Friday, July 22, 2011

Bead Bugs

This is a fun little craft project to enjoy with your munchkin on a rainy summer day (which we’ve had an abundance of this summer). These little bead bugs are cute and quite impressive looking, and are a fun fine motor challenge.

You will need –
Styrofoam craft balls
Pipe cleaners
Beads with large holes
Googley eyes (optional)
Cut pipe cleaners in thirds, and twist one end of the pipe cleaner into a small loop (to prevent beads from sliding off of the end). Show your child how to thread the beads onto the pipe cleaner (supervise little ones so they don’t mouth the beads). When your child has added several beads, help them poke the straight end of the pipe cleaner into the Styrofoam ball, then bend the pipe cleaner slightly in the middle to create a “bug leg”. Continue adding legs, and use two smaller pipe cleaner sections to create antennae. Finish your bead bug by gluing on googley eyes, or by simply drawing eyes on the Styrofoam using a ball point pen.  This is a great little project for beginning beaders, as it is much easier to thread beads onto a pipe cleaner than onto a string.
Helpful Hints:
·         If you don’t have beads or would prefer not to use them, cut drinking straws into short sections and thread these onto the pipe cleaner instead.
·         If your child isn’t quite ready for this fine motor challenge, try this very simple threading activity: Cut the egg cups out of a cardboard egg carton, and punch a large hole into the bottom of each egg cup. Loop and twist one end of a pipe cleaner to prevent “beads” from slipping off, and help your child practice threading egg cup beads onto the pipe cleaner. A great introduction to this tricky concept!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Smoothie Popsicles

Ah, summer. There is nothing else quite like it. And though our summer has been incredibly busy this year (hence my negligence in posting!), it has also been lovely. What could be more wonderful than sitting in the sun out on the back deck with your munchkin? Well, perhaps sitting in the sun out on the back deck with your munchkin and popsicle!!
As the mommy of a typically picky toddler, I’m always looking for ways of getting healthy food into that cute little belly. This summer, smoothie popsicles have been the answer. Every time I make a smoothie for my daughter, I double the ingredients and pour whatever is left over into a popsicle mould. My little princess gobbles them up as though they were candy…and yet they’re very healthy and nutritious (shhh – don’t tell her that).
To make your own smoothie popsicle, simply blend together…
Yogurt (go for the plain, unsweetened kind –  it’s healthier, and your kids won’t notice the difference)
Whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand
Pour well blended smoothie into popsicle moulds (available at most dollar stores) and freeze. Then simply serve and enjoy!
Helpful Hints:
·        This is a great way of using up slightly over-ripe fruit, or making use of yogurt that has almost reached its expiry date.
·         Be sure to make a few extra popsicles – mommies and daddies will love them too!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Play Clay

Here’s a fun and different twist on traditional playdough. This clay has an interesting consistency, almost like stretchy plastic. And like all really great kids craft recipes, it is safe for little ones as it is entirely edible (but tastes awful!). To add this recipe to your joyful mommy repertoire, you will need…
1 cup corn starch
2 cups baking soda
1 ½ cups cold water
Few drops food colouring
Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Transfer clay into dish, cover with a damp cloth and allow to cool. When mixture has cooled, knead until it becomes stretchable. Then have fun creating and exploring together with your child!
Helpful Hints:
·    Play clay dries out quickly, so store clay that you are not using in an airtight container with a lid.
·    Use a little bit of water to join pieces of clay together.
·    Play clay is sticky! Wax paper taped securely to the table surface makes clay a little easier to work with.
Happy clay playing, everyone!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bug Box

In the midst of life’s craziness, what could be better that some moments of joyful simplicity with our little ones? The pace of life in our household has been quite frantic the past several weeks (hence my utter negligence in posting!). But no matter how harried the pace, we make an effort to savor un-rushed moments with our munchkin every day. One of the best of those moments happened a couple of weeks ago, as my hubby, my munchkin and I literally sat in the dirt together and created our very own “bug box”. It was one of those joyfully simple moments that I cherish. It cost us not a penny. And my daughter’s eyes were wide with wonder…

