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Chloe’s 5th (Painting & Art) Birthday Party!

Chloe's painting art birthday party
Chloe’s 5th birthday party was a success! We hosted 16 kids plus their parents, and even now I find it remarkable that everyone seemed to fit in our home without seeming crazy crowded. Chloe loved having all her friends over and the 5 “art stations” seemed to entertain and engage the kids, despite a span of ages. They could choose what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it (and I was secretly glad to not have to organize any group games). And when party goers were done with craft projects they were free to roam outside to the sand table and play structure, or into Chloe’s room for dress-up, or Leo’s room for trucks and train table. It was great!

I didn’t take as many photos as usual, but here are a few shots snapped with my phone to show a little of our setup:

painting and art party table

Our main dining table was Station #1, painting. Each place had a set of (washable) watercolors (from this Crayola 24ct setcomes with 3 individual sets of 6 colors), a paintbrush, a bowl of water and a piece of watercolor paper set up for the kids to make their masterpieces.

Art party station play-doh

Station #2 was a Play-Doh table. I purchased a 24ct pack of rainbow Play-Doh and set out our rolling/cutting play tools. The colors were vibrant and lots of fun to mix and mash.

art party collage table

Station #3 was a collage table. I set out our collection of decorative edged scissors, stickers, colored glue sticks and a variety of paper for the kids to craft up a storm.

art party cookie decorating table

Station #4 was a decorate-your-own-cookie project. I originally saw this idea on Green Owl Art and decided it was perfect for little hands. I cut out cardboard circles as well as foam “icing” and purchased the same collection of stickers from Michaels. Easy to do and with really cute results.

Melissa And Doug wooden stringing beads and bead bouquet
Station #5 held wooden beads to make beaded bracelets. It included a set of Melissa and Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads set and the Melissa and Doug Bead Bouquet set. I think the kids really liked being able to include their names on their bracelets and the Bead Bouquet set had a nice variety of shaped and painted beads. I cut each necklace-length cord into 3 equal pieces (singeing the severed ends with a lighter so they wouldn’t unravel), so that every attendee could make at least one bracelet. Since the kits didn’t come with enough closure beads I supplemented them with lanyard snaps.

art rainbow party table snack decoration crepe paper streamers

Besides the snack table backdrop, the only other “decorating” we had time for that morning (besides balloons) was to line the pass-through from the living room to the kitchen with rainbow-colored crepe paper streamers as we have in the past. Young kids love to run through them and watch them flutter back into place. Plus they really give a visual bang for the buck, which is always nice. The snack table itself held a little less than usual since two of our young guests have severe food allergies. Good thing their moms are such avid ingredient readers, as I overlooked a detail even though I was trying to be careful.

Overall, this party was the perfect blend of what Chloe wanted to do to and the amount of effort I wanted to put into the planning and details. I sometimes wonder if I don’t do enough (or if I do too much), but this one felt just about right. There is no doubt that Chloe loved every minute. Afterwards, I received several sweet and heart warming comments and emails from moms who really thought it was a terrific time. Pretty much the best any mom could ask for. 🙂

P.S. To make it easy on myself I linked to the products above on Amazon, but purchased almost everything locally. For example the Play-Doh came from Target and the best price on the Melissa and Doug beads came from Home Goods.

Elmer's colored glue sticks best price

I also found a few things at Dollar Tree, which is always worth checking before a party. I purchased the left set of Elmer’s Colored Glue Sticks
at Dollar Tree for $1, but then saw them a few days later at Michaels retailing for $5.99. Sometimes it pays to shop around!


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First Day of School 2013-1014

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.14.14 AM

Both kids started their respective preschool classes at the end of last week (on separate days). For Chloe, it was pretty much old hat, since she had gone to the same preschool last year. She was excited to see some of her old classmates and easily made new friends on her first day.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.15.46 AM

Leo was the unknown, but I was pretty much knew he would do fine. This was his first 9-month preschool class, held in the same building and with the same teacher as Chloe. I think it all felt really familiar to him (as it should, since he came with us every time I dropped off Chloe last year). This time, though, he got to be the one to participate. Moms are required to stay during the first two classes, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to see first hand the kind of experiences he would have. And I was very happy with what I saw.

The only thing that concerns me is how I will do, taking the kids to school on a daily basis (although they attend alternate days). It’s a 12-15min drive one way, which makes for almost an hour of commuting if I choose to come back home between drop-off and pick-up. I know it will be worth it, though. One big benefit will be having more one-on-one time with Chloe. I hardly ever have that, and now I’ll get it two mornings a week. I anticipate some fun excursions (and definitely easier grocery shopping)!


