One Megacoolmama…

…with fun and healthy ideas for kids!

Encourage a love of reading in your kids this Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is such a beautiful holiday based around the concept of love.  Show your little ones some love this year by fostering a love of reading in them!  By no means does this mean that you have to go out and spend tons of money; great books are cheaper than you think! (click on the pictures of the books for prices)

I will be showing my little ones some “book love” by giving them a cute Valentine themed book.  I have readers at three different levels- 2nd to 3rd grade level, Kindergarten level, and picture-book level (baby).  I plan on gifting them these books with a book light to encourage them to read anywhere they please- our reading niche, their beds, the floor, the car….you name it!  I know they will love using their new lights with their new books; anything to make reading novel to them is keeping it interesting as well!

Below are some of my personal recommendations for great Valentine’s Day books for the little ones, according to age group:

1.  Baby/Toddler-

Llama Llama I Love You

Sturdy book for little hands that grab.  Cute, short and sweet!  Also a classic!

 

My Fuzzy Valentine (Sesame Street)

Babies love to feel the fuzziness in this book.  Once again, short book, but perfect length for the really little ones.

 

2.  Ages 3-5 (preschool)-

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool

Pete the Cat is a favorite with kids in this age group, and they will love seeing how Pete has a change of heart on Valentine’s Day.  Complete with a poster and stickers, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Curious George

Curious George is a classic, and the little ones will enjoy reading about his adventures on one of the happiest days of the year.  The book also comes with pull-out flaps, making it even more entertaining!

 

3.  Ages 6-8-

My Weird School Special: Oh, Valentine, We’ve Lost Our Minds!

A humorous twist on Valentine’s Day, involving a duel over a special valentine– great for the “big kids”!

 

Little Critter: Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter!

A pull-the-flaps book that will keep the littlest “big kid” entertained.  And, who doesn’t like “Little Critter”?  🙂

 

4.  Ages 9-12-

Mad Libs in Love

There are several versions of Mad Libs for Valentine’s Day, and what could be more fun?  I remember that I used to LOVE doing these with my sister when I was little…who am I kidding, I still do!

 

The Candy Smash (The Lemonade War Series)

An age-appropriate book based around a series of candy hearts that keeps appearing in a sixth grade classroom.  The kids in the book are set to find out who has a crush on whom and learn how difficult keeping a secret really can be.  So entertaining!

 

Did you have a favorite Valentine’s book growing up?  Were any of the above characters favorites in your household?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Family time fun!

family time fun

We all know the importance of spending time together as a family, and at the end of the work week, the thing I want most is to come home and spend some quality time with my own.  Some time ago, I realized that the time I was spending with my kids seemed always to be occupied by other things that moms have to do- cook, clean, prepare lunches for the week, check homework, pay bills, and so on.  Yes, I was doing valuable work that needed to be done in order to keep the household running, but that guilty feeling kept creeping up every time I had to tell the kids “Just a second” or “Let me finish this” when they asked for me to play.

My husband and I talked and decided that we needed to change that.  At the time, our kids were six and four; the baby had not been born yet.  We came up with the solution of instituting “family time.”  Yep, it was that simple.  All we did was make a conscious effort  to spend 30 minutes together  as a family every night doing an activity that one member of the family picked, taking turns.

Before we knew it, “family time” became such an integral part of our routine every evening that the kids expected and asked for it.  We were so happy that all it took was a little change and focused effort; our kids felt so valued, and we all looked forward to having our turn at deciding the activity!

Read on for some of our favorite picks for family time…

1.  Play a board game.  Our favorites:

Operation— Fun to hear the buzzer if you hit the metal, and they come in different versions now!  We play the classic (but updated version).  Most appropriate for ages 5 and up.

 

Candyland— Been playing this one since the kids were old enough to move the little game pieces!  Still a favorite for the kids…of course, they love fantasizing that they are gobbling up all the sweets along the way!