To create your own bug box, you will need…
An empty clear plastic container with a lid (large salad containers work particularly well)
Masking tape
A small shovel
Garden gloves (optional)
A garden space suitable for bug hunting!
Punch some small air holes in the lid of your plastic container. Then simply sit with your child and dig in the dirt! Talk about all of the amazing things you discover together – bugs, rocks, grass, twigs, leaves, dirt – the options are endless! Sprinkle a little dirt at the bottom of your bug box, then collect items to create your bug habitat – some sticks and rocks for variety, and some leaves and greenery for your bugs to eat. Hunt for bugs to live in your bug box – worms, beetles, snails – whatever you are able to find. Take your time and enjoy the hunt! When you are finished, securely tape the lid to your bug box so that your child can explore it from every angle without the worry of bugs and dirt spilling everywhere.
Helpful Hints:
·         Scatter only a small amount of dirt at the bottom of the box. If you use too much dirt, the bugs will hide in it and your child won’t be able to see them.
·        Add water to your bug box (daily if you plan to keep it for a while), as bugs get thirsty too.
·        Slugs shouldn’t be kept overnight as they tend to dry out (lesson learned in my own childhood!). Snails are fantastic as they creep along the sides of the box and are very interesting to watch.
This is a fabulous activity for promoting language development , as little ones will be fascinated and there are endless topics to talk about together! And the memories you build are the kind that last for a lifetime. Happy bug hunting, joyful mommies!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cheerful Choo Choo Birthday Cakes

A very special birthday cake for a very special little boy. We baked and decorated FIVE of these train-themed birthday cakes, complete with licorice rope train tracks, rock candy landscaping, and cheerful choo choos emerging from tunnels. Decorating five of these was no small feat – but absolutely worth the effort when we saw the end result. We know one little three-year-old was smiling…
These cakes would be perfect for a “Thomas the Tank Engine” birthday party, but we used “The Little Engine That Could” trains instead – just as adorable but a lot less expensive (particularly since we made five of them). To make your own train and tunnel cakes, just use a large round cake for the bottom layer. We used our “Barbie dress” cake pan to make the tunnel, but you could simply build the tunnel out of layers of cake baked in a regular pan. The simply ice your cake using green for grass, blue for a pond and waterfall, grey for your mountain, and black for the opening to the tunnel (a trip to the cake decorating store is a must – professional quality gel colouring makes your icing colours so much more vibrant). Then simply trim the edges of your cake with rock candy, build your train tracks with licorice rope, and finish off with a cheerful-looking train and perhaps a plastic tree or two. Perfect for any train-loving girl or boy (and have you ever met a preschooler who doesn’t love trains?).
These cakes were a labour of love for us, and we were so happy with the result. We hope they bring smiles to your family as well…

Friday, April 15, 2011

Endlessly Entertaining Easter Eggs

While Easter basket fillers are still available in stores, I thought I’d pass along this fun activity suggestion that can be used any time of year. This twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt is a fabulous activity for promoting fine motor skills, language learning and sensory exploration with your little one. Simply find a large container and fill it with multicoloured Easter basket hay (you’ll find packages of this thinly shredded paper or plastic anywhere Easter baskets are sold). Then use an assortment of plastic Easter eggs (also usually available in bulk packages in the Easter basket aisle) and hide them in the hay. Throw in a few clean sandbox toys, such as buckets, rakes, and shovels, and you’ll be surprised how long your kids will be thoroughly entertained! (Be sure to supervise  little ones, as you don’t want them trying to eat the hay or mouth the eggs).
As with all great play activities, there are endless variations you can make to this game…
·   Pulling the plastic Easter Eggs apart and putting them back together (tricky!) is a fantastic way for kids to strengthen fine motor skills.
·    Try hiding little toys and other objects inside of the Easter eggs for a great language building game. Little ones will be fascinated as you pull toys out of the eggs and tell them the names of the things you find. Beginning talkers will delight in telling you what they’ve discovered. And older kids will love the challenge of trying to guess what’s inside the egg before they open it.
·    When your munchkins grow tired of playing in the hay, throw in a fun sensory twist. Try hiding Easter eggs in a container full of uncooked rice, cornmeal, puffed wheat, or even some fabulously fun and slimy goop (click here for goop recipe). Happy Easter egg hunting, everyone!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Earth-Friendly Spring Flowers

