Monday, October 18, 2010

Conversation Starters... For Kids

This is one of the cutest and cleverest ideas I've seen in a while (as seen on the Quirky Momma blog). What am I talking about? A conversation starter jar for the family!

One of my basic house rules is 'We eat dinner together as a family'. I love this time because this is usually my one chance (except for weekends) to have my whole beautiful family sitting down together. It's a great time to connect with my hubby, but inbetween "eat your dinner" and "don't wipe your hands on the chair" there's not always a whole lot of dialogue going on with the kids.

This conversation starter jar changes that. With questions like "If you could make three wishes, what would they be"?, this idea encourages those innocent, wacky and funny little statements all kids come up with!

This link will take you to a page with 99 conversation starter questions listed. Simply print as is or copy them into a document and jazz them up a little before printing. Store them in a jar (like below) or other decorative vase on the dinner table and drag them out when you need a little conversation kick start. Here's some adult questions to check out for older audiences. Great for dinner parties!

P.S. Let me know what funny responses you get from your kids!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Home Learning Activities To Try

I've been spending a lot of time lately checking out all sorts of wonderful homeschooling and toddler related blogs. My quick picks are: What do you do all day (has loads of good crafty, hands on ideas for toddlers) and Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom (lots of educational, fun activities to do with your kids. Almost makes me wanna homeschool. Almost).

But whether you want to homeschool your kids or are just looking for constructive, educational ways to spend time with your kids, these kinds of blogs and other websites are a minefield of lesson ideas.

To help you out, here is a list of 5 suggested activities you can try this week with your littlies. Remember, preparation is the key. Spend a little time (while kids are in bed) to print, laminate and have all your materials ready so you can get stuck into the fun stuff during the day with your kids.

1. Letter of the Week - As the name suggests you study a different letter of the alphabet each week. There is lots of things to do under this program! To save myself some time and effort, I downloaded the Letter of the Week Curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom for $10. This is money well spent since there are loads of activities, printables and more available to you.

2. Weather Tracker - I created my very own last night (before I decided I would purchase the LOTW curriculum with one included)! In any case, a weather tracker is an interactive way to teach your kids about the different weather conditions. My weather tracker looks like this:

I laminated it (in my laminator, which I LOVE!) and made little weather cards like this:
Obviously there are more weather options than just these two! If you are interested in my set of weather conditions plus extras, just ask :)

My temperature cards and season cards also look something like this:

The fun part was watching the kids look out the window this morning (and we even went outside through the day to check our chart was correct) and determining what weather conditions to stick on our chart (using blu tac). I also stapled a zip loc bag to the chart to keep all the cards neatly in one spot. You could use this weather tracker to expand onto other discussions and craft regarding the seasons, rainbows, etc.  

3. Passport - I'm using this activity in conjunction with the Letter of the Week program. Basically this entails looking at 2 or 3 countries beginning with a certain letter and learning a little about them. A sample page of mine will look something like this:

To make this a little more interactive, I'll get the kids to help me mark off the country's location on the big map and have a bunch of flags prepared for the kids to choose the right one based on my clues (e.g. It's got light blue stripes with a white strip in the middle and a little picture of a sun in the middle). You could also have pictures of animals with the name of the country they belong to (see below), to help with word recognition. 

You could also try making a dish that is well known to that country and put together a colouring in page with items related to that country, like this: 

4. All About Me - Aptly named because this lesson focuses on your little ones! You can help your child learn their name and how to write/spell it:

FYI - This website has worksheets on how to write each letter using the dot method shown (not the technical term). I simply copied the image and cropped it so I had the letters I needed. Also in this topic you could explore emotions and discuss appropiate ways to deal with anger or sadness.

Expanding on the 'All About Me' theme, you could create a family tree, do up a list of their favourite things and/or learn about your address. As a craft, you could create a little people's 'license'. Have their name, their photo (or a face they colour in), their address and phone numbers listed. (This is also a good chance to teach your child about where they live, in case of an emergency). A really sweet idea in this theme is making a list of all the nice things about your child. I love seeing my kid's faces light up when I tell them how much I love their sparkly eyes, their smile, their beautiful manners, their cuddles and so on. Use a small art book or exercise book to journal all this info and store related artworks.

5. Good Health - Teaching my children about good health is one of my priorities. Again, I would tie these lessons in with the letter of the week idea. Look at healthy foods beginning with that letter. When I made the mini flash cards this morning with words beginning with A, I also included pictures of different fruits & vegies. I will reuse these in my Good Health lesson where the kids will match up my clues with the right picture (see below).

