Monday, September 1, 2014

September Challenge

Can you believe it's September 1st?? This summer has flown by! Although I'm not complaining, I'm so ready for fall weather and fall foods. August's challenges went well and I'm feeling great about the changes I'm making. Yoga has continued to be a part of my everyday life, I've added 17 posts to my blog (plus some behind the scenes work!) and I'm still working on decluttering. As for the Outside Play Challenge, I'm proud to say we went outside 21 of 31 days! Hopefully with next month's cooler weather we can do even better. Little C is also starting an 8-week session of gymnastics starting tomorrow so we'll be out of the house and moving.

Here are some highlights from our month outside!

Picking, eating and sharing tomatoes from our edible garden.

There's nothing like eating outside!

 Pig races and farm fun at the state fair.

Reading in our tent (too bad it was too hot to play in there for very long).

We love brew days with Daddy! Little C never forgets to remind me to bring her pot and spoons outside!

The sandbox is always available and fun.

Splashing pool fun with Little C's aunt and uncle.

Little C's first trip to NYC on the train.

Don't forget playground fun with Bunia and Dido!

And...strike a pose!
What did you do outside?

Let's end this with adding 2 new challenges for September in addition to all the ones we've been working on!

Revised 30 Day Plank Challenge - We'd tried the version floating all over the internet earlier this year and found jumping up 30 seconds every couple days to get to 5 minutes by the end of the month was a little too much to handle. So I've adapted the challenge to end with a 3 minute plank at the end of the month. It should be much more doable! If you'd like to join us, here is my alternate version:

Stop Procrastinating Challenge - There are several appointments I've been putting off like an oil change and various doctor appointments...this month I intend to at least schedule them all if not completely check them off my to do list!

I hope you join me in creating your own challenges. The only way to grow and change is slowly and if you introduce a small new habit every month it will eventually become part of your routine life!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DIY Toys - Hot Dogs

I had a realization the other day while trying to figure out how to make a toy hot dog that looked most like a hot dog - the toy doesn't have to look just like a hot dog! I think all the really awesome realistic felt food I've seen online made me forget that it doesn't have to look super realistic. Older preschoolers are better at making props out of anything - or nothing - but usually toddlers need something that at least vaguely resembles the real thing. Although I have noticed that when Little C decides she needs something for her play, she will use something random or nothing at all.

Anyhow, I digress. The hot dog I ended up creating is super easy and involves no sewing and very little artistic-craft skills! I give you, the paper tube hot dog!

Briefly, the bun is made of 2 toilet paper tubes (or 1 paper towel tube) cut lengthwise, stacked and glued; you'll have 4 pieces glued together to give it a little more strength. The hot dog is made from the thicker but narrower tube found in foil or waxed paper.  I cut it into 3 pieces with a serrated knife.

We put the hot dog tubes on Tinker Toy stands so they'd be easier to paint.

We painted the buns a lighter color on the inside and a darker color on the outside so they'd resemble real buns.

Little C utilized her tong skills to transfer the hot dog from the pan where she cooked it to the bun on the plate!

Don't forget the ketchup and mustard! Squirt!

Consider adding hot dogs to your snack stand!

Age: 2.5 years

Cooking Fun - Peanut Butter Banana Dog Treats

Since Little C's favorite animal is a dog and apparently National Dog Day was a few days ago, we decided to make dog treats for some of our doggie friends. We do not ourselves have a dog but counted 8 doggie friends of ours! I looking through a few recipes and decided on one that was simple and used the ingredients I had on hand. Although to be honest, the bacon cheddar dog biscuits did sound like something I'd want to eat...

Here's my little sous chef in action mashing bananas and mixing the dough!

A new feature I've decided to add to my recipes is a "Cooking Supplies" section at the end. I love homemade food but since I could definitely do without the cleaning, the cooking supplies section is meant to help you use as few tools as possible to make the dish and therefore have less to clean!

Peanut Butter Banana Dog Treats
Yield: 2 dozen biscuits
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dried parsley
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  1. Crack egg into a large mixing bowl and beat lightly. *Note: when cooking with kids I leave the eggs until the very end to avoid them putting any raw egg in their mouths. In this case, crack the egg into a separate small bowl and mix in at the very end.
  2. Add banana and mash well.
  3. Add flour, oats, parsley and peanut butter and stir until all the flour has been absorbed; this may take a couple minutes. Set dough aside for 5 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 300° F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each biscuit, roll dough into 24 balls. Place on cookie sheets and flatten with the back of the spoon or the heel of your hand.
  6. Bake 40-45 minutes, until firm and deep golden brown on the bottom.
  7. Cool completely then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze.