My hubby and I married young, and as ours was the first wedding among our circle of friends, we were blessed with an abundance of wedding showers – seven, to be exact. And it was at those wedding showers that I first earned my reputation as a tissue paper hoarder. As a general rule, I detest wastefulness, and couldn’t bear the thought of piles and piles of perfectly good gift wrap and tissue paper simply being thrown away. So my guests were forced to sit patiently as I carefully unwrapped each gift, painstakingly sorting and folding every salvageable morsel of gift wrap.
By the time my daughter arrived ten years later, my friends and family were well aware of my gift wrap salvaging obsession. And at each of my three baby showers, a paper-folding assistant quickly materialized by my side. There have been a few giggles at my expense. But I remain proud of my meticulously folded gift wrap stash, which over the years has saved me considerable money while keeping all of that unnecessary waste out of the landfill.
Now that my daughter is an expert gift-unwrapper, there is nothing at all meticulous remaining about my stash. Tissue paper is crumpled. Gift wrap is shredded. But all is not lost! I recently separated out all of the truly mangled bits, and put them in a large box in our craft supply cupboard. There are endless craft projects just screaming to be made. But we started with a simple one, perfect for spring…

You will need:
Construction paper
OR for an environmentally friendly twist, reuse backs of printer paper or empty cardboard packaging
Tissue paper in bright colours (used, of course – the more crumpled the better!)
Crayons or felts
Tissue paper flowers are so easy to make that even the tiniest of tots can do it. We drew on leaves and stems with crayon, but for a fun and authentic touch, go for a walk and collect some real twigs to use as your flower stems (collecting the twigs will likely be the most fun part of this activity!). If you are attempting this craft with a toddler, or just don’t want your child exposed to all of the chemicals in craft glue, try using my incredible edible craft glue recipe – it really works! Be sure to sit down with your child and join in on the fun of this super simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly spring craft activity. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Healthy Honey Muffins

As a follow up to my last post on the ickyness of refined sugar for mommies, daddies and kidlets alike, I wanted to follow up with at least one of the yummier “ick-free” recipes I’ve discovered. This basic muffin recipe is healthy and delicious, and there are endless variations you can use to keep things interesting…
Healthy Honey Muffins
You will need…
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
¾ cup milk
½ cup liquid honey
3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine (or substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce for lower fat muffins)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Create a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl, and pour wet ingredients into the well. Stir until just combined (do not over stir). Fill greased muffin tin cups two thirds full, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
There are endless variations that work with this recipe. Use your creativity, or throw in roughly ½ cup of one of the following…
·         Raisins
·         Finely chopped apple sprinkled with cinnamon
·         Finely chopped pear sprinkled with nutmeg
·         Fresh or frozen blueberries
·         Fresh or frozen raspberries
·         Fresh or frozen cranberries
Helpful Hint:  If you don’t already own a mini-muffin tin, they are a must-have in any home with children. Kids are fascinated by all things miniature, and you’ll waste less food as the portion size is more appropriate. I pop a few mini-muffins into a ziplock bag in my purse – a convenient, healthy little snack for kids when you are out and about. Enjoy!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pythons and Sweet Treats

This morning my munchkin and I went on a little outing to our local wildlife park. And as the early spring weather proved rainy and cold, we spent much of our time exploring the delightfully warm reptile pavilion. We happened to time our arrival perfectly to attend the reptile show, the highlight of which was a large python that the children were given the opportunity to touch. Now, I’ve never been one to run away screaming at the sight of a spider or even to harbor any real fear of snakes. But when the zookeeper approached with that big, slithery python, my stomach did a couple of nervous little somersaults, and my first instinct was to take a step back. But holding my daughter in my arms, I watched as she turned to me for reassurance, and forced myself to stand there and smile. And much to my surprise, my teeny tiny little two-year-old then confidently reached out and patted the snake, saying, “Hello python. It’s very nice to meet you!”

