Monday, October 20, 2014

Geocaching and More! 3 Ways to Get the Kids Outside to Enjoy Nature

When we first moved to the mountains, I sort of pictured us living in The Sound of Music.  I thought my kids would scamper outside and pick leaves and twigs off the ground while singing a heart-warming tune.
The reality is that I have to drag the kids on hikes like a couple of teen-agers (even though they're 4 and 6).  They get tired, they get hungry, and they get bored.  My husband and I, on the other hand, love to hike and be outside, but we have found a few ways to get them to enjoy nature:
1.  Geocaching.  Have you ever heard of this?  It's basically like a free scavenger hunt, and you can do it anywhere in the world.  There are lots of ways to do it, but the best is to download the App from the popular site,  Then on your phone, you can "Find Nearby Geocaches" and it will show you all the treasures that have been hidden close to wherever you are.  You just use your phone to find the GPS coordinates and you will find a little box with hidden treasures!  The kids absolutely loved this.  They got to hold the phone and watch as our dot got closer to our treasure (It's very similar to using GPS for driving directions).  We eventually found the box (look where my hand is reaching, you can see a little box hidden inside the logs), and inside is a little notebook where you can record that you were there and found it, to really give the kids a sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes there are even little toys in them, so be sure to bring a few cheap pencils or bracelets so you can "get one and give one" to the cache community.  The best part about this???  It's free!!  (Other than the $10 app)
2.  Scavenger Hunt.  I made up a simple page and printed them out for each kid.  I gave them clipboards and pens and they had so much fun searching for all the things on the page.  I used Microsoft Word Clip Art and found photos of everything for their hunt.
3.  Lastly, our latest obsession is Dino Dan.  Dinosaurs are fascinating to them, so one hike we livened things up by pretending we were finding dinosaur teeth, bones, etc.  Every time they found one, we would exclaim how exciting it was that they found a T-Rex tooth!  We let them bring little bags to collect their treasures and it was even a little educational.
I hope you and your family can enjoy some of these fun outdoor adventures too!
For more ideas on engaging your children and keeping them busy, please consider buying my book, co-written by an amazing Kindergarten Teacher! The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn.  
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Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Chores I Always Make My Kids Do

My daughter loves cleaning toilets.  I have no idea why, but it amuses me to no end that she is always begging me to let her clean our toilets.  She's like a real-life Cinderella.  And the good news is that there are so many benefits to making the kids do chores.  It really is good for their self-esteem, and my basic life's goal is not raise kids who aren't bratty or ego-centric.  I find that these little chores go a long way toward my life goal.
So, these are the three chores my four and five year old children can do:
1.  Put away their own laundry. Yes, I wash and fold, but when I'm done, I just stack it outside their door and they know that they have to put it away themselves.  
2.  Take over their plates.  This one isn't their favorite, especially because it seems like they usually have about three plates between the main course, the veggies, and the fruit, but despite their grumbling, they do take over their plates and I have seen them even take over their plates during play dates and at Grandma's house, which really warms my heart and seems to impress our hosts.
3.  Keep their rooms clean.  We had a hard time with this one until one day I overheard a neighbor tell her kids they couldn't come out to play because their rooms weren't clean.  I then witnessed those kids scramble up to their rooms, frantically clean, and then come running outside like they had won the lottery.  It was then that I realized the power of the desire to play with friends.  It is very strong and since then we adopted the same rule.  If they want to play outside with their buddies, their rooms have to be clean.  It works like a charm.
I have to say, I also love not having to do these chores myself for them.  And I know it is keeping them down to earth because one day at a restaurant Little Buddy said, "Mommy, restaurants are so awesome because I don't even have to take my plates over!"
His grin was infectious and I was so pleased to learn that he didn't feel like the world owed him trips to restaurants.  He truly appreciated it.  And that's all a parent can ask for.  
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

5 Tips on Making Your Email Life Waaaay Easier (and Better)

I may not be the best cook or the best housekeeper, but I am an emailing ninja.  After 10 years in the professional world, no one was more efficient and better at keeping up with email than I was.  Until I quit working.  At first I thought it wouldn't matter.  Since I wasn't working, surely I wouldn't need to do much emailing anymore, right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.  There are still tons of teacher emails, bids on house renovations, wedding stuff, friend emails, just LIFE.  And Yahoo email/calendar just wasn't cutting it for me.  All my important emails were getting lost amidst my dozens of coupon emails.  Sure, it's tempting to turn all those off, but then you miss great deals.  So what's a girl to do??  Follow me, I will show you the way.  I have spent weeks now trying to get myself anchored and organized again.  
1.  Buy Microsoft Outlook.  Yes, its pricey, but it will completely change your life (I will get into it more below).  Once you buy it, add your Yahoo, Gmail, whatever email you use as your main email.  To do this, go to File, Account Settings, and Add account. If you get confused, just google it, there are tons of websites out there that will take you through it step by step.  Once created, it will import all your old emails.  This will take some time.  Be patient.
2.  Get Your Email Organized.  Admittedly it will take some time to organize.  First, you should create some folders.  Here is a sample of some of my folders.  Basically, you will want a folder for kids stuff, travel, bills, coupons, etc.  Anything that requires you to get or receive a lot of emails need its own folder.

