Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Moms Wear Costumes

I’ll never forget the Halloween that my mom dressed up as a scarecrow. I was about eight years old, and all decked out in my homemade Pippi Longstocking costume, complete with coat hanger wire wrapped around my head and threaded though my braids to make them stick straight out at the sides of my head. My sister was a Care Bear, with a big felt heart sown on the tummy of her pink sleepers, and a pair of homemade teddy bear ears. Always one to join in on the fun rather than directing from afar, my mom decided to dress up as a scarecrow. She wore an old pair of jeans, a straw hat, a bandana, and one of my dad’s checkered shirts, stuffed with towels for that stuffed scarecrow effect. But the outfit was missing a little something. So at the last minute, my mom decided to cut the leg off of an old pair of pantyhose and pull it over her face, drawing a mustache and eyebrows on with a black eye liner pencil.
If you’ve ever tried putting a nylon stocking over your head (which thankfully, many have not), you’ll know that the tight, stretchy fabric distorts and contorts your face in very unusual ways. So in theory, my mom was a scarecrow. But in reality, she looked much more like some sort of deranged serial killer in a cowboy costume. It was terrifying. And one of the funniest things I think I have ever seen in my life. My sister and I cannot talk about that Halloween without laughing. Even typing this, my face hurts from smiling.
I remember that Halloween more clearly than any other in my life. And my clearest memory (aside from the image of my mom’s distorted face) is of trick or treating at a house down the road. My sister and I went to the door, and my mom stayed back a little bit. Peering into the darkness in the direction of my mom, the homeowner asked “So who’s that? Is that your dad or your mom?”.
“It’s our mom,” we answered, shyly and in unison, as was our style.
“Well, tell your mom to come over here,” he laughed. “She gets double the candy! Only the cool moms wear costumes!”
I grew up always believing quite wholeheartedly that both of my parents were “cool”. But in that moment, I was so proud that the buttons nearly popped right off of my plaid Pippi Longstocking coat. My mom got a lot more candy that night – almost as much as we did. And the fun of that evening is a vivid memory that I still carry with me today.
This week has been a crazy week. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Not just with the usual busyness-of-life type things. But with major, stressful, potentially life-altering things coming at us out of the blue. It would be pretty easy to forgo the family theme costumes this year. Our daughter has an adorable store-bought costume, so she’s all set, and we could just throw on a jacket and bring her out trick or treating.  But what better time is there to celebrate with your child than when the road gets a little rough? What better time is there to invest in having fun and making memories?
So we’ll be up late tonight, and probably tomorrow night too. Creating a mommy costume, a daddy costume, and just for good measure – a dog costume. Because if there’s one thing I learned from my mom the scarecrow…only the cool moms wear costumes.
Last Minute Costume Ideas
All that being said, there is only one shopping day left until Halloween. So here are a few last minute costume ideas from the queen of last minute costumes. They may not be the best costume you’ve ever created, but you can throw them together with just what you have in your closet and a budget of five dollars or less at the dollar store…
·         Wear an old pair of jeans, a plaid shirt, some boots, and a bandana and cowboy hat from the dollar store…and you’re a cowboy (works for dads too)! Trade the jeans for a puffy skirt, and you’re a square dancer!
·         Trade the dollar store cowboy hat for a dollar store straw hat…and you’re a farmer (works well if your child is dressed as a farm animal)!
If you have an old bridesmaid’s dress in your closet, you are set for costumes for years to come…
·         Add a dollar store crown…and you’re a princess.
·         Add a pair of dollar store wings and a magic wand…And you’re a fairy princess.
·         Cut some white teeth out of paper and attach them to your crown or your wand…And you’re the tooth fairy.
·         Bridesmaid dress options are limitless! Other options may include (depending on the dress) – a Barbie, a flamenco dancer, a bride, an angel, or here’s a novel idea – a bridesmaid!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adventures in Pumpkin Muffin Making

