One Megacoolmama…

…with fun and healthy ideas for kids!

Bringing in a new elf!

It’s that time of year again when Christmas decorations go up and elf magic is in the air!  Yes, I am one of “those” families who participates in the beloved “Elf on the Shelf” shenanigans.  😉  My kids seem to be a little more vigilant of their behavior because our elf is watching, and I can’t help but notice they are a bit more joyful as well.  My two older children love finding their elf, Buddy, every morning in a different spot, sometimes playing a little trick on them or bringing them a little surprise.

The tradition in our household is that our elf comes the day after Thanksgiving, and my kids count down to this day starting the day after Halloween.  This is the third  year that Buddy has made his appearance in our house, and the excitement of his impending arrival hasn’t wanted not even a bit! My husband and I decided that it was time that Buddy got a companion this year since he has been on his own for a while.  Also, we felt that a sisterly companion would be appropriate since we do have a little girl in our household!

So, this year, Buddy showed up with a sister elf .  Obviously, we didn’t just stick her out there and confuse the kids by making them guess as to why another elf was invading our space.  I tried to come up with a creative way to introduce her, and I ended up writing them a poem from Buddy.  The poem explains that she is now part of our family and that the kids will have to name her as well.  Take a look for yourself at what I came up with:

elf on the shelf intro

 

The kids were ecstatic and surprised to find their beloved Buddy with a new elf!  Of course, we had to give her a name, and the two older kids decided on “Annie Sunshine”- I think it has a nice ring to it!  Traditionally, our elf brings the kids a little surprise the first night he is in the home for the season, and this year was no different.  The elf duo gifted each child with a chocolate advent calendar, a special candy (no candy for the little guy- still too small!), and the movie “Home” for the family to watch.  The kids are looking forward to a month full of little surprises and fun with their brother and sister elf, and I don’t think my daughter stopped talking about how much she loved Annie all day!  Totally worth it!

Check out some pics of our elves’ first night arrival and of our little ones enjoying them the morning after!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!

 

Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!

Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!

 

The kiddos with their elves and their loot!

The kiddos with their elves and their loot!

 

Do you have an elf at home?  What are some traditions you do with yours?  I would love to hear from you!

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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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“One-derful” first birthday gifts

first birthday gifts

 

In our family, we LOVE a good party!  Lately, there have been a lot, especially with all of these babies turning one!  Next up on the list is my little guy, who will be turning one very soon– oh, where does the time go?

Recently, we had the pleasure of attending our nephew’s first birthday party, and I knew right away what I wanted to gift him.  Since I have had three kids, I know what we have enjoyed receiving, and I know what things have made their way to the basement after a few days.  It occurred to me that not everyone knows right away to give to a one year old.  They are in a weird stage where they are too old for rattles, but too young for some of the more popular toys.  And if you don’t have kids or it has been a while since you have had one that small, it may be difficult finding just the right gift.

The list below is sure to make any one year old (and their parents) happy.  Of course, only you know the personality, beliefs and background of the family, but I have either personally received for my children or given all of the gifts below, and they were a hit!

 

1. LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

We have owned a set of these for 8 years now (the same one)!  Having one for that long and having it still work is something to attest to its durability.  This has been one of our favorites because it keeps the baby close to me in the kitchen since it goes on the fridge, and I am ALWAYS in the kitchen.  Also, toddlers and preschoolers are reminded of the sounds that go with each letter.  One of my favorite all-time gifts, EVER!

 

2. VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

This walker was my oldest son’s first birthday gift from my aunt and uncle and has remained a favorite for all three of my children!  I love the versatility of it- it can be used as a walker or the front can be taken off and put on the ground as a floor toy.  Lots of activities to keep them busy, too!

 

3. Cloth blocks

I LOVE big cloth blocks!!  The little ones love stacking, but really love knocking things down!  These Melissa and Doug blocks are perfect for stacking, knocking down, throwing, chewing, and learning something in between!  Obviously, a big plus here is that there are no sharp edges or heavy blocks to hurt the little ones while they play.

