Activities, featured, Parenting

Ice Age Rescue

Most parents would agree that having a routine is really vital for kids. Yes kids are resilient, but they truly thrive when they have a routine. They know what to expect and what is expected of them. I try my best to keep a fairly basic routine with my little one on both a daily and weekly basis. As I mentioned last week, the two of us spend Tuesdays together. I do a lot of housework, but I always make sure we squeeze in some fun activities, and cook dinner together. One of the fun activities that I have had as part of our routine for well over a year now, is SCIENCE EXPERIMENT TUESDAY! I’m a science nerd at heart, and certainly want Neyland to enjoy it too! Science Experiment Tuesday allows both of us to do a fun activity that also has educational value. I have a blast researching and preparing, we both love actually doing the experiment, and then I try to tie it in to some other learning opportunities throughout the week to reinforce the idea.

Finding fun experiments to do with your kiddos isn’t a difficult task. A quick internet search, or even just thinking about some of the activities that stood out from your childhood can yield great results.

This particular experiment is super simple, but a LOT of fun. It’s great for toddlers and preschoolers, and even elementary school kids. There are a lot of learning opportunities for different age groups.

Ice Age Rescue

Supplies

  • Water safe/freezer safe container (Decent size)
  • A bunch of cheap/plastic/water safe toys (you likely have plenty laying around the house)
  • Water
  • Blue Food coloring
  • Plastic utensils
  • Squirt bottle
  • Salt
  • Sponges

The basic idea for this project is to fill the water safe/freezer safe container (I found a random plastic storage box at Goodwill) with water (about 3/4 full.) Add a few drops of blue food coloring and mix. Don’t skip that step, it really does add to the effect. Place a variety of different plastic toys in the colored water. It helps them spread out evenly if some sink and some float. This is a great time to let your little one see the water and touch it. Explain to them the differences between liquids and solids. Let them see you/help you place the container into the freezer. Check on it every hour or so. It’s important to let them feel how cold it’s getting and feel the ice start to form. Eventually (depending on the size of your container,) you will have a solid chunk of ice FULL of plastic critters that need your little one’s help to break free!

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At this point we moved our project to the bath tub to contain the imminent watery mess. I freed the giant cube from the plastic container and offered Neyland several options/tools to try and free the animals. I offered plastic eating utensils for her to chip away at the ice, sponges, salt, and a squirt bottle of warm water. We tried each item individually so that we could observe what effect it had on the ice.

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After trying each tool, I let her decide which item she thought was most effective. She quickly decided that the warm water squirt bottle was the best option! As the ice melted, it was really beautiful. The warm water carved out all kind of cool little passages through the ice, and made breaking the critters free even more fun.

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*As a side note- Not long after I first did this, a friend of mine tried it with her son. She added another educational aspect by waiting until winter and allowing the block to freeze outside over several days! Her son really enjoyed checking on it each day, and it was great to connect the actual weather outside with the experiment!*

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This is seriously simple and seriously fun. It’s a great sensory activity for toddlers and learning activities for preschoolers. You can teach each child as much or as little as they are capable of absorbing for their age. I guarantee they will be asking to do it again!

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Activities, Parenting

Blackberry Summers

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When I was a little girl, I spent a great deal of time with my Grandparents. Every summer, they always planted a huge garden, with two big rows of blackberry bushes at the very back of the field, closest to the woods. There was nothing growing in that garden that I looked forward to more than those huge plump berries. Each morning, before the heat was unbearable, my best friend and I would grab our buckets, and head out to collect our loot. She wasn’t quite as fond of the blackberries as I was. Her bucket would actually come back with berries in it, while mine…..Well, it was usually empty. Sometimes I would have to make the difficult decision: Do I eat them now, or save them so Grandma can make a blackberry cobbler? She DOES make the BEST cobbler ever.

Over the years, the work of the garden became too much for my Grandparents, and eventually it became only a memory. All that remains today is the lonely berry patch. I’m thankful for this small piece of my childhood to share with my daughter. If there is one thing that I’ve enjoyed most about parenting, it is sharing the things with her that were most important to me. You think that the joy you experienced back then simply can’t get better, but it can. When you see the joy on your child’s face, the magic simply multiples.

