Themed Play vs. Free Play

When it comes to planning activities for children, one thing that parents, teachers, and children seem to enjoy is a fun theme. Whether we are deciding nursery decor, planning a birthday party, or just a simple craft on a Saturday afternoon, many of us like to utilize a good theme. Right now, Pinterest is full of Valentine’s day themed projects and learning activities for children. Next week, we will start seeing a lot of green art projects and flowered crafts for St. Patty’s Day and spring. I’m no exception. In fact, I’m working on an idea for an activity planner for young children, and how is it organized? By themes!

Themes can make playtime more exciting. Having a theme is a good way to explore one subject in many different ways. That’s especially beneficial for families with more than one young child, or for a group setting like a preschool or child care center. One child may not be too fond of journaling about the weather, but making her own tornado sensory bottles might be most fun she’s had all week! And when your son loves to put together his own mini-pizza for a snack on Little Chef day, your daughter might prefer to create her own restaurant menu with a piece of paper and crayons.

And yet sometimes, our children want nothing to do with a theme. We may have spent a lot of time and effort putting together a Pirate theme day, filled with homemade pirate hats and eyepatches, decorating our own paper towel tube spyglass, following a treasure map using our directional skills, and count and sort our treasure after we’ve found it. We just knew it was going to be the best day ever! After all, little Betty Boop from the Super Happy Blogging sure loved it! Instead, our little ones complain that the felt eyepatch is itchy. They slop a little paint on a paper towel tube and announce, “I’m done!” after a record time of 10.8 seconds. They whine that they’re too tired to follow the treasure map, and they’re disappointed when they finally find the treasure and realize that it’s only card stock with gold glitter and not real treasure!

So what can we do?

Here’s my best plan:

-Have a plan. I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan and the materials for the activities ready to go, interest on the children’s behalf fades fast. From a child’s perspective, nothing is more boring than waiting!

-Start the activity as planned, but then hand over the reins to the children whenever possible. If you offer your child the opportunity to draw their own treasure map, but they prefer to draw a football field instead, let him! I recently borrowed an idea from Arlee at Small Potatoes to make homemade play dough and add some animals and trees for a fun winter animal play scene that I was sure my six-year-old would play with for hours! (Yes, I can be a bit delusional at times.) He was completely uninterested. He wanted to go back to playing floor hockey in the living room, which I reminded him was a bad idea since his dad and little brother were taking a nap. In an attempt to keep him at the table longer spark his interest, I started shaping a cave out of the play dough. “Great idea!” my son said. “Can you make another net on this end so I can play soccer with the animals?” For a moment, I was disappointed that he didn’t enjoy the activity in the way I had imagined. But I realized that he was enjoying the way he imagined instead, and that it was a much more memorable and valuable play experience for him. He played for quite a long time, whereas he would have whined and complained and shut down in about two minutes had I insisted on him playing my way.


-Be adaptable. That’s one of the best qualities that a parent or teacher can have. Children are so unpredictable. From the time they are first born until who-knows-when, just when we think we have them figured out, they change. It’s the ebb and flow of growing up, of a child’s discovery of who they are going to become. Our job as parents and teachers is not to determine WHO they will be, but to help them learn HOW they will get there. If our child wants to be a ballerina, but we are pushing them to be a soccer player instead, we’re not doing anyone a favor. If we’re trying to teach them to kick, pass, and shoot when they just want to twirl, bend, and leap, there is going to be a constant struggle. And they will probably still end up being a ballerina.

Now this isn’t to say that children should just have free rein of their world. Certainly, some limits need to be in place–for their benefit and ours. I certainly don’t mean that if a child isn’t interested in practicing math at home that we should ban math from our routine. It just means that if they want to make up a subtraction story about a basketball team rather than about spring chickens, let them! Another option is to let them know that as soon as they have completed the planned learning activity, they may have free play to explore the items any way they choose. They might just end up surprising you by how much they learn through their own free play.