3.  Get Your Coupon Emails Under Control.  Once you create the folders, you need to create rules and that is where the real power of Outlook comes from.  The idea is that yes, you will get emails from Kohls, Stride Rite, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, or wherever you shop, but you don't have to see them unless you want to.  Can I hear an Amen?!?  If you plan to go shopping at Kohl's, you can click on your Coupons folder and see if there are any recent coupons, but that way they won't clutter your inbox anymore.  From now on you will only see emails from friends, teachers, family, etc.  The way to do it is once you are in Outlook, you will go to an email from Kohl's or whatever, and click on that email.  You will see at the top an option to "Create a Rule".  Once there, tell it to send any emails from Kohl's to your "Coupons" folder.  This will take some time when you first buy Outlook and get yourself organized, but trust me, it is so worth it!!!  You can spend just a few minutes each day looking at only the important emails and making sure you respond appropriately.  So when getting this initially set up, here are a few tips.  There might be a ton of emails from a store you don't shop at anymore and don't need.  Create a rule to send those to your deleted items.  That is a very quick and easy way to get rid of a lot of emails that will just take up space on your hard drive.  Then, when you do need a coupon or want to browse the Groupons, just click on those folders and all the most recent emails will be at the top.  Just make sure to still go through each day and categorize all the others into kids school, friends, etc, and that will keep your email box cleared out and ready to act as your "to do list".
4.  Send Outlook Calendar invites.  How many times has your hubby planned something that happens to be same day as a birthday party or other important event (even after you swear you told him several times about it)?  From now on, keep your calendar off your fridge and on your phones.  Create a calendar item, and put all the details there.  Then, go to the top where it says, "Invite attendees".  Put in your hubbys email address (possibly his work email address or whatever email he uses to manage his calendar on his phone).  He will see the invite and can accept it on his calendar so now you are both on the same page.  Do the same for yourself so the calendar item will show up on your phone as well and now you have your whole life at your fingertips.  

5.  Send yourself emails.  Whenever you're out around town and remember something you need to do, send yourself an email!  Now that your email will be so nicely organized, you will easily see it when you get home and be able to remember to do it right away.  No more missing Valentine Cards for your preschoolers.  Hooray!  (Been there, done that)
A few caveats: The email won't sync nicely between Outlook and your phone.  This is because Outlook is actually stored on your computer.  The only thing this really means to you is that if you have email being pushed to your smart phone, you will still see all your coupons there because it is truly showing what is on the Internet, not what is on your home computer.  Does that make sense?  So, you will still see emails on your phone, but you'll have to wait until you get home to see them nicely organized on your computer.  (Side note, I really want to create a program someday that fixes this problem, but for now, I have to do a work-around.  I have done a ton of research and cannot find a product out there that does this.  It is done automatically for business, but for us unfortunate Stay at Home Moms, we have to suffer)
Just get in the habit each day or night of going to Outlook, reading and responding to the important emails, and then filing them away in the right folder once you have completed the task.  This way you always have a sort of running to do list on your computer.
Let me know if this was helpful to you!  I have lots more tips like this, but I am not sure if this is just way too much info!
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

5 Fun "Homework" Ideas for 5 Year Olds

My daughter will be going into Kindergarten next year and I have never been the type of Mom to pull out flashcards or do worksheets.  She prefers to be outside with her friends, riding bikes, playing dolls, and getting fresh air.  And that's been fine by me.

However, recently we had a playdate with a friend who is already in Kindergarten and at the end of the playdate, they explained that they had to get home to work on homework.  My daughter was intrigued.  The whole way home she was grilling me with questions about homework.  What did it mean?  Who got to do it?  Did it make you smarter?  And on and on and on.

