Music - First Instrument Exposures

You don't need to sign up for music classes to expose your child to the wonderful world of instruments, rhythms and melodies!

Pretend Play - Snack Stand

Pretend play is essential for young children! Props like this snack stand are easy to make and can fit a variety of play themes.

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening and Speaking

Think beyond the alphabet to develop early language and literacy skills; sharing books are having family conversations are powerful tools!

Recipe - Mama Bear's Chili

Let's get cooking! A warm bowl of chili will make everyone's bellies happy this fall!

DIY Toys - Pizza Playset

We love making our own toys like this pizza playset. It saves a lot of money and we can make exactly what we want and nothing more!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2-Ingredient Oatmeal Cookies

I discovered the most amazing recipe today on The Burlap Bag. There are multiple variations, using different fruits in the base but these cookies really can be made with just 2 healthy all-natural ingredients! However, I'm sure most of you will want to add some mix-ins like we did.

Another great thing about these cookies? Cleanup is a breeze! Our supplies were as follows: a mixing bowl, fork, measuring cup, 1 1/2 tbsp cookie scoop and parchment-lined baking sheet. The bowl and fork go in the dishwasher and the baking sheet is clean under the parchment paper so all I was left with were a measuring cup and cookie scoop to wash!

And the last great thing about these cookies is, they taste good! If you're craving a true crumbly cookie, this isn't it. But they're sweet and chewy and even if you end up eating half the batch you don't have to feel bad! That only means you ate 1/2 cup of fruit and 1/2 cup of oats plus a small handful of whatever else you tossed in. I'd call that breakfast :-)

2-Ingredient Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup mashed peaches, 1 cup pumpkin or 2 mashed bananas (I had soft bananas and Little C had mentioned banana cake randomly today so that seemed the way to go for us!)
  • 1 cup oatmeal 
  • Mix-ins of your choice: chocolate chips, coconut, nuts, raisins, spices...

Directions:
1. Mash and stir until everything is combined and moist. Add in a handful or two of whatever mix-ins you'd like. We went for chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

 Little C decided that stabbing the bananas was better than mashing them...next time we use the potato masher

This is what the dough looked like after Mama took over and stirred it all together

2. Spoon the batter onto a greased or lined baking sheet and flatten slightly. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until firm and set.

 I think next time we're making a double batch!


Note: As these cookies are moist from the fruit, I'd recommend putting them in the fridge if there are any left after a day or so to prevent mold. But if you're anything like us, there probably won't be many left...(Little C and I each had 3 cookies right after we made them - if you noticed our total cookie count was only 13 that means we ate just about half of them!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Weird Science Wednesday: Rain in a Jar

Since April showers do bring May flowers, I thought it'd be fun today to learn a little about why it rains. I've read about the rain in a jar experiment several times before and it seemed easy enough so we gave it a try!

Supplies:
  • Large glass jar (a large mason jar or tomato sauce jar would work well)
  • Water
  • Heat-resistant plate
  • Ice cubes
Method:
1. Boil enough water to fill your jar up about 2". For us, this came out to about a cup of water. We heated the water in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until it was very hot and boiling. Little C absolutely LOVES operating the microwave and I like that she practices number recognition, responsibility and safety (never touch the dishes inside the microwave, watch out so the door doesn't hit you in the head as it opens...).

2. Pour the very hot water into your jar and immediately place the plate on top.

 Little C helped pour the water into the jar, hence the goggles and oven mitts :-) Better safe than sorry!

3. Wait 2-3 minutes as the steam rises and condenses on the plate. Then place a handful of ice cubes onto your plate. Stress the importance of not touching or moving the plate at any point! Little C kept messing with the plate and we had too much steam escape the first time around and had to reheat our water and try again.

4. Watch what happens!
I have to admit, it's kind of anti-climactic because it doesn't really RAIN. It starts dripping down the sides, slowly. But while we waited to catch a drip (and subsequently yell "Drip!"), we talked about how the water at the bottom was hot and making steam. Little C already knew hot and steam went together because she often sees our hot food steaming. Then we observed that the plate was much colder than the water just like the air way up in the sky is much colder than down on the ground. The cold makes the steam turn back into water and when the plate is too full of water, it drips back down.

