Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Favorite Day Of The Year

Thanksgiving week is my favorite week of the year and it ends with my favorite day of the entire year: the day after Thanksgiving. It's not because of the amazing shopping deals the retail world throws our way. It's because of the holiday traditions that I'm passing down to my kids and traditions that we're creating.

Our day after Thanksgiving goes something like this: Hubs goes to work while the minis and I leisurely wake up and play Christmas music while making Christmas pancakes. Pick up the house and begin to get Christmas decorations out. Go through Christmas decorations, get excited about the Christmas toys and books that haven't been played with in almost a year. Make Christmas pasta for lunch (along with any leftovers from Thanksgiving). Bake gingerbread cookies and decorate. Watch Christmas movies and take naps. Make chili or soup for dinner. Showers are totally optional. After Hubs gets home from work, we eat dinner and go to Jolly Holiday Lights (

To most people this seems like a nothing special kind of day, but it's a day I look forward to all year long. For one, the day after Thanksgiving has been a Christmas decorating day since I was a kid. I remember staying in our jammies all day long, playing Christmas music, watching Christmas movies, and decorating the house and tree. Granted, I never appreciated this tradition until I had kids of my own. Now I've fully embraced this day and I've happily brought the lazy decorating day to our home.

This year, the day after Thanksgiving looked like this for us:

 In past years we've used cookie cutters and cut shapes out of our green and red pancakes. This year we made green and red pancake muffins. These are sooo easy, especially when I had three mini helpers who wanted to mix, stir, and pour. I also don't have to worry about anyone burning their fingers on the stove.
 Harrison and Elizabeth spent an hour going through all of our ornaments. Last year we started the tradition of getting a real Christmas tree, but we won't get it for a couple of more weeks. Harrison and Elizabeth really wanted to decorate a tree with all of the ornaments they found. So they decorated the Wheelies ramp instead. We'll be adding even more ornaments to our collection because we're making our own ornaments for this year's Christmas tree!

I pack away all holiday books and bring them out for each season. We've got A LOT of Christmas books reading to do! The kids loved looking through the books and reading them. They even got a surprised when I gave them a couple of new Christmas books to add to the stack.
Lunch was red and green colored whole grain pasta, green beans, and applesauce dyed red.
 Last year was our first year of baking and decorating a giant gingerbread man. It's definitely a highlight of our day! This year the kids did it all themselves: the baking (I took the cookie in and out of the oven), the frosting, and putting the candy on. They also did a pretty good job of eating the candy too.

 Our gingerbread man covered in vanilla frosting, mini M & M's, Dots, and Sixlets.
This year we had to skip out on Jolly Holiday Lights at the end of the night because of the lack of naps from the minis. No worries though because I got my nap in!

This is a season rich in traditions for many families. What are some of your holiday traditions? Do you do anything special with decorating for the holidays?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Experiences For Christmas

We're trying something new this year: little to no presents for the minis for Christmas. Let me tell you a bit of the back story.

It was July and a large shipment of new daycare toys and crafts had just arrived. "It's just like Christmas!!" said my four year old, as he helped me unpack each box. "Christmas seems to happen year round here," I replied with a sigh. Not all kids expect new toys year round, but because of my day job (daycare provider to all ages of kiddos), we're constantly getting new goodies. Later in the summer I had a freak out moment with my oldest son when I found he had yet to play with his new Lego sets he had received for his birthday. 

My oldest son is at a hard age. He can play with older kids toys, build with small Lego's, and other small toys. However, he'd rather play with the other kids in the house. Therefore many of his toys don't see a lot of playtime. Yet I keep buying all of my minis toys and things they really don't need. The boys have a bin FULL of toys that have yet to see any playtime because they aren't daycare appropriate (this means that they're safe for all ages of kids to play with). It was another issue that needed solving before we became the next toy hoarder horror story.