So, I finally took the opportunity to introduce my daughter to worksheets.  And flashcards.  And she absolutely loves it.  Almost every night after dinner she begs me to do "homework".  I thought the interest would eventually wither away, but sure enough this has been going on for months and she is still thrilled about learning.  Some nights I just don't have the energy for it, but the interesting thing I have noticed is that she is truly behaving better for me in general.  She is quite a ball of energy and sometimes I have a difficult time reining her in, but I think she is thriving on this ability to learn new things.  It is improving her self-esteem and our relationship as well since we get to have this positive time together. 

I started out with worksheets but I have had to come up with some new things to keep her interest because let's face it, worksheets are only so interesting and reading isn't the only important thing to work on.  Here are some ideas of 

1.  Worksheets:  I downloaded some worksheets I found online and we have used Guided Math Made Easy, Grade K, which she really enjoys.  Pictured below is a worksheet from the Kindergarten/Pre-K version of Phonics First: Grades 2-4 ( I couldn't find the actual version I bought on Amazon, so don't buy this version that I linked to, it's for the wrong grades.  I had to go to a local toy store to find the Kindergarten version).  I also found one for my four year old called My First Book Of Tracing (Kumon Workbooks).  He has been insisting on doing "homework" as well since his big sister is doing it and this is great for his fine motor skills.

2.  Counting/Math:  For this I just find stuff around the house, like spoons, playing cards, legos, dolls, anything that is easily accessible and I lay them out on the table and tell her to count them.  When she finishes, she writes the number on the line (see below).  Then I take away a few and ask her to re-count them.  I showed her how to write the minus symbol, the plus symbol, and the equals symbol, and for each set of house-hold items, we turn it into an easy math problem.  This helps reinforce writing numbers and I am slyly introducing her to easy math.  

  3.  Geography:  My kids started to get really interested in other countries during the Olympics, but they had a really hard time understanding how huge the United States of America really is.  Every time we travel, it's hard to explain that we are still in our country.  I found a relatively inexpensive globe on Amazon, Elenco 11" Desktop Political Globe, and my daughter loves looking at it.  I have used it to explain north and south, how it is hotter at the equator and colder at the North and South Pole.  I picked out certain countries and explained some of the things they do there and even used my iPad to show photos of the people of the country, the customs of the country, etc.  I have never seen my daughter so interested in anything!  I had to practically glue her eyes shut that night to get her sleep.

4.  LEGO Stacking/Patterning: My co-author Susan Case, is a big fan of using patterning to teach math and reading skills and I have found this to be an easy and fun way to do some hands-on homework.  I just found some LEGOs, then I would use crayons to draw a pattern of LEGOs and she would put together the pattern for me.  This took no prep work at all, we just made it up and we went and it worked perfectly.

5.  Simple reading: I simply write out a very easy sentence and we work on sounding it out.  This is an opportunity to work on sight words and repetition.  I was so thrilled the first time we did this, because the look on my daughter's face when she read her first full sentence was truly amazing.  She was grinning from ear to ear and was so proud of herself.  

For more ideas on engaging your children and keeping them busy, please consider my book, The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn.  

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fun With Cloud Dough to "Fill up my kids' tanks"

Even though I wrote a book on keeping kids busy, sometimes I just plain forget that kids are not like dogs.  They cannot just find ways to amuse themselves while I'm busy running the house.  I mean really, why can't they just go lay down on the floor while I clean the toilets?    

Let me back up.  I am used to going to work at 8:30, so even though I'm not officially working, I find that my body still wants to get to work right at 8:30.  The first few days of my new life, I still got to work at 8:30, but this time it was cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, making grocery lists, etc.  Life.  I thought the kids would just play while I worked.  Boy was I wrong.  By 11:00 that morning they were fighting, whining, and I was screaming.  

So, I took a step back and remembered that the key to kids is spending that quality time with them, especially first thing in the morning so they get their "tanks full" and then they will do a better job of keeping each other busy. 

The third morning I was home I introduced a new project to them right after breakfast: cloud dough.  If you've never done this with your kids, it's a must!  Admittedly, it's super messy, but I put towels on the floor to contain the mess and it wasn't too bad at all to clean up.  The kids adored the fluffy sensation of the dough and came up with all sorts of ways to play with it including smashing trucks into it, hiding beads in it, and making pretend food out of it.

Just mix 1/4 cup baby oil with 2 cups flour (or any derivation of 1 to 8 ratio).  I put this mixture into our trusty foil tins and this kept the kids busy for 47 minutes.  After they got bored, they went upstairs to play house and left me alone. :-)   Everyone wins.

