play dough and add some pumpkin or apple pie spice for a yummy scent. I have a play dough recipe on my website.

~Make orange goop. Again a recipe is on my Lesson Plans Plus website.

~Bobbing for apples. I like to stick craft sticks into the apples.

~Add shaving cream (or whipped topping) to pie tins and add orange food coloring. Pretend that it's pumpkin pie and let your kids stick their hands into it and play.

~Add some water, orange food coloring and dish soap into a plastic bin, give the kids some bubble wands and other water toys such as small cups, etc.

~Make hand print bats. Press both hands, palm side down onto black paint then press hands onto a piece of construction paper so that the wrists are touching. When dry, add a face.

~Paint a large paper plate orange and then press paper face cut-outs onto the wet paint to make a jack-o-lantern. Add a brown or green paper stem.

Fun Books to read to your children:

The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs (Note, this is a Christian based book)

The Pumpkin Patch by Elizabeth King

It's Pumpkin Time by Zoe Hall

Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Low-Fat, Low Sugar Pumpkin Dessert

It's that harvest time of year again when I start thinking about using pumpkin more. I love canned pumpkin because it's inexpensive, convenient and 100% natural. I have an easy and delicious pumpkin dessert that I would like to share. I used to make this dessert each year around Thanksgiving with my preschool classes and I continue to make it with my own children at home. It's called Creamy Pumpkin Mousse and I obtained the recipe years ago from a chef "Mr Food" who made it during a segment on one of our local news channels. It's diabetic friendly and figure friendly. It's also easy for kids to help make this recipe.

Creamy Pumpkin Mousse

1 Can (16 ounces) solid pack pure pumpkin
1 package (6 oz) instant sugar-free vanilla pudding
1/4 cup low-fat milk (I use fat-free)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups frozen light whipped topping, thawed (I use a small tub of fat free, sugar free whipped topping)

1. In a bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the pumpkin, pudding mix, milk and cinnamon

2. Fold in whipped topping until thoroughly blended then spoon into serving bowl. I like to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top because it looks pretty. Cover loosely and chill until ready to serve.

I know that I haven't offered up a challenge in awhile so I would like to challenge everyone to give this recipe a try. It's a great way to get another vegetable into your kids because it's "disguised" as dessert. Let me know how you and your children like the creamy pumpkin mousse. Maybe it will become a seasonal regular at your home as it is at mine.


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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fall Fun

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful fall. The leaves are starting to change colors and there is a chill in the air here in Michigan. I love this time of the year. My children and I spent this evening creating pumpkin art. My kids painted and decorated large construction paper pumpkins and they also worked on smaller tissue paper pumpkins that we will as fall decorations in our home. I set out a variety of materials for my kids to decorate their pumpkins and they enjoyed using paint, glitter, shape cut-outs, colored pom pom balls, tissue paper, small beads and wiggly eyes. These are no average jack-o -lanterns. It's fun to provide a bunch of materials and let your children be creative.

I want to share a resource that I recently discovered. A Kid's Heart is a fun site offering many free online games and printable activities for children. They have a page of autumn activities that you might enjoy so check it out when you get a chance.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun with Apples

I'm finally back! My anniversary celebration, beginning of school and a vacation have kept me very busy this September and I haven't had a chance to get back to my blog before now. I hope that each of you had a wonderful summer. We returned home from a warm and sunny vacation in Nevada to early fall in Michigan. I'm now shifting gears and thinking about fall fun.

Yesterday my kids and I made caramel apples. I picked up one of the easy packs with the sheets of caramel that you wrap around the apple and then bake for about 5 minutes. They were super easy and very yummy. I usually end up melting caramel in a pot and dipping apples. The caramel wraps were the easier way to go with four year old helpers.

This week we are going to work on making Stained Glass Apples. Don't worry, it's easier than it sounds. I simply cut three identical apple shapes from two pieces of red construction paper and one sheet of wax paper. I cut the middle out of the construction paper apples leaving the frame of the apple. Leave the entire wax paper apple shape. I then will provide my children with torn pieces of tissue paper (they can help tear and cut small pieces), glitter and glue. They will glue the tissue paper and glitter onto the wax paper apple shape. When finished, we will glue the wax paper apple shape between the two apple frame shapes. When dried, the apple can be hung in the window for the sun to shine through.

One of my favorite apple themed books is called, The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall. I would encourage you to check your local library for a copy of this book. It has a recipe for apple pie at the end of the book if you are feeling in the mood for baking.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back- to-School Traditions

Whether you are a home school mom, a teacher or a mom whose children will be going to school this year, I was wondering if you have any special traditions that you do to "kick off" back-to-school time.

Being a former teacher, I've always enjoyed this time of year and I love looking for back-to-school sales and bargains. I especially love buying new art and craft items and school supplies (as you may have guessed from my recent sweepstakes offer). Even though I'm a stay-at-home mom now, I still feel the urge during this time of year to buy myself at least one new outfit. There's just something special about buying new clothes during back-to-school time. I have great memories of my mom, my sister and I on our big clothing shopping spree every year in August. I always buy my kids new clothes this time of the year too.

My husbands aunt hosts a Back-to-School party every August. It's a great time for the children and adults in our family. She really goes all out planning fun games and activities for everyone to enjoy. At the end of the day, she gives all of the children some new school supplies. One year she handed out pencils with "Back-to-School party, 2006" printed on them. It's a fun way to end the summer, spend time with family and get ready for the new school year.

Some other ideas that I have read about or thought of doing as a way to celebrate the start of a new school year:

~Let the children pick out new backpacks or lunchboxes (this is fun even if you are a home school mom).

~Shop for school supplies together.

~Go out for ice-cream after the first day of school.

~Gift your child with a new book

~Make a special breakfast the morning school starts.

~Set some goals with your child for the new school year and help him/her to accomplish them.

~If you home school or are a classroom teacher, get your children involved by asking them for ideas. Such as "Tell me two things that you would like to learn about this year" "Tell me one thing that you would like to learn how to do". If they don't know, that's okay, they can think about it and let you know when they are ready.

What are some of your ideas and/or traditions? I would love to know!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweepstakes Winners!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our giveaway. The 3 winners of the back-to-school prize packages are:

  • susan1215
  • agordon10
  • blueviolet

Winners need to contact me at with their shipping address by Wednesday August 27th in order to receive their prizes.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back to School Sweepstakes

Very soon the lazy days of summer will be over and many children will be heading back to school or gearing up for homeschool. I thought it would be fun to hold a back to school sweepstakes. Entering the contest is simple. All I ask is that you help me spread the word about my blog. Some easy ways that you can help spread the word:
~Send an email to other moms, teachers, friends and family, etc. linking them to this blog.
~Share a link on your own blog.
~Write a review on Stumble Upon.
~Share my link on parenting, teacher or home school message boards that you frequent.

In order to be entered into the contest, please leave me a comment letting me know how you helped spread the word. Your comment will serve as your entry. Three "Back to School" prize packages will be awarded to three different winners. Each prize package contains all of the items shown in the picture above. I appreciate all of my blog readers but this particular contest is limited to to USA residents only. The contest ends at midnight EST on Friday August 22nd and the random drawing will take place on Saturday the 23rd. Winners will be posted on the blog shortly afterwards.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

U-Pick Adventures

If you've never gone to a U-Pick farm or orchard, I definitely recommend giving it a try with your kids. Yesterday my family went blueberry picking. This was the third year in a row in which we have taken the kids. Blueberries are a favorite around our house so we like to have blueberries on hand all year long. My four year old twins had been anticipating blueberry picking day for about a month. They remembered it well from the previous year. They did a great job picking berries and were wonderful helpers. We managed to pick 22 lbs of blueberries in just over an hour. As we were picking berries, it was fun to remember how small the kids were that first year we went to the blueberry farm three years ago. It's a fun tradition and I hope that even when they are eighteen years old, they will still like hanging out with mom and dad enjoying these kinds of simple pleasures.