I realized late last night that we had a costume party to attend today. A potluck costume party at our favourite drop-in playgroup, and I had promised to bring something. To make things worse, last year I set the bar way too high, bringing what I thought to be a pretty adorable fruit platter arranged to look like a happy pumpkin. I guess that’s the problem with choosing not to just pick up a box of Timbits on the way in. The next year, people remember. There are expectations.
I am not the world’s greatest baker. But I have a couple of close friends who could easily vie for that title. One of those friends brought the most delicious pumpkin muffins to our costume party last week. So feeling ambitious (and perhaps a little desperate) late last night, I decided that I would attempt to tackle her pumpkin muffin recipe.
I don’t know what it is with me and baking. I just seem to have this strange inability to ever follow a recipe. And as a result, my baking is generally mediocre at best. Armed with that knowledge, I got out my friend’s pumpkin muffin recipe…and promptly began to alter it. While she had stayed up late into the night baking fresh pumpkins and making her own pumpkin puree (she is a much more patient baker than I am!), I just used the canned stuff. And since I was already making changes, I threw in a few more little twists.  And to my great surprise, they ended up being delicious! Wonderfully moist with a very festive flavor, these muffins are healthy and so easy to make…
Pumpkin Muffins
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white sugar (you can reduce this to one cup if you choose and still have yummy muffins)
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pureed pumpkin (I used canned, but I must admit that the fresh pumpkin my friend used was yummier)
2/3 cup applesauce
3 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins or line with paper liners. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together pumpkin puree, applesauce and eggs. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and combine until smooth. Bake roughly 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Makes 24 small or 18 regular sized muffins.
These muffins are delicious on their own, but for a festive Halloween twist, I covered them with cream cheese icing (no recipe needed – just combine softened cream cheese, icing sugar, and a tiny bit of milk, using your best judgment as to consistency and taste). I tinted the icing orange (using red and yellow food colouring) and then added happy pumpkin faces using a little tube of black icing (available in the baking aisle of the grocery store – a great thing to have on hand in your cupboard).
And the verdict? The playgroup costume party and the pumpkin muffins were both a smashing success! The kids loved them, the mommies and daddies loved them, even the grandmas loved them! They make a yummy Halloween treat, but don’t worry if you run out of time. They’d be great for Christmas too! Hope you enjoy them…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great Gobs of Goop

So here’s an activity not for the faint of heart. It’s probably the messiest adventure you’ll ever have inside your own home. But it is totally worth the mess…
“Goop” is the perfect activity for Halloween, but once you try it, you’ll come back to it again and again. It’s safe for babies and toddlers, but big kids, teenagers and adults will love it too! Goop is an amazing shape-shifting substance that changes from a liquid to a solid and back again right in the palm of your hands. Add a little green food colouring and you have the best ever ooey-gooey bowl of slime. My daughter and I played with our bowl of goop for nearly forty minutes this afternoon, and were both totally mesmerized by this super-cool, almost magical substance.
Goop Recipe
1 ¼ cup cornstarch
1 cup water
Few drops green food colouring
Combine cornstarch, water and food colouring in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly using your hands. If more than one child will be playing with the goop, simply double the recipe.
Playing with goop is a wonderful sensory adventure for little ones, as they explore the very unique textures of this ever-changing slime. And as this is an adventure best enjoyed together, playing with goop is a wonderful activity to promote language learning and togetherness.
And yes, goop is messy. Super messy. But so many great things about childhood are. To save yourself a lot of clean-up time, I’d highly recommend using the No Stress Mess strategy. The great thing about goop is that even if gobs of it do end up on your floor, it turns into a pasty/powdery substance that vacuums up quite easily. And little hands will come clean in just seconds when rinsed with water. So bite the bullet. Be a super brave mommy. And have FUN!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Indoor Sandboxes