Mmmm...Sweet Treats!
 Delightful story, but what on earth does it have to do with sweet treats, you might ask. Actually, more than you might think. Watching my toddler confidently patting a python, I was reminded of how very responsible we are for setting the tone for our children. Instinctively, they look to us for guidance, and rely on us to help them as they form their outlook on the world. What a gigantic responsibility that puts on us as parents! And while they still look to us, how important it is that we not squander the opportunity!
Several months ago, my hubby became quite ill and we now observe a very strict new diet in our home. One of the things we’ve eliminated from the menu is all refined sugar – initially a seemingly insurmountable task, as I am a self-proclaimed sugar fanatic. But as the months have progressed, I’ve begun to miss sugar less and less. And when I sneak a little “treat” from time to time, I end up feeling so dreadfully ill that I often regret my choice. It is amazing the negative effect that sugar has on our bodies – an effect that often can only be really noticed when we stop pumping our bodies constantly full of junk.
It has been a powerful wake-up call for me. If refined sugar has that sort of effect on my body, imagine what it must do to the body and mind of my tiny, still developing child. I have no intention of entirely banning her for life from every sugary snack. But I am making an even-more-conscious-than-ever effort to redefine the meaning of “treat” in our household. Cutting down on sugar doesn’t mean depriving your sweet tooth. The world is full of naturally sweet, healthy options that don’t contain any refined sugar, and will leave mommies, daddies, and little ones feeling so much better about themselves. Here are a few yummy ideas to replace those sugary snacks…
  • Try baking with maple syrup or honey rather than white or brown sugar (brown is just as processed and just as bad for you, contrary to popular belief). To use honey in place of sugar, use 7/8 cup for every cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. To use maple syrup in place of sugar, use 3/4 cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar, decreasing the total amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. These substitutions work particularly well when baking muffins, loaves, and hearty cookies (such as healthy oatmeal raisin cookies).
  • Give your traditional peanut butter and jam sandwiches a healthy makeover. Replace peanut butter with almond butter with no sugar added, and replace jam with thinly sliced bananas or apples, or a little pasteurized honey.

  • Say goodbye to Aunt Jemima and switch to pure maple syrup when indulging in a pancake breakfast. Switch to whole wheat flour and throw some fresh blueberries into the batter, and pancakes become a healthy, wholesome meal!

·    If your child is a juice junkie, think about investing in a juicer and making your own healthy juices at home. Store bought juices are often full of sugar and artificial flavours and colours, and even the “healthier” juice options are really devoid of most of their nutritional value by the time they hit your child’s juice cup.

·    Don’t forget the best sweet treat of all – lots of healthy fresh or frozen fruit. With the money you’ll save when skipping the snack food aisle, you’ll have lots of room in the family budget for more vitamin-packed fruits and veggies!

Happy healthy snacking, Joyful Mommies and tots! And stay tuned for some of my favourite “no-junk” treat recipes….

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Toy Cleaning 101

Spring is finally here, and as the brightness of the sun begins to illuminate the grunginess of your child’s toy box, perhaps it’s time to consider a little spring toy cleaning. After working for a decade in the field of early intervention and spending what seemed to be a sizable portion of that time cleaning and disinfecting toys used as part of my work with families, toy cleaning has become, surprisingly even to me, a bit of an area of expertise. As such, there are few things that bother me more now than really dirty, grimy toys…and yet they get that way soooo easily!

Toy cleaning actually isn’t as straightforward as it seems, and knowing what you are doing can make this potentially very big task much simpler. So before you begin tackling a little spring toy cleaning, here are a few helpful toy cleaning tips to get you started…
Remember that not all toys are created equally, and not all toys should be cleaned in the same way!!! Generally speaking, toys can be divided into three cleaning categories:
·    SUBMERGABLE TOYS – Most plastic toys, excluding battery operated toys or toys with small holes in which water can become trapped, can be submerged in water. These are the easiest toys to clean, and can be scrubbed down with dish soap and hot water, thoroughly rinsed and allowed to air dry. If you are worried about really disinfecting toys, using a mild bleach solution is most effective. And if you are looking for an easy way out, many of the studier plastic toys (i.e. nesting cups, plastic links, teething rings, etc.) can be washed safely on the top rack of the dishwasher.

·    WIPE DOWN TOYS – Many toys should NOT be submerged in water as this may result in damage to the toy. Toys in this category include battery operated and electronic toys, toys with small holes in which water could become trapped, toys with stickers or paper labels, books, some wooden toys, and puzzles. To clean wipe down toys, wipe toys thoroughly with a damp soapy cloth, then again with a clean damp cloth OR use a dry antibacterial cloth OR wipe down with a cloth dampened in mild bleach solution, allowing to air dry.