Today we prepared many of the berries for freezing (Place a single layer of blueberries on a cookie sheet and quick freeze for one hour. Separate into Ziploc sandwich bags and freeze). We also made blueberry muffins. It was fun for the kids to make something yummy using the fruit they picked with their own hands.

We are looking forward to apple picking next month.

Weekly Challenge: Since my challenge is coming at the end of the week instead of the beginning, think of it as a head start to next week. You have the whole weekend and next week to work on this. My challenge to you is to take your children to pick some fresh produce. If you can't squeeze in a U-Pick adventure in the coming week, at least give it some thought and try to make plans to go in the near future. It's a great family activity. It's also a great way to save money and get some wonderful high quality in season produce to can or freeze for later. After picking your seasonal produce, let your children help make something using the fruit and/or vegetables they picked.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Natural and Better For You

A couple of years before we had kids my husband and I decided to get a new life insurance policy. After getting blood work done for the new policy, we discovered that my husband had high cholesterol. My tests came back fine but with my family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, I knew that making healthier eating choices would be of great benefit to me. I started taking steps to become more informed, cleaned out the pantry and started shopping and cooking differently.

I thought that I was doing very good with our food choices until my twins were 2 years old. We were at friends baby shower and I let my kids have some dessert. One of my daughters broke out in a terrible case of hives after eating a strawberry cake with some artificial ingredients. We spent several weeks trying to figure out what caused the reaction and we narrowed it down to red dye. I suddenly had to be even more aware of what was in the food we eat. Red dye (specifically red #40) is in so many things...even things that are not red! After giving it some thought I started wondering why we needed artificial colors at all and artificial flavors for that matter too. In my quest for no artificial coloring, I became even more aware of ingredients. I was honestly surprised at so many ingredients, some names that I did not even recognize. I decided that I was going to do my best to buy natural foods with ingredients that I understood.

Replacing refined flours with whole grains, using all natural peanut butter (only ingredient is peanuts), lean meats without preservatives when possible and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, was pretty easy. Avoiding artificial colors and flavors took awhile to get used too and grocery shopping took a lot longer at first but it was worth it for the health benefits.

I won't pretend to be an expert on the subject but I want to share a few of the "better for you" and not too expensive store bought convenience foods that I have in the house right now for the kids. In the summer we are busy and I do a lot of spontaneous picnics and outings with my kids and their friends so quick and easy is good.

~Mott's All Natural Fruit Snacks

~Target Market Pantry Unsweetened Applesauce (I make my own canned applesauce every year but always seem to run out so these are a good alternative). I believe that Mott's also has the natural and unsweetened applesauce but the Target brand is less expensive.

~Pepperidge Farm Goldfish made with Whole Grain (my kids begged for goldfish crackers for a long time so I was glad to find these for a special treat)

~Dannon All Natural Yogurt, No Artificial Anything (these do still have quite a bit of sugar but that doesn't worry me too much since my kids don't get a lot of sugar and after all..sugar is natural)

~Hormel Natural Choice (100% natural, no preservatives) deli meats

~Quick Oats 100% natural (great for a quick and healthy breakfast, I buy a big container at Aldi very inexpensively)

~Pure Honey (we put it on our oatmeal to add sweetness). My kids also like to use honey as a dip for many things.

~Ocean Spray 100% Juice, no sugar added. No artificial colors or flavors and made in the USA. (we like the Cranberry & Blueberry and the Cranberry & Concord Grape). I buy this at Target for $2.59 (64 fl oz) which seems like a good price to me. Juice is so expensive these days.

Non-Food products that we switched over to recently:
We have a lot of fun in the sun and this summer we started using "Burt's Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen" with hemp seed oil. It's pricey at $12.99 for a 3.46 fl oz tube but it seems to work well, doesn't smell bad and I feel good about using it.

Another product that I've discovered this summer is "Jason Hand and Body Lotion" (Pure, Natural, Organic). It makes our skin silky soft. I found this at Target on sale for less than $5.00 a bottle.

These are just a few of my finds. I would love to hear about some of the natural snack and lunch foods and products that you enjoy. Please leave me a comment or send me an email and let me know.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Upcoming Sweepstakes

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be doing a couple of giveaways this month. Please check this blog often so that you get a chance to enter and possibly win some fun prizes to use with your kids.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I would like to recommend the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set. It's a great tool for young children learning the alphabet. My kids loved playing with these magnets when they were 2 and 3 years old. When they were 3 1/2, they received the Leap Frog Word Whammer and it has been an equally enjoyable learning toy that they still use at 4 years old. My children love to spell words and the Word Whammer has been great at assisting them. I also purchased the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD for my kids when they were 2 1/2 years old. It's a perfect compliment to the refrigerator magnets and helps children learn letter sounds quickly. If you are working on the alphabet or thinking about introducing the alphabet to your children, any of these products would be a great choice.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Choose Something New (Challenge)

Do you bring your children grocery shopping with you? My children almost always go grocery shopping with me and one of the things they look forward to is choosing a food item. Sometimes I let them look around in the produce section and I encourage them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable because trying new things can be a lot of fun. Letting your children pick out a new food item is a great way to encourage trying new things and healthy eating.

Weekly Challenge: Before you go shopping, have a discussion about new foods that might be fun to try. Look through the grocery store ads and ask your children to name the fruits and vegetables. Take your children grocery shopping with you the next time you go. Let them look around and choose a new fruit or vegetable to try. When you are ready to try the fruit or vegetable at home, let you child help prepare it in some way if at all possible (washing, peeling, cutting, etc).

I would love you to leave a comment and let me know what your kids ended up trying and whether or not they enjoyed the experience. You may want to give it a try every time they go grocery shopping with you.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pumpkin and a Cake Mix

Not long ago I heard about a lower fat chocolate muffin recipe that is super easy to make. I love chocolate so I went looking for the recipe. I discovered the Hungry Girl website and found the recipe. All you need is a boxed cake mix and a 15oz can of solid pack pumpkin. I used a Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake mix and one 15 oz can of all natural solid pack pure pumpkin. Don't add any other ingredients. Mix the pumpkin and cake mix together and then separate it into muffin tins. I used an ice cream scoop as the mixture is very thick. It says to bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes but I found that 20 minutes was a bit to long in my oven so I would advise checking them after 15 minutes.

If you want to make this recipe with your children, they can help pour the cake mix and spoon out the pumpkin but stirring will be difficult for little kids as the mixture is very thick. You could let your kids help scoop the mixture into the muffin tins when finished. My kids thought the best part of this recipe was getting to lick the spoon and ice cream scoop at the end. I don't usually let my kids lick the spoon for muffins and cakes because of the raw eggs but since this recipe didn't need any eggs or oil, they were able to lick the spoons clean. These muffins received a thumbs up from my kids.

I don't know if you have already heard of or tried these muffins but since they are so easy and turned out well, I wanted to share. I also read that you can use any flavor of cake mix with the can of pumpkin to change the muffin flavor.