Not wanting to say goodbye to autumn too soon, we spent the afternoon participating in one last muddy-booted, pumpkin-dotted, farm-scented, outdoor activity. And what an adventure it was! Friends invited us to join them on a trip to the corn maze – a family activity I’d highly recommend if you still have a chance this season. Initially we thought we’d forgo the maze in favour of the other little attractions – the petting zoo, mini hay bale maze, and wagon rides to the pumpkin patch. But we did venture briefly into the maze, and our little ones loved it. Tons of mud, fresh air, and wide open spaces for running around – and two nap-skipping toddlers were as happy as piggies in a cornfield.
One activity at the corn maze – a sandbox filled with dried corn (see dusty but delighted toddlers in picture, attached), reminded me of a great indoor activity that we’ll be setting up in our house as the weather turns dreary…An indoor “sand” box! Sounds messy (and truth be told, it will be, at least a little), but it’s not nearly the disaster you might think it will be. And this is one activity that is guaranteed to keep your kids happily occupied as the changing season means more time spent indoors. 
Choose a large but shallow plastic container (i.e. an “under-the-bed” type plastic storage bin) to use as your sandbox. Then clean up your child’s outdoor plastic swimming pool and bring it inside. Fill the shallow plastic bin with uncooked (okay, that should go without saying, but you never know!) rice, then place the bin in the middle of the pool. Have your child sit in the pool and play in the rice like a sandbox, using either a clean set of sandbox toys or an assortment of plastic bowls and spoons for scooping and digging in the “sand”. The pool will catch most of the rice that spills out of the “sandbox”, making cleanup a lot easier. Helpful Hint: At least some rice will likely end up spilling out of the pool, so try setting the pool up on a floor space that is easy to sweep.
Small Space Twist – If you don’t have room for a full-size “sandbox” in your home, you don’t have to miss out on the fun! Give your child a small bin of rice to dig and scoop in while sitting at a table. To save yourself a bit of clean-up, try the No Stress Mess strategy.
Other Sandbox Fillers – Instead of rice, cornmeal, dried beans, or dried lentils are other fun options.
This is a fabulous play activity to promote sensory exploration, fine motor and cognitive development. And as you sit and play together with your child, opportunities for language learning and imaginative play will abound. Happy digging!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Pizza

Yesterday I wrote that it appeared some sort of toy and snack food bomb had exploded in my house. Well, if we had a bomb explosion yesterday, then today we appear to have encountered some sort of toddler tornado. Today was costume party day, and for about three and a half hours this afternoon, our home was bursting at the seams with cookie devouring, costume adorned, messy, adorable, wonderful munchkins. Two babies, five toddlers, and two preschoolers, cleverly disguised as a colourful assortment of barnyard animals, bumblebees, butterflies and princesses.  It was total, absolute chaos. And I loved every minute of it.

For lunch we had one of my kid-party favourites – “decorate-your-own” mini pizzas. Kids LOVE making their own pizzas, so this is a fun activity for any party. But for Halloween, I decided to add a little twist…
Pumpkin Pizzas
Pilsbury pizza dough (or homemade pizza dough, if you are feeling ambitious)
Pizza sauce
Cheddar cheese, grated
Your choice of toppings:
Pepperoni (cut into triangles for a traditional Jack-O-Lantern look)
Red peppers (cut into long thin slices, for mouths)
Pineapple, mushrooms, onions, green peppers (cubed, for eyes and noses)
To make pumpkin shaped pizza crusts, roll out pizza dough and use a round cookie cutter (or almost anything round, such as the rim of a bowl or mug, depending on the size you would like your pizzas to be) to cut a round mini pizza crust. Use your finger to form a slight indent (as though making a heart shape) at the top of the “pumpkin”. Cut a small rectangle out of pizza dough and attach to the indented portion of the pizza crust to form a “stem”. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake crusts roughly 7-8 minutes on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  One roll of pizza dough yields roughly 2 adult-sized and 3 child-sized mini pizzas.
Prepare your pizza crusts ahead of time, then allow your little ones to decorate their own pumpkin pizzas! The cheddar cheese gives the pumpkins their orange colour, and toppings placed on top of the cheese will form your jack-o-lantern face. So simple – yet so much fun! Happy pumpkin eating!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Not Celebrate?

