As a mom (and teacher), I strive everyday to engage, nurture, and expand the mind of my little one.
Here you will find the books, music, and activities most useful to me in my endeavors.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Snack Idea

Imagine showing up at the next playdate with these adorable snacks in tow:

I can just about hear the "oooohs" and "aaaaahs" from the mamas as the kiddos excitedly grab their very own little portion-sized (and adorable) snack bag ... filled with cheese and fresh fruit.  I mean, really, who needs Teddy Grahams when you can put a nutritional snack in packaging this cute!

There's an official "recipe" here, but I think you can figure it out from the photo.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Activities Challenge: Letter / Number BINGO

My toddler is soon to be a preschooler ... I am so not sure how I feel about that!  But I do know that I am trying to maintain a certain level of structured learning time during these summer months.  That effort has lead me to the 2010 Summer Activities Challenge hosted by  The challenge is to complete 10 activities before August 29th.  There are thousands (not exaggerating) of activities to choose from, and every age level - from preschool to high school - is covered!  The preschool level includes activities in ten different categories.  There is so much to do here, it's just silly ... and I mean that in a very good way! In addition to being a great resource for activity ideas, the challenge also boasts the chance to win prizes.  Now that's fun!  And motivating!

Natalie and I completed our first challenge.  We did something simple and fun.  We played BINGO, a version focusing on letter and number recognition.  The activity explanation is here, and it even includes ready-to-print templates of the bingo cards.

We used mini marshmallows to cover the letters/numbers, which made it more fun ... or should I say, delicious :)  Each time she identified a letter/number, she got to eat a marshmallow and then put one on the card.  All that picking up of mini marshmallows made for good fine motor practice.  Overall, the game held her attention.  But I made it harder by giving her one Letter card and one Number card at the same time.  This required her first to figure out which card to look at and then find the correct square.

The templates for the caller cards contain ALL letters/numbers, but the Bingo cards themselves do not, so I called a lot of letters/numbers she didn't have.  I guess it was good practice searching and then realizing she didn't "have" that one.  But, boy, was she disappointed to miss out on a marshmallow!

The game of BINGO can be easily modified to just about any and all learning content.

The next activity on our list ... Weave a Colorful Yarn Mosaic!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You Should Know: Juice Boxes

1. A Juice Box has Wings ... but it can't fly!
Every time I hand NHV a juice box, it comes with a stern warning.  "Here you go, sweetie.  Here's your juice box.  DON'T SQUEEZE IT."  I mean, really, you would think I was issuing some sort of safety warning, not just making an effort to keep her shirt from getting juiced!  It's gotten to the point that Natalie issues the warning herself.  In this super dramatic voice with her eye brows raised, she turns my plea into a question, "No 'queeze dat duice box, right, mommy?"

Geez, she's been drinking from a juice box since last summer, so we've had a full year's worth of "don't squeeze it" warnings ... and subsequent, yet accidental, squeezes.  And, let me tell you, NHV gets distraught when her shirt gets we-et. (She puts an extra syllable in this word and adds a little Southern twang, and I think it's adorable!).

I read about this somewhere - just recently, but I cannot for the life of me remember when or where ...

Before you hand over the juice box, pull up on the two triangles on each side.  I call these the "wings."  Tell your child to grab the box by the wings

And, to be honest, I thought it was too simple of a concept to be a) effective or b) useful to anyone besides me.  Well, I was wrong on both counts.  It works.  It really and truly works, and Natalie loves the idea of  her juice box having wings.  At a recent playdate, I heard a mom mention the "squeezing the juice box" predicament, and so I shared my new idea ... thinking all the other moms would already know about it, but it was "news" to all five of the moms there!  Imagine how cool helpful I felt :)

2. Apparently Juice Boxes also have Lead ... and that's not good!
When I put a juice box in Natalie's hand, I think about the sugar content - just before I remind her to hold the wings.  I wonder whether or not that is the most nutritional choice.  I worry that she'll fill up on those "empty" calories and not eat her meal as well.  But it never - and I do mean, never - crossed my mind that I should be concerned about lead content.  Lead in old chipping paint?  Sure.  Lead in some plastic toys?  Yes, I've heard of that and have a great source for knowing which toys are rated safest for lead content (click here to find out more). 

But now, testing shows that in more than 85% of sampled bottled juice, juice boxes, and packaged fruit the lead content is higher than federal allowable limits for our youngest population.