 

4. Big chunky puzzle

Little hands love big pieces!  And this one is adorable!  Three chunky pieces with big knobs is perfect for the one year old.  And the bright colors are catchy!  Make this even more educational by practicing the sounds and names of the animals as your little one places them in the puzzle.

 

5. Forward facing car seat

Right between the ages of one and two is when most parents start transitioning their children to forward facing car seats.  This Graco one (shown above) is one of the highest rated ones and would make an excellent gift for parents (especially first-time parents who don’t already own car seats from previous kids).  I would love to get one of these for my kid’s first birthday!  Check out my post on the best and highest rated forward facing car seats on the market.

 

6. Play kitchen

This Step 2 Play Kitchen is one that we have owned for four years now.  My kids starting playing with it from about 1 1/2 years of age, and they are still playing with it at 7 and 5.  The baby, who will be one very soon, even joins in on the fun!  He loves the sounds that the stovetop makes (frying and bubbling) and all of the doors and compartments.  My older two love pretending that they are working in a restaurant, frequently serving up bread, veggie soup, and sandwiches of all sorts!

 

7. A Radio Flyer Wagon

During the spring and summer months, a wagon is a very nice piece of equipment to have, especially if you want to frequent any outdoor places like zoos and parks.  This Radio Flyer wagon is FIVE stars on Amazon, and with good reason.  It provides shade for your toddler, comfortable seating, and storage space.  Everything you need for a nice ride with your toddler!

 

8. Little Tikes Junior Play Slide

This is probably one of the best investments we have ever made in a toy– no joke!  We have had this miniature slide for going on eight years now, and it is still going strong!  As a matter of fact, it has endured the elements of all seasons, and we can just wipe it clean in the spring and be ready to use it!  This provides tons of fun for your little one, obviously VERY supervised and on a softer surface (grass worked just fine for us!).

 

9. Water table

A water play table is sure to provide hours of fun for your little one.  I am not sure what it is about the simple fact of putting water out to play, but little ones love it!  And this table makes water play a much more interactive experience, with all of the twists, turns, and loops that the water could take.  This has been useful as a hot-day toy, filled up with the hose outside.

 

10.  Gift card

Amazon Gift Card in a Tin

Everyone loves Amazon because there is just SO MUCH selection!  If you know that the person is an online shopper, an Amazon gift card is the way to go.  And, they have so many cute little tins that you can choose from to hold the card, too!

Etsy gift card

This is one that I got for my sister-in-law, the trendsetter!  She loves everything small business and custom-made and purchases tons of clothes and accessories for her baby on Etsy.  With an Etsy gift card she can find something unique and that she really loves.

 

11.  Subscription box service

I have used the subscription box service for BluumBox, and I have absolutely loved it!  All of the items I received in the box were awesome quality and unique (Some items I have received– a cute tuxedo bib, a keyring/board book for infants, full size Playtex bottle, dishwasher rack for bottle parts, pacifiers, soft washcloths, etc).  There was such variety, and I loved being introduced to products that I may not have discovered otherwise.  This is the perfect gift for any parent/toddler, especially ones that enjoy discovering new things but just don’t have the time to go searching around for the newest and best of everything!

 

Hopefully, you can find at least one option of the above that will make your special one year old (and their parents!) happy.  Happy shopping!

 

 

 

 

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Healthy (-er) Pigs in a Blanket

I am constantly looking for new ways to make classic versions of snack and party recipes (or any recipe, for that matter) in a bit healthier way.  Now, am I saying that by eating this you are going to get skinny?  No.  What I am saying is that I personally research every ingredient at my disposal before I make a recipe, and I make sure that it has as many natural, organic and non-gmo ingredients as possible.  I fully realize that this is more work.  However, since I have already done the work of researching which foods are the best available, I am hoping that you will be inspired to make a switch to cleaner eating. 🙂  Your body (and your kids’) will thank you!