It may not have been super exciting, but Little C liked it so I have to call it successful!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Dirt Pudding with Flowers!

Welcome to the first installment of Tasty Tuesdays! Get ready for some cooking fun with your little one!

Since it's springtime and flowers are starting to bloom, I thought we should make our own edible flower pots. The whole thing is a bit of a process and if you're crunched for time you could just make the pudding - I doubt anyone will complain!


Let's get started!

First, stir together 6 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp cornstarch and 1/4 cup cocoa powder in a small saucepan.

Add 1 1/2 cups milk.

Stir until everything is blended together.

Bring mixture to a boil then cook 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring often.
Remove from heat, add 1/2 tsp vanilla and chill in the fridge.
 Slice pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew into fairly thin wide pieces. Use flower-shaped cookie cutters to make fruit flowers. Press the fruit onto popsicle sticks.

Crush 2 chocolate graham crackers (or any chocolate cookies to yield about 3 tbsp cookie crumbs).

Spoon cookie crumbs on top of the pudding.

Stick fruit flower pops into pudding and enjoy!

Dirt Pudding with Flowers
Yield: 2 large or 3 small servings
Ingredients:
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 chocolate graham crackers
  • Sliced pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew
  • Lollipop sticks
Directions:
  1. Combine sugar, cornstarch and cocoa in a small saucepan.
  2. Slowly pour in milk and stir until all ingredients are well combined.
  3. Heat pudding mix over medium-low heat and bring to a boil; cook about 2 minutes or until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour pudding into cups/bowls and chill in the refrigerator.
  5. Place graham crackers in a zip top bag and crush with a rolling pin (this is a good way to get some aggression out!). Sprinkle about 1 tbsp crumbs over each pudding serving.
  6. Use flower-shaped cookie cutters to make flower fruit shapes. Thread flowers onto lollipop sticks.
  7. When ready to serve, place fruit flowers into the pudding cups (don't expect them to stand upright! Lean them against the side)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sticker Story Books

Now that Little C is 3, I've decided to graduate from spontaneous learning experiences to a more structured home-school setting. I'm still organizing, prepping and working out all the details, but one of the activities I'm trying to implement daily is drawing-writing. There are SO many ways to include drawing and writing in your day and here is just one of them.

Sticker Story Books
Step 1: Buy/ make a booklet for your child. It should not be lined, but have blank pages (8 pages is a good minimum). I found this great pack of blank 8x8 booklets in the $1/$3 section of Target. In hindsight, I wish I'd have gotten more packs because I have a feeling we're going to be doing a lot of drawing and writing!

Step 2: Draw a line 1.5-2" from the bottom of the page separating the drawing and writing areas.

Step 3: Get out all those stickers you've got hiding around the house! Let your child pick one sheet of stickers to work with. (After they've been doing the activity for a while, children may be able to handle multiple pages of stickers, but I think for beginners it's easier to choose one so they don't get overwhelmed).

Step 4: Guide your child in choosing stickers for the page (make sure you work on 1 page at a time!) and help them develop a scenario - what is going on in the picture? For example, in the photo above, Little C began with the sticker of Toby (the cactus from Sheriff Callie) and when asked what he was doing, responded that he was picking flowers. She then added a couple more stickers and drew a field of flowers for Toby to pick.
Tip: If your child needs help drawing, you can draw hand over hand with them or guide them verbally - "draw a circle for the sun, around-close"

Step 5: Create a caption for the drawing. Help your child come up with a sentence (or two if they're older or more advanced!) about their picture and write it with them at the bottom of the page.

"Peck is playing horseshoes with Priscilla and Sheriff Callie."
I underline each word to make it more obvious where one word ends and another begins. 

Step 6: Reread the sentence! After you've written the sentence, have your child point to the words one at a time and read the sentence with you. 