Every Thursday, we spend the day with my Grandparents. They were/are such a big part of my life, and I am so thankful that Neyland has the opportunity to know them. My Grandma cooks breakfast, the kind of breakfast only a Grandma CAN make. I’m still convinced that there is something magical about her kitchen. The food ALWAYS tastes better when she makes it. After breakfast this past week, I asked Grandma how the berries were coming along. She indicated that there may be some ready to pick. I quickly showed Neyland where to find a bucket to put our berries, and out we went. She was so incredibly excited. Of course she was intent on gathering more berries than I could, which I’m sure she did. Only problem? There were none in her bucket by the time we got back to the house! It’s funny the way life repeats itself. It amazes me how many things she does naturally that are just like me. I know the memories will be just as sweet for her, and that she can share this tradition with her daughter some day.

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Activities, featured, Food, Parenting

Princess Dinners

Tuesdays are generally “Mommy + Daughter Days” at our house. We only have one routine commitment, and the rest of the day we spend together. I generally use this time to catch up on housework that I can keep going while playing with my little one. I also do my best to keep a basic routine that she can look forward to. Each Tuesday she can look forward to Science Experiment Tuesday and it is also a night that we try to make dinner together. I want Neyland to enjoy cooking as much as I do, and to be independent and able to cook for herself in the future. She certainly already has the independence part down. She is constantly wanting to help me do the parts of the cooking that still aren’t safe for kiddos her age. To try and help bridge the gap between what she can and can’t help with, I got her some fun kitchen items for her birthday!

First, I purchased her a set of kid safe plastic kitchen knives. I was kind of skeptical about how much they would actually cut, and if they would really be useful. The price was pretty low, so I figured we would give them a try.

You can check out the set I got here.

Before I gave them to her, I ran them back and forth across my hand to see if they were, in fact, skin safe. No issues there at all. Neyland proceeded to try them on several different foods, and they worked great! I even used them a few times tonight, and I was pleasantly surprised. I guess my only gripe is that the 5 colored knives are exactly the same thing, just different colors. I thought perhaps they would have slight differences, but they don’t. I guess I can use the different colors to help teach her food prep safety?

Needless to say, she felt like a pretty big deal getting to use a knife like a big girl. She cut up butter, ham, and some veggies.

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I also purchased her a Princess Cook book. I loved the idea that the recipes were simple, and that each recipe is attached to one of the Disney princesses. She was STOKED to flip through the pages and pick  which recipes SHE wanted to make. I can tell that she will be more willing to try these recipes, simply because they are tied to a princess. If it gets her to branch out and try new things….I’m ALL FOR IT.

Check out the Cookbook here!

Tonight she chose to make Rapunzel’s Ham & Cheese Biscuit Braids. She helped me from start to finish. She did have a bit of trouble braiding the dough, but who wouldn’t? I found them to be a bit bland for my tastes. Solution: Cover in mustard. Yellow mustard works well for Rapunzel’s magic golden hair anyway, Right??? Lol.

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We ate our Princess dinner, watched Tangled (obviously,) and even ended our night with a surprise visit from a prince disguised as a frog. 😉

God certainly has a sense of humor when he graces us with his creation.

A hysterical game of Twister before bed, was the end to another lovely Mommy + Daughter day. Check out the recipe below to make Rapunzel’s Ham & Cheese Biscuit Braids with your little ones!

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Ham and Cheese Biscuit Braids: 

(From The Disney Princess Cookbook)
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp cold butter, cut into several pieces
  • 1/2 cup diced ham
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • 1 cup milk

 

Directions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Use your fingertips to pinch the butter into the flour mixture until the bits are the size of peas.
Stir in ham and cheese.
Add milk and work the mixture with your hands until it starts to look like dough.
Sprinkle some flour on a cutting board or counter and place the dough on top. Sprinkle a little more flour on the dough to keep it from sticking. I also floured my rolling pin.
With your rolling pin, flatten the dough into a 12 inch square. The dough should be between a 1/4 and a 1/2 an inch thick.
Slice the squares into quarters, and then slice each quarter into 12 strips, each about 6 inches long.
Braid the dough like you would braid hair – gather 3 strips and pinch them together at the top. Take the right section and cross it over the center section so they switch places. Then, take the left section and cross it over the center section. Keep going until the whole strip is braided.
Pinch the strands together at the bottom.
Repeat until all the strips are braided.
Place each braid on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.
*They don’t really turn as golden brown as you’d expect, so check the bottom after about 10 minutes.