Which do you prefer, themed play or free play? Which do your children prefer?

Guest Post: Top Five Books on Child Development

**I am so pleased with today’s guest post written by freelance writer, Naomi Esterly. She contacted me a short time ago about a guest post for Close Families, and she came up with a very informative post featuring five books for child development. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you for contributing here at Close Families, Naomi!**

About Naomi:

Naomi Esterly is a stay-at-home mom to two rambunctious, yet adorable, little boys and a newborn baby girl. In her spare time she balances writing freelance for 1800Wheelchair.Com and coaching her community’s little league.

Top Five Books on Child Development

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The health and development of a child will be established in their early years. It might seem unlikely but it’s within these formative years that the child develops the foundation of the person he or she will be. There will be milestones, tell tale signs, that parents, family and health professionals may need to note in order to ensure a child reaches their full potential through adulthood.

Here are five books on child development that could be beneficial in this arena.

How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
By Robert S. Mendelsohn

A renowned pediatrician and author, Dr. Mendelsohn looks to demystify the medical profession. In this book, he hopes to give parents practical advice about relying too heavily on pediatricians and how they should take a stronger role in their child’s care. Subjects include Protecting Your Children Before They are Born, The Mythical Menace of Strep Throat and The Child Who Never Sits Still.

Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers
By Monta Z. Briant

Studies have demonstrated that signing babies will talk sooner; maintain a stronger bond with parents; have larger vocabularies; show a greater interest in reading; show less frustration and spend less time crying and throwing tantrums; and will have increased IQs. This book hopes to encourage parents to explore these possibilities with their child through fun and easy steps to signing together.

Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children
By David Elkind

Children are going to play. The Power of Play explores the idea of how imaginative, unscheduled play has a significant, long term impact on a successful social and academic career. Play is as important as learning and parents may need to curb those beliefs that a child should be constantly engaged in educational activities. The book combines research and personal anecdotes to make its argument.

What to Expect the First Year
By Heidi Murkoff

Considered a milestone in guides for child care, this book covers the first year of the relationship between parent and child. It incorporates advances in pediatric medicine in an exemplary user friendly manner. Topics include the expanded role of the father, sleep problems, causes of colic, SIDS, returning to work, siblings, weaning, sippy cups, how to give a bath and much more.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting Book
By John Gottman

With an intent of increasing self confidence and contributing to greater mental, social and physical health, this book explores coaching your child to regulate their emotions. The author believes doing so will have long lasting benefits in school performance and beyond. Subjects include empathetic listening and validation of feelings, solving issues in rational manners and labeling emotions with words children understand.

Children are spontaneous and mercurial. Their reactions are actually natural, if not considered acceptable. They do grow out of it, but how they do so is an important consideration. Parents should see these formative years as the perfect opportunity to help the child’s emotional growth. They should use them to engage with the child in emotional, physical and educational manners to ensure the best possible outcomes. The five titles above all have tremendous potential in that area.

I Shouldn’t

I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.

I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.

“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.

He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”

“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”

He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together.  A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.

“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”

As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”

I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.

“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.

I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.

Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.

“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.

“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.

“I love you too.”

We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”

“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.

I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.

Making Math Fun!

“It’s time to do your math homework,” I call to my son.

He drags himself to the kitchen table. “Ugh,” he sighs. “Do I have to do this now?”

“Well, if you don’t want to do your math homework, then you will be the one at school explaining that to Mrs. H tomorow.”

He takes a big exaggerated breath, and lets it out through his pursed lips. Not unlike a horse. “Okay, fiiiiiine.”

He does his homework. He does a good job. But he doesn’t like it. Being a writer, I understand where he’s coming from. I would much rather get lost in a good book–a story filled with the unknown and many possibilities, all carefully described by the creative mind of the author–than to calculate numbers on a worksheet with only one right answer possible.