There's an article at a great site called Inhabitots.
And the complete list of tested products - pass or fail - is here.

It seems I've solved one problem only to stumble upon a much bigger one!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Feed Me Books Friday: Interview with an Author

This week Janna over at The Adventure in Motherhood, the hostess of this fabulous Feed Me Books Friday, shared a book she wrote and even encouraged her participants to do the same.  "Share a book that I've written?" thought I.  Well, that would require me to stop dreaming.  Stop talking about it.  Finally get brave enough.  And just do it already.

Long story short ... I have not (yet) written a book.  But I share that passion and dream with Janna ... and countless other mommy bloggers is my guess.  However, I have had the very distinct pleasure of interviewing an honest-to-goodness, ridiculously talented and successful children's book author.  It was a thrill.  It was inspiring and intimidating all at the same time.

Her name is Linda Ashman.  Before I "knew" her, Natalie and I fell in love with her book Babies on the Go.  It was a random library find, and for a solid month it was read over and over.  Fast-forward about a year, and I started writing for Macaroni Kid in Colorado.  Through my online research, I discovered that a handful of well-known children's book authors live around Denver, which blossomed into an idea for a feature about the "author-next-door."   Through email I was able to learn more about her and her process of writing. What follows is an excerpt from that interview, originally published here.

To look a handful of books written by Linda Ashman, you may be surprised to learn they are all written by the same author.  She writes about a wide variety of topics and has worked with a multitude of illustrators.  Twenty of her books - many of which include poetry and masterful rhyme - have been published. Her books have earned much praise as well as a long list of literary distinctions.  One of her first books, Babies on the Go, is a nighttime favorite of my two year old.  I am a big fan of Creaky Old House; a story about a family who solves a problem and discovers a fondness for their home.

You've written so many books - covering a wide variety of topics - what inspires you? 
For the most part, I tend to write about things I love.  My son Jackson has been the biggest inspiration, but I also write about nature, animals, my dogs, and things that happen to interest me--like monsters in The Essential Worldwide Monster Guide, and life in 13th Century England in Come to the Castle.

Is your writing at all influenced by where you live?  By your daily life? 
Yes, definitely.  As just one example, I wrote Creaky Old House shortly after we moved to Denver, when my husband was busy fixing up our 1919 bungalow.  Jackson was five at the time, and obsessed with all things construction.  He wouldn't go anywhere without his hard hat and tool belt. Between the tools, old house magazines, and renovation conversations, it's no coincidence that I wrote a book about a wacky family and their home repair efforts. 

If you came here looking for a book recommendation, without hesitation, I say read with your child ANYTHING written by Linda Ashman!

Let's Go for a Ride!

Father's Day came early this year ... because the weather was beautiful last weekend and I couldn't wait for NHV and her daddy to try out their new bike seat!

I did a lot of research on bike seats. I knew that we did not want one that attaches to the rear of the bike. Chad wanted to be able to see and hear his rider. I just don't feel like a rear seat is safe. With that in mind, I started searching and found a few options, but none of them reviewed as well as this one. This is the iBert safe-T-seat, and we ordered ours through REI because they have the best return policy.

I took this information directly from their website because these are the two questions I know I would be asking:

Will it fit your kids?  The safe-T-seat is designed for children age 4 and under. The minimum age is 12 months as the child needs to be able to sit up well and hold the weight of a helmet on his/her head. The maximum height of the child that can use the safe-T-seat is 42 inches. Kids much taller than that will be uncomfortable. The recommended max weight is 38 lbs. Above 38 lbs and the maneuverability of the bike may be affected. 

NHV is almost three years old.  She only weighs about 33 pounds, but she is TALL for her age - not sure of her exact measurement.  Already her feet hang just outside the "stirrups" of the seat, but she doesn't seem to mind at all.  I am guessing we will only be able to use this seat through the summer.  But, again, CJV will be able to use it next year :)  

Will it fit your bike?  The safe-T-seat is the most adaptable child carrier on the market today. It fits more bikes than any other front mounted seat. A minimum of 3/4 inch is needed on the handle bar stem to accommodate the stinger assembly.

How much does it cost?  About $100.00.  I'll admit the price was a bit out of my price range. However, we have a second one who will someday ride with her daddy, so I think we'll get our money's worth out of it.  Just from the handful of times NHV has gone for a bike ride with her daddy, I think this is a great investment!