 

 

Activities, DIY, featured, Parenting, Uncategorized

The Simple Things

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Gardening

I can’t recommend gardening enough. It is therapeutic for the soul, and a GREAT learning tool for kids. Each spring, Neyland helps me clean out the plant skeletons from our small raised garden out behind our pool house. She plays in the dirt, digs, sifts, and creates a huge mess. More importantly, she has a blast. Last year she was too small to really distinguish between weeds and the plants we were growing, but this year, she is doing a great job helping me keep the weeds pulled. Gardening is such a great illustration for kids to show them what hard work and patience can bring! We live in a society where everything is instant. We want what we want NOW. Instant gratification is the name of the game. While this is very convenient, is this all we want to teach our kiddos? I want to remind mine that good things take time, effort, and a lot of patience. Working to grow food helps them see value in what you buy at the store. It’s so important for them to know where food comes from.

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We start seeds off in the spring in old cardboard egg containers and toilet paper rolls. She waters them carefully until they are big enough to be transplanted into the garden. This part can also be a fun biology lesson. It’s a great time to try the “place a Lima bean & a moist paper towel in a ziplock bag and watch it grow” experiment.

In addition to growing seedlings, we also recycle a lot of produce when we can. I usually purchase at least a few boxes of hydroponically grown artisan lettuces and some romaine to use in cooking. As I use the lettuce, I simply save the stem, cut the tip to freshen it’s ability to take up water, and place them in a shallow dish of water in the window until roots sprout.  It begins growing and producing more lettuce remarkably fast. I personally use the lettuce so much and so quickly that I leave the constantly growing batch right in the window. Occasionally I have transplanted them into the garden once the roots were growing. I’ve done the same with scallions, and other herbs. My only issue is that my cats want to graze on the greens if I keep them on the counter for very long!

We get to go out and check the garden daily. This is something she always looks forward too. She is super independent and always wants to water by herself. She gets to watch the plants grow and change, and finally to harvest what they produce. It’s also a GREAT way to get her to try some veggies that she might not sample otherwise. Growing it yourself always makes her more excited about trying things.

We also have a special “root garden” just so that Neyland can watch the veggies grow in the soil. We made our own, but there are a lot of commercially available ones on the market these days. The basic idea is similar to an ant farm. Create a thin garden, using plexiglass for the sides, so that curious eyes can watch all the growing action. (See below) We planted radishes, carrots, and scallions in it this year!

What are your favorite gardening projects to do with your kids?

Check out our harvest! It’s not a lot, but plenty for the two of us & loads of fun & memories!

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Activities, DIY, Parenting

Un “Four” gettable Birthday

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Food table layout. I scored the popcorn bags from the dollar tree, found the cardboard cotton candy holders at party city, I cut out her name on a black foam board from Dollar tree and inserted Christmas lights at measured intervals to make the sign.

 

How do I have a FOUR YEAR OLD?!?!

Seriously….how did this happen? Needless to say, like other year, I’m left wondering where time has gone and HOW my little baby got so big so fast. I always enjoy making a fun project out of her birthday parties. I start planning them months in advance….literally. This step is vital if you intend on not losing your mind, and getting supplies on a budget.

So how do you throw your kid an amazing un “four” gettable party?

Step 1: Pick a theme.

I always look at things that she is interested in. I try to stay away from “store bought” themed supplies and get CREATIVE. It’s more exciting for everyone. This year there was no question. She has been completely OBSESSED with “The Greatest Showman.” If you haven’t seen this movie, seriously make a point to do so. It is one of the best movies I have seen in years. Not trying to drop and spoilers, but it is a musical about the beginnings of the circus. So bright colors, amazing music, cool characters…..easy to see why my child is obsessed.