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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go Clean your Room

I expect my children to tidy their own bedroom and playroom. They've been helping clean up since they were old enough to walk. By the time they were 2 years old, they were doing a pretty good job and by 3 years old, I was feeling really good about the wonderful little cleaners they had become. My children are 4 years old now and although they have the ability to do a good job, I've noticed that they haven't been very motivated to pick up and organize their belongings lately. I will tell them to clean up and when I check in on them 10 minutes later, not only has the cleaning process not started but their room is often more of a mess. Sometimes the room will appear clean but when I look under the bed or in the closet, I discover the short-cuts. I guess I've gotten a little spoiled because they used to clean up so well and they actually enjoyed it. I knew that might change someday but I didn't expect it to be now. When I was teaching preschool outside the home, I was more creative with motivating my students to clean up and also gave more specific directions. Lately, I've simply been telling my own kids to "go clean your room" and then feel frustrated when they don't. I think in addition to getting distracted, they often get overwhelmed by their messes. Although we have a good organization system and everything has a place, it can be daunting to put everything in it's place when it's all been dumped on the floor.

I realized that I needed to come up with some new ways to motivate my kids instead of just feeling frustrated with their cleaning set-backs. I've tried a variety of things. I give them advance warning before clean-up time. I've tried to make it more fun by playing music to see if they can clean up before the song ends. I've tried setting a timer to see if they can race to beat the time. I've sent one to the bedroom and one to the playroom and challenged them to a race. Sometimes we sing a special clean-up song together. I make sure to give them positive reinforcement. I've also had to play the role of the "mean mommy"and bagged up all of the toys that were left on the floor. All of these methods work some of the time but it seems that the only sure bet at our house these days is to be very specific about what they need to do to help them stay on task. Today I sat on the floor in their bedroom and gave specific step by step instructions such as telling one child to pick up all of the dress up clothes and put them in the treasure chest while the other child picked up all of the ponies and put them in the pony basket. Next, books on the bookshelf and then stuffed animals in the animal basket. As soon as each task was complete, I would give another job. They didn't complain or whine and actually stayed on task (I'm sure it helped that I was sitting there watching). I didn't do any of the tidying and before they knew it, the whole room was clean.

Do your children have a hard time tidying their room or do they enjoy it? Do you have to get creative or help motivate them to get them to pick up their toys? Do you use a job chart?

Leave a comment or send me an email to share what works at your house or school. I would love to read some of your ideas.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Weekly Challenge: Kids make lunch

I've been so busy this week. We've been remodeling our kitchen and I decided to tackle the kitchen cabinets on my own to save money. After 3 days and nights of sanding, priming and painting, I'm almost finished. My cabinet doors still need installed and I'm waiting for my husband to get some time to work on that with me. Since I don't have to paint tomorrow, I thought it would be fun to take the kids to the park for a picnic. The weather is hot and there is a park nearby with a splash pad that we've been wanting to try out. To add to the fun, I thought that I would ask my kids to pack their own picnic lunch tomorrow. I've done this several times before and my kids loved having the responsibility. I give them a few lunch food options to choose from and then I let them prepare their own lunch while I watch. My kids usually choose to make their own PB & J sandwiches because that one of their favorites.

My Weekly Challenge for you is to choose a day this week and let your kids make their own lunch. You could let him/her pack it up for a picnic or eat at home. I usually offer a variety of sandwich makings (turkey and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, etc) to choose from and some fruit that is easily prepared (grapes are a favorite here, wash and pluck). Bon Appetit!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Weekly Challenge : Be Present in Play

I don't know about you but I love doing projects with my children, going on outings and keeping busy. I have always enjoyed planning all sorts of fun activities. My children love keeping busy and get very excited about projects, activities, experiments and outings but sometimes they have no interest in doing anything other than just playing at home. Yesterday, as my kids were content playing, I realized that it has actually been awhile since I got down on the floor in the playroom, ignored everything else around me and just concentrated on playing with my kids. I'm a stay-at-home mom and my life basically revolves around my kids. We read books, do arts and crafts, experiments, projects, play outside, play games, go on outings, etc. I play with my kids everyday but when I started thinking about simple child directed free play, I realized that all too often, I start to play but then after several minutes I get distracted by something or someone. I usually take the opportunity to get a few things done when my children are busy with their own free play which is completely okay and healthy for everyone. I decided that while I do have a lot to do, I would like to make more of an effort to join in with their free play more often.

I walked into the playroom and asked my children if I could play with them. They eagerly said "yes mom" and immediately brought me into their creative play world where I stayed for about an hour before we cleaned up and went outside for a picnic lunch. We all had a really good time just playing whatever they wanted to play. I didn't direct or plan anything, I didn't give any suggestions, I just followed their lead and played without letting myself get distracted. We had a lot of fun together. There is definitely a lot of value in just sitting on the floor with no agenda and just playing whatever your child chooses. I know that my kids can detect whether or not I am living in the moment with no distractions or interruptions and they love it when I am focused on just playing and listening.

Weekly Challenge: Make time in your schedule to just play with your child. Don't plan anything in particular, just take his/her lead and don't give in to other distractions. Be present, in the moment and just play.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Natural Sunscreen and Bug Repellent

I've been trying to make the switch to all natural products. I haven't switched over to natural sunscreen or bug spray yet. Over the holiday weekend I tried some all natural bug spray on me and the kids and the smell was extremely offensive. I was literally feeling ill after just a few minutes and had to go inside, shower and change my clothes. I didn't want to make my children go inside, take a bath and miss out on Fourth of July fun but I did encourage them to run through the sprinkler hoping the water would rinse off some of the foul bug spray odor. The bug spray was a citronella base and the stuff didn't even keep the mosquitoes away. It didn't repel bugs but it did repel people. We all ended up using some Deep Woods Cutter to repel the bugs. I would still like to find something natural but I'm unsure of what really works and obviously, I need to stay clear of the citronella stuff.

The other topic on my mind is natural sunscreen. I've heard of California Baby, Jason's Natural and Burt's Bees. Has anyone tried these or others? Today I found a recipe for "Make Your Own Natural Sunscreen". I haven't had the chance to price the ingredients but the store bought natural sunscreen is between $12.00 to $15.00 per tube at the stores near me.

I would love to hear from anyone who has tried natural sunscreens and/or insect repellents that work, whether homemade or store bought. Please leave me a comment or email me at to let me know what works for you and your family.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Celebrate America: Fourth of July Children's Books

Our theme this week is "Celebrate America". In addition to making patriotic artwork, crafts, foods and of course, gearing up for fireworks and cookouts, I also brought out several of my America themed books to read to my kids. I thought you might want to look for a few of the following books in your local library this week. If you're looking ahead to next year and want to purchase the books inexpensively (some for as low as .01 plus shipping) you can click on the links to go directly to Happy Reading!

Red, White, and Blue:The Story of the American Flag. (By John Herman)

Across America, I Love You. (By Christine Loomis)

America The Beautiful. A collection of photographs published by Scholastic Inc. This books combines photography with the words of the song.

Celebrate the 50 States! (By Loreen Leedy)

The Flag We Love. (By Pam Munoz Ryan)

I Am America. (By Charles R Smith) This is one of my personal favorites. It really shows off America's diversity.

Happy 4th of July, Jenny Sweeney. (By Leslie Kimmelman)

Hurray for the Fourth of July. (Wendy Watson)

Yankee Doodle. (By Patti Goodnow) This book contains pictures going along with the silly song.

Fourth of July Mice! (Bethany Roberts)

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Patriotic Weekly Challenge

As we are gearing up for the Fourth of July here in the USA, this challenge is for those who want to pass along some patriotism to your child. In celebration of Independence Day, I want to encourage you to recite The Pledge of Allegiance with your child everyday this week.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I also wanted to share this Historic Documents site for your own educational enjoyment.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Free Fourth of July Coloring Pages

Do your kids love coloring? My kids love to color. They especially love it when I put out a variety of coloring tools for them to choose from including chubby and skinny crayons, markers, colored pencils and pens. They also enjoy being able to chose from lined paper, blank paper and coloring pages. Having lots of options keeps them busier longer. Today I was looking for some Fourth of July coloring pages to print and I found a couple of sites with free coloring pages so I thought that I would share them with you. Check out Free Coloring Pages and also check out DLTK for more free coloring pages to print at home.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fourth of July (Independance Day) Crafts and Activities

I've always loved the Fourth of July. Getting my kids involved in Patriotic decorating and activities is so much fun. I thought that I would share some of our red, white and blue crafts and activities with you.