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Toddler & Preschool iPad Case Reviews

Kids on their iPads, Case Review

My kids have been blessed with grandparents who believe in the benefits of technology. Because of this, each of the kids has been an unlikely recipient of an ipad by the time they turned two. It is an amazing tool, even in the hands of a toddler and preschooler. We do limit the amount of time they spend using it, but its ability to entertain and educate has been a priceless. Like most parents, we try to choose apps wisely – mostly educational and skill-building apps, and also ones that engage their creativity (more on those later).

Being the sensitive (and expensive) handheld devices they are, an iPad can’t survive little hands without a case. Chloe’s case was chosen by Grandpa and still looks good after almost three years. It is a pink Hard Candy Street Skin Case. It fits very snug, but can be pulled off (by adults) to clean when needed. It also came with a solid screen cover, which is nice when its going into a carry-on and might rub against things. For Chloe it was perfect. She has had no problem carrying it around and her iPad has been safe ever since.

When Leo received his iPad, I had a hard time finding blog-style reviews on cases and mostly had to rely on amazon ratings. Eventually I chose a blue i-Blason ArmorBox Kido Series case. It’s been great! At the time, Chloe’s case was selling for $40 on Amazon. The i-Blason is $20. The soft handle makes it very easy to carry and use for little ones, and I often choose this iPad when watching movies at night because of the handy, built-in stand. Although it is more padded than Chloe’s, it still feels nice, and the iPad is quite protected. The only negative is the case density cuts down slightly on the sound quality, but it just means the sound has to go up a bit more. Overall, I’m really happy with this choice and would recommend it as an affordable choice that I would buy again.

Hope this helps others who are looking to buy a good iPad protection for their kids, and I’d love to hear what case you are using!


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Let’s Roll! Morning Meal Idea for Little Hands On-the-Go

We have some busy mornings during the week in our household. Whether it’s preschool, scheduled activities, play dates, or just running errands, it is nice to have a go-to breakfast to feed the kids when we’re running low on time.

At ages one-and-a-half and four, my children are at the height of picky eating. When we are running behind, the best I can content them with is cereal or a breakfast bar. But when I have a few extra minutes to spare (or if I’ve planned ahead, which isn’t unheard of), then I’ll make them up a hand roll. They’re fresh, quick to make, and easy for little hands to hold (which means less mess in the car)!

Here’s my method:

  1. First, take a slice of bread with the crust cut off. Regular wheat or white works best, as heavily seeded breads don’t flatten very well.
  2. Flatten the bread with the heel of your hand. I usually put a second cutting board on top before pressing down which helps make the slices nice and flat. This probably sounds like an odd thing to do, but a big difference between a hand roll and a sandwich is that everything is contained inside the hand roll. If you give a toddler a traditional sandwich, then you’re likely to have bits of filling dripping out all over.
  3. Choose a spread or filling from whatever you happen to have on hand. It could be as simple as butter or strawberry jam, but most often I use two ingredients, like the one shown here which is ham and cream cheese on wheat. For step-by-step photos click here.

Optional: Fold a piece of paper towel and wrap it around the base of the roll. Seal the paper towel edge down with a piece of tape. Not only does this help keep the roll together, but it keeps little hands cleaner as well.

Here’s a list of other filling ideas:

cheese and butter
peanut butter and jelly
cream cheese and raisins
turkey and avocado
canned pumpkin and cranberries
hazelnut spread and bananas
ham and mayo
hummus

Now, I know what you may be asking: why not use a tortilla or pita instead of a flattened piece of bread? Well, you certainly could. Our toddler finds bread a lot easier to bite and chew, and the preschooler prefers the taste and texture of bread over tortillas. This way I just have to make one variety and they are both happy. Sometimes I even make one for myself while I’m at it.

Tip: If you’re using a less flexible filling like cheese or banana, then it helps to cut it into pencil-sized chunks. Place the thin chunk on one side and then roll it, which will put the cheese in the center. Otherwise the cheese will make the hand-roll too bulky and not close properly.

To even better balance the nutrition of a hand-roll breakfast, I like to include a side of fresh, travel-friendly fruit, like grapes, apple, orange segments, or banana, plus a sippy cup with milk or half water/half juice.

And there you have it – a healthy meal to fuel those little bodies that you love, even when you’re feeling rushed!

This post is part of BlogHer’s Rush Hour Tips editorial series, made possible by Got Milk?


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Birthday Gift Books for Preschoolers

   

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend! Chloe had back-to-back preschool birthday parties, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, so it was definitely a fun-filled weekend for us!

