Early Childhood Homeschooling Made Easy

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

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 Fridays

As with many kids right now, especially little girls, my daughter loves everything Frozen. We have the dvd, the cd in the car, posters on the wall, several shirts, gym shoes, a backpack and lunch bag, an Elsa costume, coloring books, reading books, dolls, etc. The list goes on and on. Whatever we can find in the stores and online that is reasonably priced, we buy it. Although she has only watched the movie a handful off times, she has listened to the cd more times than I could possibly remember.

Due to this current obsession, I decided to do “Frozen Fridays” over the summer. My husband is always out fishing on Friday nights during the summer, and my daughter and I are free to do whatever we want for the evening. Since I am a stay at home mom, some Fridays can seem to last forever. My solution is to find activities for us to do to keep us busy. Each Friday, I would come up with different Frozen themed activities for us to do together. Although at times it has been a lot of work, it has also been fun.

Here are a few of our Frozen Friday activities:

Make your own Olaf

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Make your own Frozen Cakes

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Make Frozen Rice Crispie Treats

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Frozen Jello

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Snowball Cookies

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Blue Frozen Sugar Cookies

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Those are just some of our Frozen Friday activities. What type of Frozen activities have you done with your kids? I would love to hear about them, and see pictures.

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Best Rides and Attractions for Preschoolers at Disney World

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I’ve been to Disney World many times. The majority of my visits were when I was young, but I have been three times as an adult. I remember the rides I loved as a kid. They stand out in my mind and bring back great memories. There is nothing like being a child and going on some of the Disney classic rides for the first time. It truly is magical.

Last year when preparing for our trip, and my daughter’s first time going to Disney World, I did a lot of research. One of my main areas of focus was rides. I wanted to make sure I knew in advance what rides she was able to ride on (height requirements), and which ones were age appropriate for her. I knew there may be a few rides that she would be tall enough to get on, but she may not be quite ready for yet, for one reason or another. Luckily, since it was Disney World, she was able to ride on lots and lots of rides on our trip. She was thrilled since she is already a ride junkie.

When we went on our trip last November, we went the week before Kayla’s 3rd birthday. A year later, we are planning on going again, this time the week before her 4th birthday. Once again, I find myself researching rides to see what rides she will be tall enough to go on, and what rides are appropriate for her age. I don’t think any parent wants to take there kid on a ride that is going to traumatize them, or that will ruin their child’s love for rides. In all honesty, I think that most of the rides at Disney World are fairly tame for kids that are thrill seekers. But there are rides, for more timid riders, that may be a bit much.

So here is my list of the best rides and attractions for preschoolers at Disney World.

Magic Kingdom

– Dumbo

– It’s a Small World

– Peter Pan’s Flight

– PeopleMover

– Winnie the Pooh

– Mad Tea Party

– Regal Carrousel

– Jungle Cruise

– Magic Carpets (just like Dumbo, but with Aladdin’s carpets instead)

– Railroad

– Buzz Lightyear

– Enchanted Tales with Belle (not really a ride, but still cute)

– Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid

For more daring preschoolers, like my daughter, there are even more options. Some of these have height requirements, so make sure your little ones are tall enough. I am focusing on rides that are for kids 5 and younger.

– Astro Orbiter

– Big Thunder Mountain (40 inches or taller)

– Barnstormer (35 inches or taller)

– Haunted Mansion

– Pirates of the Caribbean

– 7 Dwarfs Mine Train (the newest family roller coaster, 38 inches or taller)

– Splash Mountain (40 inches or taller)

There are all types of stuff for youngsters to enjoy at the Magic Kingdom. Some of my favorites as a kid were the Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bears, and Carousel of Progress (which is also great for getting out of the heat).

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Epcot

– Spaceship Earth

– Journey into Imagination with Figment

– Gran Fiesta Tour (World Showcase, Mexico)

– Seas of Nemo and Friends

– Soarin (40 inches or taller)

– Test Track (40 inches or taller)

– Turtle Talk with Crush

There are other stuff for the little ones to do, but some of it won’t hold their interest very well. We actually used Ellen’s Energy Adventure to put our daughter down for a nap last year. She stayed awake up until she saw the dinosaurs, then she fell asleep on my lap. Kids also enjoy the kidcot fun spots. It can keep the kids entertained while adults and older kids check out the shops.