Still, basic math is a skill that we all need. We need it to get through the education system, and we need it in the real world. And like any other skill, being good at math requires practice. Teachers are begging parents to help their children practice these skills at home. But I think my son might run away screaming, if I bring him more worksheets to do.

So I took an idea from my son’s “Math at Home” suggestion at the bottom of his homework, tweaked it to our liking, and we made math practice FUN! For both of us! It was fun for him, because he had choices, and it involved using his favorite toys. It was fun for me, because he was practicing math and writing numbers without a single protest, whine, or sigh. Success!

How to make math fun:

  • Let your child choose some favorite toys. It can be a bunch of random toys, or a specific set of toys. If your child is having trouble narrowing it down, you can give them suggestions such as Squinkies, Hot Wheels cars, action figures, stuffed animals, etc. We used these little football helmets that my son collects from quarter machines at the grocery store.

  • Let your child choose a writing utensil (marker, crayon, pen, pencil, chalk, paint) and something to write on (copy paper, chalkboard, poster board, notepad, scrapbook paper). A few small choices let your child feel like he has a whole lot of freedom! We used my son’s dry erase board and dry erase marker that he LOVES to use!
  • Know what your child is working on in math at school. Right now, my son is working on greater than, less than, and equal to, so that’s what we focused on, but you can certainly use this same idea with addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. He is also working on numbers 0-5 in school, so we stuck to those numbers, but again, you can go as high as you like with this activity, assuming you have enough toys. (I know we have no shortage over here!) 😉
  •  Ask your child to separate the toys into groups. For example, we started with four helmets vs. five helmets. Talk about the two groups in a way that relates to what your child is learning at school. I asked my son, “Which group is greater than the other?” “Which group is less than?” and “How can you make the two groups equal to each other?” If your child is practicing division, ask your child to pick ten objects, and then ask, “How can we divide these into five equal groups?”
  • Finally, let your child practice writing the equation.


Most importantly, play around with it and have fun! If your child starts playing with the toys, play along! Just find a sneaky way to add in a little math. If he starts racing the cars around the floor, ask him, “How many cars are in the race?” Let’s say he says eight, then you could ask,  “How many should we add to make fifteen racers?” He’s still doing math, but in a way that is much more entertaining to him, and less stressful for you!

Happy Learning!

Play the Part: Parents are a child’s best teacher

Folks, it’s Friday, and I usually keep it light. I like ending the week on a little note that’s short and sweet, so that I can spend most of the day preparing for the weekend. But something happened yesterday that really touched my heart, and I need to share it with all of you.

Now I realize that I can get a bit preachy at times, especially when it comes to a parent’s responsibility to their children. So I need you to bear with me and understand three things:

  1. I write about parenting and children, because I care about the kids. My kids. Your kids. Kids that I see in public. Kids that I hear about in articles or on the news. Kids that I have never heard of. If I were to be defined my one “passion,” it would be all about the children.
  2. These are just my thoughts and opinions, but I do read a lot of research-based articles that help me form these opinions, along with the collaborative thoughts, comments, and observations that I witness in parents that I see all around me (including my husband and myself).
  3. I am not a perfect parent. I mess up as a parent all. the. time. I get frustrated when my son has asked me the same question five times, when I have answered at least four of those times with the same response, leading me to believe that he is simply not listening to me. So I might lose my patience and snap, “Son! If you would LISTEN to me after you ask the question, you would only need to ask it ONCE!” I have been known to give him a sugary snack right before bedtime (during last year’s football season, we had a tradition of Sunday Night Sundaes… Mmm… I think I might bring that tradition back…) My husband and I will argue about the best way to parent. I usually think I’m right. He usually thinks he’s right. But we try our best to meet each other in the middle.

What I strive for on this blog is to reach others while I am simultaneously reaching myself. To keep all of us parents on the right track.