 

Monopoly Jr. Party version— Lots of fun and a more appropriate version for the little ones.  Sometimes we make up our own rules for the Party Box (we pay the box instead of the bank when someone buys a party), and we take turns between myself, my hubby and my seven year old with being the banker.  Great math practice!

 

Time Will Tell game— Awesome game to help kids tell time!  We have been using this since my son was six and in the first grade.  I would recommend waiting until your child is old enough to understand the concept of time before playing this, otherwise tears and frustration may ensue!  (I learned this the hard way!


Kids Games: Kids Learn to Tell Time Game – Time Well Tell Game – $16.95

from: The Land of Nod

 

Zingo!— My five year old daughter LOVES this game, and I love it too since she is practicing sight words and patterns!  The kids love the card dispenser, and I love that the pieces are sturdy enough (made of a harder plastic) to withstand lots of play time!

Cat in the Hat, I Can do That— All-time favorite of the entire family!  Comes with cards and props.  You draw three cards from the bunch and have to complete the action that the cards describe. We have had some funny combinations, like “Walk backwards around the Trick-a-ma-stick three times while holding the boat under your left arm”.  Definitely a test of coordination skills, and it keeps the kids guessing what combination will come next!

2.  Have a dance party.  We either put on the iPad and rock out to our songs downloaded on iTunes or use the Pandora music stations on our tv.  Sometimes the dance parties get so intense that we go into dance-off mode!  This is one of my daughter’s favorite activities for family time! (See her take on dance parties in this video.)  The baby has definitely joined in on more than one occasion, too!  (Watch his first dance moves here!)

 

3.  Build something together.  We LOVE the Melissa and Doug Suspend game!  The idea is to build a tower of sorts with these long wire pieces that are kinda bent at different angles.  The object is to see if you can get all of the pieces to stay on the base together, obviously without having it fall.  This is such a fun, intense, and surprising game which practices strategic thinking !

Another building idea is to partner up and give each group the same amount of Legos or K’nex.  Then see who can come up with the best/most creative construction!  Of course, you may want to come up with some criteria ahead of time, like what you are building, time limits, etc.

 

4.  Have a puzzle competition.  We like to partner up (one of us per kid) and go against the other team to see who can put together a puzzle
the fastest.  Once again, this gets really intense, and we all really get into it!

 

5.  Play Transformers Hide n Seek.  Or My Little Pony, or whatever toy!  My little guy invented this game for one of his Family Time activities.  Check out the video we made explaining how to play!

 

6. Make something creative.  Cheerios, popcorn and pasta have all been victim to necklace accessories in this household!  It is also fun to just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl (old craft stuff, dry pasta, little trinkets that kids receive from birthday parties, etc.) and see which group can come up with the most interesting creation!

 

The most important thing of all is to do what is fun and meaningful to your family.  I have shared what works for us– use if you wish, or use my ideas as a starting point for something totally unique!

If you already incorporate family time into your routine, how is it done in your household?

 

 

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Fun with foil: a simple kids’ craft

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am constantly looking for something new to keep my kids busy and off of technology for at least a good part of the day.  I see some really cool ideas on Pinterest, but, most of the time, I don’t have the materials I need to even begin the project!  In my desperation to combat the dreaded “I’m bored” coming from my son’s mouth, I came up with this activity for him to do.  Honestly, I was cooking in the kitchen when he came up to me with the “I don’t know what to do” complaint.  I walked into the pantry to grab something, saw the aluminum foil, and “voilá!”, this idea was born!

All you need for this simple craft is aluminum foil.  Nothing else!  Just rip or cut it into strips, and let your kids’ creativity do the rest!

aluminum foil craft step 1

Step 1:  Take a out a piece of aluminum foil, about a foot out of the box.  Tear little starting “tabs” at the top of the foil piece (about an inch apart), like shown in the photo above.

 

aluminum foil step 2

Step 2:  Tear the aluminum foil sheet into (more or less) even strips.  You can cut, too, if you feel like your ripping skills are subpar. 🙂

 

aluminum foil step 3

 

aluminum foil 3b

Step 3:  Squeeze and pinch the aluminum foil strips so that they form pliable “wire-like” pieces.