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Animal Kingdom

– Dinosaur (40 inches or taller)

– Kali River Rapids (38 inches or taller)

– Kilimanjaro Safaris

– TriceraTop Spin

There are a lot of shows, trails to see animals, and areas to keep the kids busy at Animal Kingdom. This was my husband’s favorite park because it’s more laidback. Not as many rides. There’s a lot of nature. It also has an education aspect to it.

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Hollywood Studios (MGM to those of you that haven’t been there in years.)

– Great Movie Ride

– Star Tours (40 inches or taller)

– Toy Story Mania

– Tower of Terror (40 inches or taller)

Hollywood Studios is a great place to see lots of shows for the little ones. They have the Muppets, Disney Junior, Beauty and the Beast, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. There aren’t a ton of rides here, but the shows and atmosphere make it worth it. And now this year they have a Frozen Sing Along that will delight all the little Frozen fans.

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Disney World’s four theme parks are definitely geared towards kids and families. They have plenty of rides for young kids, with just enough stuff for older kids and adults to stay interested. I hear parents all the time worry about taking kids under 5 to Disney World because they think the little ones won’t have enough to do. Believe me, there will be more than enough stuff to keep your little one entertained at the World. It’s well worth the money.

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Summer is coming to an end

It feels like summer just started, and now it’s already coming to an end. The weather is getting cooler (some days), kids are back in school (or homeschool), and the fall decorations and clothing are in the stores. I find myself already looking at my fall recipes and coming up with comforting meals to keep us warm on cool fall evenings.

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Santa's Village 2012 from phone 004

My daughter and I successfully grew two pumpkins this year. We already have one sitting outside on our patio table. We’re putting away some of our summer decor and bringing out the fall stuff. I’ve been looking in Kayla’s closet wondering if she has enough long sleeve shirts and long pants for the fall and winter.

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Summer is my favorite season, so I always feel a little sad when it’s coming to an end. There is something about warm, bright sunny summer days that makes me feel carefree and happy. Maybe it just brings back a lot of awesome memories of summers with my family and friends from when I was little. I used to spend long days outside playing with my friends, and would stay up late watching movies with my family at night. My family used to take summer vacations to Florida to visit relatives, and go to the amusement parks. Of course, my favorite was always going to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. (Even though Busch Gardens in Tampa was always a lot of fun too.) It’s hard not to love a magical little self-contained city like Disney World. It’s a place where fantasies come alive and dreams come true. It’s a wonderful place for kids and families. I will cherish those summer childhood memories for the rest of my life.

Kayla’s summer sessions of gymnastics and dance have ended. We’ve already started our fall session of Mom and Mini gymnastics. Kayla’s summer reading programs have all ended. We’ve officially started our preschool homeschooling for the year by doing workbook pages, playing learning games, working on letters and numbers, and watching learning videos.

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Oh, and our Disney vacation that once seemed so far away is now under 60 days away. Before I know it, we’ll be heading to Florida and Kayla will be experiencing her first plane ride and Disney World vacation. I booked this vacation back in January, so it’s hard to believe it’s getting so close now. Kayla and I made a Disney Countdown Chart (see previous post) in July, when my sister’s family went on vacation, so Kayla could understand how much longer we still had before it was our turn to go on vacation. When we made our chart, we still had 114 days to go. Now we have 48 days left. It’s amazing how fast time goes by. When we get home from our trip, Kayla will be celebrating her 3rd birthday.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

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All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart.  This was at 60 days left.

All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart. This was at 60 days left.

We’ve had a great summer. We’ve gone to the state fair, a county fair, Santa’s Village Azoosment Park, the zoo, and took a trip to Springfield. We also just attended a fall fest, which is always a lot of fun, and took Kayla to see Disney on Ice. Although I’m sad that summer is ending, I am ready to enjoy the wonderful things we have planned for this fall and winter. Only a couple more months, and we’ll be getting ready for Christmas. Summer may be my favorite season, but Christmas-time is my favorite time of the year.

Ride at Santa's Village.

Ride at Santa’s Village.

By the pool at my friend's apartment building in Springfield, IL.

By the pool at my friend’s apartment building in Springfield, IL.

At the Illinois State Fair.