Now that we’re all in the same boat, I have to get back to sharing what happened yesterday. Yesterday was my first PTO meeting. And it got me a bit fired up about our job as parents when it comes to our children’s education. In our small school of just over 400 students, I think I counted four or five parents that attended this meeting that were not also part of the school’s faculty or staff. That’s it? Yes. That was it. And that was including myself. It was my first PTO meeting, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I was completely shock by lack of turn-out from parents. I’m sure this is not always the case, and I know that we can’t do everything that we would like as parents. We are moms and dads, not Wonder Woman and Superman.

But as I listened throughout the meeting… Fundraising goals falling short. Need more volunteers. Help us raise more money. And it’s not about raising money for luxury items. They need the money for tables to accommodate the students. They need grants to help support the children that come from low-income families (we are one of those families). And it’s not just about the money.

The majority of the PTO meeting was spent listening to the principal and teacher reports. Reporting on how the school year is going so far. Reporting on what is going on in the classroom. And the one common request… plea… that I heard from every teacher, reading coach, math coach, etc?

“We need parents to help their children work on this at home.”

“Parents, we need you to practice this at home.”

“Parents can go online to find out about the data that we are using, the core curriculums that we are striving to meet…”

“We need parents to read to the kids or let them read to you every day.”

The fifth grade teacher had several students that still were struggling with addition and subtraction. My son’s Kindergarten teacher has one child that only knows four letters of the alphabet. There are some children who begin school that don’t even know their full name, just the name that they go by.

Parents, our teachers are struggling, and they need our help. Most likely, if you’re a follower of this blog, you are already involved in your child’s education. And that is wonderful. Some children get homework sent home every night. Some parents make sure that their children complete their homework before dinner. I think that the responsibility of a child’s education needs to fall mostly onto that child’s own shoulders. I’m not suggesting that we as parents need to force our children to sit down and study for hours. But we absolutely need to be involved in their education. We need to set aside a time each day for homework, math or reading practice, or other areas of interest to our children. It doesn’t need to be all worksheets and flash cards either. I am a huge advocate of learning through play, so make it fun! If you make sitting down to work on these skills seem like a chore, then that is how your children will see it, and it will be a struggle. But you can play with Lego blocks and sort them by size, shape, color. Add them together. Subtract them. Sort them into three groups of five, and use multiplication to come up with the answer. Set out twenty pieces and challenge your child to divide them into equal groups (two groups of ten, four groups of five, five groups of four, etc.) Let them play, and they will amaze you with the imaginative and creative ways that they come up with all while working on basic math skills. Go outside with a stick and some dirt, and practice writing sight words in the dirt. There are tons of resources out there that provide parents with thousands of examples on how to help your child’s education at home, and I will link up a few of those at the bottom of this post.

Something we need to keep in mind is that we are our child’s constant teacher and role model. They will learn more from us than they will from any one teacher that they have. Sure, I had several teachers that touched my life and had a great, positive influence on my education. But if you ask me who my biggest role model is? My mom. Hands down. I may not have turned out to be just like her, but she is without a doubt the biggest influence on my life. My son informed me this morning that there are 153 days in his school year (keep in mind that we don’t go to school on Mondays!), which leaves 203 days that they are with us. What we do at home with our children can make such a huge impact on their learning abilities. Also keep in mind that your child’s teacher has twenty or more children whose education is equally important. That’s a big task, especially when you have one child who doesn’t know how to write his own name, and you have other children reading at a first-grade level. How many children’s education are we concerned with? One or two? Four? Six?

Another topic they talked about in the PTO meeting was that teachers and schools are bumping up their standards. The state of Missouri got a waiver on the “No Child Left Behind” act, and what was once considered second-grade material is now being taught in first-grade, etc. Our teachers have high expectations of our children. Shouldn’t we? Some parents take on the attitude of “Well that’s why I send him to school!” or “That’s what I pay his preschool to do!” I’m telling you that it isn’t enough. From the time that children are born, they look to their parents to teach them. Teachers can only accomplish so much in the time that they have the children. It’s up to us to do the rest. And if your child is doing well in school, does that mean that we’re off the hook at home? Absolutely not. Chances are, the reason that they are doing well is because of our past involvement in their education, and we need to maintain the attitude that we can always learn more. Find fun ways to challenge your child. Or if they have the math skills down, give them some paint and a big piece of paper and let them express their creativity instead. If they already know all of their sight words, encourage them come up with a story and write it down on paper. Bind the pages together and help them create their first, original book.

