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, 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!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Dinner - Chocolate, Chocolate and More Chocolate!

We never get too into the Valentine's Day spirit but a meal featuring chocolate is almost too much to resist! So we decided to have a chocolate-inspired Valentine's family dinner with Little C's aunt and uncle.

Both recipes are courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis of Food Network:
Salad with Raspberry-Chocolate Vinaigrette - the only change that I made was using baby romaine lettuce rather than a wedge of iceberg
Chocolate Fettuccine with Peas & Pancetta

Last year we actually homemade ravioli made with chocolate pasta but it was such a difficult, tedious process hand-rolling the pasta dough! This year, we borrowed my sister-in-law's Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and the pasta roller attachments. Oh my goodness did it make things easier!

 Papa Bear is such a happy pasta maker (that's because he's not using every last ounce of muscle to roll the dough flat!)

"I sing a song of pasta fresca, cappellini, fettuccine...."
(excerpt from Mangia, Mangia by Amy Wilson Sanger)

I didn't take photos, but we finished our meal with chocolate cupcakes baked by Papa Bear and Little C, chocolate covered strawberries and my sister-in-law's Chocolate Hazelnut cake!

Mini Biscuit Pizzas

When Little C was just over a year, she was interested in eating pizza but she didn't have enough teeth to bite through and chew the crust very easily. So I began searching for alternatives. Tortillas and english muffins were also too chewy. However, it was my mom actually who discovered the solution: biscuits! Biscuits are soft and flaky and easy to bite and chew for little teeth. Just roll them out flat and they're the perfect size to make mini personal pizzas...especially heart-shaped ones for Valentine's Day!

First you spread some sauce!

Then sprinkle on some cheese...
Add whatever toppings you prefer and bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and cooked through and toppings are hot and bubbly!

Enjoy with your favorite little ones!

 We use Pillsbury Grands biscuits 'cause it's quick and convenient. But if you'd like to make your own biscuit dough, don't let me stop you! And feel free to share your favorite homemade biscuit recipe in the comments section.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paneer Tikka Masala


Paneer Tikka Masala
Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 8 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 10oz frozen cauliflower, thawed
  • 1 cup peas
  • 12oz paneer (purchase or make your own using Aarti Sequeira's recipe)
  • 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream
  • Cooked rice and/or naan, for serving
Directions:
  1.  Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the garlic and ginger. Saute until softened and lightly browned. 
  2. Add tomato paste and cook about 3 minutes, until the tomato has darkened. Add garam masala and paprika and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, salt and water. Bring to a boil then simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. 
  4. Pour the sauce into a blender, or use an immersion blender, and process until smooth. Pour back into the skillet and bring back to a boil. Add cauliflower, turn heat down and simmer 10 more minutes.
  5. Add paneer and peas to sauce and cook a few minutes longer to warm everything through. Serve over rice or with naan.