Every year I go into the Christmas season with the same goals: Don't spend a lot of money and don't buy a lot of toys. I have never stuck to these goals. Last year I gave myself a budget of $100 per kid. My three minis ended up with a new playhouse, Magformers, dolls and accessories, blankets, figurines, movies, and more. I always tell myself "they share all of this with the daycare kids, so it's okay to buy them all of this stuff." But it's just stuff. Easily forgotten about, broken, or never played with. 

This year (I must be finally learning) I am sticking to my goals. I bought all of the minis Christmas presents months ago and spent very little money. I bought books, stickers, play dough items, and one big item from Santa. Instead of a stuff filled Christmas, this year we're giving our kids a Year Of Experiences. Santa will be surprising them at random times throughout the year with tickets to performances, places to go, road trips, and a vacation.

Our first Experience was Thanksgiving night: we took the minis to a performance of Disney on Ice. The kids LOVED it and had a great time! Two days later and they're still talking about it.
On our Experience list for 2015: a train ride on the Santa Express, a night at the water park hotel, seeing Broadway's  "The Lion King" when it rolls through town, a vacation in Chicago, and hiking at different State Parks around the state. The best part of all of this is that "Santa" is surprising them all year round and not just one morning of the year.

There are some big upsides to giving our kids Experiences instead of stuff: we won't accumulate unwanted crap this season, it will (hopefully) help a save some money on our entertainment budget since we're using these experiences as gifts and family outings, and it will be MUCH more memorable than the latest Lego set that won't get played with after the first build. I'm still unsure about Christmas morning, when the kids see there aren't many gifts under the tree. However, I'm hopeful that after our year has ended and we go over our Year of Experiences that will drown out any Christmas morning disappointments and leave us with some fine memories.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Week In Review: November 25 and 26

Short, short week with Harrison's conferences taking a day and the Thanksgiving holiday. The day before Thanksgiving is usually my busiest day all year long, but this year it was a relatively light and easy day. It was also a very fun day--the kids and I cooked my very first Thanksgiving feast!

Take a look at our two day daycare week:

I had Monday off for big H's conferences. It was a relatively productive day....until I dropped a dozen muffins as I was taking them out of the oven. My productivity level shot down and I spent the rest of the day rotating toys.

The minis LOVE the new dress up area and get quite creative with their costume choices.

The Duplo train has been well loved these past few cold weeks. Thanks to lots of indoor time, all of the kids have perfected their building skills.

Crafting with colored pencils and project scissors.
Using up the last of the Thanksgiving stickers (foam turkeys and leaves found in the Target dollar section, stickers found on clearance at Walmart).
The kids did Mayflower boat experiments and races. First they raced by blowing the cups from England to America. Then we discovered how much the cups could hold: first with Little People pilgrims and then with coins.

Of course someone wound up in the water, making a huge mess.
Pumpkin play dough.
The kids were in charge of making the fruit salad They eagerly watched me make the turkey and mashed potatoes while they decorated their table cloth.
We made Christmas Tree Christmas Lists while we waited for the food. Learn how to make yours here:
The table all set!
The kids gave their approval for our new winter snow sensory bin. Most of it ended up on the floor, which means we had to remake it.
The youngest mini has just awesome style: plaid capri pants, a white polka dot dress, and lip gloss.

Next week we'll be starting in on our Christmas crafts, playing with the Christmas sensory bin, baking Christmas cookies, and learning our new Christmas songs!

Christmas Tree Christmas Lists

Since Halloween ended, the kids have been telling me what they want for Christmas. Even as we spoke extensively about the importance of Thanksgiving, the kids have been waiting for the Christmas season to begin (which in our house DOES NOT begin until the day after Thanksgiving). I surprised the kiddos the day before Thanksgiving when I said "today we're going to make our Christmas lists on Christmas trees."

It was a fairly simple and mess free project. I drew large Christmas trees on green poster board (found at Target for .69 a piece. I was able to draw two large trees on each piece of poster board), circles on construction paper, and stars on yellow paper. I had the kids cut out their trees (I had a to help a few of the kids), the circles, and their star. When everything was cut out, we glued the circles to the tree and taped the star to the top of the tree.