·    CLOTH TOYS – Most cloth toys, including stuffed animals, cloth baby toys, and doll clothes can be easily washed with a mild, baby safe detergent in the gentle cycle of your washing machine. If cloth toys are handmade, delicate, or of great sentimental value, hand washing in warm water using a gentle hand washing detergent is a better option. Allow toys to dry inside on a drying rack or outside on a clothesline.

Before returning clean toys to their rightful place, be sure to thoroughly wipe down the toy box or storage unit. And rather than just dumping all of the toys back into toy chaos, take the opportunity to purge, organize, and rotate your child's toys – it will save your sanity while at the same time creating a better learning environment for your child.
And just a few more HELPFUL HINTS:
·    To get into grimy, hard to reach spaces while cleaning your child’s toys, try using an old toothbrush. If that doesn’t do the trick, use the tip of a wooden kebab stick (available at most grocery stores) to dig into all those dirty little crevices.
·    For a natural and environmentally friendly cleaning solution, try scrubbing your child’s toys using just a dish brush, water, and a sprinkle of baking powder – a great, non-toxic cleanser.
·    To eliminate germs from a hard-to-wash stuffed toy, simply wrap the toy in a plastic bag and pop into the freezer overnight.
Happy toy cleaning, joyful mommies!!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dinosaur Princess Cupcake Tower

Today was cake baking day at our house, as we prepare to assemble FIVE choo choo train birthday cakes, complete with tracks, tunnels, and mountains, for a very special upcoming birthday. And as the sweet smell of confetti cake wafts through my kitchen, I am reminded of the fact that I haven’t yet posted anything about our last birthday cake adventure…The successful creation of our sparkly, dinosaur birthday cake cupcake tower!
We threw a dinosaur-themed birthday party for our two-year old daughter this year (little girls love dinosaurs too!), but still wanted her cake to have that girly, princess touch. We based the theme of the cake on four brightly coloured, polka-dotted, wind-up dinosaurs that we found in a quaint little toy store featuring hard to find and retro-inspired toys. We followed that discovery up with a trip to the cake decorating store (an absolute MUST if you want to find easy ways of making your cake a stand out). We used brightly-coloured icing, coordinating polka-dot cupcake liners, some pre-made sugar flowers, and the ultimate secret weapon for any truly magical birthday cake fit for a princess – sparkle sugar!
Although cupcakes are more work than they may initially appear (it takes longer to ice multiple cupcakes than just one large cake), when arranged on a cupcake tower (which can be rented, but are fairly inexpensive to buy) they really do look impressive. We chose to make the top layer of the tower a small, individual cake, which allowed us room for a little dinosaur scene and that all important birthday candle. This cake was probably the easiest and least labour-intensive of any we’ve made over the past several years, but still had the wow factor we always try to go for. Hope you’re inspired…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All Things Green

It started with just a simple gift – five little plastic bracelets, made of clear tubing filled with water and green sparkles, purchased at the dollar store for 50 cents apiece. Thirteen years ago this St. Patrick’s Day, I was caring for five little girls under the age of six. On my way to their house, I saw the green bracelets while shopping at a dollar store, and picked them up on a whim. The girls, of course, were thrilled with the gift, and became quite suddenly convinced that St. Patrick’s Day must be something very special. And never one to pass up on a little child-like wonder, I determined that it would be.
So I made up a story about a land in which princesses wore magical sparkle bracelets. And about how those magical bracelets could turn the whole world green. And while the wonder of the story still danced in their eyes, I bundled all of the girls up into coats and boots, and very ceremoniously placed the bracelets on their arms. We headed out the door for a walk, two six-year-olds and two four-year-olds holding hands, and one toddler in my arms.  And within moments the older ones were shouting, “Look! We turned the grass green! And the trees green! And the leaves!” They were so entertained that we walked longer and farther than we ever had together, all of the older girls completely absorbed in the game, and the littlest one thoroughly entertained by the excitement of it all. At the end of that magical St. Patrick’s Day walk, one of the four years olds leaned back and smiled in satisfaction, “I never knew there was so much green in the whole wide world! I think this day is wonderful!”
And it was.
This year, I’m planning to take a little colour walk with my own munchkin on St. Patrick’s Day, and to look for all things green. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find any magical green sparkle bracelets at the dollar store today. But if not, any little gift will do. A dollar store ring, a treasure bucket, a pair of mittens or a little green hat…Kids can find wonder in anything. And that’s the most magical thing of all…