At the Illinois State Fair.

I hope everyone had an awesome summer with their family and friends.

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Countdown to Disney World Chart – A creative visual display

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I think I mentioned awhile ago that we have a vacation planned this year to go to Disney World. We’re taking Kayla there the week before her 3rd birthday.

My plan was to tell my daughter about our trip about 90 days in advance. It wouldn’t be too, too early, but it also would give me some time to explain to her exactly where we’d be going and what to expect. This will be her first time going on a plane, spending more than one night in a hotel, and going to large theme parks. She’s been to carnivals and a small kiddie theme park, but never anything this massive.

My plan didn’t work out. My mom decided to record an episode of Windy City Live (a Chicago-based show) where they went to Disney World. My mom was excited to show it to Kayla to get a reaction. Kayla was literally in awe of what she saw. She had tons of questions about this place called Disney World.

A few weeks after that, my sister and her family left on their vacation to Florida. One of their vacation destinations was Disney World. Kayla was ready to pack her bags and go with them. Not only was her favorite cousin leaving on vacation without her, but they were going to the same place she wants to go. She was devastated. For two weeks, all she talked about was how she missed her cousin, and that he went to see Mickey Mouse. This started her obsession with Disney World. She started asking to see books, to watch videos (on You Tube) of Disney vacations, and even grabbed some brochures while at the Disney Store. She asks me every single day if we’re leaving to go on vacation to Disney World today. Or tomorrow? And I’m not lying when I say that she started wearing her new princess Jasmine costume around our house all day. She even does forward rolls in this costume.

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I tried to show her a calender and explain that we have four more months until it’s our turn to go on vacation to Disney World. The calendar seemed to be too confusing for her. She didn’t like that there were multiple pages to look at that she had to flip up to see the day when we’re leaving. That’s when I decided to look into Disney Countdown calendars. I thought there would be tons of them to buy, but I was having a hard time finding one to buy or print from the internet. I did, however, find a ton of cute ideas on pinterest. This is when I decided to just be creative and make my own.

I looked around the house to see what types of Disney stuff we have laying around, then I decided what I would need to buy. I cut up an old Disney gift bag that Kayla had from one of her birthdays. I used that to create a big board. Kayla and I used her paint to paint clothes pins with the colors of Disney character’s clothing. (The main characters like Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.) We painted enough clothes pins for each day we still have before we leave on our trip. I then used a 12 x 12 sheet of red scrapbook paper to create a little sign to represent the number of days we have left until our vacation. I used a small piece of a dry erase board to attach to the sign so we’ll be able to change the number of days left on a daily basis. I then let Kayla decorate the sign and overall board with some of her Disney stickers. Now we have a really big board/chart that clearly displays how many days we have left until our vacation begins.

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Kayla was able to be completely involved with making the board, which she is super proud of right now. It will show her the exact number of days we have left on a daily basis, and she will be able to remove one clothes pin each day. The clothes pins will help her visually see for herself that we still have a long time to wait, but she will also be able to see the number of clothes pins go down each day. This will be a great visual learning tool for her, and it will give us an opportunity to work on counting and numbers. I know she will feel better when she sees the number of clothes pins decreasing.

We even made a special clothes pin to represent our last day before we leave. I know she will be super excited when we finally get to that clothes pin.

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I hope this idea inspires some other parents out there to make their own creative countdown charts for upcoming vacations, events, or holidays.

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Countdown to Disney chart with Kayla

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A Summer Full of Reading

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My daughter absolutely loves books. I was one of those pregnant women that not only talked to my baby while she was in the womb, I would occasionally read to her too. From the time she was born, I would read to her at night before bed. Of course when she was a newborn and infant, she would mostly just look at the pictures, try to eat the book, and stare at me while I read. The older she got, the more she started to get excited when I got out a book. From the time she could crawl, she would bring me books. I would be sitting on the couch in the middle of the day and she would crawl over to the coffee table, pull one of her books off the table, and push it back to the couch while crawling. It was pretty funny to watch. The moment she learned to walk, she would bring me book after book to read.

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A few months before her 2nd birthday, I started taking her to storytime at the local libraries. She was in love. She would get so excited when we would walk into the building and she would see all the books. She would listen intently to the librarian read the books during storytime, and she would clap and cheer when the story was over. The librarian seemed to get a kick out of her enthusiasm.