Use these Good Health lessons as a way to try new fruits and vegies. Bake with them, have tasting parties or use them in your craft projects. You could also discuss body parts and exercises beginning with the letter of the week.

There you have it. Just a small sample of what I have in place for my kids in the coming weeks! Don't forget to have fun while you're doing it. Kids love learning (I know mine do) and they love spending time with their mumma (and me with them). A win win for everyone. 

P.S What great preschool learning blogs or websites can you recommend? Got a cool learning activity or craft idea you wanna share? Comment below :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Healthy Milkshakes

After a recent meltdown about my kids fussy eating habits, I came up with a plan of attack. I did a little research regarding my kid's dietary needs and discovered (among other things) that my children only required one serving of fruit a day, minimum.

I was pretty relieved. One serving of fruit a day seems doable. My next battle? How to please two children at once, since they both have pretty different tastes.

And so yesterday I discovered the hidden potential of milkshakes. This recipe ticks all of my boxes. It includes the whole fruit (so the fibre stays in), low in sugar (unlike fruit juices), low in fat, packs a nutritional punch and there's nothing artificial.

Healthy Fruit Milkshakes:
  • 1/2 - 1 cup of fruit
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Yogurt (optional)
  • Honey (optional)
  1. Remove any skin, leaves or other blemishes from your chosen fruit.
  2. In a blender or using a bamix, puree your fruit to a runny liquid. Add 1 tablespoon of honey, if desired.
  3. Add the milk and blend together to mix well. 
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and blend.
  5. Serve!

  • You can use soy milk instead to make a dairy free version.
  • You can use whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand. Just blend til the fruit is pureed.
  • Feel free to leave the honey out or use a different sweetener, if desired. Some fruits are sweet enough without needing to add anything. 
  • The yogurt is optional and may be used in place of the honey to sweeten the milkshake. Leave out for a dairy free version.
  • These quantities are just a rough guide. Simply use whatever amount of fruit you have on hand and add enough milk to make a small drink for each child. 
  • You could add a little LSA to boost the nutritional content on this recipe. 

There you have it. Simple, delicious and nutritious. Have this milkshake as a snack between meals or as part of your breakfast. I also have a really good pancake recipe that'll I be sure to share with you another day :)

P.S. I love to hear your comments. What healthy snacks do your kids love?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eating Less Meat

I am now heading into 7 weeks of not eating meat (although I had been eating lots of vegetarian meals before going cold turkey). Do I miss eating meat? A little, but not enough that I want to eat it anytime soon. To me, the idea of eating a vegetable based diet is still far more appealing.

I am happy to report that I am in a much better state with my stomach, which was my main reason for not eating meat in the first place. Who knew I just had to spend a small fortune on vitamins and supplements to feel better?

But even with my healthier digestive system, I'd like to continue with my vegetarian ways for a little longer since eating meat still doesn't feel right for me. Seeing that I know quite a few friends of mine are also curious about eating more vegetarian meals, I decided I would put together a list of helpful hints to help others eat less meat.

  1. Start Small - Cutting out meat in one go can be overwhelming, particularly when we've been engrained to eat meat our whole lives. Start by having one meat free day a week or by quitting one meat type at a time. Then work towards one meat free week a month.
  2. Plan Your Meals - If you're not meal planning, now's the time to start. Organise your weekly menu to include more vegetarian based meals. A little preparation means vegetarian cooking won't seem so daunting and you'll be less likely to resort to those last minute meat based meals.
  3. Know Your Nutritional Needs - Simply cutting meat out from your normal menu is not only boring, but you may be missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. This handy food pyramid for vegetarians will outline how many servings of each food group you need and what non meat foods you can eat for iron and protein, etc.
  4. Build Your Recipe Base - Search through your cookbooks for any good vego meals. Alternatively, the internet is a great resource for finding delicious vegetarian recipes the whole family will enjoy. 
  5. Keep it Simple - Vegetarian food doesn't need to be difficult and it doesn't require rare herbs only grown in the shades of Africa to taste good either. I personally like vegie soups and pastas since they're easy to cook, they're nutritious and my kids eat them!
  6. Love your Lentils - Lentils are one of my favourite things to cook with and eat. They're a great source of iron and can easily replace mince in most dishes like bolognaise, cottage pie,  lasagne and more. To substitute, use a 400 gram can of lentils per 250 gram of mince required. Alternatively, use 1/4 cup of dried lentils per 100 grams of mince.
  7. Get Creative - Your traditional meat based meals can be handy for providing inspiration. Try sliced eggplant instead of veal for your snitzels, use vegetable patties in burgers, use tofu in stirfries, use vegetarian sausages in casserole dishes or bake a nut loaf in place of your traditional Sunday roast.
  8. Choose Carefully - Opt for pasta sauces and filled pastas that don't have meat in them. Choose vegetarian cheeses that don't use animal based rennet. Look for vegetable based stocks (like Massels) and other food items that don't have bacon or meat in them. Or try ordering a vegetarian meal next time you're dining out. 
  9. Think of Your Health - Vegetarians typically have a longer life expectency due to a reduced risk of heart disease, a better immune system, a lower risk of cancer, better diabetes prevention, lower blood pressure, improved digestion and healthier cholestrol levels.
  10. Think of the Animals - Truth be told, I'm a big softie and a highly emotional person too. Eating a chicken, but not my dog seemed hypocritical to me and the thought of an animal sacrifising its life for me was a sharp realisation. And get this: You could save 100 animals a year with a meat free diet.