American Flag: This is so easy. If you have little kids who are not good with scissors yet you will need to do some preparation while older kids can do their own cutting. Provide a piece of white construction paper to work on. Next provide strips (older kids can cut their own) of red construction paper (these are the red stripes on the flag). Let your children glue the red strips onto the white paper (leaving enough space between the red strips so that the white appears to be stripes too). After gluing the strips onto the paper glue a blue rectangle in the corner. Use white chalk to draw stars on the blue paper. Instead of chalk, you could also use foil star stickers if you happen to have any on hand.

Fireworks Art: Provide black construction paper, red, white and blue tempera paint, glitter and sponges. I like to use the round puffy dish washing type sponges but they can be hard to find so you could simply cut a rectangular sponge into a circle and them cut a few jagged edges to make it look more like a firework burst. Let the children dip the sponges into red, white and blue paint and then sprinkle glitter onto their firework.

Patriotic Shakers: Attach a few pieces of red, white and/or blue crepe paper to a paper plate (these will be streamers). Fold the paper plate in half and staple all but a small opening. Fill with dry beans and then finish stapling. I like to put clear tape across the staples so they don't poke little fingers. Let your children decorate the shakers with red and blue crayons or paint. You could also provide star cut-outs or stickers if you wish.

Flag Cake: Simply bake your favorite cake (I just use a cake mix for this cake) in a rectangle pan. After the cake has cooled, cover it with whipped topping instead of frosting. Use fresh strawberries for the stripes and fresh blueberries in the corner for the star area.

Shaving Cream Fun: Provide 3 large cookie sheets. Spray shaving cream on each cookie sheet. Leave one white but add red food coloring to one and blue to the other. Let your child play in the shaving cream. This is very messy but good clean fun. I like to put the kids in their bathing suits and do this outside so that I can just spray everything (and everyone) down with the hose when finished. If you have children who like to put everything in their mouths, you could use the spray whipped topping instead.

Red, White and Blue Bubbles: Fill 3 separate containers with bubble mixture. Leave one plain but add red food coloring to one pan and blue to another. Check out my website to make your own bubbles.

USA Map Floor Puzzle: Cover a USA map in clear contact paper. Cut the map into several pieces according to your child's ability to make a big floor puzzle.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Homemade Popsicles and other Cool Treats

I have been enjoying making Popsicles with my kids this summer. Homemade Popsicles are fun to make and even better to eat.

One of our favorites is what we call Smoothie Pops. We place two bananas (the kids slice them first), a small hand full of fresh strawberries and about 1/4 cup of vanilla yogurt into the blender. After everything is well blended I pour the mixture into Popsicle molds and then freeze them until we are ready for our cool and tasty treats.

I bought my Popsicle molds at Target. Mine make 4 Popsicles and the cost for the molds was $3.99. I like them because they keep the Popsicles from dripping. If you don't have Popsicle molds you could also use small paper cups and Popsicle sticks.

We also enjoy making Banana Pops. We slice a small banana in half or a large banana into thirds. We insert a Popsicle stick into the banana length wise and then cover the banana in chocolate pudding (you can make chocolate pudding or to make it even easier, give each of your children a store bought chocolate pudding cup). I lined a rectangular plastic container with wax paper and we lined the wax paper with the banana pops. We also put colored sugar and sprinkles on the chocolate covered bananas. You could leave them as is or add chopped nuts if you like. I put the cover on the container and placed it in the freezer for several hours.

I remember making all sorts of Popsicles when I was a kid. My sister and I filled ice cube trays with our favorite concoctions. We used toothpicks for the sticks. We also filled the little paper Dixie cups and used Popsicle sticks. One of my favorite Popsicles was simply pouring lemonade into my mold and freezing it. I also used to enjoy making chocolate pudding Popsicles. Many of our Popsicles were simply frozen juice. As simple as it is, we also enjoyed eating plain ice cubes on a stick. You might be surprised how much your children enjoy plain ice. You can even add some food coloring to make it more fun.

Another of my favorite childhood treats was something that my mom made for us. She broke a graham cracker in half and then put whipping cream (Like Cool Whip) on top of the graham cracker. Next she put sprinkles or chocolate chips on the whipping cream, topped it with the other graham cracker halve and then froze them.

Weekly Challenge: Make a Homemade Popsicle or another summertime treat with your children this week. Let me know what you enjoyed.

I'm always looking for new recipes to try with my children. If you have a favorite homemade treat that is great for a hot summer day, please share it with me. You can leave a comment or email me at

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Invisible Mom

I am normally not a big fan of forwarded emails but I received this email from my mother in law and I really enjoyed it. As a mom of two small children and a teacher, I could certainly appreciate the overall message. Whether you are a teacher or a mom or both, I think we all go through points in our lives where we sometimes feel "invisible". We are investing our time, energy and lives into building up the little people in our lives. We may not always get verbal appreciation or affirmation but our jobs as moms and teachers are of the utmost importance as we are shaping and molding the lives of the future generation. I'm copying the email here in hope that it will bring some encouragement your way today. I haven't read the book but I've just learned that this email is actually a portion of a book called, The Invisible Woman by Nicole Johnson.

Invisible Mom

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel? I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please. I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, and she's gone! One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip,and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package,and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees. In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything. A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it. And the workman replied,'Because God sees.' I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become. At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies. Then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'you're gonna love it there.' As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women. Great Job, MOM!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer Fun Ideas

I hope that you are having a wonderful start to summer. We've been spending a lot of time outside as we always do in the summer. I like to take activities that we normally do inside and bring them outside. It's fun to think of the backyard as an extension of our house and living in Michigan, summertime is the best time of the year to do that.

I want to get everyone to "think outside the box" and do a few things differently for a fun change. I will share a few things that I like to do with my kids.

Have art and craft time outside. Bring an easel outside along with paper, washable paint and paintbrushes. If you don't have an easel, attach a large piece of paper to a fence or even a tree.

Make chalk drawings on paper outside. Fill a small bucket with water so the children can make both dry chalk and wet chalk drawings. When they are finished, they can color the pavement with the wet and dry chalk.

Find a shady spot (maybe under a tree) and have story time outside.

Bring some lunch fixings outside and let your children prepare their own lunch outside and then eat on a blanket or at a picnic table.

Fill a child size pool with soapy water, give your children some sponges and let them wash several of their toys outside. When the toys are clean you can rinse off the soap residue with the hose and then let the toys dry in the sun. When I was teaching preschool outside the home, I even brought all of our classroom chairs outside and let the children scrub them clean. It was a lot of fun.

Have a outdoor pupppet show.