So maybe today isn’t the best day to be planning a party. My munchkin is sick, and keeping on top of the goo pouring from her nose has been practically a full time job the past couple of days. I am swamped, ridiculously overcommitted with appointments, events, and looming deadlines both this week and next. Our house looks like some sort of strange toy and snack food bomb exploded mysteriously in the night. My dear hubby works a 14 hour shift today, so party preparations are entirely up to me. And I’ve just realized that my butterfly wings are broken, so I need to go out and buy a costume.
But there will be a costume party at our house tomorrow, come rain or shine, sleet or hail, toy bombs or goo noses (I did send out a germ disclaimer to all our guests, not wanting to be “that mom” who assumes that if her kids are sick, everyone else’s should be too). Five mommies and nine munchkins under the age of five, all coming to our place for a costume party. And I can’t wait!
I was talking with a friend the other day about how ridiculously busy the past couple of weeks have been. When I told her I was planning a party at our place, she laughed at me…Actually AT me (good thing I love her – yes, friend, you know who you are!). But to me, celebrations and parties aren’t the things you do only if life isn’t too busy and you have lots of time on your hands. To me, they are what life – particularly life as a mommy – is all about.
I grew up in a family that loves to celebrate, that never neglected to mark special occasions in a fun, memorable, and often quirky way. And I want my own little ones to grow up with memory banks filled to overflowing with snippets of brightly coloured moments – playtime with friends, celebrations with family, quirky traditions, and frequent, spontaneous outbursts of togetherness and joy. Life with children is wonderful. And it deserves to be celebrated.
So that being said, I’ve learned that I need to pace myself when it comes to party planning. Now a well-seasoned party planner (I’ve been hosting two big parties per year for the past thirteen years for a very special group of kids, who are not so little any more), I do have the tendency to go a bit overboard. Not every party can be a Martha-esque all out super duper affair. I’ve decided to allow myself one over-the-top party per child per year – on their birthdays, of course. But for the rest – the little Valentine’s day teas and Halloween lunches – I’ve set a few little guidelines…
1.       Keep it small. Two to five mommies or daddies and accompanying little ones is plenty.
2.       Make it a potluck. I provide the main course (we usually try for lunch time parties) – something simple and kid-pleasing like mini pizzas or macaroni and cheese. Then I delegate the remainder of the food – fruit, veggies, dessert, munchies – to my guests.
3.       Remain calm. I know that the friends I’m inviting all have little ones too, and won’t judge me if my house isn’t totally spic and span.
4.       Make it festive! I throw a few dollar store decorations up on the wall, then pack them away in my “party supplies” box to be used another year.
5.       Relax and have fun! I save the games, activities, and entertainment for birthday parties. At little celebrations, we just hang out and let the little ones play…And it is SO much fun!
Time to run - I have some pumpkin-shaped pizza crusts to make and some tin foil spiders to hang from the ceiling before my goopy-nosed munchkin wakes up from her nap.  I’ll be sure to fill you in on how the party goes…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No Stress Mess

I was in the dollar store yesterday and made one of those purchases that I wish I had made ages ago. Once again, I was reminded of a trick I used to recommend to people, and then entirely forgot about myself until something triggered my memory. It took my daughter pulling a pile of packaged shower curtains off of the shelf onto the floor for me to remember this fantastic little trick…
To save your floors and your sanity during craft activities, spread a plastic shower curtain under your child’s highchair, your kitchen table, or in the designated “craft area” in your home. The shower curtain will protect your floors from dripping paint, globs of glue, and those delightful little bits of glitter that never seem to disappear. When your child has finished his project, simply fold up the shower curtain and shake it off or wipe it down outside. Allow the curtain to dry, fold it up, and reuse the next time you decide to brave a particularly messy craft! Happy mess making!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Smelly Masterpieces

In my years of hunting for safe and simple craft activities, I think this discovery was one of my all time favourites. Incredibly simple to make and safe for even the tiniest artists, even just the idea of this is delightful. What could be cooler – than scratch and sniff paints!
Scratch and Sniff Paints
Several packages of Kool-Aid (or any packaged drink crystals) in a variety of colours
Ice cube tray
Combine equal parts Kool-Aid and water in one section of an ice cube tray, stirring well with the end of a spoon. Repeat with different colours of Kool-Aid in each section of the ice cube tray to create your palette of paints.
These paints work like watercolours, so provide your little one with some big sheets of white paper and a few paintbrushes. Allow your child’s artwork to dry overnight. Once dry, your child can scratch and sniff their works of art! Older kids will enjoy trying to guess which flavours they are smelling.
Helpful Hint: To prevent excessive amounts of paint on your table and to reduce frustration for budding little artists, use masking tape to tape the edges of your child’s art paper to the table. The paper won’t slide around, making it much easier for young children to just focus on and enjoy creating their masterpieces.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Little Pumpkins

