Early Childhood Homeschooling Made Easy

Taking teaching and your child's future into your own hands.

The Planning has Begun

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I decided when my daughter was very young that I wanted to homeschool her.  There were many factors that led me to that decision.  My dislike of how the traditional school system works.  My desire to keep my daughter away from peer pressure, violence and bullying in schools, etc.  And my longing to be able to take my daughter’s learning into my own hands and be her educator.  I wanted to be able to give her a unique and individualized education.  I wanted to provide a hands on learning experience.  I wanted to be able to help guide my daughter on the right path in life, and help her accomplish goals.  I wanted to be the main influence in her life while she’s growing up, before she goes off to college and has to start making her own decisions.  I didn’t want my daughter spending 8 hours a day sitting in classroom being taught by other people while she’s young.  I have a passion for teaching my daughter, and I want her to have a love of learning.

I started homeschooling my daughter early on, and now she is 4-years-old.  She is starting to read on her own.  She can sound out three letter words and can read simple sentences.  She can spell 1 – 3 letter words on her own.  She can easily count to 25, and recognizes numbers 1-10 with no issues.  She knows the alphabet.  She can spell and write her name.  She can write all of her upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers.  She does school work several times a week with little complaining.  She does workbook pages, arts and craft projects, science experiments, and plays educational games.  She watches educational shows.  She uses educational learning sites and apps.  She helps me cook and garden.  I get a lot of free printables online for her to do, and she usually enjoys them.  And…we read LOTS of books.  We read books together every single day.  We have bookcases full of books.  We go to various libraries and participate in summer reading programs.  She tells me all the time that she loves the smell of books.  That makes my heart sing.  So far, I am raising a kid that enjoys learning.

Since Kayla won’t turn 5 until November, she technically wouldn’t be starting kindergarten in Illinois until the fall of 2016.  With that said, I have already started doing a mixture of pre-school and kindergarten school work with her.  She can go through most of the preschool work pretty fast, without many issues.  The kindergarten work seems to be more on target for her now.  With her already doing some kindergarten work, I came to the decision that this fall I should start her on a kindergarten curriculum.  Our first official curriculum.  This was a scary and daunting decision.  There is so much to choose from, so it requires a lot of research on the homeschooling parent’s part.

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This fall, I will still be using some of her preschool material to review basic skills, but the bulk of what we will be focusing on is kindergarten material.  I read a ton of reviews and articles on curriculum.  Christian vs. secular curriculum was a big part of my research.  I have decided to stick with secular curriculum, for the most part.  If I want to incorporate any religious studies into our day, I will create my own curriculum for that.

This is what I’ve chosen to start with:

All About Reading, Level 1

All About Spelling, Level 1

Singapore Math, Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics and Kindergarten Essential Math

DK Workbooks Geography Pre-K and Kindergarten (We haven’t done much geography yet.)

DK Workbooks Science Kindergarten

Level 1 Reader books for learning about historical figures (presidents, civil rights leaders, inventors, etc.)

I have the summer to start making lesson plans.  By mid-summer, I should know what days a week and times she will be going to her activities, so I can plan our schedule.  Kayla attends gymnastics and dance classes.  My husband does not get involved in lesson plans or signing Kayla up for activities.  He leaves that all to me, and trusts my judgement.  We’ve been pretty lucky so far.  We haven’t run into many problems.  I’ve learned that Kayla learns best when you change things up.  She likes a mixture of book work, visual displays, crafts, and games to help her learn.  She definitely needs reinforcement to help new material to fully sink in.  I’ve also learned to step back and take a break from something if she is struggling.  Trying to force learning doesn’t work.  If she starts getting too frustrated, we may take a break until later that day…or we may take a break for a few days or a week.  I try to adapt to her learning style, and do what works for her.

I am hoping that the new curriculum works out for us.  Most of the reviews for All About Reading and Singapore Math are positive.  Even most of the reviews on All About Spelling appear to be positive.  At this point, I am hopeful.

Kayla is a perfectionist, which can make learning challenging at times.  She doesn’t like to mess up, or have to think too much.  She prefers for stuff to come easily, and to be good at everything.  I am constantly telling her that she doesn’t have to be perfect.  She just has to do her personal best.  She has to try.  She also has to practice so she can get better.  Everything tends to get easier the more you practice.  She is starting to understand that more and more now.  She is starting to relax and just do the best she can without getting upset.  I know we have a long road ahead with lots of ups and downs.  Although, I know it will be difficult at times, I am looking forward to this homeschooling journey we’re taking together.