Cooking supplies:
  • Fork - mash banana, beat egg (if your kids are cooking with you, a potato masher is better for them to use to mash the banana)
  • 1/3 cup measure - measure oat flour, oats and parsley (eyeball a little extra to make it a 1/2 cup)
  • Tablespoon measure & spoon - scoop and measure peanut butter, spoon dough onto cookie sheets
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Cookie sheets & parchment paper
(Recipe adapted from Whole Foods Market)

Of course when you're all done baking, make sure you package your gifts appropriately...

...and deliver to your favorite four-legged friends!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening & Speaking

Early literacy is not just reading and writing, a more vital part is listening and speaking. Children are practicing listening and speaking skills from the moment they arrive in the world. It’s somewhere around a year that most children start demonstrating more conventional speech and conversation skills when they say their first word!

Hopefully I’m not the first person to tell you that speaking to and reading to your infant is SUPER important! It’s the best and easiest thing you can do to build your child’s language right from the start. We read simple picture books to Little C all the time when she was an infant, especially during diaper changes; I’d let her hang out and dry and read a book or two. She was very happy and content on the changing table before she learned how to move. Another thing I did was narrate a good portion of my day and make up all sorts of silly songs. I firmly believe that those things helped Little C develop strong language skills quickly!

As your toddler becomes better spoken, it becomes easier to evaluate her listening and speaking development. Here are some things teachers look for when evaluating 3 year-olds.


  1. Does the child gain meaning by listening to stories read aloud? Does he converse and respond appropriately and use words/phrases learned in a story, show, or during a trip? (ex. Using the words zoo, ticket, or sea lion after a trip to the zoo).
  2. Does the child follow 2-step directions? This doesn’t just include following your verbal directions but also matching movements to the directions in a song or following the rules to a game.


  1. Are most listeners able to understand the child when they are interacting and speaking together?
  2. Does the child use vocabulary learned in a book, etc. in a different context or recall details of a recent event? Does the child make up silly words or make up dialogue for a pretend play scenario? Does the child recite short rhymes or songs?

I’ll leave you with some tips on nurturing those budding listening and speaking skills:

  • Read various types of books (fiction, non-fiction, nature, counting…) Find some of our favorite board books here.
  • Give your child the opportunity to follow multi-step directions in day to day things and also by playing games or doing movement songs. (Check out our favorite movement songs!)
  • Model proper speech – resist the urge to baby talk! If your child calls water “wawa,” accept that though it is definitely super cute, you should continue calling it water.
  • Talk with your child about daily events whether it’s a play date, class or trip; ask questions and encourage responses rather than talking at your child.
  • If your child asks you what something is or what you're doing, tell them! It encourages curiosity and learning and will help build vocabulary.
For more information on language and literacy development, see also Reading & Writing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Early Language & Literacy Development - Reading & Writing

Let me just start off by saying that though I am not a speech or literacy expert, but I have 13 years’ experience working in early childhood classrooms and have spent the past 2½ years implementing what I had learned with my own daughter. And even though I didn’t get the “Your Baby Can Read” videos and I have yet to teach her the alphabet song, her language and literacy skills have exceeded all my expectations are far beyond those of most of the 2-3 year olds (and even some 4 year olds!) I taught.

Children learn best when things are meaningful. And sure your child can memorize almost anything you repeat day in and day out, but if it’s not meaningful they won’t know how to apply it to different situations. 

Today I’ll touch on two parts of early language and literacy development: reading and writing.  Tomorrow I’ll explore listening and speaking. 

Whether your child is in daycare/preschool or at home, here is a glimpse of the skills teachers are evaluating in 3 year olds.


  1. Does the child show appreciation for books by paying attention to stories read aloud, holding a book right side up and flipping pages one by one front to back, recognizing some books by their covers or acting our familiar stories?
  2. Does the child show interest in letters and words by identifying their names/letters in their name in various places, “reading” familiar words on labels or asking “what does that say?”
  3. Does the child comprehend and respond to stories read aloud? Does he ask relevant questions about the story, label pictures or retell parts of the story using the pictures in the book or with props/felt board cutouts?


  1. Does the child represent ideas and stories through pictures, dictation and play? Does she describe her drawing, “talk” on the phone, ask you to write a note or label a picture, make up a story using props/felt board cutouts or describe what is happening in her pretend play scenario?
  2. Does the child use scribbles and unconventional shapes to write (ex. name, signs, shopping lists, birthday/thank you cards, etc)?

Learning letters should begin first with the most meaningful word of all, your child’s name. Little C has become very familiar with some of the letters in her name and points them out in various places, from books to street signs to license plates. I’ve made felt name tags for her, Mommy, Daddy, Bunia (grandma) and Dido (grandpa) and she can tell you which is which, match the letters, tell you who has the same letters and is beginning to learn the names of some of the letters (although she prefers to call M the zig-zag letter :-) ).