 

Below is an example of a recipe that I have “healthy-fied”.  My son LOVES the classic Pigs in a Blanket.  We have had these at parties before, and he has begged me to make them for him.  So, I used the same ingredients as you would in the traditional recipe, only different brands that are MUCH healthier!  Here is how I do it:

Healthy (er) Pigs in a Blanket

Healthy (er) Pigs in a Blanket

 

(1)The ingredients–>and why they are better than the traditional brands:

-one package of Applegate Organic Uncured Beef Hotdogs–>traditional brands have nitrates=shown to be a carcinogen

-few slices of Organic Valley Mild Cheddar cheese (more or less according to your taste)–>traditional brands use milk that comes from cows injected with hormones=not good for a cow, not good for a human

-one container of Trader Joe’s crescent rolls–>traditional brands use hydrogenated oils in their rolls=clogged arteries and inflammation.

 

The recipe:

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-(2)  Take hotdogs out of package and make a slice, starting about half an inch in, lengthwise, down the hotdog.  Take about 1/3 slice of cheese and fold it to stuff it into the slice.

-(3) Open the crescent rolls and wrap one around each hotdog.  Try to stretch it a little so that it covers as much of the hotdog as possible.  Situate hotdogs with rolls wrapped around them with the cheese side facing up on the cookie sheet*.

-(4) Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes, depending on oven strength.  They should be a light brown on the outside.

-(5)  Let cool and then cut into thirds.  Stab with toothpicks and serve!  The perfect party food or fun snack!

 

*I use Crate and Barrel cookie sheets–they are amazing, and I almost never need to spray them with nonstick spray, no matter what I am cooking!  Love them!

 

**Though this recipe is a healthier version of the classic, I still make it sparingly.  Avoiding any kind of processed meat is best for your overall health (but Applegate is by far one of the best brands out there if you are going to eat it)!

 

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New Year’s activity for kids age 5 to 12

I have been searching for ways to archive my kids’ favorite memories while making sure to include not only what I remembered about their year, but what was meaningful to them.  It is important to take the time to ask our kids what they see as being important in their lives since their view could (and most likely will) be completely different from our parent point of view.  My two oldest kids are five and seven, so I think it is appropriate to encourage them to do something that would highlight their favorite things and memories from the past year.  I plan on having my son and daughter complete the following activity (that I created), and then I will slide these papers into a  Memory Binder that will be filled in years to come.  I also plan on including Sheet Protectors,  that will hold any small artifacts (such as pictures, drawings, small trinkets) that helped make the year particularly special.  Feel free to download the pdf of this activity in the link below.  You can see a preview of the activity in the images below as well.  I am excited to start this tradition and hope that some of you will do the same!  🙂

newyearactivity (1)

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Elf on the Shelf goodbye poem

My kids LOVE their Elf on the Shelf and all of the Christmas cheer Buddy (our elf’s name) brings to our house during the holidays.  They love him so much, as a matter of fact, that my seven year old has been crying before he goes to bed the past three nights that he is going to miss him! 🙁  Well, I never expected the elf to bring tears, so I had to sit and think about what I could do that would alleviate some of the sadness that goes along with our elf leaving on Christmas Eve.  Here is what I came up with- a little poem written by our very own elf to our children which they will read on Christmas morning!  I hope this helps them to deal a bit better with Buddy’s farewell this year.  Feel free to use this little poem for your elves, too…or is it only my kids that pull these stunts?  Lol…Merry Christmas, everyone!  🙂

Goodbye letter from our Elf on the Shelf

Goodbye letter from our Elf on the Shelf

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Useful and appreciated holiday teacher gifts

christmas stocking with gift

 

Ever since my kids started attending preschool, I have made it a priority to treat their teachers well around the holidays.  It could have something to do with the fact that I am a teacher myself, but I truly do appreciate all of the time and effort they put in to helping my children learn and be their best during the day.  I try to shy away from the Pinterest-y cutesy crafty type gifts for two reasons:  1.  I just don’t have the time to be trying (and probably failing!) to do those sorts of things, and 2. I really want to give the teachers something they can use and enjoy themselves.  Below is a list of my go-to’s for gift-giving for teachers.  I use any combination of these ideas for holiday gift-giving and end-of-the-year as well.

1.  Starbucks/Dunkin’ Donuts gift card- you can never go wrong with this.  Most teachers drink coffee, and if they don’t, then they at least can pick up a yummy treat for themselves.

2.  A heartfelt card from me and/or my children- this is actually one of my favorite things to give and receive as a teacher.  A nice handwritten note from the student just saying thanks for being a great teacher is priceless!

