Monthly Archives: July 2012

Preparing for the First Day of School

kids backpacks

My youngest child’s First Day of School is right around the corner. We’ve been prepping for it all summer. She’s been practicing her writing and reading and sharing. She’s excited to ride the bus and have lunch with her new friends.

I’m wondering though if what we are doing is enough. Here is my checklist to get the kids fully ready for the big day.

Stick to Routines: Wake up, make bed, get dressed, eat, brush teeth. This is how I like to start eachschool hallway day but the summer lazy sets in and breakfast is sometimes delayed or teeth aren’t brushed till bedtime. Once school starts there’s no way we can deviate from this plan as that will start the day off on the wrong foot. Get your routines in order now so that they kids get used to it and won’t forget important steps as you see the school bus coming down the street.

Be Prepared: Supplies, backpacks and lunch boxes are all needed for the new school year. Most supply lists aren’t available till after your child has already begun school but get started now with basics. Most elementary students need pencils, marble notebooks, erasers and folders. Stock your child’s backpack so their first day they are prepared with the basics.

Listen to Concerns: Fear is natural with any new adventure. Talk to your child about what they are thinking, what they are feeling and what they are expecting. Even the simple things like a new haircut or new shoes can be exciting and give children something to talk about with their new friends. Get them excited about what’s to come.

Take a Tour: If your child’s school is hosting an open house or meet and greet, go. Walking into a new building and looking down long halls can be intimidating. Show your child the way to their classroom, where the restrooms are and even what to do if they get lost. Introductions can be helpful. Meeting the principal, librarian, music teacher and secretary gives a feeling of familiarity when they greet your child on the first day.

Preparing for the first day takes more than knowing how to read or write. The littlest ones going in kindergarten and preschool need some emotional prep also.

Backpack image provided by Steve Wilhelm via Flickr
School Hallway image provided by WuperUpper via Flickr

Expanding our learning with the Olympic Games


In addition to stressing healthy living, friendly competition and peace, the Olympics offer an excellent opportunity for learning as a family. Last Friday night, our family gathered together around the TV and discussed the things we knew about Great Britain and London and tried to learn a bit more from the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

But it was during the Parade of Nations that the learning began that will continue for the next 2 weeks. While we fought to stay awake, our family learned new countries we were unfamiliar with. Countries like Togo and Mauritania were nations our family hadn’t heard of, which offered an opportunity to quickly pull out the laptop and do a quick Google Earth search. Before we knew it, we were flying from continent to continent, chasing nations.

If you listened carefully during the Parade of Nations, you’d hear a tiny bit about the culture, traditions and heroes of each country. But we found the parade moved so quickly this year that we tried something new. Each person selected a country he’d never heard of to learn about and make his “adopted” country for these Olympics.

Of course we’re all cheering for the USA and our favorite athletes. But this year, our family became fans of 5 new countries with 5 “smaller” athletes who are likely big hits in their countries. In doing so, we’re building our knowledge of culture, acceptance and interest around the world. So in addition to routing on Gabby Douglas in Women’s Gymnastics and Ricky Berens on the US Swim Team, we’ll also cheer for Anolyn Lulu who will play table tennis for the Republic of Vanuatu – a nation of small islands in the south Pacific.

Throughout the Olympic Games, we’ll also continue to learn about new nations and new stars. TV coverage often includes stories of athletes who have achieved great feats in their personal lives–these stories can often be used as encouragement for others. (And, of course, bring tears of love from moms.) When we view a flag being raised, our family takes advantage of this as an opportunity to learn more about a winning nation. Tell me, I’ll say, what do you know about Argentina? With the help of Google Earth, Google and Wikipedia, our family is strengthening their researching skills, practicing reading and learning a bit about the world outside our bubble.


All About Bugs and Insects

all about bugs and insects

Bugs and insects are everywhere, and kids are fascinated by them, so I’m going to share some fun ways to teach them about their favorite creepy crawlies.

Bug and Insect Activities

  • Visit your local nature center, zoo, or state park.  Learn from Rangers and experts about the fascinating critters living all around us.
  • Go on an insect safari at your local park, or hiking trail.  Make a graph for the kids of insects and bugs they may find in the area, have them mark them off as they see them.
  • Study the life-cycle of caterpillars by ordering a kit on-line and observing as metamorphosis takes place.
  • Contact your local honey farm about taking a tour and learn all about bees.

Bug and Insect Crafts

The kids made these fun egg carton spiders and caterpillars at a recent Little Rangers camp at a state park.  All you need are egg cartons, pipe-cleaners, and googly eyes.