On a side note that was only indirectly addressed at the PTO meeting, we also need to keep in mind that learning starts at birth. Parents As Teachers is a wonderful organization that gets your child on track right from the beginning. I love this quote that they have on the website in reference to a child being prepared for school: “This study says those states that wait to start early childhood education until age 4 are making a huge mistake…by starting at birth, Parents as Teachers starts at just the right time.” –Dr. Edward Zigler If you have a child that is under the age of five, please visit their website and use their “Program Locator” to find the program in your area.

I’m sure that most of you are already involved in your child’s education and their school. I know it has always been important to me. But I also know that I can always do better, and that sometimes I slack. I am challenging myself to step it up a notch. To really be there for my son, for his fellow classmates, for the school, for the community.

How do you stay involved in your child’s education?

Parenting Resources: (homework help, fun learning activities at home, how to get involved in school, and much more!)

Getting Sticky! Sensory and Creative Art

I love a good, fun mess. I may not love the aftermath, but the process of creating the mess is worth the trouble of cleaning it up afterwards. With that in mind, you need to be a brave soul to try the simple but oh-so-messy sensory and creative art activity that I am sharing today!

When children are very young, creative art is as much about the sensory aspect of it as it is the creativity. For older children who already know how to manipulate a wide variety of materials, art can take on a much deeper level of creativity. They can really focus on what they are creating, because they already know how to create. For that reason, it is vital to a child’s creative expression that they are allowed to experience frequent, simple, and variable creative opportunities when they are small. So far my little guy has used washable markers, crayons, a paintbrush, finger-paints, watercolors, paper, tissue paper and glue during art activities. Today, I wanted to let him explore something really tactile and different. So I made a simple, sticky solution of corn syrup, food coloring, and just a splash of water (to thin it out a bit and make it easier to manipulate) for him to explore.

Stir in just a dash of water with the corn syrup and food coloring. You don’t want it to be too runny.

Then I got my little guy into just a diaper (you could also use a paint smock or old shirt for older children) and put him in his “art” chair. A highchair would work just as well for babies, and older children can sit on a drop cloth on the floor or at a table that is easily cleaned. Keep in mind that the easier the work surface is to clean, the better for you post-activity!

I put some of the corn syrup mixture onto a piece of card stock (you can also use construction paper) and let him spread it around to his little heart’s content!

“Okay, Mom, I’m done. Enough with the pictures.”

A quick scrub in the sink with warm water and soap, and we were sticky-free! When the corn syrup mixture dries on the paper, it’s a really shiny, 3D sort of effect, which is pretty neat to hang on the wall or fridge for them to look at their own artwork later.

**What kinds of creative activities do you and your children enjoy? I’m linking up with the Weekly Kid’s Co-Op, so be sure to check out some of the wonderful activities shared here as well!**

What Subject Is Your Parenting?

Schools across the nation are back into the swing of things. By now, most teachers and students have a handle on their daily routine, and they are beginning to optimize the school day for learning. When I think about being in school, I remember all the different subjects from which we drew to become our collective knowledge-math, science, literature, music, PE, and art. I find myself comparing these individual subjects to different parenting styles, and it makes me wonder, “Which subject am I?”

Am I a math parent? Do I add rewards when I’m pleased with my son, and subtract them when I’m displeased? Do I require a clear and straight result for each task my son performs? Two plus two certainly equals four, as does eating all your vegetables equals dessert. Do I count my blessings and add value to my children’s lives?

