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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