Here are a few more fun bug and insect craft projects you can try:

  • Thumbprint bugs – Put your child’s thumb on a stamp pad and then onto a piece of paper, have them draw on legs, eyes, antennae, and wings.
  • Rock painting – Paint a few rocks in your garden to look like yellow or red ladybugs, bees, and other bugs and insects.  Use outdoor paint if you want to put your painted rocks back into the garden.
  • Paper plate bugs – Paint paper plates to look like bugs and insects.  Cut colored pieces of paper to make heads, legs, and antennae and glue them on.

Bug and Insect Books

Here are 5 fun books kids are sure to love that are all about bugs and insects.

  • Dr Seuss On Beyond Bugs:  All About Insects, by Tish Rabe
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • The Big Bug Search, by Caroline Young
  • Bugs by the Numbers, by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss
  • Ladybugs Can’t be Tall, by Kevin Hill

Looking for even more bug and insect activities, take a look at these previous posts:

Have you done any fun activities or crafts to teach your children about bugs and insects?  I’d love to hear more about them.

Making summer heat work in your favor


Here in Kansas, it has been hot. Dangerously hot. We cannot spend much time outdoors when the heat index is 110. But I have decided to make this summer heat wave work in my favor. Instead of staying holed up indoors and making a lazy day (like I did when I was in college) I am using this as a learning opportunity for my kids.

I would love to hear your thoughts too! Please share other ways you teach your kids about the weather! I am also always looking for new indoor activities for preschoolers, so feel free to share!

Learning about the weather – Meteorology

Lizzie is 5 years old and we check out outdoor thermometer throughout the day. She has learned how to read it and what those numbers mean. I want to buy one that has Fahrenheit and Celsius on it and teach her the differences next.

When we are getting a storm, I turn on my tablet and show her the radar map. We learn about direction of the storm. She can tell which way is north, south, east and west and whether we are in the path.

Learning about plants – Agriculture and Botany

We have a very small garden. It most has pumpkins and peas in it.  Lizzie and David (3 years old) water it daily. They learned the basic need plants have for water.  They also learn about evaporation – and why when it is the hottest (like it has been lately) they need to water their plants more.

I loved our discussion about photosynthesis. Lizzie learned about why plants are green and David kept saying he was growing stronger from the sun too!

Learning about problem solving

Making decisions based on other factors and strengthening logical skills must never be downplayed. Every morning I let Lizzie go outside and tell me the weather report. She looks at the thermometer and the sky. If it is hot, she decides to wear a summer dress.

Whenever we get ready to go to the pool I also remind them about the danger of sunburns. Lizzie always asks for lotion after I remind her.

I will admit – the extreme heat is one of my least favorite things about summer. But I can sure use it to teach my kids some valuable lessons.

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Giving Kids an Extra Hour of Your Day

1 extra hour a day

This summer is flying by and not in the way I imagined. I had hoped for lots of daytrips to the park, pool, local orchard, zoo, beach and friend’s houses. I researched free and low cost activities that would appeal to kids of all ages and even signed up for newsletters from local attractions.

Something happened to my master plan. I started working a job. The work is flexible and I do it from home but it really cuts into prime time during the day. I feel guilty that the sun is shining and I’m sitting in front of a computer and the kids are asking if there is anything to do.

This week I changed things up a little. I gave up an hour to give it back to the kids. I took that hour from my sleep. I love my sleep, it’s something that I hate to give up for anything. I realized that my kids happiness and summer memories relied on it though.

The first morning I get into an elaborate activity with my youngest. We built entire city out of construction paper and crayons, play animals, Matchbox cars and blocks. Truthfully it took way more than an hour to create but then it provided a couple more hours of entertainment as she moved her city around and reorganized streets and built new structures.
The next day was dedicated to my son. He’s an excellent reader but he just doesn’t enjoy it yet. He loves stories and listening to audio books, he’s been listening to Series of Unfortunate Events for over a year, over and over. I started our morning with ME reading out loud a chapter book of his choosing. He choose Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Ugly Truth. We laughed and had some special bonding time over something that we don’t do often enough. I promised him I would read a chapter or two each morning before we get into our regular routines.

These are just small steps but they really made a positive impact on the rest of the day.

Olympic Fun Ideas

Olympic medals

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are going to be starting soon (July 27th) and the Summer Paralympics are starting a month later (August 29th). This is a great opportunity to learn and explore with your children the many different types of sporting events but the different countries participating, too.

We have been enjoying watching the Olympic Pre-Trials on Saturdays over the last month. I was impressed with how interested my 4 and 6 year old were in watching them, too. Seeing their excitement got me even more excited! So, I have come up with some ideas to help encourage their interest and excitement before the games and while they are happening.

The following are some ideas that I am going to try to implement:


A quick google search for “Olympic crafts for kids” (search via images and you will save some time) will give you a large variety of basic Olympic crafts. Popular crafts are various ideas on recreating the Olympic rings, the Olympic torch and the Olympic medals.