Am I a science parent? Do I make a hypothesis on the best ways to encourage my son and test the hypothesis repeatedly? It either becomes a household theory of success, or I take it back to the beginning with a new hypothesis. Is it about experimenting and trial and error? In the same way that modern science is constantly evolving and requiring fresh, innovative ways of thinking, such is the science of parenting. The successful theory of earning a sticker for going to the potty on time for a three-year-old no longer seems to hold up as significant for a five-year-old learning to get himself to bed on time. Stickers no longer work, so we must form a new hypothesis.

Am I a literature parent? Do I pour over the latest, trending parenting techniques through countless, credible sources? Do I read through articles, books, and parenting magazines, in search for the great classics of parenting, such as the importance of good ol’ quality time, or the more modern reading materials that support attachment parenting and “unschooling.” Do we choose our words wisely when speaking to our children, so that they, as our readers, can get the message that we are trying to convey?

Am I a music parent? Do I look for ways to help my child express his emotions with the words that we say and the rhythms of our body language? Do I hit high notes and low notes, and through dedicated practicing somehow come up with a wonderful harmony in our parent-child relationship?

Am I a PE parent? Am I parenting in a way that promotes healthy life choices, such as exercise and eating nutritiously? Do I parent in a way that we are always active and on the go? Am I competitive? Certainly, I want to be a “gold medal” parent, excelling in the sport of parenting.

Am I an art parent? Am I creative in my parenting style? Do I see parenting as both abstract and an opportunity for creative freedom? Do I see my child as a blank canvas, waiting to be given a brush and a dab of paint, letting him splash a bit of color here while I add a shade there, until the beautiful piece of art that we see before us is a unique, creative individual?

There are so many different parenting styles out there, that it can be overwhelming at times. Much like a child trying to learn about all of these subjects simultaneously in school, it can certainly be tough for us parents. And a bit confusing. I think you’ll agree with me that parenting is all of these subjects rolled into one, and there is no easy answer as to what works best for all parents or with all children. What I do know, is that parenting is a subject at which we can’t afford to fail, and that we are our children’s greatest teachers.

What is your parenting style?


Save It for a Rainy Day

This post contains so many things that I enjoy. I enjoy a cool, rainy day.

I enjoy seizing the moment.

And I enjoy creating new experiences for my children.

Tuesday morning, it was rainy. It was an early morning rain that flooded our senses in all of the best ways: the distant rumble of thunder, the earthy aroma of fresh-falling rain onto dry fields, and a calm, cool wind touching our skin. Even though today it is back to being warm and sunny, it was the kind of rain that came as a reminder that summer is turning around the bend, and fall is nipping at its tail.

After I took my oldest son to school, my little one and I returned home, with a whole day ahead of us and no major plans. I decided to take the opportunity to let him really experience the rain. We sat outside and dipped our bare toes in puddles forming on the porch floor. We listened to the wind against the trees, and we watched the branches sway back and forth. We listened to the rain pouring on the grass below and on the roof above. I mimicked the sounds. My little one “oohed” and “ahhed” (literally). I sang to him softly some songs about rain: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” and “Rain, Rain, Go Away.”

When he started to get sleepy, we came back inside, and I laid him down for his morning nap. While he napped, I threw in a load of laundry, and then I began creating a couple of rainy day sensory activities for the afternoon.

I made a “thunder drum” out of an empty formula can, some rocks, a photo of dark clouds from a National Geographic magazine, tape, and a pair of scissors. This is so simple to make and there are a variety of ways that you can play with it. My son is very much into reaching for and “beating” on things that he can reach, so we turned it right side up for him to beat like a drum. I shook it slowly back and forth to make a “thunderous” sound. During tummy time, I put it on its side in front of him, and because it was weighted by the rocks, it didn’t roll away from him when he reached for it. If you have a crawler, you can make it without the rocks and it will roll away from him, so that he can chase after it. If you have a toddler, you can put in less rocks and use it as a musical “thunder” shaker. I love projects that can be so versatile, don’t you? 🙂

How to make a thunder drum:
1) Wash, rinse, and dry an empty formula can and lid.