Did you homeschool your kids when they were young?  If so, what curriculum or learning materials did you use?

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Science Experiment – Tabletop Hovercraft

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My daughter and I attended a homeschool gathering this past week, and they made these cool little hovercrafts out of balloons and cds.  My daughter loved watching this move across the tabletop as the air leaked out.  This is a great experiment for young kids, as well as older kids.  It’s super easy to put together, and only takes a few minutes to make.

What you need:

  • An old CD or DVD
  • A 9” balloon
  • A pop-top cap from a liquid dish soap bottle
  • A hot glue gun

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Experiment:

  1. Use the hot glue gun to glue the cap to the center of the CD or DVD disc. Create a good seal to keep air from escaping.
  2. Make sure the valve on the pop-top bottle cap is open.  Attach the balloon to the pop-top bottle cap.
  3. Turn the CD/DVD over to the flat side and put the center of the CD/DVD to your mouth and blow up the balloon all the way.  Close the valve of the pop-top bottle cap so the air will not escape.
  4. When your ready to test it out, simply put the craft on a smooth surface and open the valve on the bottle cap.  Air will start to leak out, causing the hovercraft to move.

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Observations:

Have the kids discuss what happened once they set the hovercraft on the tabletop with the air leaking out.  Did the size of the balloon make a difference?  Have the kids play around with blowing up their balloons at various sizes to see how this may alter the outcome.

The air flow created by the balloon causes a cushion of moving air between the CD/DVD disc and the surface. This lifts the CD/DVD and reduces the friction which allows the disc to hover freely.  Kids tend to think this is pretty cool to see.

You can show them examples of large scale hovercrafts on the internet or in a book.  Large scale hovercrafts are capable of traveling over land, snow and water.  Let them compare their small scale hovercraft to a large scale hovercraft.

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Science Experiment – Elephant Toothpaste (Creating Foam)

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My daughter just did this science experiment at a homeschool gathering, and I thought it was pretty neat and easy for young kids.

What you need:

  • Empty plastic water or pop/soda bottle
  • 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide (20 volume or 6% solution)
  • Squirt of Dawn (or other brand) dish soap
  • 3-4 drops of food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 tablespoons very warm water in a small bowl or cup
  • Funnel
  • Big bowl or foil pan
  • Safety glasses (if you feel it is necessary)
  • Play clothes, apron, or art smock (to protect your clothes from the food coloring)

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Experiment:

  1. Have kids put on their play clothes, apron, or art smock.  Put on safety glasses, if you feel it’s necessary.  We didn’t use them.  Each child should have in front of them a big bowl or cake pan, plastic bottle, dish soap in small cup, food coloring, 1/2 cup peroxide, 1 teaspoon of yeast, and 2 tablespoons of warm water.
  2. Mix yeast and warm water together in a small bowl or cup.
  3. Stand the bottle up in the center of the bowl or cake pan. Put the funnel in the opening of the water bottle. Add 3-4 drops of food coloring to the peroxide and pour the peroxide through the funnel into the bottle.
  4. Add the dish soap to the peroxide in the bottle.
  5. Pour the yeast mixture into the bottle and quickly remove the funnel.
  6. The kids can touch the bottle to feel any changes that take place.
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Kayla smelling the foam.

Observations:

After the experiment, have kids discuss what happened when they poured everything into the bottle.  How did the foam look?  When they touched the outside of the bottle, how did it feel?  Was it warm or cool?

The reaction creates foam that shoots up out of the bottle and pools in the bowl/pan. After a minute, it begins to come out in a moving stream that looks similar to toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. The kids can play with the foam as it is just soap and water with oxygen bubbles. The bottle will feel warm to the touch as this is an exothermic reaction.

*Please note that in my family, we have a bit of an allergic reaction to hydrogen peroxide, so it is important for us to wash our hands immediately after doing this project.  If you think or know your child is sensitive to hydrogen peroxide, just be sure to have them wash their hands thoroughly after doing this experiment.

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Our First Homeschool Gathering

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This week marked a new chapter in our homeschooling journey.  First, I found out that one of my daughter’s friends from her Irish dancing class is also homeschooling.  This was such great news.  Kayla has been eager to meet other kids that are homeschooling.  Up until now, it seemed like most of the kids she has activities with are going to public or private school, and the ones that do homeschool are much older than her.  It was great to find out that someone she already knows is doing it as well.