Weekly Challenge: Choose one of the activities that I listed or come up with an idea of your own and do it differently than you normally would. If the weather outside does not cooperate with your plans you could think outside the box and even do a typical outdoor activity indoors. My kids loved having indoor picnics in the winter. I would love to hear about your ideas.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day Chocolate Peanut Butter Dessert

Several years ago, my friend and former co-worker Cindy brought this dessert to a work potluck. The dessert was an instant hit. I asked for the recipe and have since made it several times. It's a great recipe and it's easy to involve the kids in the preparation. My children especially enjoying crushing the cookies. I think this would make a great Father's Day dessert. I know that the daddy in this house loves the combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Dessert
2- 1/4 cups crushed peanut butter cookies (you can make your own ahead of time or use store bought)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine melted (I use a light version)
2 Packages (3 oz each) cream cheese (I use fat-free)
1 cup Powdered Sugar
1 container (8 oz) whipped topping (I use fat-free)
2-1/2 cups cold milk
2 packages (3.9 oz each) instant chocolate pudding mix

In a bowl combine crushed cookies, sugar and butter. Press into an ungreased 13 X 9 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

Beat cream cheese and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Fold in 1 cup of whipped topping. Spread over cooled crust. In a separate bowl, beat milk and pudding mix until thickened. Spread over cream cheese layer. Top with remaining whipped topping. You can also sprinkle additional crushed cookie pieces on top of the dessert as a garnish. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Enjoy!

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Reading and Building Literacy with Children

My children have always enjoyed looking at books and listening to stories. Even as babies, books were one of their favorite things. I want to encourage you to read with your child everyday. I know it's easy for parents to get discouraged in attempts to read to busy toddlers as they are constantly on the go but they are learning and taking in information even as they are standing and playing. They may not appear to be listening but they are actually hearing more than you may realize.

Preschoolers are a lot of fun to read with because they are beginning to appreciate characters in a story as well as the plot. Choose a wide variety of books including picture books as well as more complex stories that are appropriate for your child's developmental level. Reading books everyday is a great way to introduce your children to words that you may not use on a regular basis. When you read to your preschooler, announce the title of the book as well as the author and illustrator. As you read, trace over the words with your finger. Take the time to involve your child in the story by asking questions such as, "what do you think will happen next..." With a familiar story, let your child help tell the story. My children love it when I read part of a sentence then stop to let them finish the sentence.

Another way to build literacy is by pointing out printed words when you are on outings. Point out the words on traffic signs, in the grocery store, at the doctors office, etc. You can even label things around the house to help your child associate words with objects. Show your children that reading is fun and reading is also an important part of daily life. Help your child get excited about reading.

The preschool and Kindergarten years are a great time to begin introducing early reader chapter books. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've found rest time to be a good time to read chapter books aloud. The nice thing about reading chapter books is that they are enjoyable for me and my children. The kids look forward to finding out what will happen next and their imaginations are active.

Many librarys offer summer reading clubs and they often include pre-readers in the fun. Our local library offers a reading club for children birth - 5th grade. The children are given calendar style reading logs with stickers. Children earn stickers by listening to stories, singing songs, etc. The library reading club is another great way to build early literacy. My preschoolers will be participating in our library summer reading club this year.

Weekly Challenge: Start a reading club with your child. You can join your library reading club or do something on your own. It addition to reading aloud to your child some other options are checking out books on tape from the library, singing songs and doing finger plays with your child or even helping your child make a book of her own. Read to your child for a least a few minutes everyday.

I was recently reading the Simply a Mom blog that my friend Hope created and she posted about a cool site called Storynory where you can listen to free audio stories. I thought others might be interested in using the Storynory site as another literacy tool.

Have fun reading with your children this summer!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

To the Zoo and Beyond

My family and I enjoyed a special members night at our local zoo this evening. It was a preview party to celebrate the grand opening of a new "Lions of Lake Manyara" exhibit. My children love going to the zoo but this is the first year that we purchased a membership. I honestly had no idea how inexpensive a zoo membership was because I had never bothered to check. I bought an annual family membership for only $54.00. Now we can go to the zoo anytime we feel like it without feeling any pressure to see everything. One Spring day the kids and I stopped in for an hour just for a fun little time filler.

I decided to post about memberships because what I've discovered is that they are often less expensive than I expected. As a stay-at-home mom, I'm always looking for free or inexpensive things to do with my family as we don't have a hefty entertainment budget. This is our 2nd year with an annual membership to Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The whole family loves visiting and in 3 visits we have more than paid for our annual membership. They have a wonderful children's garden and play area so we go several times each month. We definitely get our money's worth.

I want to encourage you to find out what is available in your community or a neighboring larger city. Some places where your family might enjoy a membership:

Public Museum
Children's Museum
Botanical Gardens / Sculpture Parks
Small Scale Themed Park (We have one not too far away called Dutch Village)
Theatre (the theatre around here offers children's plays)

I tend to prefer memberships to places that are open year round and that offer both indoor and outdoor activities so we can go no matter the season or weather. I've found our memberships provide our family with some good culture experiences which is important to us. Another great thing about memberships is that they often come with a reciprocal list. Reciprocal lists usually allow you to get into other zoos, museums, gardens, etc. around the nation either free or at a discounted rate. Some even offer discounts for food and gift shops. I discovered that the cost of our annual zoo membership was actually less than admission for our family to a zoo that we wanted to visit while on vacation. Some memberships give members opportunities for special events not available to the general public (such as the lion preview party at our zoo tonight).

My family plans to enjoy spending many long days this summer enjoying the places where we have memberships and maybe visiting some neighboring places on our reciprocal lists.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Quiet Time Activities for Preschoolers

Do you have young children outgrowing daily naps? My children are at the point where they don't nap most days. I've found that having "Quiet Time" is a good option for us. The kids can play with quiet activities in their bedroom or they can choose to sleep. Whether or not the children sleep, a little downtime during the day is very good for everyone.

When I was teaching preschool outside the home, we had a full day program, offering extended care after preschool hours. Some of the children still needed that daily rest while others had outgrown it. I had everyone rest quietly for about 30 minutes while I played quiet music or books on tape. After the 30 minutes, the children who were not asleep were given quiet activities to do for the remainder of the time.

I think it's helpful to begin quiet time or nap time by winding down to set the mood. You could do this by playing soft music and dimming the lights, by letting the children "read" books or even by reading to your children. I've found nap time to be a wonderful time to start introducing chapter books to preschoolers. It's an ideal time where you have their attention for a long stretch of time and they are happy to listen even if they can't see pictures. Reading chapter books really helps build imaginations.

Some other quiet activities that my kids enjoy:
~Listening to books on tape/CD
~Listening to music
~Using View Masters
~Lacing Cards (Don't leave toddlers unsupervised because of the strings)
~Playing with Matching cards. I made a variety of homemade "memory type games".
~Flash Cards
~Reading books
~Magnet story sets (Don't allow toddlers to play with magnets unsupervised)
~Flannel board story sets

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summer Fun Activities with Water

We have shifted over into summer mode at our house. The weather is warm and the days continue to get longer. I thought it would be fun to share a few summertime activities involving water.

Bubble Fun
Bubbles are great. You can purchase bubbles or make your own. I often just fill a big plastic tub with dish soap and water and give the kids a variety of "blowing objects". The little plastic rings form milk jugs make great bubble toys. I have a good recipe for bubbles on my Lesson Plans Plus website if you want nice big bubbles. The recipe is about halfway down the page.

Wash the Car and/or Wash Riding Toys.
My kids love doing this. I fill up a bucket with soapy water and sponges and they get everything sparkly clean.

Paint with Water
I give my kids a small bucket (sand bucket size) of water and paint brushes and let them paint the house with water. You can let them paint anything you wish, even the sidewalk. It's great clean fun for your little aspiring artists.

Make Rainbows with the Hose
Spray the water into the sunlight to see a rainbow of colors. It may seem obvious to you but kids are often easily amazed.

Set up a Water Table
I have the Water Wheel Table from Step 2 and my kids love playing with it. If you don't have a water table and don't want to purchase one, you can simply fill a plastic container with water and a few floating toys. Water wheels are a fun accessory and not very expensive.