After storytime, they encourage you to stay in the children’s area and let your child explore by playing with the other kids and picking out books. The first few times we attended storytime, I found it interesting to watch Kayla. While the other kids would run to play with puzzles, games, puppets, blocks, etc., Kayla would gather up a few books and sit down to look at them. She’d go into one of the reading cubbies, or climb onto a rocking chair, and she would just sit there and look at books. The other kids would be laughing and playing, while Kayla would be completely caught up in all the books. She would walk around gathering books to look at, and for me to read to her. She quickly caught onto the fact that we could check these books out and take them home with us. Once she figured that out, she would load up the basket on her stroller with books. Eventually, she did notice that there are toys and activities to do in the library as well, and she now plays with the other kids. She usually starts out playing with the other kids, then goes around looking for books to check out. We typically leave with a stack of 8-12 books, all for her.

I am a big reader myself, so I am overjoyed to see Kayla’s love for books. We read books together at least once a day, if not two or three times. On average, we read 10 books a day. And as she gets older, the books are becoming longer and with more words.

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A couple of weeks ago, I took Kayla to our local library. When we were checking out our books, the librarian asked Kayla, “are you going to read all of these books?” Kayla’s response was, “yeah…I love books!” The librarian laughed and asked her, “are you going to sign up for our summer reading program?” Kayla happily responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” The librarian said “great,” and provided me with some information on the program.

It had crossed my mind in the past that I should sign her up for one of the summer reading programs, but I wasn’t sure what was required and how old you have to be to participate. Although I worked at a local library in the children’s section when I was a teenager, I couldn’t remember all the rules and requirements. It was nice to find out that these reading programs through the libraries start from birth. You can have your child participate at any age. And most of the libraries either allow you to set your own reading goals for the summer, or they set a very low goal for young children. They make it very easy for even busy parents to be able to help their children accomplish their goals.

After some thought and research, I ended up deciding to sign Kayla up for several summer reading programs at different libraries. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been to three different libraries on six different days. The more I thought about it, I figured why not sign up for programs at a few libraries and use the books we check out from each library for their particular program. Each library will be hosting their own summer events to get the kids involved at the library, and they are offering different prizes and incentives. The first program we signed up for gave out “Dig into Reading” t-shirts to the first few hundred people. Kayla also got to color a few pictures, put her name on them, and have them hung up in the library. She was so proud. The library staff convinced me to sign up for the adult summer reading program, and I received a convenient re-usable library bag. Sure, I already carry a few re-usable bags in my purse for carrying library books, etc., but it was still nice to get one that has a picture of someone reading a book on the front.

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My husband, who isn’t a reader, has always been surprised by Kayla’s love of books. I think he was downright shocked when I told him the other day about how I asked Kayla where she wanted to go (when we were leaving the house), and her response was, “to the library…to get books and see kids.” He doesn’t really understand it, but he does encourage it.

I personally enjoy our time reading together each day. It is such a great way for Kayla and I to bond on a daily basis. I love to see her eyes light up when we read a book that she likes. There is nothing like having her snuggled next to me in bed (or on the couch) while we read a book that warms the heart, makes us laugh, or starts a conversation. One of my new favorite things is when Kayla wants to “read” to me. She will go page by page telling me a story based on the pictures, or what she remembers from the book. Sometimes, she even has parts of books memorized. It brings a smile to my face every time. She is already showing several signs of being ready to start learning how to read. I can only imagine how her love of books will grow even more when she is able to read to herself. But even then, I will look forward to our daily time spent together reading.

Please, if you are looking for something for your kids to do this summer, consider signing them up for a summer reading program. It’s worth it.

After storytime last fall.

After storytime last fall.

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Healthy Banana Ice Cream that is perfect for little kids

This is super creamy and good.

This is super creamy and good.

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to add a few healthier food items to your child’s daily menu. I love ice cream, but it’s something I shy away from most of the time now because it’s not always the healthiest dessert option. And when I do eat ice cream, I tend to get the ones with half the fat, or I simply opt for sorbet instead. But sometimes…I just have to have a bowl of ice cream to satisfy the craving. Not to mention, I love the pure look of joy on my daughter’s face when she is eating ice cream and saying, “mmm, this is yummy…it tastes goooood.” That cracks me up every time. Especially when she adds her little happy dance. Pure joy.