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Make-Your-Own Memory

When I was a little girl, my sister and I had a game called “Baby Animal Memory”. It was just a set of little cardboard squares, pale blue on one side with sweet little cartoon drawings of animals on the other. The object of the game was to turn all of the cards face down, turning up two at a time and using your memory to find matching pairs of baby animals. We loved that game and played with it for hours. The baby bunnies were my favourite, and I can remember what they looked like even now. Thinking of that makes me smile. I love those kinds of memories.
A set of “Memory” cards is the perfect, portable activity for keeping kids entertained on the go. I keep a little set of homemade Memory cards in a ziplock baggie in my purse, pulling them out on occasions when we need to happily occupy some time, such as while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting for our meal at a restaurant. Of course, “Memory” in a classic sense is a fairly challenging game. But there are endless variations that will help keep even the tiniest kidlets entertained…
·    Babies will enjoy looking at the pictures, and listening as you tell them the names of the pictures (a great way to build language skills)
·    Toddlers – give your child one picture, and ask them to find one that is the “same” from three or four pictures arranged face up in front of them. As they catch on to the concept, try seeing if they can find a match when there are more cards to choose from.
·    Bigger kids – Play the traditional way, with cards face down. The older the child, the more cards you can put out to choose from. A fun challenge even for mom and dad!
·    Any age – Have your child line up several of the cards in a row in front of you. Then tell your child a story based on the pictures in the order they’ve arranged them. Or if your child is older, have them tell you the story.
And why go out and buy a Memory game when making your own is not only easy and budget-friendly, but also makes a fun craft activity to share with your child! To make your own Memory game…
You will need…
Sturdy paper such as cardstock – should be dark in colour so pictures don’t show through
Two sets of the same pictures – i.e. two identical catalogues, magazines, or flyers
Begin by cutting out a set of evenly sized squares from the paper (as many as you think you’ll need). Remember that the cards need to look identical on the back side, so be sure to choose plain paper. Then choose a set of matching pictures to cut out. The pictures can be of anything you think your child will be interested in – animals, vehicles (magazines are good sources), toys, household items (catalogues are good sources), food, articles of clothing (flyers are good sources), or even of familiar people and places (simply develop doubles of some of your favourite family photos). If your child is older, have them help you cut out the pictures. Or if they are younger, have them help you glue the pictures to the paper squares. Allow to dry and you have your very own homemade Memory game, sure to help you make lots of happy memories with your little ones!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lovely Leaf Painting

My munchkin and I attended one of our favourite playgroups this morning, and she had even more fun than usual thanks to the fantastic art activity we had the opportunity to participate in. It was one of those oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I’ve-never-thought-of-it moments for me, so just in case you haven’t thought of it either, I’ll pass it along to you…
You will need:
Washable, non-toxic paint (any colour)
Large, shallow dish for paint (a disposable lasagna pan would work well)
Large pieces of paper
Assortment of small branches and twigs with leaves attached
Simply put a shallow layer of paint at the bottom of the container, then show your little one how to dip the twigs, leaves and branches and use them to create a work of art on the paper. Gathering twigs and branches together may well be the very best part of this activity, so bundle up and head out for a walk. As spring approaches, leaf hunting walks could become an entertaining and ever-changing part of your week!
Helpful Hints:
·    This is a messy activity by nature, so depending on the set up of your art area (and on your tolerance for mess!) you may want to take steps to protect your table from becoming part of the masterpiece.
·    To prevent art paper from sliding around, try taping the paper to the table with a little bit of masking tape. You’ll reduce the amount of mess while at the same time reducing the frustration level of very tiny artists.
·    This is a lovely multisensory experience for kids! Don’t miss out on the opportunity to promote your child's language development by talking about the colour of the paints and the leaves, the look of the patterns created by different kinds of leaves, the feel of the twigs, and the smell of freshly picked branches. Happy creating!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All-By-Myself Buns