3.  Target gift card-  Yeah, I know.  It’s another gift card.  But, really, “Your teaching is right on Target” with a Target gift card tucked inside is seriously cute AND useful!

4.  Variety of healthy treats- I tend to give this more toward the end of the year, but teachers receive so many holiday cookies and candies that a healthy treat tray is refreshing and better for their health and stamina throughout the day!

5.  A really nice hand cream- Teachers wash their hands A LOT.  Think about how germ-y your kiddo is and times that by 30 (or 150 if you are a high school teacher)– makes you jittery, eh?  Me, too.  Makes sense that teachers would wash their hands at every chance.  Also, that chalk is super drying to the skin.  I love Aveda’s Hand Cream.  My friend also swears by this one called O’Keeffes Working Hands Cream (click on image below to get it).  It’s natural and is the only thing that helps her dry hands in the winter.

 

6.  A good quality chocolate-  I fully realize that this is contradicting my “healthy array of treats” idea from above, but I totally appreciate a piece of awesome quality dark chocolate. Green and Black’s is one of my faves (lots of variety and organic!)– they have nifty ten-packs for sale that you can split up between a bunch of people, like teachers, bus drivers, office staff, etc.

 

Do you have any other creative gift ideas for teachers that you would like to share?  Are you a teacher?  Thoughts on the above?  🙂

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Kindle Fire HD or iPad?

As we are quickly approaching Christmas and in the midst of holiday shopping, my husband and I had the inevitable discussion of what worthy and affordable (but also cool) gifts we could get our two older kids (7 and 5)  The thought occurred to my hubby that maybe a new table would be appropriate since currently they share a first generation iPad, and it is old.  We are talking no-camera, no-memory, apps-shut-down-on-their-own OLD.  Now don’t get me wrong, we were SUPER grateful to have received it as a gift from my in-laws almost four years ago, but it is now definitely time to think about some new technology in the Concha household.

So, we did some searching, and, of course, the iPad was what we researched first since we are familiar with it.  Yeah, $299 is the starting price for one of those puppies, so we knew that if we got a new iPad, it would still have to be shared.  There was no way were shucking out that much dinero for TWO new iPads.  Then I started talking to my students, who I consider to be my technology experts/teachers.  (I teach high school kids who know much more about technology than I do).  They presented me with the idea of considering the Kindle Fire HD tablets.  These little gems were priced much lower at $119 a piece (with 16GB of memory).  This definitely meant that we could get two and that each older child would have his/her own tablet.  However, this little gem was, well, little.  At half the size of the iPad, we weren’t certain whether they would appreciate it as much as they did their trusty 9 inch iPad screen.

After comparing prices, functionality, and realizing that as an Amazon Prime member the kids can instantly watch entertainment on their devices for FREE, we decided to go with the Fire HD 6, 6″ HD Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB 
for each kid.  And, storage space isn’t much of an issue since the movies, tv programs and music that they access is stored in a “cloud” and not on their devices!  (Space has always been an issue on our iPad).  I also love the fact that the Kindle Fire HD is first and foremost an e-reader.  My kids will be reading for a certain amount of time before they are allowed to play video games or watch anything on their devices.  And, how can I be sure they will do just that?  By downloading the free app from Google Play that allows me to set timers for each activity!  Woohoo!

We are excited to see their little faces light up when they get their new technological toys.  It was a struggle at first trying to decide which tablet to go with, but we feel like we have made the right decision.  What does everyone else think between the two devices I discussed here?  Does anyone have a Kindle Fire HD?  I would love to hear about your favorite apps for your little ones!


 

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A New Year filled with fun activities for the kids!

Now that the kiddos have gotten their tech gadgets for Christmas, it is hard to entice them off of them with the just the run-of-the-mill coloring books and crayons.  Since I do limit tech time (though it can be educational!) I figured I better have some other options for the little ones to combat boredom.  The fact is that we do live in a world where our children are accustomed to being interactive with and entertained by technology, but we can foster more creativity and motor skills by exposing our children to a variety of activities.