Second, we attended our first homeschool gathering.  I’ve been looking up local groups and co-ops for the past few years, and I’ve been meaning to take her to one for the past 6 months to a year now.  There were always schedule conflicts, illnesses, doctor appointments, and so on, that would keep us from going.  I had finally decided I was going to take her no matter what.  It was time.  Luckily for us, her friend from Irish dancing was also going to be attending her first gathering too.  That made it easier to get the motivation we needed.

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Now that we finally went, I wish we had gone sooner.  It was a wonderful experience for Kayla, and for myself.  It was pleasing to be with a group of people that are committed to homeschooling the same way I am, and to see my daughter interact with other homeschooled children.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming.  We immediately felt like we belonged.

This week was their science fair, so we were able to see the science fair presentations.  After the presentations, all the kids were able to participate in two science experiments.  They made hover crafts and elephant toothpaste (foam).  All the kids seemed to enjoy both experiments.

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Kayla had a blast, and didn’t want to leave.  She loved meeting this new group of kids that have something in common with her.  I enjoyed talking to the other moms, and watching all the kids interact with each other.  I was impressed by how well everyone got along and worked together.  There were 15 kids total there on the day we went, including my daughter.  The youngest was a baby that was only crawling, and the oldest was a 14 year old.  I loved seeing the older kids playing with the younger kids, and trying to help them.  There were no cliques.  There was no bullying.  There was no negativity at all.  I’m sure there is the occasional conflict, but overall they all seem to get along well.  Attending this gathering definitely made me remember the many reasons why I decided I want to homeschool my daughter.

I went to the gathering intending to only visit and check it out.  I left as a member of the group.  There is something about belonging to a community, and having people that support you that is special.  I want my daughter to have a place where she can go and interact with other homeschooled kids, do projects together, play together, learn together, and even go on outings together.  It may only be once every other week, but she will benefit from it.  We will be a part of a community that believes in our homeschooling journey.  We will be able to be around people that can help encourage us, motivate us, empathize with us, and even guide us (if needed).  This will benefit both of us.

Now one of my goals is to not only make every effort to keep attending these gatherings every other week, but to also find other homeschool families and groups to get together with for play dates, field trips, and recreational activities.  If any of you are on the fence about joining a local homeschool group, I recommend at least looking into it and giving it a try.  Maybe it won’t be the right fit for you, but it’s worth a try.  I think we all need the support and nurturing that only other homeschoolers can give us.

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Fancy Nancy the Musical

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One of the joys of homeschooling, is going on homeschool field trips.  Technically, we were simply taking our daughter to see a play that she wanted to see, but since we’re homeschoolers, we get to call it a field trip.  Yay!

My daughter loves reading Fancy Nancy books.  She got her first Fancy Nancy book when she was 2 years old.  It was a gift from one of my best friends.  At the time, I had no idea who Fancy Nancy was, and was a little skeptical about such a girly book.  My daughter, on the other hand, immediately fell in love with the book.  Since then, we have acquired several other Fancy Nancy books, as well as, checked many out from the library.  Fancy Nancy has become one of my daughter’s favorite book characters.

So when my husband heard there was going to be a Fancy Nancy play, he suggested we take Kayla.  I didn’t pay much attention to him at first.  My friend wanted to go to the show with us, and do a girls day out.  I couldn’t really see my husband going to this play.  But, to my surprise, he bought the tickets and took us to the show.

It was a cute show for little girls.  It’s only an hour long with no intermission, but seemed appropriate for the age group of the audience.  If it had been any longer, I think they would have lost the attention of the younger kids.

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My daughter enjoyed getting dressed up and carrying a purse for the day.  The show was funny and upbeat.  The actors did a wonderful job playing the parts.  Fancy Nancy was her usual dramatic, but lovable self.  It was a wonderful family field trip.

For my daughter, one of the best parts was getting to meet Fancy Nancy after the play.  She got Nancy’s autograph, and took a picture with her.  Kayla was smiling from ear to ear.

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St. Patrick’s Day crafts for Preschoolers

Since St. Patty’s Day is just around the corner, Kayla and I decided to do some Irish inspired craft projects over the weekend.  The first craft was a leprechaun.  I made a model leprechaun so she’d have an example of what I wanted her to do.  I cut out all the shapes for her, but she had to put him together, glue him, and put finishing touches on him.  We added a pot of gold to his hand, and she made a shamrock to put on his body.  Then she decorated him with stickers when she was all done.  I think she did a pretty good job.

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Next, we made a shamrock/clover fan.  I cut out 3 good size heart shapes using green paper, and got a green popsicle stick.  Kayla glued it all together so that it would look like a big shamrock.  She used foam stickers to decorate it.