With over 200 countries participating in the games this summer there are many countries and their flags to learn more about. Decide on a country and either draw or do search for a flag coloring page of your country of choice. Again, do a search under “images” and you will save yourself a lot of time. Make sure to show your children what the actual country’s flag looks like in color and then let them color their own. My children are always talking about the flags we see while driving, so I know this will be something else they will enjoy doing.


While you are researching other countries, try out a recipe for a popular dish. If possible, make sure you let your children help make it. We had the opportunity once to learn and try out food from Guatamala. We had a lot of fun and discovered some new food/recipes that we all loved!

Mini Olympics

Have your own Mini Olympics! Watching is fun, but we all know participating is even more fun. You can create your own Mini Olympics with your own family complete with medals (maybe some that you created from your “craft search”). They can be based off of real Olympic games or just fun to do. Here are a few ideas:

  • Go to a local track, if possible, and have your own 100 yard dash.
  • Instead of Shot Put do a boot toss and see who can throw it the farthest.
  • Have a relay race or a three-legged relay race.

Whatever you choose to do for your Mini Olympic games, just remember the idea is to have fun!

Photo courtesy of:

Exploring Your Home City With Your Children

Today we did something that we have not done in years.  We took the kids downtown, parked near one of the major transit systems, took the little monorail system we have, and explored downtown like tourists.  We don’t live in very big metropolitan city, so public transportation is very limited.  Our monorail system travels only through a few miles downtown but it gives you a chance to visit different sections of downtown without having to worry about parking.   For adults, this is very helpful, but for the kids, it was like being on a train at Disney World.  They couldn’t get enough of it!  We took a few round trips, each time noticing a different building or detail.

We explored some of the older buildings around town and my husband explained the architectural styles from different eras. We spotted some art deco buildings, we noticed the Spanish influence in some of the buildings, and some Gothic influence located in the gargoyles. It was a nice lesson in architectural history.

After our little tour, we went to popular tourist area located on the water were many tourists and dolphins frequent.   We spent some time trying to spot dolphins swimming by and my ten-year old gave me a little lesson on dolphin and whale migration routes and seasons.  Luckily, before we left we spotted one fin off in the distance.

Our conversation then shifted to talking about the biggest cities in the world.  We couldn’t remember if Mexico City was the second or third largest city in the world and with a quick click of a button on my smart phone, we were able to get our answer fast.  We were in Mexico City last summer with the kids so they were able to compare the density difference between our home town and Mexico City– huge difference!

All in all, touring our city was a lot of fun.  We explored a different part of town that we normally do not go to with the kids, and before we left, we even came across an old fashioned fortune teller! The kids got a real kick out of it!

Writing workshop at home

kids writing

Over the summer, one of the fastest and biggest areas of academics to slip is writing skills. The area of writing depends so much on reading that if reading skills fall, writing will fall even more. So it’s helpful to sneak in writing workshop at home, and it’s not too hard to do sneak it in without kids even realizing it.

6 ways to sneak writing skills into your child’s routine

Make lists

With a million things going on at any one time, I know it helps me to make lists of things I need to do, the same can (and often should) be done with children. Work with your child to sequence a things to do list into an order that simplifies natural steps. A very basic example that we write every day after camp:

  1. Unpack backpack
  2. Put dirty swim gear into laundry room
  3. Unpack lunch bag
  4. Pack lunch for tomorrow
  5. Choice-time!
    1. Sprinklers and swingset time
    2. Chalk drawing
    3. Play quietly in your room

Sequencing is a key to organized writing and helps with summary skills as well. Making sequencing a part of your child’s day helps him understand how order works in life.

Ask about your child’s top 3 highlights

After an activity or a day at camp, ask your child what his three favorite things were that he did or learned. Asking your child for information such as this helps him to recall his day and sort through the main ideas and supporting details. If he loved skipping rocks in the pond, but not falling into the pond, he’s finding that a supporting detail is imperative to his story.

Lead by example

Every night at dinner, we ask each other about our days and offer brief summaries. Depending on a child’s level of maturity, a summary might be a lists “and then we…”  or it could be three highlights (see above). When it’s your turn, don’t just say “I had a good day” and move on to the next child, offer the supporting details to explain why your day was so good. Your child will cue in to your patterns and attempt to adapt his summaries.

Brainstorm a list of things to do

One of my favorite Pinterest boards lists dozens of Summer Bucket Lists. Bucket lists offer many unique writing and learning opportunities: they help to set goals, they offer ideas when you have “nothing to do” and they help to create a sense of purpose to your summer. But when created together as a family, a summer bucket list offers a great opportunity to re-learn the concept of brainstorming individually and as a group as well as listening and taking turns–all imperative skills for children in school.

Mandatory Writing Time

Many families work mandatory reading time into their days year round. But do you also include mandatory writing time? Help your children to make a journal, or just pick a favorite notebook, and encourage your kids to journal about their summer days or weeks. Younger kids can draw pictures to illustrate their activities while older can begin to write poems and stories.