2) Put rocks inside it (or not) and seal the lid shut. There is a bit of a sharp edge on the inside of these cans, so even if you aren’t using rocks (careful, because they are a choking hazard for the little ones!), it’s still a good idea to super-glue the lid shut.

3) Place tape around the outside of the can and on the lid, and cut your rainy picture to fit the can and lid (you can draw a rainy scene on paper if you don’t have a magazine photo available. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, let them make the picture!).

4) If you want to keep the little ones from ripping the picture off of the can, you can use contact paper or clear packing tape over the pictures. This isn’t baby-proof, because kiddos are clever and will still get the pictures off. However, the picture will last a bit longer if you do this step.

Another sensory activity that I created for my little one on our rainy day was to put some water in a plastic bowl (or a water table for older babies or toddlers) and add a couple drops of blue food coloring. I only needed two drops for our little bit of water, and it didn’t stain our hands or clothing, but make sure you test that first! Water + babies usually = a splash-fest and you never know where that water is going to land! The food coloring made it a beautiful blue color, and I added a blue sponge and a blue cup for different textures for him to explore. He loved it!

We read a book with beautiful rainy illustrations, and although the story itself wasn’t about the rain, I pointed to and talked about the rainy elements of the illustrations. “Oh, look! It’s raining on the Mama and Baby Bear.” “What are they wearing in the rain?” “Are they wearing raincoats to stay dry?” “Look at that blue umbrella!”

Embracing the rain made our day so enjoyable. What do you like to do on a rainy day?

**I’m linking this post up with the weekly Kid’s Co-Op again. I always find some really fun ideas here, so if you have children (infant to school-age) give it a look!**

Underwater Adventures… From the Kitchen Floor

Our school district only goes to school Tuesday through Friday, so I am blessed to have both of my boys home with me every Monday. There is something about Mondays that I am growing to love. Our weekends are usually pretty full. It seems that there is always somewhere we need to go, whether it’s a soccer game, a birthday party, or visiting with friends and family. I love the weekends, because my husband is home, and it’s generally just an all-around good time, no matter what we are doing. But then Mondays come, and the pace is much more relaxed than the rest of the week. I don’t feel such a push to get things done around the house, because I’d rather spend the time enjoying being with my big boy. Another reason I’m loving Mondays is because I’m using that day to find something special (but inexpensive!) for us to do. Last Monday, we went to a local state park where we enjoyed the beautiful weather with a picnic lunch, read books while lying on a blanket in the grass, and went for a short walk on a hiking trail.

This week, we had another fun adventure, but this time it was in our own kitchen. My parents and sister came back from a beach vacation in Mississippi this past weekend, and they brought the boys two windup submarine toys. Two very simple toys, but the newness of them had my oldest son very excited. As soon as we opened them, he wanted to test them out.

Even the baby boy was giggling and watching with awe.

He had so much fun playing with them, that when Monday came, we took a trip to the local dollar store in search of some fun treasures we could add to our submarine play. Here is what we came up with:

Some rocks and treasure coins.

A couple of different textured sponges and a scrub brush.

Stacking cups.

All of these items can easily be repurposed to do other sensory or art activities, so it was totally worth the few dollars that I spent.

I put a beach towel down on our kitchen floor and filled a large mixing bowl with water. Any large bin would work, and a sensory or water table would probably be better. I think I know what my baby boy is getting for his first birthday already…

Anyway, then we started adding things to the bowl. We took turns winding up our submarines and watching them spin and dive and race.

We sorted the stacking cups from smallest to biggest. We did a science experiment to guess how many rocks each cup would need in order for it to sink. (And I learned that my son is pretty good at making and testing a hypothesis.)