Okay, so this is going to be the easiest banana ice cream recipe you have ever seen. Seriously, it is so easy my toddler could probably do it. (Well, she does help do half of it.) There is only one ingredient. I’m not kidding. All you need is bananas (and a strong blender).

Banana Ice Cream Recipe

– Frozen bananas

This is as healthy as ice cream can get. There is nothing else added. All you have to do is peel a couple of bananas. But them in a freezer safe container and freeze them for 2-4 hours. Take them out of the freezer and let them sit on the counter for about 5 minutes. I wouldn’t let them sit out for longer than 10 minutes. Put them in your Vitamix (or other high powered) blender on Variable 2 or 3 and blend for 30 seconds to a minute. All you want to do is blend it until it becomes the creamy consistency of ice cream or custard. It will become very creamy. This is a cold, refreshing treat on a warm day. It tastes like you made homemade banana ice cream, but without any added ingredients. This is super healthy, and kids love it.

We could barely stop eating it long enough to take pictures.

We could barely stop eating it long enough to take pictures.

This is really just the base of the recipe. You can add other frozen fruit to the blender to make different types of ice cream. Try frozen strawberries to make a strawberry banana ice cream. My daughter likes when I add peanut butter to it and make a peanut butter banana ice cream. You can also add your favorite toppings. I like mine with dark chocolate syrup. Yum! Of course, adding a special topping may make it a little less healthy, but considering the fat and calories you are saving by not making this with cream, sugar, and eggs…I think you can allow yourself to add something special on top. Maybe some caramel and/or crushed nuts. When you’re making the ice cream, try adding some oreo cookies to the blender for a take on cookies and cream ice cream. There are so many combinations you can use to make this delicious, healthy treat.

With dark chocolate syrup on top.  This was my bowl.

With dark chocolate syrup on top. This was my bowl.

My recommendations are to always use frozen bananas as your base, and if you are adding other fruit you should freeze it first. Other ingredients you may add to the blender don’t need to be frozen, such as oreos and peanut butter. Have fun with this recipe, and let your kids help make this with you. They will love being able to get involved and help make their own ice cream creations. And it’s so good that they won’t miss the “real” thing. Enjoy!

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This is what hands-on learning is all about.

I am a huge advocate of hands-on learning. I think it is important for kids to be able to get out there and actually experience things for themselves. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for classroom/home learning, but I strongly believe kids learn more by doing.

If you live anywhere near the Chicago-land area and you are teaching your kids about dinosaurs (or they just have a love for dinosaurs), I recommend taking your kids to the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. My husband and I took our daughter to the zoo last week, and Kayla loved the dinosaur exhibit. She wanted to be held because she was afraid the dinosaurs would eat her, but it still ranked as one of her favorite attractions. She’s been talking about it non-stop for the past week, and playing with her new (and old) dinosaur toys. Even as an adult, I was impressed by the details on the dinosaurs. This was hands down my favorite part of our visit.

We can all use books, fossils digs, and videos to teach our kids about dinosaurs, but nothing beats taking your child to see detailed replicas. Trust me, it was worth it. Just a simple walk through the exhibit inspired Kayla to ask us questions, and made her want to learn more about dinosaurs. We’ve been to the library twice this week and both times she got books on dinosaurs. She’s only 2 1/2 years old. Imagine if you have older kids with a passion for dinosaurs. They will love it.

By the fountain near the front of the zoo.

By the fountain near the front of the zoo.

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May is gone already?!!

I can’t believe over a month has gone by since my last post. It feels like I was just typing up that post and uploading pictures. It’s amazing how fast time goes by. In the past few weeks, Kayla and I have finished up our soccer class, gone to the library a few times, started a few early reading programs, worked on our garden, went to see Sesame Street Live on Mother’s Day, and gone to the zoo for the first time in 2013. Oh, and my older nephew graduated from high school. It’s been a busy month. And that is just the major things we’ve done.

I won’t go into tons of details about the things we’ve done. I’ll just put up some pictures and let you see for yourself. It’s been a great 5 weeks. Happy Spring!