Play games, sing songs

Kids love playing games and, often, never realize what great opportunities games offer. Just the other night, the kids brought home a song from day camp and started singing. I encouraged them to change the words and for the next hour we were singing new poems that made us giggle with delight. We were rhyming, brainstorming and keeping rhythm, too, all writing skills.

Sit around the table and each add a line to a story creates a story in the round. Using Rory’s Story Cubes – Original and Actions* gives creators prompts and challenges them to adjust a normal story. There are countless ways to play with them!

How does your family incorporate writing skills into their daily routine?


*this post includes an affiliate link
Summer bucket list found at

Fire Safety Activities for Kids

fire activities for kids

It’s summer, which means the weather is perfect for late night fire pits to make s’mores, it also unfortunately means that dry regions in particular are more prone to wildfires.

Help kids learn about fireman, fire trucks, and fire safety with these fun tips.


We’ve been doing a lot of fire engine building over the summer vacation.  From a wooden Melissa & Doug fire engine, where we taught our little man how to use a screwdriver, to assembling his Lego fire engine set.  Both activities required him to follow the directions in the manuals.

He was so proud of the fire truck.  We have slowly been introducing him to tools and building, but this was his first real project.

He has quite an extensive LEGO Fire collection that he is still building on.  If you look closely you can see the water drops (LEGO) falling onto the tree from the plane to put out the fire.

Here are a few more fun crafts and activities for kids:

  • Paint a cardboard box to look like a fire engine.  Have fire engine races, or let your little firefighter water the plants for you.
  • Make a fireman using a cardboard roll (toilet paper rolls work really well for this activity)
  • Dress-ups are great fun for little firefighters.


Contact your local fire department and see if you can pay them a visit (they might love it if you took a plate of cookies too).  Have them show the kids the fire trucks and all the gear they need to fight fires.  Your kids are sure to learn some valuable fire safety tips.

The U.S. Fire Administration (FEMA) have wonderful resources available including discussion points, escape plans, activity books, and coloring pages.


Here are 10 fire books that kids will love.

  • The Fire Engine Book (Little Golden Book), by Tibor Gergely
  • Curious George and the Firefighters, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey
  • LEGO City: Fire Truck to the Rescue, by Sonia Sander
  • The Fire Cat, by Esther Averill
  • Arthur’s Fire Drill, by Marc Brown
  • Flashing Fire Engines, by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker
  • The Little Fire Engine, by Lois Lenski
  • Mac the Fire Truck and the Factory Fire, by Trey Watson
  • Big Frank’s Fire Truck, by Leslie McGuire
  • Fire Engine Man, by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha


I made these fun treats for the kids recently, and they are really simple.  All you need are pretzels and Roll-ups (I used the Orange Cherry Wildfire ones).

Have you taught your kids about fire safety?  Do they know how to stop, drop, and roll?

5 educational crafts with 3 supplies

You do not have to spend a lot of money and have a closet full of craft supplies to have fun educational activities.  I decided to try and come up with 5 activities that all used the same 3 supplies. I tested these activities out on my 5 year old daughter, 3 year old son and his 3 year old friend.  I will share my thoughts with you below each activity and I welcome your thoughts! What other things could I do with these supplies?


Ribbon or yarn
Poster board
Fruit Loops cereal

1. Sorting by color

You can use whatever way of separating that you want – I used a mini muffin tin.  Sorting teaches organization. It is a building block skill that many schools are requiring incoming students to know before starting Kindergarten.

2. Create patterns

I had a difficult time orchestrating this activity with two 3 year-olds and a 5 year old.  But with only my 5 year old, it is a wonderful time! Clear the table and put the fruit loops in different patterns.  She started out at 4 years old only doing AB patterns – so red, blue, red blue. Now at 5 years old she is doing ABC patterns really well – red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow.  I love seeing her mind work and watch her grasp new concepts!

3. Addition and Subtraction

This one is a lot of fun – and delicious! I gave Lizzie 10 fruit loops. I said, “now, eat 2 of them – how many are left?” She counted, 8! Then we put 2 more back and said out loud, “Eight fruit loops plus 2 more is ten again.”

4. Make a necklace

You can either allow the child to run with their creativity or ask them to put the fruit loops on the string according to a pattern.  I noticed with the 3 year old that she just had fun stringing the cereal. It was more about the gross motor skills for her. My 5 year old daughter asked me what pattern she should do! She loved doing 3 blues then three yellows.


5. Create their name

This makes the craft personal and teaches letter recognition. David wanted his number three and the other three year old girl had no idea how to spell her name.  So this can also teach name-spelling. Lizzie can write her name pretty well by now, but this was just a lot of fun for her to make the letters.

What are some other crafts/activities we could do with these three supplies?