 

aluminum foil step 4

Step 4:  Start pinching and pushing the pieces together to form different figures–let your kids get creative here!  In this picture, Devin is making a snowflake.  My daughter decided to break the pieces apart and try to make her name.

 

aluminum foil 5

Step 5:  Show off your creations!  Devin ended up making a mini tv set!

The kids had fun and stayed entertained for a good 30 minutes with this.  And, they really enjoyed crumpling all of the little aluminum foil pieces into a big ball when they were done.  I know this activity is SUPER simple, but sometimes simplicity = creativity, which is always a good thing in my book!

Did you try this activity with your kids?  Do you do something similar?  I’d love your feedback in the comments!

Land Of Nod: Design for Kids and People That Used to be Kids

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Simple ideas to reconnect with your kids

RECONNECT WITH YOUR KIDS

 

I know as a working mom that every once in a while I just need to take time to sit down and reconnect with my kids.  I am very lucky to be able to have the weekends at home with them and most evenings as well.  However, most of my time at home is spent doing meal prep, taking care of the baby, grading or preparing for classes, cleaning, and just simply trying to keep up with the chaos!

I try to take special time every week at some point to do at least one of the activities mentioned below with each one of my kids.  There are times when I know my oldest son need more of an “invisible string” kind of day (see below).  Maybe another day my daughter will prefer to listen to her birth story and read.  No matter the activity, as long as I am taking time to simply “be” with them and do nothing else for that short amount of time, they are happy.  And, that genuine happiness that comes from a place of just wanting to spend time with mommy is priceless.

Below are some things that I do to reconnect with my own children. Take these ideas and copy them, make them yours, twist them completely until they fit your lifestyle and your kids’ personalities.  The point is to spend uninterrupted time with your child doing something that makes them feel important.

1.  Read two books with your child- one he/she chooses and one you choose.  Both of you explain why you chose the book you did and share your favorite parts after reading.   Click on the images to check out a few of our favorite books.

            

 

2.  Tell them their birth story*.  And, no, I’m not talking about the gory details.  We are going to focus on the parts that won’t give your child nightmares here!  Narrate to your child how you felt when he/she was born and what the first thing was that you noticed when they were placed in your arms.  For my oldest son, it was his big, brown eyes.  For my daughter, it was her head full of black hair.  And, for my baby boy, it was his perfect little nose.  Tell about how you felt at that time and how in love you were with that little bundle of joy! I also like to include how we prepared at home for their arrival and who was there when we brought them home for the first time.  I tell them all of the details, down to the outfit they were wearing! My kids LOVE listening to their birth stories; I feel like it gives them a sense of knowing that they always have been wanted, important, and loved, even from before the time they were born.

 

3.  Create an “invisible string”.  I always tell my kids that there is an invisible string that connects our hearts no matter what.  In order to “recharge” the string, we have to hug for 20 seconds (the amount of time that a hug should last in order to get the “feel-good” boost of oxytocin hormone going).  That string then can never be broken, no matter where any of us may be, so we are always connected.  This tactic always helps if my son has had a particularly rough day.  This is great for those parents who have to send their kids to daycare or who are away from their kids for an extended amount of time.

 

4.  Go through old family photos together.  Kids love looking at pictures and start to become more interested in their family history around age six or seven.  As you go through the pictures, be sure to include any funny and pertinent stories in order to make the people in the pictures more real for your children.  They also may find they have a special connection with a certain relative!  This activity has been especially important with my children since all of my grandparents and a couple of my favorite uncles all passed away before my children were born.  It’s such a great way to keep the family history alive and provide your children with those roots.

 

5.  Cook together. Give your child the choice between a couple of recipes that are easy to prepare and yummy favorites for them.  Let your child measure out the ingredients and do some simple preparation, such as washing fruits and vegetables and putting ingredients in a bowls or blender.  Make a vow NOT to the let the mess bother you just this one time, and ask your child to help clean up afterward.  Serve your family your kitchen creation.