WEEKLY CHALLENGE: Have some fun with water and be sure to teach your children about water safety. In addition to talking to your children about water safety, I would encourage you to sign them up for swim lessons. You could check with your city's parks and recreation department, local health clubs or even community pools to see if they offer swimming lessons. You could choose from a group class or individual swim lessons with a lifeguard. I signed my kids up for swim lessons last week. Our classes begin later this month and my kids are very excited.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Help Fight Diabetes

I'm excited to announce that during the month of June, Lesson Plans Plus will donate 50% of all profits from the sale of lesson plans to the American Diabetes Association.

Why did we choose to donate to ADA? Recently our good friend Dave who is a diabetic contacted us about sponsoring him in the ADA's Tour de Cure. My husband and I made a personal donation but wanted to do more. Helping to find a cure for diabetes is very personal to me not only to help our friend but also because my dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 20 years ago. I've seen first hand the pain and suffering that diabetes can cause as my dad has gone through many of the advanced stage diabetes side effects including end stage renal disease. Chances are you also know someone with diabetes or are diabetic yourself.

To view or donate at Dave's Tour de Cure site click here. The event is taking place June 8th so donations need to be made before then.

To learn about our lesson plans click here. Again, we will donate 50% of all profits during the entire month of June.

Lets work together to help the ADA continue to research to find a cure for diabetes. Feel free to pass our blog link on to those you know.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Homemade Bathtub Paint

I've always thought about buying bathtub paint for my kids but have yet to do it. I happened to find a recipe for homemade bathtub paint and I'm going to give it a try soon. It's easy to make and the ingredients are very inexpensive. It's the weekend now and I find that I tend to let my kids linger and play longer in the tub on the weekends since daddy is home to help and we are less rushed. The weekend seems like a great time to give this bathtub paint a try. Art in the tub! Fun and easy to clean. Sounds like a winner to me!

The Recipe for this tub paint was found at FamilyFun.Com

Color-me-clean Tub Paints
½ cup liquid hand soap, clear or white
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Food coloring

Time needed: Under 1 Hour
1. Combine the soap and cornstarch in a small bowl. 2. Divide the mixture into separate containers, then add food coloring one drop at a time. Caution: Test the paints on a small area of your tub or wall first to make sure they won't leave a stain; darker hues may be more difficult to wash off. Tips: Apply to tub and body with fingers or paintbrushes. Use bathroom cleanser to clean the tub if any color remains. Keep any leftover paints in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to three days.

If you try it with your kids too, I would love to know how they (and you) liked it.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Teaching Children Compassion

I recently received a comment pertaining to my post titled "Making Old Toys New Again". Here is the comment/question "...[H]ow did you introduce this concept? I don't think mine would understand if I told them other kids don't have toys to play with. We have worked on sharing and she's OK with that - although I don't know if she just does it to avoid conflict or if she really wants the other one to have a toy to play with".

Great question! I decided to just respond in a new post as there may be others wondering the same thing. After giving it some thought, I decided to address sharing, compassion and random acts of kindness as they tie together well. Hopefully, I can give you some helpful hints along the way.

I will start by admitting that I don't have a magic answer and my kids have not completely mastered this skill. The majority of the time, they do a great job but they are normal 4 year olds who can be selfish sometimes. My twins have always been very close to each other. They had to learn to share at an early age. We had plenty of screaming, grabbing, biting and hitting to work through with two small children in each others space. Children are naturally egocentric and selfish. Children may very well be sharing to avoid conflict or because that is what they have been told to do. It takes time for children to genuinely want to share.

I've found that the best way to teach compassion to children is to model it. You will probably discover that you are already teaching a lot of compassion to your child without even realizing it. I started with my children early on by showing them a lot of compassion and empathy. I involve them in acts of compassion and random acts of kindness. We try to do nice things within our family as well as outside of our family. When we see others doing nice things for people, I try to point it out to my children "Look, that person opened a door for us". "That little girl shared her snack with the boy who had none".... I encourage them to share with others because it's the right thing to do. We talk a lot about feelings and how we feel when others do kind things for us. We also talk about how we might feel if we needed something and no one would share. I try to get them thinking to help them come to realizations on their own. With younger children, you will need to give them the words and help them learn the feelings. I try to involve my children in simple acts of charity. I'll list a few examples of the things we have done and continue to do to help instill compassion and sharing.

A store we frequent requires a quarter in order to get a shopping cart. When you finish with your cart, you get the quarter back. Sometimes we leave our quarter in the cart for the next person. I tell my kids that we are going to leave a quarter so that someone who doesn't have a quarter will be able to get a cart. It's just a simple way to make someone smile. Another store we frequent has electronic pony rides for a penny. We often bring extra pennies and leave them for the next child. These are just very simple ways to show caring. At first my kids wanted to use the extra penny for a second pony ride which is completely normal but eventually, they caught the excitement of being generous. It's a building process.

Every Thanksgiving season the Salvation Army sends out cards asking for donations to feed the homeless a Thanksgiving meal. We enjoy participating in the effort each year and this year we decided to get the kids on board. We told them that we already had all of the food we needed for Thanksgiving and we still had some money left to share with others. We told them that we could buy some Thanksgiving dinners for people who didn't have money to buy food. We then asked them how many dinners the would like to buy and let them pick the amount.

As I already mentioned in my earlier post (Making Old Toys New Again), we do toy donations. We explain that some children don't have toys and it would make them happy if we shared ours. I make it clear that we will not give all of our toys away. My husband and I also set the example by donating our own stuff too. Younger children may not question why children would have no toys. Older preschoolers may be curious. My children became very curious and filled with questions around 3 years old.

When we are playing with other children, we talk about sharing our toys because it makes others happy. We are happy when other children share their toys. We might feel sad if we played with a child who would not share anything because it wouldn't be a very fun time.

We also read a lot of Bible stories and use Jesus as our example. Jesus wants us to be kind and loving and he wants us to share with others and not be selfish. We ask Jesus to help us.

I also let my children know that it's okay if they don't want to share everything. Some things are very special to us and it's okay if we don't want to give them away or share them but we must be kind about it.

We make cards for family members who are sick. Bring meals to friends or family members who could use a helping hand. We talk about why we are doing these things. Just simple lifestyle lessons. Your children are watching you all of the time. Talk about what you are doing and why you are doing it when they are young as it lays a good foundation for them.

WEEKLY CHALLENGE: Model compassion for your children this week and talk to them about it. Involve them in a simple act of sharing or a random act of kindness or compassion. You can choose one of the ideas I've already mentioned or come up with one of your own. I would love to hear what others do/have done to teach sharing and compassion to your children. You can leave me a comment or email me at

A Fun Tip: Sometimes when I catch my kids doing something kind for someone, I pull them aside and compliment them and sometimes I even give them a stamp on their hand. I have a bunch of rubber stamps and washable stamp pads and my kids love getting stamped. They don't always get a stamp when they do "random acts of kindness". Stamping is very random and an easy way to help reinforce the concept. I never want them to expect rewards for doing nice things. I want them to internalize but as we all now, sometimes young children need a little external motivation before they are able to internalize. This is a fun and easy motivator.