Kayla got a certificate for completing her soccer class.  She was very proud of herself.

Kayla got a certificate for completing her soccer class. She was very proud of herself.

Playing at the library.

Playing at the library.

Kayla's garden bed.  When we first started planting it.

Kayla’s garden bed.

Mommy's garden bed.  Before we added more.

Mommy’s garden bed.

Sesame Street Live show

Sesame Street Live show

Kayla watching the Sesame Street Live show.

Kayla watching the Sesame Street Live show.

Art project Kayla made for grandma for Mother's Day.

Art project Kayla made for grandma for Mother’s Day.

My nephew after his high school graduation.

My nephew after his high school graduation.

Art project Kayla made as a present to her cousin for graduation.

Art project Kayla made as a present to her cousin for graduation.

Kayla and daddy watching the polar bear at the zoo.

Kayla and daddy watching the polar bear at the zoo.

Smelling our flowers we bought.

Smelling our flowers we bought.

Using chalk to learn.

Using chalk to learn.

Riding around in her new jeep that daddy bought for her.

Riding around in her new jeep that daddy bought for her.

Having fun playing with play-doh.

Having fun playing with play-doh.

Using her own little stand mixer to make brownies.  Yes, it really works.

Using her own little stand mixer to make brownies. Yes, it really works.

Kayla in the foam pit at gymnastics.

Kayla in the foam pit at gymnastics.

Rock climbing at gymnastics.

Rock climbing at gymnastics.

Jumping from color to color (while naming the colors) at gymnastics.

Jumping from color to color (while naming the colors) at gymnastics.

Walking up the wall with her feet.  She's getting good at this.

Walking up the wall with her feet. She’s getting good at this.

Swinging on the rings with her coaches help.

Swinging on the rings with her coaches help.

She found a stuffed dog on one of the obstacle courses.

She found a stuffed dog on one of the obstacle courses.

Naming the colors of the balls for her gymnastics coach.

Naming the colors of the balls for her gymnastics coach.

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Rainy Day Activities

Last week, we got a bunch of rain in the Midwest. Streets, parking lots, and many homes and businesses were flooded. We had two leaks in our basement. We were lucky and didn’t get a lot of water down there, but it was enough that our carpet got wet and we had to move furniture out of the way. We also had to rip into the drywall and paneling in our finished basement in order to patch the wall where there were leaks. This was an unexpected expense. The good news is it gave my husband the excuse he needed to re-do the paneling in our basement. He has never liked the paneling that was put up on the bottom portion of our walls by the previous owners. Now he has the opportunity to put up paneling he likes, and the way he wants it done. I think in the end, he’ll be happy.

Areas where we had the two leaks in our basement.  This was before the wall guy came out to fix it.

Areas where we had the two leaks in our basement. This was before the wall guy came out to fix it.

While my husband has been worrying about the basement, I’ve been keeping our daughter and my nephew busy, as usual. I’ve been doing art projects with them, playing games, and working with them on color and shape sorting. I’ve also been buying new materials to help with teaching them to learn how to write letters/numbers, draw shapes, cut simple shapes out of paper, identify opposites, etc. I’ve been a busy little bee.

New workbooks

New workbooks

The Alex Toys Ready, Set, School set.

The Alex Toys Ready, Set, School set.

The contents of the set.  Workbooks, crayons, a shoe to lace, scissors, stencils, etc.

The contents of the set. Workbooks, crayons, a shoe to lace, scissors, stencils, etc.

One day last week, I had them use stamps to make a picture. I brought out the number stamps so I could take the opportunity to work with them on identifying numbers. Of course, they were more interested in putting the stamps in the ink than learning numbers, but it’s still worth the effort.

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A picture Alex was working on.

A picture Alex was working on.

At night before bed, my daughter has been doing color and shape sorting. I’m amazed at how well she is doing compared to just a few weeks ago. The great thing is she thinks the sorting is a game, so I have no issues with getting her to do it each night.

Edu stuff, 1st hair cut, and Tumblebear open gym 007

In the bedroom, we also have a word wall where I put up words that I’m working with Kayla to become familiar with and learn to recognize. Part of our bedtime routine is to go over these words.

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I’m looking forward to nice weather where I can get the kids outside for a change, but until then, it’s nice to have some rainy day activities to do.

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