This makes a great Father's Day gift ... I know it's late notice, but you could order it and just print a picture to wrap :)

I should also mention that iBert did not ask me to write this "review" - I just love this product and thought I'd share.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rainbow Rice

First and foremost, I have to give credit to my brilliant sister-in-law for posting about this idea on her website: Fun Finds for Moms.  

Natalie has been "playing" and learning with rice since about the age of one.  I became very interested in the idea of developmental play after watching an episode of Every Baby's Adventures.  You can read more about the learning behind Pouring and Scooping here.

Anyway, I had read about dye-ing pasta and rice online somewhere else.  I saw rainbow rice/pasta-filled tactile learning tables when I toured preschools back in January.  But  we didn't have any food coloring in the house - for months - so I continued to forget about this fabulous idea.  It is very easy, relatively inexpensive,  somewhat messy, and toddler-pleasing!

You'll need uncooked rice, white vinegar, food coloring, a tablespoon, measuring cup, cookie sheet, foil, and at least one jar.  The majority of which I am guessing you already have in your kitchen.  I had to raid CPV's woodworking shop and dump out an old peanut butter jar filled with screws!
  1. Measure 2 tablespoons of vinegar and pour it in the jar.  My toddler quickly noticed the unusual odor.  She also pointed out that it looked like water.  I took the opportunity to remind her that we do not drink unknown liquids.  Just because something looks like water (or milk or juice) doesn't mean that it is safe to drink.
  2. Next add about 2 cups of rice.  We used a 1/2 measuring cup and counted to four.
  3. Squirt in the food coloring, secure the jar's lid, and shake, shake, shake!  Clearly this was her favorite part ... we made up songs and had a great time.  NHV was amazed to see how the white rice took on a new color.  
  4. Pour the contents onto the foil-lined cookie sheet.  Must warn you, it was stinky!
  5. Rinse the jar.  If you have the time and don't mind the increased mess-factor, I highly recommend toddler help with this step ... the sink is always a big hit!
  6. Repeat the process with another color. We did the four colors included in our set: red, blue, green, and yellow.  And then mixed red and blue to make purple and red and yellow to make orange.
  7. Put the pan in the oven on 175 degrees for about 10 minutes.
  8. Pour your Rainbow Rice into an air-tight container for storing ... after you PLAY with it, of course!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Evolution of the Potty Seat

Natalie is - for the most part - potty trained.  Just shy of her third birthday.  We've been working at this milestone for the better part of the last year.  I'd love to tell you what worked for us ... and I am going to start with the equipment :)

Around 18 months, we started with one of those stand-alone potty seats with the lid that lifts up and the "collection" reservoir beneath.  You know the kind that requires emptying into the toilet and then flushing.  It's gross, and I often wonder, who's idea was this?  For the most, NHV just sat on that potty with the lid down and treated it like her own little chair.  I guess it was good for getting her use to the idea of sitting to do her business.  We left it in the living room for a while and then moved it to the bathroom where she could sit while mommy was "in there."  Side note: I do believe modeling is a part of the learning process.

Next, for her second birthday, we bought one of those cushioned, cartoon-character-clad, rings that you set on the actual toilet.  Hers had Sesame Street characters on it, and I must say she did get pretty excited to sit on it.  And it was a major step in the right direction ... at least now we had cut out the "middle man" - no more emptying and then flushing.  However, I was still fairly disgusted by the idea of constantly moving the ring ... and figuring out where to put that darn thing when it wasn't being used ... but keep it handy enough that it be ready at a moment's notice, which is often the case with a potty training toddler.  I especially hated having a "ring" in the powder room downstairs, our most utilized potty by those who live in our house and those who happen to visit.

And then, I used the bathroom at a friend's house and had a little potty epiphany ... before I even sat down!  Allow me to introduce to you ... the integrated potty seat:

This lid replaces the existing one on your toilet.  The toddler-sized ring is integrated into the lid.  When you close the lid, a magnet automatically engages the smaller ring.  You do have to pull the smaller ring down to use it.  NHV loves this seat because it looks just like the one mommy and daddy use.  She is very interested in doing things "like a big girl" and this seat fits the bill.  I love it because it's easy to keep clean.  I don't have to store it somewhere.  Its appearance is not kid-like.  I feel like we've streamlined our potty needs.

This particular potty seat was purchased at our local home improvement store for just under $30. It comes in both oblong and round; I didn't even know which we had until I got both of them home!  I think it is well-worth the price considering that NHV can use this until her bottom is big enough not to fall through the regular opening and someday our second will be using it, too.