In addition to doing this at home with my own children, I also used this method successfully when I was teaching preschool outside the home. One year I had a classroom of children who did not show a lot of compassion for each other when the school year began. Many didn't want to share and did not use very kind words or actions. I began talking to them, modeling for them and really pumping up the idea of being kind. It didn't take long for lots of kids to get on board and when others saw and heard the praise and occasional stamp, they wanted in on it too. I found myself giving out lots of stamps in the beginning but eventually, the stamps faded but the kindness continued which was my goal.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Doughnuts for Dad: Fathers Day Idea

With Fathers Day approaching, I want to share something that I did every year when I was teaching preschool outside the home. To celebrate dads and their kids, my classroom hosted "Doughnuts for Dad". Dads were always a little jealous when I hosted Muffins for Mom. I let the dads know that they had a fun event coming up too and they were pleased to find out that instead of muffins, they would get doughnuts. The children helped make doughnut shaped invitations to hand out to the dads. A few days before the event, I stopped by a local bakery to order and pay for all of the doughnuts and designate a pick-up time the morning of Doughnuts for Dad. The dad's were very happy to have fresh doughnuts. I kept things very simple because dad's usually prefer simple. I offered a nice variety of doughnuts and juice for the dads and children to enjoy together. The children made homemade cards to give their dads and some years I ordered small gifts for them to present to dad. One year I ordered baseball bat ink pens for each dad from Oriental Trading Company and those were a "hit".

This would be an easy event to duplicate at home or with a group of home school children. A home school group could get together at one home, a park or a nearby doughnut shop. Your family could take dad out for doughnuts or simply enjoy doughnuts together at home in honor of dad. I know at my house we rarely eat doughnuts so this would be a very special treat for everyone. I realize for some, dad is not part of everyday life but there is often another male role model that could be celebrated such as a grandfather, uncle or special friend. This is a great time of year to honor the important men in the lives of our children.

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New Resource for Mom's of Preschoolers

My friend Hope recently started a new blog for moms with preschoolers. I would encourage moms to check it out as it's a fun site with lots of great ideas . This week you can enter her giveaways and possibly win a cool prize like a subscription to Family Fun magazine.

I think this is a great mom resource so I added the link to our resource section on the left of the page for easy access.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day Activities and Patriotic Projects

I would like to start off by saying thank you to all of the military families past and present. I have so much respect for all of the men and woman who serve our country.

In honor of Memorial Day my children and I have been doing a few patriotic projects. We planted some "patriotic" flowers in the yard and have been doing our annual red, white and blue decorating. We've also enjoyed a few art projects and a simple, healthy and yummy patriotic snack. I would love to share some of our ideas with you. These simple projects would be perfect to do at home or in a classroom or daycare setting.

Patriotic Straw Painting:
I added some water and liquid soap (my trick to help paint wash off easier) to a small bowl of red paint, a bowl of white paint and a bowl of blue paint. I wanted the paint to be a runny consistency. I gave my children paint brushes, construction paper and straws. I demonstrated how to splatter paint onto construction paper and then I instructed them to aim their straws at the splattered paint on the paper and blow the paint around the paper (being careful not to suck in any paint).

Hand Print Flags:
I used red, white and blue paint to paint the palms of my children's hands like a flag. I alternated red and white paint on their fingers, painted a small blue square in the corner of their hand (across form the thumb) and I painted their thumbs blue (white would look nice too). When finished, they pressed their hands onto a small piece of construction paper and then placed a star inside of the blue square on their hand print. The end result was a sweet little hand print flag.

Patriotic Painting with Brushes:
I gave my kids blue construction paper along with red and white tempera paint and just let them paint however they chose. I did the same with red construction paper, blue and white paint. The end result was red, white and blue creative artwork.

Fancy Patriotic Parfait:
My children helped make a healthy fruit parfait by slicing bananas and strawberries with a plastic knife. I used their prepared fruit to make parfaits. I used some champagne glasses to make the parfaits a little more fun and fancy. We layered vanilla yogurt, blueberries, bananas and strawberries. I ended with a dollop of yogurt on top sprinkled with a few more blueberries. This was an was an easy, healthy and fun snack that my kids loved.

Some other ways to celebrate Memorial Day and be patriotic:

Go watch a parade with your family. Many cities and towns host Memorial Day parades.
Wear red, white and blue clothing.
Invite some friends, neighbors or family members over for a back yard barbecue.
Enjoy spending time with your family.
Fly an American Flag
Make cards for Veterans and drop them off at a nearby Home for Veterans if you have one in your area.
Make sure to say thank you to anyone you know who serves or has served in our military.
Visit a Veterans Memorial if you have one nearby.
Do a random act of kindness for a Veteran or Veteran family. Some ideas could be weeding, raking leaves, mowing a lawn or even dropping off a homemade treat or card to show gratitude.
Pray for the men and women who serve our country and all of the families associated with them.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Flower Power.

As promised earlier, here are a few pics from our recent plantings.  Not all of them are from my garden which I decided looks a little too messy to share with the world.  The photos I snapped tonight don't quite do it justice.

IMG_0127 IMG_0124


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Updates to Lesson Plans Plus Website

Just a quick note to say that I updated the website to make it easier to navigate.  You may need to hit refresh in your browser if you've visited in the past so the changes take effect.  I also added a survey/feedback page so that readers can tell me what they would like to see in the future.  I'd love to hear from you!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kids in the Garden

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I haven't posted in a several days because my kids and I have been very busy outside the past few days. We started on Friday doing yard clean-up and getting our garden area prepped. Saturday morning we went to a greenhouse way out in the country and loaded up with some of our favorite flower, fruit and vegetable plants. We don't have a very big yard but gardening has always been a big deal to me. Spending time in the garden getting my hands dirty is a wonderful stress relief. I think gardening is very therapeutic. Of course, my favorite part is reaping the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor. I love being able to grab something fresh from the garden. Even my small garden is an inspiration to eat fresh and healthy. I've tried to expose my kids to the joys of gardening ever since they were old enough to walk. I also enjoyed exposing my students to small bits of gardening when I was teaching outside the home. There's just something special about planting a seed or small plant, tending to it and watching it grow. It's a great lesson in patience and learning to care for something. I think including children in planting and gardening activities at an early age helps foster an appreciation and love for nature. I'm trying to build positive memories with my children that will carry over into their adult lives. I hope that they will always appreciate and respect nature and have a desire for fresh and healthy foods.

Weekly Challenge: Even if you don't have a large space to work with, I would encourage everyone to enjoy getting your hands a little dirty by planting something somewhere. Even if it's just a small herb garden in a patio box or some flower, herb or vegetable seeds in a Terra Cotta pot.

I'll try to post some pictures later with some of the things we planted around our house.

Some tips to make gardening/planting successful with small children:

~If you visit a greenhouse, do it close to planting day. I try to get things planted the same day or the next.

~Get all of your suppplies organized and ready ahead of time as the kids will be anxious to get started.

~Expect to get dirty (you and the kids).

~Child size gardening gloves are great for the little ones who don't love getting dirty hands. I found child size gardening gloves in the dollar bins at Target.

~If planting with a large group, it works best to work with 2 or 3 children at a time rather than have an entire class trying to do a potting activity at once. I've found that writing each child's name on a pot in permanent marker works great and eliminates confusion over ownership if you plan to send the plants home.

~Expect that young children may lose interest and/or become impatient with a gardening activity. If you are going to be involved in the project for an extended time period, plan a few low maintenance activities for the children to do alongside or near you as they tire of gardening.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Signing Time!