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They were quick and easy crafts that kept her busy for a good 30 minutes.  While making the crafts, we talked about leprechauns, shamrocks, rainbows, and pots of gold.  My little Irish dancer had fun working on these St. Patrick’s Day crafts.  Too bad we didn’t plan ahead and make some homemade shamrock shakes.  Maybe next year.  :)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

At her Irish Dancing Recital last month.

At her Irish Dancing Recital last month.

The beautiful flowers daddy gave her after her Irish dancing recital.

The beautiful flowers daddy gave her after her Irish dancing recital.

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Christmas Craft Projects

We’ve done numerous craft and baking projects this holiday season.  They are fun to do, they keep my daughter busy, and they can be a good learning tool.

Here are some of the projects we’ve done for Christmas.

Marshmallow Snowman

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Paper Wreath

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Paper Christmas Tree

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Holiday Coloring Pages (We’ve done a lot, but these were from her dance studio.)

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Chocolate Pretzel Snacks with Holiday Sprinkles

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Baking Cookies

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Salt Dough Ornaments

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Christmas Countdown Chart

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Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Please feel free to share what types of Christmas crafts and baking projects you do with your kids.

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Beaded Salt Dough Ornaments

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This was the first year we made salt dough ornaments.  For the most part, they came out pretty good.  We’re happy with them, and my daughter was very proud of what we did.  Yesterday, we made some beaded salt dough ornaments.  We didn’t do anything all that special to make them.  My daughter rolled out the dough is circles/ovals, then put beads in them.  We used different colored dough for each ornament.  At first sight, these ornaments can look unimpressive.  But…The ornaments look great when put in front of a light.  They catch the light from the tree, and the beads kind of glow.  Very pretty.

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Once we added the varnish to them and hung them on the tree, we could see their true beauty.  I think these are my daughter’s favorite salt dough ornaments.  We might end up hanging them in our window during the summer like sun-catchers.

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* See previous post for salt dough recipe.

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Salt Dough Ornaments and Cinnamon Salt Dough Ornaments

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When I was little, my best friend’s mom made beautiful salt dough ornaments to sell at craft shows, and to sell to friends and neighbors.  I remember us having various ornaments that she made, and this beautiful fake blueberry pie that looked exactly like a real pie.  I was always impressed that she could make this stuff in her own kitchen.  One year, she even let my friend and me make some ornaments with the salt dough, just for fun.  It was something I always wanted to do on my own when I grew up.

Fast forward over 20 years, and my friend is no longer with us (she was killed by a drunk driver when we were in college), but I still remember the wonderful salt dough ornaments that her mom used to make.  I send her mom and dad a Christmas card every year.  This year when I was working on my Christmas cards, I decided that I would try my hand at making some salt dough ornaments with my daughter.  Kayla is 4 years old now, so she is old enough to do a lot of it on her own.  I know my ornaments won’t be quite like my friend’s mom’s ornaments, but they can still be special.

My daughter and I started out by using a very basic salt dough recipe.  (There are tons of slightly different recipes on the internet, but this one worked for us.)

Salt Dough Recipe

2 cups Flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup water, and add more water as needed

We mixed the ingredients together in a bowl and kneaded it until it was the right consistency.  Keep adding water little by little until the dough is the way you want it.  If it gets too watery…sticky…add a little more flour.

Once the dough was just right, we divided out the dough.  Some of it we kept as is, and the rest we used to make colored dough.  We used Crayola kid’s paint to color the dough.  We made red dough, green dough, blue dough, and purple dough.  You can do whatever colors you want.  We were trying to stick to Christmas colors, and we also did purple so we could make a special ornament for one of our friends.  We put a dab of paint on a ball of dough, then kneaded the paint into the dough until it was the color we wanted.

Plain salt dough

Plain salt dough

Green dough

Green dough

Kayla working on making red dough.

Kayla working on making red dough.

She kneaded the red paint into the dough all by herself.

She kneaded the red paint into the dough all by herself.

colored salt dough

Colored salt dough

We used the plain dough to make a handprint.  She is giving the handprint to daddy as a surprise Christmas present.  We used the colored dough to make candy canes, and used cookie cutter to cut out ornaments.

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When making candy canes, we just rolled the dough with our hands to make two long worms and twisted them together.  In order to use the cookie cutters, we rolled the dough with a rolling pin, then cut out our shapes.  Once we were all done, we baked them in the oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours.  When we took them out, they were hardening up.  Not super hard, but hard enough.  After that, we just set them out so they could air dry.  Some recipes will tell you to bake them for longer times, like 4 hours, but we simply don’t have the time for that.  The way we did it worked fine.