Since we are still getting to know both of the birthday kids, I thought a good gift for each child would be a book + art supplies (my usual go-to gift). For this, as usual, I looked to my own kids for inspiration.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

For the birthday boy, who also has a little brother about Leo’s age, we chose Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. Leo is WAY into trucks right now, and this is a book that both my kids enjoy. It is a New York Times bestseller, and the perfect just-before-bedtime read. It is about a crew of construction vehicles that finish up their jobs for the day and then go to sleep. The rhyming is thoughtfully done and the illustrations are in a crayon-drawn style. With this gift we attached a pack of crayola glitter crayons. Here’s the animated book trailer for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (did you even know there was such a thing?!):

 

Bridget’s Beret

To the birthday girl, we gave a copy of Bridget’s Beret. Chloe and I both like to read this one (versus some of the books that Chloe likes that I don’t really care for – at least not the twentieth, or one-hundredth time!). This is definitely a book that will grow with her, and continue to be interesting.

Bridget’s Beret is about a young artist named Bridget who likes to wear a black beret. When her beret gets caught in a breeze and sails away, she feels like her ability to draw is lost along with it. Only when her little sister begs her to paint a sign for their lemonade stand does Bridget realize there is more to her talent after all. Such fresh and colorful girly illustrations! With this book to the birthday girl we also added a watercolor set. You can download a free activity guide for Bridget’s Beret here.

Here’s the funny thing: I didn’t realize until I bought both gift books that they were illustrated by the same author/illustrator, Tom Lichtenheld! I guess I don’t usually pay much attention to childrens’ book authors. Now that I know we like his style, we’re testing out several others from the library. Another cute book we’re currently reading is called Cloudette. See Cloudette’s sweet animated book trailer here.

Happy reading!

Just for the record, this is not a paid review. I’ve never actually done one of those, although I would love to! These are truly just some books that my kids and I really, really like!


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Dear Chloe, Age 4

Dear Chloe,

You are now four years old! We celebrated your birthday yesterday at a local gymnastics academy. You had a wonderful time with your friends – running around, jumping on the trampoline and into the foam pit, and all around the inflatable bounce house and slide. You chose the chocolate cake with the rainbow on it and you also requested a pinata. You’ve been asking for a fairy pinata for months, but since we couldn’t find one you finally chose a butterfly instead. 🙂

..

..

Now that you are four, I’ve decided we’ll join in on the popular new tradition of 20 questions. I hope that we’ll repeat this every year. Tonight, right before bedtime, I interviewed you. Here is what you said:

1. What is your favorite color? Blue and purple. First, I like blue.
2. What is your favorite toy? My Lalaloopsy doll
3. What is your favorite fruit? Grapes
4. What is your favorite tv show? My Big, Big Friend
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Pasta
6. What is your favorite thing to wear? My orange (sun) dress with the orange bloomers
7. What is your favorite game? Playing with you. Candyland and dress-up
8. What is your favorite snack? The chocolate cereal (Kellogg’s Krave)
9. What is your favorite animal?
A Butterfly
10. What is your favorite song? The lullaby we listen to in the car where the baby floats in the air (Rockabye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks the cradle will fly, and up will drift baby into the sky…)
11. What is your favorite book? The Octonauts and the (Great) Ghost Reef
12. Who is your best friend? You. And I love Anjali. And Rosabelle and Hazel.
13. What is your favorite cereal? Marshmallow cereal (Mallow Oats by Mom’s Best Cereals). Chex.
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play in the sandbox and run
15. What is your favorite drink? Juice and milk
16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas and Halloween and when I give out heart cards (Valentine’s Day).
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Backpack baby and (light-up) Ladybug
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Cereal (granola and/or corn flakes) with (vanilla) yogurt and milk
19. What is your favorite dinner? Meatballs and spaghetti
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? A mommy. I mean, a daddy. 🙂
I love you my little girl,
Forever and always,
Mama

Chloe’s 4-year specs – Height: 3′ 1.5″ (0.953m) (9.11%)  Weight: 29lbs (13.154kg) (5.56%)  BMI: 14.50 kg/m2


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First Day of Preschool – Take 2

Chloe attended her first day at her new preschool this week. After much agonizing and self-doubt I withdrew her from her first preschool, even though I didn’t have a replacement in mind. My instincts and observations told me it wasn’t the right place, and as soon as I made the phone call, I felt relieved.

Before this experience, I didn’t understand why parents made such a big deal about preschool. All those stories about signing up for wait-lists in utero, or cut-throat admissions seemed ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for preschool. My own preschool experience (what I remember of it) was stellar. I guess I thought all preschools were similar… but they definitely are not.