Have you ever thought about doing sign language with your children? I started introducing sign language to my children when they were about 15 months old. My good friend Lorrie offered me her set of Signing Time videos and I was instantly hooked. I was not very skilled in sign language so I learned right along with my kids using the Signing Time videos. Sign language really helped my children communicate more effectively with me and took away a lot of frustration during those years when they were still learning to verbalize.
Scientific studies have shown that “typical” children who learn to sign have higher IQ scores, are better adjusted and read at an earlier age. My four year old twins still love to watch Signing Time. I actually really enjoy it too. Signing Time makes sign language fun, entertaining and very easy to learn. I highly recommend giving Signing Time a try whether you are a mom with a baby, toddler or preschooler. Signing Time would also be great to use in a preschool or Kindergarten classroom. I took a sign language class for adults several years ago but I discovered that I actually learned more from Signing Time than I did in my class and watching Signing Time was way more fun! If you would like to find out more about Signing Time check out their site: The Official Signing Time Store! .
*Disclosure: Due to our positive experience with the Signing Time videos we have decided to partner with them as an advertiser. Clicking on the links or ads here will also benefit Lesson Plans Plus. Thanks!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sensory Challenge

I just realized that I forgot to post a weekly challenge: My challenge to you is to enjoy a sensory activity with your children this week. Whether you fill up a bin with water or rice, roll out some cookie dough and bake, press your fingers in paint or feel the smooth and rough textures of rocks on a nature walk....have fun and let the stress of the day melt away as you think about your own childhood memories. Enjoy something simply delightful through the eyes of a child.

I would love to hear what you did! Feel free to leave a comment or email me to let me know about your simply delightful moment.

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Dutch Spice Cookies

I've been thinking about taking my children to a place called Windmill Island. Windmill Island is home to a 240 year old working Dutch windmill and over 150,000 tulips are are in bloom this time of year. While I was looking over the Windmill Island website I started remembering the times I went there as a child. When I think of Windmill's, I also think of the Windmill cookies we used to buy from the store when I was a kid. I don't have a Windmill shaped cookie cutter but I do have a yummy recipe for Dutch Spice Cookies that brought back some good memories of baking as a child. Maybe I'll be able to find myself a Windmill shaped cookie cutter at Windmill Island. Whether I find one or not, I plan to enjoy this recipe with my kids and sharing is nice so....enjoy!

Dutch Spice Cookies (recipe from the "Cookies for Kids" cookbook that my mom had when I was a little girl)

1 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Beat butter with an electric mixer until softened. Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, beat well. In a separate bowl stir together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating until well mixed. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for about 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 350. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with a floured cookie stamp or the bottom of a drinking glass with a design in it.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown on bottom.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Butterfly Fun

Today my kids and I went to a playgroup at our local library. The theme was bugs and butterflies. There was a sensory bin filled with water and pretend bugs and among the bugs was one butterfly. Both of my children were especially attracted to that one butterfly so I thought it would be fun if I could find some bugs and butterflies for our own sensory table at home. After playgroup, we needed to stop by the store so I decided to take a quick look in the toy section for some pretend butterflies. I found a tube filled with an assortment of 16 bugs and butterflies for $3.99 at Target. Perfect! I also bought a couple bags of rice for our sensory table. Back at home, I poured the rice and bugs inside our sensory bin and the kids had a wonderful time playing. They even arranged some of their painted rocks (we get a lot of mileage out of those rocks!) inside the bin and made a colorful rock garden for their pretend bugs.

We also had butterfly craft time at home this evening. One of the crafts was from playgroup but my kids chose not to do it there. I actually had all of the supplies at home because I was planning a similar project later in the week. We made two variations of coffee filter butterflies. I let the kids color coffee filters with markers. When they finished coloring, I bunched the coffee filter together down the middle and secured it with a pipe cleaner. The pipe cleaner became the body of the butterfly as well as the antennae. The second butterfly craft was similar only I used a clothes pin as the body of the butterfly. After fastening the clothes pin in place, the kids glued on tiny wiggly eyes, drew a face and colored the body.

After completing our butterfly craft, My kids enjoyed helping me read aloud one of our favorite Eric Carle books "The Very Hungry Caterpillar".

Do your kids enjoy butterflies too? When I was teaching preschool outside the home, every year I ordered a live butterfly garden from a company called Insect Lore. It was a wonderful learning experience for the children to have such a hands-on approach and to watch butterflies unfold before their eyes. Our local botanical gardens has a wonderful butterfly exhibit every year and my own children and I spent many days there this Spring watching the butterflies bloom.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rock On (Part 2)

I had a feeling that this activity was going to be a hit with my kids but I did not anticipate that it would delight them for over two hours.

We are really enjoying rocks at our house these days. I gave each of my kids a small bucket and we set out for another rock hunt. I told them to collect as many rocks as they wished as long as they fit inside the bucket. Being the particular children that they are, they took their time hunting and choosing rocks that appealed to them. We spent nearly 30 minutes outside wandering around looking for the most special rocks. We had a good conversation about colors, textures, shapes, sizes and even talked how some rocks may have been formed. It was a lot of fun.

Once inside, I filled a large plastic bin with soapy water and placed it on a large towel on the kitchen table. I suddenly thought to take the opportunity to toss in a bit more of a science lesson and I grabbed some food coloring from the pantry. I asked the kids what would happen if we put blue and red food coloring into the water. They already knew the answer but it was still fun to swirl their little hands around in the water mixing the colors together.

After they played in the bubbles for a bit, I told them that they could drop their rocks into the water and scrub them clean. I handed out sponges and they engrossed themselves into rock scrubbing and playing for nearly an hour. I had no idea they would have that much fun with rocks, soapy water and a sponge. I finally talked them into laying the rocks out on a towel to dry so I could clear the table for lunch. They agreed because they knew that after lunch, the next activity would be painting the rocks.

I sent them into another room to play a memory match game while I cleaned off the table and prepared lunch. As promised, after lunch, I lined the table with newspaper, set out various colors of washable tempera paint (some with added glitter) and paintbrushes and I let them paint until their hearts content. They had each collected at least 20 rocks and painted most of them with care which took over 30 minutes. They were kind enough to let me to paint a couple of rocks.

The painted rocks are now very special treasures. I suggested placing them back out into the yard but that idea did not go over at all. Instead, they have been storing them in their buckets and using them in a variety of creative ways. It's so much fun to watch the imaginations of my children soar with such simple things. I can't promise that your kids will spend over two hours on this project like mine did but I think I would be safe to promise some fun. One project became a science activity, nature activity, sensory experience, art activity, language and learning opportunity and a wonderful outlet for creative expression. Not bad for a pile of rocks.

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Icky, Sticky Messes and Clothing

As I was working on my laundry pile again today I started thinking about some practical solutions that I've learned over the years that have helped me save several items of clothing from permanent damage. I thought it might be helpful to share these tips for others who may not have tried them yet.

  • Removing ink from clothing: Spray with hairspray, let it soak in and then wash.

  • Dirty leather shoes: Baby wipes work really well.

  • Removing blood stains: Immediately apply hydrogen peroxide (Do not use hydrogen peroxide on wool, silk or dry clean only fabrics), rub it into the stain and then launder.

  • Removing Gum from clothing: Place the item in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours and the frozen gum will usually peel right off.

  • Washing clothes for sensitive skin: Add 1/3 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washer. The vinegar will help get rid of soap residue on the clothes. White distilled vinegar also helps prevent yellowing of clothing, acts as a fabric softener and reduces static cling.

I have also found that keeping a spray bottle of SHOUT stain remover next to my washing machine is helpful to quickly treat stains. When I was teaching in the classroom, I kept a Shout stain stick and a bottle of hairspray in my supply cabinet. I also kept a bin of extra children's clothes on hand so that if a child ended up with a large stain or mess but didn't bring a change of clothing, I was still able to treat the stain and give the child a fresh article of clothing to wear. Although stains, messes and kids go together, I had many thankful parents when I was able to treat a stain or clean a mess on a special piece of clothing.

What cleaning tips and tricks have worked for you? Maybe you have a solution that I haven't tried. I would love to hear your ideas. Email me at

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