I honestly think there are few things on earth that can compare with the joy of a trip to the pumpkin patch. Tiny rubber-booted feet marching through the mud, the cold, crisp feeling of autumn in the air, brown fields speckled with plump orange pumpkins…The very thought of it makes me smile. We spent yesterday afternoon at the “punk-kwin” patch with our own little munchkin. And sitting on a hay bale, my arms wrapped around my muddy-booted toddler, I tried to just breathe in the perfection of that moment. The complications of life temporarily stowed away in some distant place beyond the realm of the hayride, I cuddled my little pumpkin and soaked it all in. These are the moments we will remember one day, when our children are grown, when the busyness has subsided. These are the moments we’ll hold on to forever. With our little pumpkins. So simple and sweet. The season for pumpkins will end before we know it, and another will begin. Our little ones are changing so quickly, far too quickly for this joyful mommy. The season of muddy-booted, hay bale cuddles will pass before we know it. I know there will be other seasons, each with its own kind of beauty. But for this moment I choose to stop and breathe in the air, cuddling my little pumpkin extra tight and appreciating with all my heart the perfection of this season.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shoebox Surprises

While on the topic of boxes, the fun of shoeboxes just can’t be ignored…
·        Punch multiple holes in the top and sides of a shoebox. Place an assortment of old silk scarves, colourful pieces of fabric, or scraps of ribbon inside the shoebox, threading just the tip of each piece of fabric out through the holes. Tape the lid of the box securely shut, and watch the fun as your baby pulls the pieces of fabric out through the holes. This is a great fine motor activity, and most little ones just love the element of surprise.

·        Cut a round hole in the top of a shoebox and give your baby a set of balls (ping pong or golf balls work well) to drop inside. This is a great stepping stone to playing with shape sorters and puzzles. Helpful Hint: Round shapes are the first that children learn to match, followed by squares and then triangles. Starting with just round shapes is great practice for little ones roughly 10 to 12 months of age.

·        Cut a rectangular slit in the top of the box to create a little “mail slot”. Give your toddler or preschooler a pile of old junk mail, and join in on the fun as they put mail into the mail box and take it back out again.

·        Older children will enjoy decorating their own little “mailbox” with paint, felts, crayons or stickers. Help your child write their name and address on their mailbox, then choose a place for it in your child’s room or outside of their door. Siblings will enjoy making and delivering “mail” to one another’s mailboxes. And from time to time, try surprising your child by “sending” them a little letter or package to discover.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fun with Boxes

I loved that credit card commercial from a few years ago – the one that featured a baby receiving a fancy gift, and then spending all of his time playing with the box the gift came in. And you’ve no doubt discovered it’s true – it’s often the simplest things that provide the most entertainment for our little ones. And it’s no coincidence that it works that way. Our children are SMART, so smart that they sometimes know even better than we do what they need to help them learn and grow…
Imagine for a moment a flashy bells-and-whistles toy – the kind with about 25 different buttons that light up and make sounds or play music. Exciting for a moment? Absolutely! But now think about that same toy two days later. Your child has pressed the same buttons over and over again, seen the same lights, and heard the same songs. When your child has lost interest in pushing those buttons, what is left to do with that toy? Not much, aside from throwing it in boredom or using it as a step stool to climb up onto the bookshelf.
Now imagine the cardboard box that toy came in. To a child, the possibilities for play are literally endless. The box does not impose limits, like those bells-and-whistles toys often do. The box invites imagination and creativity. The box represents limitless possibilities.
So the next time you have an empty cardboard box in your house, take a detour from your path to the recycling bin. Check the box to make sure it does not have any sharp edges or staples. Then make a beeline for the playroom. Your child will discover her own ways to play. But here are a few fun ideas you may want to introduce as well…
·    Open both ends of the box and use as a tunnel to crawl through. This is a great way to promote motor planning and many other important skills in crawling babies.  But kids of all ages will love this game, particularly if you pretend to chase them through the tunnel. Helpful Hint: If your child skipped the crawling stage, they’ve missed out on more than just a temporary method of getting around. Crawling is an important building block for later development – but it is never too late to practice, and this is a great way to do it!
·    Have your child sit in the box and pull or push it around as a toy car. Older children will enjoy cutting out paper windows, headlights and wheels and pasting them to the car.
·    Large boxes make wonderful playhouses! Cut out a door and some windows, or have your child paint their own house outside in the yard on a clear day.
·    Smaller boxes make excellent dollhouses. Leave one end of the box open, and cut out some little windows and doors. Your child may enjoy helping you decorate the inside and outside of the house with felts or crayons. Or for a realistic twist, cut pictures of doors, windows, carpets, furniture, etc. out of a magazine and paste them onto the inside and outside of your dollhouse.