In short, it took hours of online searching and several phone calls to find out that by this time most preschools were either: A) Full with a wait-list, B) Not what I wanted, C) Too far away or D) Too expensive. Then a friend mentioned there might be a spot at her school (which I had originally catorgorized as likely both A, C and D), but it ended up working out after all. Whew!

And here is a surprise realization I had during my research into preschool – my academic expectations for Chloe are very high. As a matter of fact, I can’t believe how little kids are expected to know when they enter Kindergarten. Just as part of our everyday, Chloe gets opportunities to count and add, practice writing and drawing, observe colors and shapes, and read (together). It seems like their sponge-like brains could easily pick up certain basics, but I’m finding out that preschool is more about developing social skills, communication and exploration through play.

Anyway, Chloe enjoyed her first day very much. She acclimated quickly and I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I felt previously. I still plan on giving her academic opportunities at home, but now I’m finally confident she’s in a healthy environment we can both look forward to.

PS – I you have any doubts about the importance of preschool, here is an article about why preschool matters and a podcast on NPR The Case for Preschool.

“Those who go to preschool will go on to university, will have a graduate education, and their income level will radically improve.” –Wall Street Journal

“In the long run, the gift of money is that it gives a child constant access to a world of stimulation and enrichment, thus allowing her to fulfill her genetic potential.” –Wired

Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not. –Parents

 


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Halloween Activity Printables

We are preparing for a big trip next week. To help pass the time for Chloe, I’ve been printing some worksheets and activities. Education.com has lots of Halloween-themed printables (and other seasonal activities) that can be filtered by holiday and grade level. Here are a few samples:


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First day of preschool 2012

Chloe attended her first day of preschool this morning. Even though we had just gone in for the meet-and-greet on Friday, I was impressed to see even more improvements (labeled coat hooks and cubbies designated for the artwork for each child). I also liked that the teacher greeted each child by name. It must have gone well, because Chloe didn’t want to leave. Good thing I had a snack in the car to lure her out. 🙂


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Dear Chloe, 3 years old

Dear Chloe,

You turned 3 years old on Thanksgiving day this year. No longer are you considered a toddler, but a preschooler, with all the interests, blossoming language skills, curiosity, fledgling independence, willfulness, and complexities that description entails. It has been a big year of changes for you. One major one has been the construction of our home addition, eventually giving you a wonderful space to play and dance, and the other being the summer arrival of your baby brother. I am happy to say that you are a very helpful big sister, which brings me great happiness and hope that you two will be lifelong friends some day.

As you are growing and learning, so are we, your mommy and daddy. We want to be the best parents we can be. You are both charming and clever, your actions often bringing smiles to our hearts on a daily basis. But some days are a struggle. Of course you’d like to get your way all the time. But sometimes we, your parents, have to make decisions for you that you don’t like. One example that comes to mind is your eating habits. You just don’t like to eat many healthy foods. You would eat cookies and cupcakes all day if we’d let you. As it is, we allow you an almost daily chocolate milk, which in some ways I’m thankful for since I can hide some vanilla yogurt (calories!) in with the Carnation instant breakfast mix (vitamins!).

The natural parent-child struggles aside, I want you to know what a happy childhood you’re having. It amazes me to think that you will likely remember none of this, and even we may forget some of what life is like right now. But it is good life, without a doubt. We are lucky to all be healthy, to have a comfortable home and especially each other. We are lucky that your daddy has a good job and that I can stay with you and your brother, that we can go places and do things. While we may not be able to afford everything you want (or we’d like to give you), you certainly have plenty of toys, games, art supplies, clothes and classes that you love, like dance and swimming. As your parents, we are trying to teach you to appreciate what you have, to understand how lucky we are, but those are probably lessons you’ll understand better as you get older.

Chloe, we love you so much. Your arrival three years ago made us a family. I hope this next year continues to bring you fun, happiness, new skills and joyous learning. You will always be our sweet little girl and a blessing to our lives, as we hope to continually be a blessing to yours.

Love forever,
Mama

 


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Rubber Duck Party! **Part 1**

We threw Chloe her 3rd birthday party this past week. It was tons of fun – both for me to plan and for her and her friends to enjoy. Chloe’s bathroom is awash in rubber ducks and that seemed to naturally segue into a perfect party theme for a soon-to-be three-year-old.

I’ll go more into party details in the next post (including some pdf printables), but meanwhile, here are some wonderful photos of the big event taken by my talented friend Greta:

Marshmallow pops

Party water bottles

3 tiers of rubber duck cupcakes

Peanut butter cup “mini-cupcakes”

The treats table

 

 

More of her photos can be seen here.

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