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After letting them sit for 24 hours, we painted them.  Painting them is optional, especially if you used colored dough.  It adds to the fun of it to let the kids paint them.  Kayla enjoyed being able to paint the handprint for her dad, and ornament gifts for friends.  She was very proud of herself.  Right now, our first batch of ornaments have been painted and are ready to be covered in a varnish.  If you’re painting the ornaments completely, a varnish isn’t necessary, although it does give them a nice glossy finish.  Not all of ours are painted, so we plan to put varnish on all of them to give them a finishing touch.  Plus, this will make them last longer.  These are keepsakes we want to have for years to come.

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Another thing we tried was using a cookie mold tray/pan.  The pan has Christmas molds built in, as you can see in the picture below.  We just put the dough into the molds and baked it.  Halfway through baking, I pulled it out and popped the dough ornaments out of the molds.  I then added the ornaments to the baking sheet with the other dough ornaments we were baking to let them finish hardening.  I’m sure I could have baked them in the molds for the entire time, but I didn’t want to take the chance of them getting burned or stuck in the molds.  These dough ornaments came out great.  We were impressed by the detail.  They will be fun to paint.

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So far, we’ve done 3 batches of salt dough ornaments.  On the last batch, we recruited my husband to do some with us.  He wasn’t exactly thrilled to join in, but he humored us.  I’d like this to be a new family tradition.  Something we can do together every year.  My husband tends to only like to do things that were traditions in his family, and he loves to do stuff WITH his family.  Trying to get him to create new family traditions with me and our daughter can be a challenge at times, but it’s worth the effort.  In the end, he made a few really nice dough ornaments that should look great on the tree.  I think it is important to create holiday traditions with your family.  It is nice to carry on traditions that you grew up with, which are important to us, but it’s also important to create NEW traditions with your significant others and your kids.  It’s all about creating memories.

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In our last batch, we made some cinnamon salt dough.  This dough gives the ornaments a lovely cinnamon scent.  When we paint them tomorrow, we are going to add a touch of cinnamon to the paint to enhance the cinnamon scent.  What I loved most about the cinnamon dough was that it gave the ornaments a beautiful country Christmas look.  I wouldn’t mind keeping these natural and not painting them, but my daughter is looking forward to painting them tomorrow.

Cinnamon Salt Dough Recipe

1 cup Flour

1/2 cup Salt

1/2 cup Cinnamon

3/4 cup warm water

The recipe I used said you don’t need to bake them, just let them air dry for 24 hours.  We baked ours along with our other salt dough ornaments and they came out great.  200 degrees for 2 hours.

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Cinnamon salt dough

The cinnamon salt dough was probably my favorite, but my daughter and husband preferred the colored dough.  I could see the beauty in the simple cinnamon dough ornaments.  They look very traditional to me.  Something you would have seen hanging on trees years ago.

We plan to play around some more with our dough ornaments.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to try making some with beads tomorrow.  If I have time, I will try to type up a quick post with pictures of the dough ornaments with beads.

Happy ornament making!

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Frozen Birthday Party

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Like a lot of girls right now, my daughter wanted a Frozen birthday party.  My husband, who is a little Frozen crazy too, wanted to give her a big Frozen party for our family and close friends.  I was hesitant.  With my husband’s big family, parties are not exactly fun to plan and carry out.  But since Kayla was so excited, I decided to go ahead and do it.  The party was a success, but did require a lot of work to plan out.

As life sometimes happens, the morning of the party, Kayla woke up sick with an upset stomach.  Although the party went well, we didn’t get to put up all the decorations and do everything we planned, but we did get mostly everything done.  Kayla was a trooper while we set up for the party and during 3/4’s of the party.  Toward the end, her upset stomach started to catch up to her.

Here are some highlights from the party.

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We had cardboard stand ups so the kids could take pictures with them, and we used the Olaf one to play Pin the Nose on Olaf.  The kids loved them.

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We played Sven’s Buckets, and used fake snowballs to throw into the buckets.  This was my daughter’s favorite game/activity at the party.

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Then we played Pin the Nose on Olaf.

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Next up was building a snowman with Olaf stickers.  I had a set of Olaf stickers for all the kids where they have to put him together.  I also had other Frozen stickers, so they could create their own Frozen ornaments.

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I decorated a cake table for Kayla’s Frozen cake and Olaf cupcakes.  It came out really pretty.

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Kayla got a lot of present, and only about a third of them were Frozen related.  Which was fine with us because she’s getting plenty of Frozen stuff on her actual birthday and for Christmas.

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Party planning

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