As for writing, I don’t encourage tracing simply because first your child has to learn how to trace the letters, and then how to write without the letters. Also, children sometimes draw over the tracing lines in strange ways instead of writing the letter properly. In these cases, children have to relearn how to make the letters. I recommend teaching your child to write using hand over hand (your hand over their hand writing together) and verbal prompts (for example, for an M say “up-down-up-down”).  Eventually remove your hand and just continue with verbal prompts. Another activity to strengthen fine motor writing skills is to practice drawing simple shapes starting with dots, lines and circles. This teaches a skill your child can transfer to writing letters as all letters are formed from lines, curves and dots! Plus, once your child has perfected those beginning three shapes, he will be able to draw people – and isn’t that an exciting thing?!

I hope I have broadened your knowledge of early language and literacy development; if you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below. I will try and post simple ideas for literacy development soon. In the meantime, here are some simple tips to help strengthen those reading and writing skills. 
  • Read books with your child and oblige them when they want to read it again and again - at least for a handful of times. Their eagerness to read over and over indicates that they're still learning from the book!
  • Let your child read to you. Prompt him to tell you about what he sees in the pictures and what he thinks is happening. As long as what he's saying makes sense given the picture, don't worry if it's not what is actually happening in the story.
  • Point to the words in titles of books, on toys or food boxes - anywhere really! Make a felt or magnetic name tag for your child. Keep in mind, do not write in all capital letters! It will just force your child to have to relearn her name.
  • Involve your child in writing or watching you write - encourage drawing and then label the drawings with your child's name and the name of their picture. Have your child draw on & "sign" birthday or thank you cards. Let your child watch you write a grocery list, and maybe help or write their own!
For more on literacy and language development, see also Listening and Speaking.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pretend Play - Snack Stand

The idea for a snack stand stemmed from our recent trip to the state fair, where food stands are not hard to find! I kept it small and simple for now, with just drinks and popcorn on the menu.

Let me start with a step by step for the drink dispenser.

1. I started with a double size cereal box (it measures about 11.25"Hx9.25"WX6.5"D). I cut along the bottom and 6.75" up each side. You'll need to cut up a little longer than the box is deep so you can fold the flap up and in - here's a closer look:

You don't have to glue the flap to the back of the box, it'll stay wedged on its own.

2. Cut an extra cardboard rectangle to make a flat bottom for the box (it's kind of hard to see, sorry!). *Note: You can skip this step and the next if you turn the box on its side. I preferred the proportions of keeping it upright but it will still work the other way with a little less effort!

3. Slice off the overlapping part of the flaps on the bottom of the box so it can sit on a flat surface without wobbling. Glue the bottom flaps to the cardboard insert you made in step 2.

4. Cover the entire box with contact paper (or construction paper or paint!).

5. Glue on buttons for dispensing the drinks (the blue and purple ones) and spouts for the drinks to pour from (the yellow caps on the underside - I used caps from baby squeeze fruit pouches). Add some cups (toy or disposable) and you're ready to go!

Eventually I'll add labels to go above the buttons so Little C can decide which drinks are available on any given day! For now she simply pours blue and purple drinks but here is a list of drink ideas:
  • water
  • milk
  • tea (hot or iced)
  • coffee (hot or iced)
  • hot chocolate
  • lemonade
  • juice
  • milkshake/smoothie (banana, strawberry, blueberry, peach...)

Onto the next part of the snack stand. The popcorn maker was a much easier task.

I started with a large toy jar - any larger sized plastic jar will do. You just want something clear so they can see the popcorn inside! I removed the label from the jar and stuck on letter stickers to write out "popcorn". I filled the inside with packing peanuts and added the rest of my supplies:
  • 1/2 cup measure for scooping the popcorn
  • Foam cups for scooping into
  • Empty plastic spice/herb jars for popcorn seasonings - I filled one little jar with small white beads for salt and left the others empty
All finished! And as Daddy and Little C have decided, once we have our drinks and our popcorn, we need to sit and watch a movie :-)

Play themes one of both of these props can be used with:
  • Carnival/fair
  • Movie theater
  • Beach
  • Restaurant
Age: 2.5 years

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Small World Play - State Fair, Part 3

And the final part of our state fair small world play - the farm! Our state fair had a family fun farm area as well as plenty of farm animals to see (all there for various competitions). So we had to get our barn out to add to our state fair.

Little C placed some chickens in the barn and lined up the other animals around the feeding trough, which she filled with corn seeds.

Then she planted some flowers for the flower show in her little pots. Little C knew just what to do with the pots, play dough, seeds and flowers after our last farm small world.

If you don't have a toy barn, this barn craft and sensory small world farm from Crayon Box Chronicles is perfect!

That may be it for our state fair inspired small world play, but there are pretend play and cooking ideas along the way as well. Stay tuned!

Age: 2.5 years