This is one of those great two-for-the-price-of-one deals: a super fun activity to engage your little one, and a yummy, nutritious snack idea all rolled into one. I love this activity/recipe because it requires almost no prep work, makes very little mess, and is actually very healthy. My daughter LOVES making her own goodie-stuffed buns, and gobbles them up when they are finished baking (and my munchkin is generally more of a picker than a gobbler!). She’s taken to calling them “All-By-Myself-Buns”, a name that has stuck around our house. Hope you and your munchkins enjoy the idea too!
You will need…
Bun dough - any of the following will work...
  • Pillsbury-type refrigerated bun or biscuit dough
  • Store-bought freezer bun dough (preferably whole wheat), defrosted
  • Homemade whole wheat bun dough (actually very quick and easy if you use a breadmaker)
Filling – use the following ideas or make up your own..
·     Peanut or almond butter and jam
·    Cream cheese with mashed bananas or berries (have your child help you mash the fruit and combine with the cream cheese)
·    Cheddar or mozzarella (cut into small cubes)
·    Other filling of your choice
Enjoying a cream cheese and blueberry bun
Give your child a ball of dough and show them how to pat it out into a flat pancake shape on a greased pan. Next, show them how to arrange or spread your chosen topping in the centre of the dough. Then step in to help, folding the corners of the dough into the centre, pinching shut, and placing pinched side down on the baking sheet. Bake according to directions for the dough you are using, allow to cool, and enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures in Grocery Shopping - Part 2

Today was grocery shopping day, and I am pleased to report that for the first time in a long while, my secretly-observe-other-mommies-grocery-shopping experiment (to read more click here) revealed something truly wonderful. A mom with three little ones was circuiting the store in the opposite direction that I was, so I had the privilege of passing her in almost every aisle. And I say privilege because it truly was. Her cart was overflowing with groceries that almost obscured a smiling little boy, roughly two or three years of age, inside of the cart. A baby about twelve months old sat buckled into the seat. And a little girl of about four or five walked beside the buggy. This mom had her hands full, no doubt about it. And watching her shop was a thing of beauty.
Each time I passed her in an aisle, she was happily chatting with her three children. Asking them questions. Listening to their answers. She was so animated in her conversation with them that it was no wonder her little ones were captivated – even the passersby were. At one point I watched her acting unabashedly silly, her three little ones giggling away as she all the while continued to fill her cart. It was clear that she was in the midst of a monumental juggling act, yet she was the picture of grace under pressure. Her interaction with her cart full of kiddies was so lovely to watch that I meant to say something to her about it (recognition for a job well done is something moms don’t get nearly as often as they should), but she eluded me in the checkout aisle.
I was so happy to observe lovely, engaging shopping mom today. Because as I’ve conducted this little experiment on my own over the past few months, I’ve observed other approaches far more often, as I’m guessing you may have too. A sprinkling of nagging. A smattering of scolding. A whole lot of rushing and hurrying. And many well-intentioned, busy moms, trying their best to get their shopping done, paying more attention to the items on their list than to the munchkins in their carts. Until, of course, those munchkins start wailing, or running away, or toppling a tidy display (things that bored munchkins do very, very well). And then a return to the nagging and the scolding.
Now don’t get me wrong, I totally get it. On days when I am tired or rushed or otherwise not at my best, the last place I want to be is at the grocery store. And it can be tempting to just rush on through, eyes on the checkout aisle. But one thing is true without fail – When I am not at my best, grocery shopping doesn’t go as smoothly.
Our little ones look to US for cues about how to act and how to feel about the situations they encounter. They bring their own unique style and approach to it all (more on that next time), but we are the ones who set the tone. Every aspect of parenting is a dance between a big parent and a tiny little dance partner (or a whole cart-full of dance partners, for those who are so blessed). Grocery shopping is no different. My daughter brings her feisty little personality, her stage of development (totally and wholeheartedly TWO), her little body bursting with energy, her mood of the day, and many more things to the dance. So if I am to lead well, I had better be prepared, and suit up in my very best dancing shoes (even on days when I’d rather be in fuzzy slippers). When I go into any interaction – grocery shopping included – at my best, I provide her with the best opportunity to do her best. And isn’t that what joyful mommyhood is all about?
So here’s your next challenge: The next time you head out the door to go grocery shopping, try a quick little mommy-check. Take a few deep breaths. Relax. Determine that you will have FUN with your child while shopping. And determine that you will devote more attention (negative attention such as nagging and scolding does not count) to the munchkin in your cart than to the items on your list. I try to think of grocery shopping as a fun morning out with my little one, putting myself in the same mindset as I would when attending playgroup or a fun parent and tot activity. As with almost anything in mommyhood, attitude makes a HUGE difference, and sometimes all it takes is a little reminder to get back on the right track.
Of course, attitude is only the beginning, so hang in there for more in this little series. Still to come:
1)  Your Unique Munchkin - What your child brings to the equation, and how to adapt according to your child’s unique style.
2)  Grocery Shopping Tool Kit - Tried and tested tips for making every grocery trip better!
3)  HELP!!! – How to change patterns that aren’t working.
4)  Smiles in Every Aisle – Grocery store games and activities.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perfect Puffy Paint