           

How fun would these plates be for serving dinner?

 

Whichever activity you choose, enjoy it and relish the time spent with your little ones.  They grow up way too fast!

 

*I fully realize that not everyone’s birth story will be a positive experience and in no way intend to make light of serious physical and emotional issues that arise for many parents.  I simply included this because my own experiences have been very positive ones.

 

 

 

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Create a reading niche for your kids

My own little ones' reading niche!

My own little ones’ reading niche!

Reading is a crucial part of learning and brain development for our growing little ones.  We all know that reading just 20 minutes a day has been linked to significant increases in achievement in kids as well.  Reading is pretty darn important, so it is necessary to give reading the respect it deserves, especially when dealing with somewhat reluctant readers (like my second-grade son).  By treating the act of reading as a special event and giving it an attractive “home”, I have seen that my kids are more likely to pick up a book on their own without me even having to ask them!  Thus, the idea of the “reading niche” was born.

How do you create a reading niche?  Basically, I included components that I felt would make my kids want to stay in the “reading niche.”  I wanted it to be comfy, colorful and full of light.  Here is what I chose (refer to pic above for image):

1.   Comfy seating.  This is a necessity.  If there is nowhere comfortable to sit, the kids won’t stay there very long.  The point is to entice them to relax.  So, don’t be afraid to invest some $$ in some seating that will do the trick.  I chose the ones in the picture from Land of Nod.  They are personalized so there is never any fighting over who gets which seat!  Also, I like that the cover to the seat is washable.

2.  Kid-friendly book storage.  This is absolutely necessary when creating a reading niche.  You will want to make sure that the place where the books are stored is accessible at all levels and safe for the kids.  I like the one we use since it has soft canvas pouches that hold the books, and it is the perfect height for all of my kids!

3.  A good reading light.  Once the daylight has gone, you will want to have a nice floor lamp that can be adjusted in order to give light to the little ones if they decide to read at night.  I like the one we have since it has three different lights, and I have the ability to turn one on or turn all three lights on at once!  I have placed the floor lamp behind the bookcase so that cords are out of reach.

4.  Natural light.  If at all possible, you will want your reading niche’s central location to be by a source of natural light.  My toy room is perfect for this because we have a little bump-out with the window that created the perfect spot to put our reading niche.  You don’t have to have yours right by a window, but somewhere near one is preferable since natural light is just better overall for kids. 🙂

5.  Basket of stuffed animals and blankets.  I decided to include this for two main reasons:  First, kids like to cuddle.  By placing their favorite stuffed animals and a few snuggly blankets in a basket, I am encouraging them to make themselves comfortable and stay a while.  Secondly, my daughter loves reading to her dolls, so I thought throwing a few of those in the basket would be fun. 🙂

And, finally, I thought I would share a few of my kids’ favorite books that have taken up residence in our reading niche.

–>Favorite books/magazines of my seven year old boy:

Pop-up Facts Human Body

Scholastic Wild Weather Pack

–>Favorite books of my five year old girl:

Pinkalicious

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

–>Favorite books of my 11 month old baby boy:

Disney Baby Einstein Amazing Animals Play-a-sound

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

–>Magazines my kids love:


Highlights for Children


Disney Princess Magazine

 

 

Do you have a reading niche in your home?  What are your children’s favorite books?  I would love to hear about what you do in the comments!

 

 

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Possible free books for your little ones!

If your kids are anything like mine, they really loved books when they were little (whether it be actually reading them, looking at pictures or simply chewing on them)!  My friend, Sheila, clued me in on a neat program that Dolly Parton created that provides free books to children up to five years old in certain areas of the United States (and other parts of the world as well).  All you have to do is answer a few questions and enter where you live, and you will be immediately notified as to whether your area qualifies for free books or not (some areas do not, like my friend’s.  However, I am only five miles from her, and my area qualified).  Go here to see if your kids can start receiving free books, courtesy of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library!   These are great books to add to your Reading Niche.  Happy reading!

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