Once everything was dried, I had the kids tell me what they wanted for Christmas. A few of my favorites: "my very own Santa and Mrs. Santa Claus who can sleep in my closet," "a machine" (when I inquired what kind of machine, I was told "just a machine. You know the one."), and "a shark that won't bite me all the way."

This was a cute, fun, and simple way for the kids to write out their Christmas lists. It was a great project to have the three and four year olds practice their cutting skills and was hilarious for me to hear what the kids really wanted for Christmas! We may bypass the regular, plain ole' Christmas lists next year and do these instead.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Best Toy Buy--Craft Supplies

I have yet to meet a kid who doesn't enjoy arts and crafts in some capacity. Craft supplies are my go to gifts for birthday's, for gift bags at parties, and they're always on my kid's Christmas lists. Here are a few of our favorite daycare craft supplies:

Do-A-Dot Markers: Do A Dot Art Marker Rainbow, 6-pack  

Color your own puzzles: Frozen Olaf Color Your Own Puzzle with Crayons - 20 Piece or Inovart Puzzle-It Blank Puzzles 28 Piece 5-1/2" x 8" - 24 Per Package (Michael's has puzzles like these from $1-$2)

Canvases for painting: Canvas Panel 8x10 Pack of 6 

Oil Pastels: Crayola 28ct Colored Oil Pastel Sticks  

Crayola paints: I prefer having the kids use Crayola 4ct Washable Fingerpaints Primary (Bold, primary colors in red, blue, yellow, and green) 4 oz.  (can be found at Walmart or Target for around $6) for it's thicker consistency, but we also buy Crayola Washable Kid's Neon Paint Set, 2-Ounce, 10 Count
  Metallic and Neon Markers: Crayola Metallic Markers, 8 Count Up & Up brand at Target carries a pack of markers that contains both metallic and neon markers.

Paint brushes pack: Starter Kit Brush Set  

Figurines for painting:
Melissa and Doug make several sets of figurines sold in two packs  (Melissa & Doug Horse Figurinesor check out Michael's.

Glue sticks: Elmer's Disappearing Purple School Glue Sticks, .21 oz, 6 Pack (E1560)  

Googly eyes: Peel & Stick Wiggle Eye Sheets: Black 49 Piece Set  

Glitter Pens: Skip regular glitter because it gets everywhere, use these instead Crayola 16ct Washable Pip Squeaks Glitter Glue

Brown Paper Lunch Bags: Brown Kraft 100% Recycled Lunch Bags (Medium: 5 x 9 3/4 x 3) - 25 bags per pack So many things can be created with these!

Paint Brush Pens: Crayola Paint Brush Pens Pack set of 5  

Project Scissors: ECR4Kids Kraft Edger Rotating Scissor Rack with 18 Scissors  

A few things I always keep on hand and easily accessible to the kiddos:

  • Crayons-thousands of colors
  • Washable markers (Crayola is our favorite brand, but Target's Up & Up brand is a close second is can be cheaper)
  • Colored pencils
  • Plain white paper of all sizes (8x10 and 11x17 are the popular sizes here)
  • Construction paper
  • Poster board
  • Tape
  • Ribbon/yarn (we rarely use this, but it's always nice to have some on hand for when we do need it for our projects)

Toilet Paper Roll Turkeys

Our Toilet paper roll ghosts and bats were so popular during Halloween, that we decided we could easily do turkeys as well!

All you need for the project:

Feathers (Michael's has a good assortment of feathers ranging in price from $1.99 to $4.99)
Empty toilet paper rolls
Googly eyes (also found at Michael's, or Target dollar section)
Fuzzy pom poms

Start by gluing on the googly eyes and poms (for the beak). I made dots with the glue where the eyes and beak went, then the kids stuck the googly eyes and poms on. Set aside and let them dry completely.

Once dried, turn the paper towel roll over (so the eyes and beak are facing downward) and add a line of glue. Have kids stick the feathers on the glue. We had to add more glue the more feathers the kids put on.

Bam! They're done and super cute!