We also purchased a pair of swim googles that were on end-of-the-summer clearance, and my son loved those! He loved diving into the “ocean” face-first like a regular underwater explorer.

He also liked putting every, single item available into the bowl to make a “traffic jam” and using the sponges to create a “secret hideout” for the submarines.


Can you see why I’m loving Mondays? 🙂

**I’m linking today’s post with The Kid’s Co-Op! There are some awesome family friendly activities linked here every week. Please click to browse around or link up an activity of your own! Lots of wonderful inspiration here.**

Small Child, Big Heart

If I gave you a mirror, a pencil, some crayons, and a piece of white paper along with the instructions to draw a picture of yourself, what would you draw? If it were me, I would start with the basic shapes. I would trace the oval outline of my head, then my neck, and then my square, broad shoulders. I’d outline my eyes, making them large, round, and brown. I’d add a nose, slightly long and wide and a bit pointy at the end. I’d add small, thin lips with just a touch of pink, along with thick, reddish-brown eyebrows, and brown freckles dotting my peach-colored face all over. I’d add ears, but then cover them with reddish-brown hair, flowing downward in wavy strands and coming to rest just past the tops my shoulders. If I were to add the rest of my body to the paper, it would be somewhat short, with a boxy, athletic (although not very toned) shape. And finally, I would add a black “Rise Against” T-shirt and a pair of grey gym shorts (ready for a workout after I blog).

Would your process be similar to mine? Some might add a background. Their home? Their family? Their job? Their pets? Maybe some would draw their favorite hobbies such as a book in hand, or sitting at a computer, or going for a hike in the woods.

How do you picture yourself?

My son was faced with this assignment during his first art class in his first week of school. Here is what he came up with:

He got all of the essentials in there (except, where did his ears go?). His blonde hair was spiked up with gel that day, and he captured his big blue eyes and adorable smile. He put five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. As his background, he surrounded himself in a place of happiness: his own backyard with his dog (our dog is three-legged), his cat, trees, grass, a blue sky, and the sun shining down on him as he plays. But if you look at his torso, he added something that never would have occurred to me to put into my own self-portrait: his heart. When he pulled his self-portrait out of his backpack to show me, the heart was one of the first things I noticed, and I was taken aback by its presence.

I pointed to the heart, and I asked him, “Can you tell me about this?”

“It’s my heart,” he said. Plain and simple.

“Could you see your heart in the mirror?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “But I just wanted to draw it.”

There are other things in his portrait that he couldn’t see in the mirror, but those things I didn’t question. The things he put in his background didn’t make my heart swell or the gears in my brain start turning. I probably would have surrounded my self-portrait with things that I enjoy as well. But I never would have included my heart.

Would you have thought to put your heart in your self-portrait?

As a parent, I have found that my son often teaches me much more than I can teach him. Sure, I may have more knowledge, but give him enough time, and he will accumulate the same knowledge and then some. The day he brought home his self-image on paper, with his heart so bold and evident, he made me wonder: what happened to my own heart? Why would I leave out something so vital to my life and my well-being? To him, it wasn’t something profound or deeply thought about. It was just there. It was his heart. It was a part of him. It needed to be expressed just as much as his eyes or nose or mouth. And yet, to me, his simple art project has shaken me to a thought: I give love to those around me, but am I keeping enough for myself?

Had I drawn a picture of my children and husband or doodled their names onto paper, I probably would have surrounded them in cute little hearts. I show my love for them (although not always as much as I should), and that is important. But we need to keep a little bit of that love and continually pour it onto ourselves. I’m not talking about being selfish or self-centered, but to have self-love and confidence. We need to love ourselves so much, that you can see that love when we look at ourselves in the mirror. If we can do that, if we can keep our hearts showing through to the outside, then it’s almost impossible not to give love to the people around us. We need to find a way to preserve that childlike self-love, so that our children will never lose theirs.

<;3 Make your heart show today. <;3