Monday, October 11, 2010

So Thankful

Following through with my “Thanksgiving Time Capsule” idea, I sat down with my daughter this afternoon, crayon and paper in hand, and asked her what she is thankful for. At just 21 months of age, I wasn’t certain that she quite had a handle on what “thankful” even meant. But she happily rattled off a list for me, naming with great animation the things that her little heart loves. Here are the things that my little one told me she is thankful for this Thanksgiving Day – and the response of my own heart to her very sweet reply.
Mommy, I am Thankful for…
(And Mommy is thankful too, my little one, for all the memories we are still to make)
Monkeys, Dinosaurs and Dora
(And Mommy too, for the smiles they bring to your little face)
Mommy Carry You and Nighty Night
(Oh how I love to cuddle you, and tuck you into bed)
Zebra, Birdie, and Moo Cow
(And for the trip we took to the zoo the other day, just the two of us)
(And I for you, my baby girl)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Time Capsule

This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. And one thing is absolutely certain – no matter how challenging life may be or how difficult the trials you are facing, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for when you are blessed to be a mommy or a daddy. This weekend I’ll be hugging my little one extra tight, and remembering all of the things I have to be grateful for.
As our family grows and our little ones get older, I want them to think of Thanksgiving as something more than pumpkin pie and turkey (or tofurkey in our happily vegetarian household!).  I want Thanksgiving to be a time in which we truly reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. So this year, I’m instituting a new tradition in our home – the Thanksgiving Time Capsule!
I’ve already purchased our family time capsule – a little box shaped like a treasure chest, found in our local craft store. One day down the road, I’ll have our children paint and decorate the outside of the treasure chest. But for now we’ll just focus on the inside. My goal is that each member of our family will create something special to tell of what we’re thankful for this year, to be tucked away in the treasure chest until next Thanksgiving. Then each and every year, we’ll repeat the tradition, reading through past years’ contributions and no doubt smiling at the memories they bring to mind.
No matter what the age or stage of your child, they can participate in and have fun with your family’s Thanksgiving time capsule…
·         Older children can write a list of all of the things they are thankful for.
·         Younger children can draw a picture of things they are thankful for – just be sure you write on the back of the picture, so that you remember what it represents in years to come.
·         Even the tiniest babies tell us what they’re thankful for – it’s just up to us to observe and interpret. Write a little list of the things your baby loves, decorating it if you’d like with a little tracing or print of a tiny hand or foot.
The lovely thing about this tradition is that it can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be. Some different twists on the time capsule tradition include…
·         Purchase a simple little notebook. At Thanksgiving dinner, ask each family member what they are thankful for and write their response in the notebook.
·        Create a video time capsule, asking each person to share what they are thankful for on video.
·       Create a Thanksgiving scrapbook. Have each person write or draw something that they are thankful for on small pieces of paper. Arrange them on a single scrapbook page, adding pictures of your Thanksgiving as a family, or little reminders of things you are thankful for – souvenirs from a family vacation, pictures of loved ones, etc.  Add a new page (or pages) to your scrapbook each year.
·        Or create another tradition to share as a family. Have fun, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sticky without the Icky

Craft projects are so much fun for little ones, but store bought glues are full of harsh chemicals and make a terrible mess. This craft glue is easy to make, relatively easy to clean off of little hands and household surfaces, and safe for even very young children to use. So safe that you don’t need to worry if they try to eat it – it is totally edible!
You will need…
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon vinegar
Combine flour, sugar, and half of the water in a small saucepan, stirring until mixture forms a thick paste with no lumps. Add the rest of the water and the vinegar and combine thoroughly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until glue thickens. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight glass or plastic container with a lid.
To use glue, spread with a popsicle stick or the back of a plastic spoon. This glue is quite thick and pasty and takes a long time to dry, but once dry it holds surprisingly well. I wouldn’t recommend using this glue for very special craft projects you intend to save for a very long time. But for everyday art and craft projects, it’s perfect! Happy gluing!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tiny Chefs