The following products are researched by me and tested by my own children, so I am personally recommending them:

1.  Melissa and Doug’s Suspend game (4.5 stars on Amazon)

This game has kept my six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter busy for quite a long time!  I know the recommended age is for ages 8 and up, but, with some supervision, this game can definitely be played by younger kids.  My son loves trying to pile the pieces onto the suspend bar to see how far he can get without it falling.  My daughter got the hang of it fairly quickly after watching her big brother, but she just needs reminders every now and then to be careful when placing the pieces on the game.  This game teaches precision, patience, and engineering!  It receives 4.5 stars on the Amazon website, and that is what I would give it myself!

 

2.  Perplexus Twist (4.5 stars on Amazon)

This game was given to my son as a gift for Christmas after seeing how much he liked it when we were at a Barnes and Noble store this summer.  The object of the game is to get the little metal ball into the point zones inside of the maze in the ball.  Though not a novel idea, the way this game is set up presents unexpected twists and turns so that one really has to think about how the ball will fall.  Also, the ability to actually twist the bottom half (or upper half, depending upon which way you look at it) makes for a fun brain-teaser which stimulates abstract thinking and planning in your little one.  My son literally chose to play with this game over the iPad, so I would say it does it’s job at keeping little ones engaged!

 

3. K’NEX 521 Piece Building Set
(4-4.5 stars on Amazon)

I have actually enjoyed the creativity that this little tub of wonders has inspired in both my children and myself!  Currently, this is on sale for $19.50 on Amazon, which is a lower price than the 375-piece set, so I would say this is a bargain!  My son has been a Lego addict lately, so I decided to spice things up a bit and give him this block set for Christmas.  Though the pieces are small (which is the one drawback to this toy), my son has been able to construct some very creative inventions with the variety of pieces included.  My daughter does not play with this as much, but she enjoys watching her big brother make the creations she demands, such as flowers and butterflies, with his new blocks!  The variety of shapes and colors of pieces helps keep interest and new ideas sparking time after time of playing with the set.

There are a lot of other educational toys out there that deserve the same attention the above ones have gotten, but the few that I chose to review and recommend here in this post are ones that we have recently experienced.  Be on the lookout for more personal recommendations soon!

 

 

*In the spirit of full disclosure, these are affiliate links, which means that I may get a commissions if you decide to purchase anything from Amazon. I only recommend products & systems that I use and love myself!” 

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Healthy snack idea for kids for July 4!

Are you looking for a kid-friendly healthy snack idea for July 4?  Well, then you have come to the right place because I have a little example to show you of what I did with my little ones!  Honestly, what I did was very simple, but sometimes it takes someone else to point it out before we realize the ease with which we can actually do something healthy.  Here is the patriotic snack that my kiddos and I made:

Yum!

 

What you need:

-fresh strawberries

-fresh blueberries

-celery sticks

-mini snack crackers (or regular size will work…I used the Trader Joe’s mini snack crackers)

-light whipped cream cheese

-kid-safe knife (I use and LOVE the IKEA brand of tableware for the kids.  The knives are safe and excellent for little hands that are just learning to cut and spread!)

 

What to do:

1.  You will need to wash the strawberries and blueberries first.  Then, cut the tops with stems off of the strawberries and toss them.

2.  Next, slice some of the strawberries width-wise (so that they make nice circular shapes when sliced) and some length-wise (so that the slices are longer and narrower).

3.  Then take the snack crackers and spread a bit of cream cheese on each one.

4.  Top each cracker with one circular strawberry slice and one blueberry.

5.  Evenly spread some cream cheese on to each celery stick.

6.  Top the celery stick with the long strawberry slices and two to three blueberries.

7.  Enjoy!

 

What the kids can help with:

-washing of the fruit

-taking crackers out of the box and counting them

-spreading the cream cheese on the crackers and celery sticks (with a kid-safe knife or spatula)

-placing the strawberry slices and blueberries on top of the crackers and celery

-EATING THEM!

 

Come back and let me know if you and your little ones did this!  Also, this would be a great snack/appetizer to serve at a Fourth of July BBQ!  That is what we will be doing!  🙂  Happy Fourth of July!

 

 

 

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