Step 2: Do some research & plan

Scout around online and on Pinterest for some basic ideas. I found some great decor and game ideas that I was able to modify and expand upon to meet my needs. Decide what is most important, and focus on those details. I made lists of what food I planned to serve, what games/activities I intended to have, what big decor items I really wanted, and what kind of party favors I wanted to have. I further broke each list down into items that I already had and that could be used vs. what I needed to purchase. Having a list of items to be “on the lookout for” a few months in advance can be a BIG money saver. I kept a list in my purse and was able to score a huge stuffed lion at a thrift store, a huge stuffed giraffe from a family friend, and a whole roll of tickets to give out for games from a random box at a yard sale. Make a basic outline of how you want the party to go. Be fluid with it and don’t set expectations too high. When will everyone play games? When will kids eat? When is the swimming? etc

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Photo Booth Area for Guests. I used $0.97 plastic table cloths for all the black backdrops and red/white “circus tent” decor. The stuffed lion was a thrift store purchase. The giraffe was borrowed from a friend. The Weight bar prop was a re-purposed wrapping paper roll painted black with 2 black balloons on the end.

3. Work & store

I spread the prep work out over a long period of time when I plan parties. Signs and other custom decor pieces that need painting can easily be worked on here and there when time allows. They really add a lot of visual impact to a party. spreading things out also allows you to spread out the cost of supplies over a few months. Keep a mental list of the things that need to be done the final week, the day before, and day of the party.

As long as the decor isn’t going to cause a problem, I start putting it up about a week ahead of the party. Adjustments can be made if more supplies are needed. For Neyland’s circus party it was really helpful to start putting things up early. I had been watching the weather, and there was a good possibility of storms the day of the party, which was going to make things difficult for many of the games/ signs/ decor that I had planned. I was able to plan out where things would need to go inside to accommodate unpleasant weather. Some furniture had to be moved, and a few creative adjustments helped shuffle things into a storm ready layout.

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Found a fun circus party sign available for purchase online, instead I used foam board from the dollar tree and a random old fencing plank to recreate it for my needs.

4. Delegate

When it gets down to the final few days of the party, it is important to delegate tasks that you simply can’t get done. Being a single Mom certainly complicates things in this department. Tasks like mowing and weed eating the lawn can be downright impossible for a single Mama with so much bad weather and party work going on. Thankfully my parents were kind enough to pitch in and help get yard work completed while i dealt with last minute party planning. Ask a family member to go get the ice to keep drinks cool. Ask a photo happy friend to grab some shots of the party while it’s going on, because you’ll likely be too busy to remember to do so. I am fortunate enough to have a co-worker who was kind enough to do so.

5. Party and Enjoy!

The cake is done, food laid out, kids starting to arrive. Keep to your general outline/timeline of the party you prepared. Be prepared to change and adapt that list as needed. For example: I planned to have the kids Eat first, and play games while their tummies settled, Swim for an hour or so, and then do cake, presents, and collect prizes. Due to the weather, that outline was forced to be shuffled around. When everyone arrived, the clouds parted and radar indicated that we would be storm free for an hour or two. To make sure everyone got pool time, swimming had to come first. A small price to pay for some really happy kiddos that had a great time. Be prepared to handle any food that needs to be cooked or heated, be sure to announce when food is being served, games are being played, and presents are being opened. Make sure to take time to enjoy and appreciate all the hard work you put into the party. It’s ok for Mamas to have fun too!

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The Prize Wall. Rather than making party favor bags, I thought I would let the kids pick their own favors using the tickets they won playing games. Dollar tree prizes put in ziplocks and labeled made the kids so much more excited!
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Make sure you utilize what you have. I used a random chair from Neyland’s craft table to create height and depth on the food table. It doesn’t matter what you use, just make it look like it belongs there!
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My one decor item that did get rained out was a popcorn balloon arch I had planned. I saved some big boxes from work and wrapped them in red/white paper to make them look like big popcorn boxes. I intended to us a long piece of flexible trim to make the arch and attach the balloons, but having it indoors meant there would be no arch, so i just placed the balloons inside the boxes.
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Neyland’s cake. I made it. This is the one area I might recommend hiring out. This cake took me quite some time to put together and the fondant was a pretty big headache to work with. Unless you have experience, maybe leave this to a professional.