Repeat this as many times as you and your child want! I'm sure Little C would've kept going until all her stickers were gone but I distracted her after 3 pages :-)

Age: 3 yrs

St. Patrick's Day and All Natural "Shamrock" Shake

I've been a little behind on my holidays since the new year and hadn't really planned ahead for special St. Patrick's Day activities. However, I didn't want to let the holiday go completely uncelebrated, so while Little C was napping I whipped up a quick rainbow and put some gold (chocolate) coins at the end!

My rainbow was simply 6 long strands of yarn taped off at either end! (I'll be on the lookout for a small black plastic pot/cauldron to use for St. Pat's and Halloween activities in the future, that blue bowl just doesn't look at festive!)

We had a rainbow and some gold, and now we needed something green! We've made green smoothies in the past, but I wanted something extra special for today. So I decided to try this recipe for a natural healthy remade Shamrock Shake - for those unfamiliar, it's a fast food sugary caloric minty green milkshake. I was doubtful it could actually taste similar to the original, but I was pleasantly surprised! I didn't taste the fruits/veggies, just the vanilla and mint! Here's our version:

All Natural "Shamrock" Shake
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup vanilla flavored milk (we used Horizon's Organic Vanilla Milk)
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
Blend all ingredients until smooth!
Tip: For better blending, mix the milk, spinach and mint together first. Then add in the banana and mango and blend until smooth. I'm lazy and have a superpowered Blendtec blender so I just throw it all in together :-)

Another tip...

Drink your shake fast before the Smoothie Bandit gets to it!
(I know I'm holding it for her, but letting a 3 year old hold an open glass is just not a good idea!)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Purple Smoothie

When it's time for that afternoon snack to hold us over until dinnertime, I often turn to smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to get in those extra fruits and veggies, but can easily turn unhealthy if you're not careful (think salads!). In general, I try to let the fruit do the sweetening and use low fat or fat free yogurts and milks.

The other fun thing about smoothies is that there are TONS of recipes online to try, but you can also forget all of those and just be creative! You can even let your children in on the process and have them create their own recipes (which can reinforce writing and math skills!). Involving them in the process usually makes your children much more likely to try what you're making.

Today's smoothie was a random concoction which not only turned out yummy, but beautiful!

Look at that gorgeous bright purple color! No artificial colors needed here!

I tend to eyeball my smoothie ingredients, but here is what I think I put into the blender :-)

1/2 cup fat free all natural plain yogurt
1/2-3/4 cup pear juice
1/2 banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes

Tomorrow I'll have to make a green smoothie in honor of St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sheriff Callie's Wild West Birthday Party

I can't believe Little C turned 3 recently! But we had to celebrate and we did it in style with a Sheriff Callie Cowgirl Dance Party. So far, we've hosted every birthday party at home and gone all out with themes the past two (eventually I'll post about last year's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse featuring Minnie Party). Mickey Mouse party ideas were soo much easier to find than wild west and I had to come up with most of the ideas on my own. So you don't have to come up with everything on your own if your little one wants a cowboy/cowgirl party, here's a run down of what we did.

Invitation:
Party Planner:
I have a file I use for just about every party we host to keep myself organized. I fill it out on the computer then print the pages for reference. It has areas for guest lists, menu ideas, shopping lists, party activities, gift lists and more. If you'd like to use my planner to organize your next party, click on the link below. Please note these are for personal use only.

Decorations:
We kept decorations pretty simple - balloons, a birthday banner and an "about me" chalkboard wall. Since we don't have a good party store close by and we were too lazy to drive out of the way for some helium-filled balloons, we blew up a bunch and just hung them from the ceiling using curling ribbon and Command Decorating Clips.

Every year I hand-make a birthday banner for Little C; I think this one is my favorite yet!

We have a chalkboard wall in the kitchen and it quickly became a party decoration. Papa Bear (with Little C's help) drew an awesome Sheriff Callie and Sparky and I added an "All About Me" section with some of Little C's favorite things.

Activities:
I like to plan play areas to keep the children occupied for the bulk of the party; children are free to move around as they wish and I'm happy to report we had no big messes or incidents of any kind during play time this year! Everyone played and ate and then just before cake I turned on a youtube playlist of dancing songs and we had a little ho-down!