Sometimes the most fantastic little moments happen when all of our best laid plans have gone awry. And that’s precisely what happened at our house this afternoon. My little one has a terrible cold, and I thought that trying a new craft activity would be a fun way to spend the afternoon. I planned to make some homemade craft glue during nap time (recipe to follow – check back soon!), but my daughter had other plans. Terribly congested, she refused to nap, but I decided to attempt the craft anyways. And trying to keep her occupied while preparing the glue, I stumbled upon an activity she loved more than any I had planned…
I often let my daughter “cook” while I am cooking – giving her an assortment of pots, bowls and utensils and watching her imagination bloom. But today I took it one step further and actually gave her ingredients  - a little bowl of flour, a little bowl of water, and utensils for scooping, pouring and mixing. Was it messy? Absolutely! But my daughter sat happily in her highchair, totally absorbed in her play for a good twenty minute stretch (and this in spite of having a cold and missing her nap!). The disaster I cleaned up afterwards was so small in comparison to the enormous smile on her little face. It was absolutely worth the effort.
Cooking with kids is a wonderful learning activity, and can be adapted for little ones of any age…
·        Little Babies – Position your little one somewhere where he can safely watch as you prepare dinner. The sights, sounds and smells of cooking provide a wonderfully rich sensory experience, and your little one will be learning language as you talk and sing to her while you cook.

·        Older Babies – When your baby is able to sit supported in her highchair as you cook, give her an assortment of safe plastic utensils, small bowls, storage containers with lids, and measuring cups to play with. Your baby will develop important fine motor and relational play skills - banging toys together, taking objects out of containers and putting them back in, and stacking and nesting, to name just a few.

·        Toddlers – Bite the bullet and give your little one some real ingredients to explore while you are cooking. It will be messy, but this is a great multisensory play activity that will spark your child’s imagination and lead to wonderful opportunities for conversation and language learning.

·        Older Children – Have your child actually help as you cook. Depending on their age and level of development, this may mean stirring (fun even for toddlers), measuring, or even reading the recipe for you. Cooking is a fabulous activity for learning to follow directions and understanding concepts of quantity and measurement. And there is no better way to get finicky eaters to try new things than to actually involve them in the cooking process.
And as an added bonus…
·        Cooking with your child, at any age, is a wonderful way of teaching healthy eating habits and important lessons about nutrition. You’ll also have opportunities to pass along your cultural heritage and family traditions!
Some of the most vivid and wonderful memories I have of my own childhood are of cooking with my mom. The sunlight streaming through the kitchen window, the feeling of warm, gooey dough in my hands, and the smell of cinnamon and apples emanating from the oven all come back to me as though it were yesterday. I’m looking forward to making those memories with my own little one, and there’s no reason to wait until she’s older…

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Our Colourful World

My daughter and I spent this morning strolling through a nearby park, together admiring the autumn brilliance of leaves in bright red, fiery orange, and burnished gold. My daughter delighted in stomping through the leaves and picking out the most vibrant ones, then holding them high above her little head while shouting “Look Mommy! A RED one!”. No small feat for such a little person.
Did you know that identifying and naming colours is actually a far more difficult task than most parents assume? The next time you are out walking in the autumn leaves, pay attention to the colours that you see. Is that really a red leaf, or is it closer to being orange? And that orange leaf you are holding – Is it truly orange, or is it closer to being yellow? Think about the last time you selected a paint colour in the hardware store – How many shades of blue did you see on those paint chips? Hundreds, most likely. And in real life, the variations are literally endless. Now imagine your child’s little mind trying to make sense of it all, and to figure out which of those endless shades are called “blue” or “red” or “green”. There is nothing at all simple about learning colours - And yet our little ones do it!
Did you know…
·        The very first colour that babies are able to see is red. Young babies will be most attracted visually to pictures or toys featuring bold black and white patterns and/or the colour red.

·       It will be easier for your child to identify colours (“Can you find the red leaf?”) than to name them (“What colour is that leaf?”).

·        On average, children are able to identify two or more colours by their third birthday, and to correctly name several colours by the age of four. There is great variation, however, and some children will begin identifying and naming colours even before their second birthday.

·        Boys are more likely to be colour blind than girls. However, being a little late to identify or name colours isn’t necessarily an indication of colour blindness. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision, speak with your doctor and arrange to have your child’s vision tested.

·        All children should have their vision tested by the age of two, and many experts recommend vision testing even earlier – by six to twelve months of age (Yes, it is possible!). Speak with your doctor or contact your public health unit to find a good pediatric optometrist in your community.
The world is alive with vibrant colours, at this and every time of year. And it is never too early to begin talking with your child about their colourful world. When your child reaches that delightful stage of identifying and naming colours, I hope you’ll stop to think of that array of paint chips in the hardware store, and to celebrate the true wonder of their discovery!