If you wanted to, you could have the kiddos paint the toilet paper rolls brown, but we chose to leave ours since that would have required a lot of patience for the littles! Our next toilet paper roll project: reindeers!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"I'm Gonna Grow My Own Popcorn"

These were the words my middle child spoke as he stared down at the empty popcorn bowel. At four years old, his world is filled with wonder, questions, and discovery. He picked up a handful of popcorn seeds and rushed over to me "mom! Can we go plant these in the front yard? I want to grow my own popcorn!"

Typically in these situations, I'd ask him "what do you think will happen if we plant them?" I either turn it into a science experiment or I break the news as to why this wouldn't work. However, tonight I smiled, grabbed my camera, and said "let's plant them."

Somewhere in this grass is a dozen popcorn kernels.

I'm quite certain there will be hell to pay in a few days when he inquires about why his popcorn kernels aren't growing into popcorn. I'll break it to him then that those kernels aren't going to make him a yard full of popcorn.

Until then, I'll smiled when I notice popcorn kernels scattered throughout the front yard. I'll think about how excited he was when he got his idea. I'll remember the simplicity of being a kid. When throwing popcorn kernels in the yard in hopes that they'll grow massive amounts of popcorn was just as exciting as Christmas morning.

Week In Review: November 17 - November 21

This week was super busy with lots of Thanksgiving crafts and our Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. We also added something new to our routine: exercise time! The kids haven't been outside for a couple of weeks thanks to unseasonably cold temps and snow. To get some of their pent up energy out (and before it starts effecting their behavior), at 10:40 every morning we "exercise." We start with doing a few of our songs with movement (we always do "If You're Happy and You Know It" but we've also been doing "Five Little Turkeys" and "I'm A Little Pumpkin." After Thanksgiving we'll add in Christmas songs), then move onto jumping up and down, jumping jacks, spinning, dancing, etc. We've also played a few games such as Ring Around The Rosy. By the time we're done 30-40 minutes later, the kids are exhausted! It's been a great way to end our morning and the kids particularly love blaring the music and "being crazy" (as they say).

The kids colored pilgrim hats (found at Michael's) and wore them while they played "the first Thanksgiving." We've been reading several children's books explaining the first Thanksgiving. It was cute to see them re-enact everything we've been reading about.

The kids used Lego's to paint Indian corn. I got the idea from this website:

Playing with goop turned out to be our messiest activity yet:

The kids played puppies most of the week--which was really just a game of crawling chase.

Winter has come early and my minis are going crazy!!! Evenings have been particularly rough....and it's only November!

Max had strep throat and was home a couple of days. He set up a roll the ball game with all of the kids.

We made a lot of turkeys this week!

The kids made numerous pictures with Do A Dot Art: 5-pack Shimmer Markers

The kids loved decorating Thanksgiving placemats (found at Michael's). The younger kids loved coloring Thanksgiving food on their plates, while the older kids enjoyed the activity pages.

Jumping, jumping, jumping during our exercise time.

The few of the kids played school this week. This consisted of reading books to each other and "doing homework" (aka-coloring).

Thursday was a fun day for the kids! We had a picnic lunch in the living room (sandwiches and a veggie tray in the middle to share) while the kids watched "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving." Then we read the book when the movie was done. After naps, we had our very own Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for afternoon snacks. Read more about it here:

We made a special pumpkin play dough using Pumpkin Spice Jello. It smelled great, but was a bit more crumbly than what the kids enjoy playing with (we make our's more doughy like a pizza or cookie dough).

We broke out one of the activities I was saving for the middle of January, but they were needed this week! The kids colored these blocks on and off throughout the week and by Friday they were ready to play with! We added our Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks (40 pc) so there were even more blocks to build with.
I had to remind the kids to work together to build something and there was some drama with sharing the blocks, but all in all, the kids had fun building and rebuilding towers, houses, and tables.

Next week will be an extra short, but busy week. We'll finish up our Thanksgiving crafts and the day before Thanksgiving we'll be doing our very own daycare Thanksgiving complete with turkey and mashed potatoes! The kids will be helping me cook the meal throughout the morning. It could be an interesting day!