For more ideas on keeping kids busy, check out my book, which I co-wrote with a wonderful former Kindergarten teacher, Susan Case. The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

4 Great Lessons Learned from Pen-Pals

We love traveling to Florida with the kids.  The kids love it too, but now that they are 4 and 5, we have noticed a definite change from previous years.  They want to ditch us.  They were desperate to meet other kids their age so they could play with them instead of us.  I'm not really complaining.  Hubby and I read our books, relaxed, and watched in peace while the kids were entertained by their new best friends.  The problem was that after the week was over, life suddenly became pretty rough for the newly established BFFs. 

Then the girls came up with a great idea: they could become pen pals.  At first, I just thought, "How sweet, it could be like the movie, Beaches!  They will become best friends and college roommates someday...." and my imagination took ahold of me.  Luckily a wild and possibly rabid seagull screamed at me, bringing me back to reality.

Then I realized what a great learning experience this could be and the lessons we could work on throughout this fun project:
  1. Geography: Everyone in my house still seems to be a little confused about "The United States".  I am taking this is as a great opportunity to really help them understand about our states and how they are all part of America.  I printed out a map of the United States that we can hang on the wall and really study, especially every time we get a letter from her special new friend.
  2. Reading:  My daughter loves writing her name, her dog's name, etc, but we have not quite been able to make the switch yet to reading books.  It makes her frustrated so I haven't pushed it yet, even though she is entering Kindergarten in the Fall.  However, now she is begging me to teach her how to read so she can read the letters from her new BFF.
  3. Money:  I took her with me to the post office and she helped me buy the stamp for her letter.  We worked on what a dollar really means and counted out the change she got back from the post office.
  4. The Importance of Friendship:  We work on this one whenever we can.  It's very important to me that she understands that in life we all need good friends.
Who knows how long this pen-pal interest will last, but for now I am enjoying watching my daughter hard at work on her letters for her new friend.

For more ideas on how to keep your toddlers and preschoolers busy and learning, please check out my book, The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn.  You will find hundreds of ideas on crafts, fine motor, reading, and much more.  The book was co-written by a former Kindergarten teacher, Susan Case.  

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My first day as a Stay at Home Mom

Well it's official.  I am a stay at home Mom!  So far, these are my observations:

  • I thought I would be less absent-minded since I wouldn't be so stressed out all the time.  Turns out, not so much.  I somehow left my grocery list at the kids preschool while I was writing them a check, even though it was tucked neatly into my purse originally, and had to drive all the way back there and have them root through the trash to help me find it.
  • Even though the kids were at preschool during the day, I still filled up every second of my day.  And hubby didn't even notice the sparkling-clean house.  I need a bon-bon.
  • I'm much less motivated to take a shower 
  • I'm very excited to spend the day with my kids (on their off-day from preschool) instead of leaving them with the babysitter
My story is a long one, I will fill you in briefly.  Boy meets girl.  They get married and boy starts medical school.  Girl spends 10 long years putting boy through medical school, only to have to move with boy for a fellowship right before first child enters Kindergarten.  Girl is forced to resign from beloved career to follow boy to the mountains for the final year of medical training before officially becoming a "real doctor".  Girl discovers that life is actually pretty amazing and is ready to begin a brand-new journey as a career woman turned stay at home Mom.  

The good news is that with all my experience with crafts and games for the kids, I think we will be very busy.  I have decided to send Munchkin Girl to half-day Kindergarten next year so that we can explore our new city together.  I will be documenting our adventures and hopefully educational experiences.  Stay tuned, I'm so grateful for all my readers (hopefully there are still some out there?)

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

I'm Back! And I've Got a New Reading Game

Greetings everyone!  I'm so sorry I've been away for so long (More to come on that later).  The kids are growing up fast and for a long, long time, I was content to let Munchkin Girl just play and not worry too much about learning to read or academics, since science shows that kids get much more out of problem solving and playing than from sitting down to learn letters.  Sure, we read lots and lots of books every day, but we rarely sit down at the table for "learning time".  However, with Kindergarten approaching quickly, we are trying to get more focused.  It turns out though, that getting her interested is harder than I thought.  Every time I suggest we work on reading or letters, she yells, "Noooo!!"  and runs away like I'm trying to get the kid to eat mushy spinach.

One thing she does really love is Play Dough, especially with the new toys we got (Play-Doh: Fun Factory Deluxe Set)

So, one day while they were playing I made my own shapes and matching words.  I honestly wasn't sure how she would do at this since we haven't worked on letters much, let alone full words.  I was shocked.  Her preschool teachers are clearly doing a wonderful job!  She matched everything up easily and was so proud of herself.  This was a super easy way to work on letters and reading!

For more ideas on reading and letters, check out my book, where my co-author and former Kindergarten Teacher, Susan Case, gives some fun ideas!


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