My daughter and I used this super fun, sparkly puff paint to decorate our Valentine’s cards this year. And while I intended to post this recipe before Valentine’s day, alas it did not happen. But this craft activity need not be Valentine-specific, and can be enjoyed any time of the year. Like all craft recipes that I love, this puffy paint is easy to make and entirely safe and edible (they’ll taste it once but never again) for little ones.

Puffy Salt Paint
¾ cup salt
½ cup white flour
½ cup water
Food colouring
Combine salt, flour and water in a mixing bowl, adding food colouring until paint reaches your desired colour. Spoon paint into a clean plastic squeeze bottle, then show your little artist how to squeeze puff paint onto paper to create a puffy masterpiece. The salt makes the puff paint look sparkly when it dries.
Helpful Hints:
·        Empty ketchup and mustard bottles work well for this project, and leftover paint can be stored in the fridge for future projects. Just be sure to label the bottles with a felt marker (lesson learned the hard way!).
·        This paint is quite thick, and works particularly well on sturdier paper such as cardstock or cardboard. Try raiding your recycling bin and cutting up old cereal or cracker boxes for use as inexpensive art supplies.
·       Allow paint to dry overnight. Happy puff painting!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Adventures in Grocery Shopping - Part 1

Ah, grocery shopping. The mere thought strikes fear and dread in the hearts of parents everywhere. Working with hundreds of families over the years, it was a topic I was asked about again and again. It wasn’t exactly my area of expertise. But helping parents cope with challenges, and helping them discover ways of enriching daily routines to promote their child’s development was. So I spent a surprising amount of time throughout the course of my career discussing, problem solving, and strategizing with parents around the “issue” of grocery shopping with kids. And over time, with the help of parents and their feedback, I developed a little “grocery shopping bag of tricks”.
Now the mommy of a two year old, I’ve been pleased to discover for myself (sigh of relief) that those tricks really do work. And while grocery shopping isn’t the easiest part of my week, it is often one of the most fun parts, for both my daughter and myself (honestly – I’m not kidding!). And while we’re having fun in the grocery store, my daughter is having one of the richest learning experiences I could hope for her to have.
Now by this point, many of you are (justifiably) rolling your eyes. Grocery shopping with little ones is TOUGH. I totally get it. And I agree. BUT – and here’s the important point – it can always get better. Of the many families I worked with on this issue over the years, there wasn’t one I can recall who was not able to make some improvement to this necessary family routine. It may never end up being the best part of your week. But it doesn’t have to be the worst.
So because this is a big topic, I plan to chat about it in several parts – kind of a continuing series on the joys and pitfalls awaiting you up and down the aisles. But as I leave you waiting in breathless anticipation, a little homework assignment for you…
The next time you go grocery shopping, pay attention to the parents you see shopping with their little ones. Watch (but subtly – the last thing a harried parent needs is a gawking stranger on top of everything else!) to see how they are engaging and interacting with their child. Listen (subtly!) to their conversations. Observe their body language. If you were a little person strapped against your will into their cold metal cart, would you be captivated by the experience they were sharing with you? Enchanted by the sound of their voice? Fascinated by the rich and colourful world they were helping you to explore? Hmmmm….