1. Build Nice & Friendly Corners - I put out a variety of blocks, some tractors and farm animals so the children could build their own Wild West town. I forgot to take a picture, but I taped printed photos of Sheriff Callie characters to some of the blocks as well. As you can see, I made a sign for each of the play areas with pictures from the show I found online.



2. Ella's Saloon - We have a counter/food stand in the kitchen built out of Pipeworks (I've had these since I was a kid, I don't think they make them anymore but these Pipe Builders are similar). That plus a small table and chairs and a fridge make for a great saloon!
I made picture menus for the customers, including Ella's famous milk and cactus juice and sandwiches. (To make your own sandwich play pieces, you can use my Food Template - this also includes patterns for pizza; use felt or foam paper to make the various ingredients)

I used the drink dispenser from my Pretend Play Snack Stand, adding photos above the buttons to show which side dispensed which drink (I cut squares from clear page protector sheets and taped them to the drink dispenser; just slide the drink pictures into the pockets). 
I rearranged Little C's fridge, putting in only what the kids would need for the saloon - utensils, plates, bread slices, sandwich fillings, ketchup, mustard, chocolate syrup (for chocolate milk of course!) and birthday cupcakes since it was a birthday party after all!

3. Farmer Stinky's Barn - I happen to have this play dough farm set which includes a plastic barn and molds to make various animals and people. It lent itself perfectly to this party but if you happen to not have this set, you can use playdough and animal cookie cutters and make a barn out of a painted box or simply use a toy barn/farm playset.


I made sure to include the various molds and cutters along with rollers, plastic knives and fake flowers in case anyone wanted to add a flower garden to the farm.

4. Pony rides

5. Horseshoe toss

 


6. Wall mural - include some crayons for big drawing fun! (if necessary, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers will get crayon off just about anything)

7. Wanted Photo Booth - I turned a large flat cardboard box and some paper letters into this adorable photo booth! I even cut mustache shapes out of black construction paper and glued them to popsicle sticks in case anyone needed an authentic cowboy mustache! If only our little ones were a little more cooperative...


8. Ho Down Dance Party
 At least someone was dancing! Those are the cutest cowgirls I've ever seen :-)
(additional ideas I didn't use this time around)
9. Best Buddy Fishing - A fishing pond is always a fun and easy addition. See my DIY fishing pond here.

10. Gold/Gem Dig - Dirty Dan and Dusty are two mining hogs on Sheriff Callie, always finding some silver, iron, gems and crystals. To entertain your own miners, hide some small gemstones in a bin of play sand or in brown playdough. Don't forget to include some digging supplies and a magnifying glass or two!

Favors:

I forgot to take a picture before all the favors had been taken home, but we had plastic hats, badges, bandanas and kazoos. I simply glued Callie printouts onto brown paper lunch bags to carry most of the favors home (the hats obviously weren't fitting in there!).


Food:
Appetizers
  • Toby's Perfect Popcorn
  • Peck's Tasty Trailmix (Chex Mix - you can use whatever kind of mix you prefer!)
  • Farmer Stinky's Prairie Peppers with Ranch Dip (cut up red, green, orange and yellow bell peppers) 
Main Dishes
  • Saloon sandwiches (we got a croissant platter from BJs)
  • Tumbleweeds (meatballs)
  • Noodle Lassos & Cheese (mac & cheese)
  • Callie's Gold Nuggets (corn muffins)
  • Clementine's Carrot Salad
  • Tio's Pickles
Drinks
  • Ella's Famous Milkshakes (Horizon milk cartons in various flavors)
  • Cactus Juice (Honest juice drink pouches - I considered getting green juice but having little ones walking around with cups didn't seem like a great idea) 
  • When Life Gives You Lemonade...Drink It! (lemonade)
  • Watering Hole (water)
  • Beer & wine for the grownups!
Dessert
  • Cake - pictures will be posted soon! 
  • Fruit arrangement - If you're in the central Jersey area and need desserts for a party, check out Cakes by Marina! She's done a great job for my parties!
Everyone had a great time and I can't wait to do it again next year!