I'm no dietician or claiming to be any kind of vegetarian expert. I am just a mum who has a keen interest in nutrition, wants to lessen my impact on this earth, respect all living beings and provide my family with healthy,
nutritious meals. For further reading on going vegetarian, check out this Vegetarian Starter Kit.

P.S I love to hear your comments. Have you thought about going vegetarian? What's stopped you? Let me know!

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Creating a School Yearbook

    If you like the idea of capturing your child's journey through their schooling years, but feel scrapbooking falls into the 'too hard/too fiddly/not creative enough/don't have enough time' basket, then you will love the idea of creating a simple School Yearbook for your kids.

    My motivation to post about this subject was given to me by the Super Organiser Mum blog. She always has the most gorgeous organisation ideas and when I saw the School Yearbook she made for her little boy, I was instantly hooked on the idea.

    Now is a great time to get your child's school yearbook set up for the beginning of the new year (while you're not flat out with the silly season). I'm also thinking these School Yearbooks would make an inexpensive, unique & simple Christmas gift idea for any mummy friends or family with school age children.

    After gathering advice from the Super Organiser Mum and Becky Higgins, below are my steps to help you construct your child's very own School Yearbook.

    1. Creating the Yearbook - Grab a sturdy A4 sized folder. The prettier, the better! If you have a plain folder, decorate the front with your child's name. Or print your own labels explaining what the folder is all about (see below) and stick them on the front. (Tip: You may need a few labels since the folder will probably hold quite a few years of schooling memories in them).

    2. Title Pages - You will need to start off with a title page for each year. Design your own, leaving room to record your child's name, the date, their grade, their teacher's name and other vital details. (FYI - Becky Higgins provides a free title page download, just print and fill it out). Don't forget to leave room for a photo of your child on their first day. Why not make your own sign (see below) to photograph with your child? (Tip: Grabbing your child's 'signature' is a cute touch, so you can see the changes in their handwriting skills over the years. I'm also inclined to leave room to record their height as well as a handprint).

    3. The Big Day - To make the most of your child's yearbook, remember you're telling a story here. Allow yourself time and room in the yearbook to photograph the little details such as your child's school belongings like stationery, backpack, uniform. Do all of this preferably before the 'big day'. Capture the moment your child wakes up, them eating breakfast, getting dressed and on the way their way to school. Note: Not all photos need to be taken on the day. Give yourself the time to comfort and support your child and take additional classroom shots another day. (Tip: Look for photos that capture your child's likes and interests at that point in time, e.g. backpack styles)!

    From this:
    To this?
    4. Throughout the Year - Designate a special occasion, theme or activity for each month. Discuss these with your child's teacher and allow yourself 2 days a month to come in and photograph your child at work and play in the classroom, the library, on stage or on the sports field. Any school photos, report cards, certificates, noteworthy newsletters and other letters can also be displayed in your child's yearbook, so be sure to hang onto them. (Tip: Write down your child's friends, their favourite subjects and any other details regarding your child's interests and hobbies at school).

    5. Bringing It All Together - Where possible, print your photos off on a regular basis so you can keep up to date with the yearbook throughout the year. Alternatively, store your photos and other documents in envelopes with the subject e.g. First excursion, clearly written on the front. (Tip: Consider finishing the year off with an autograph page or with well wishes from your child's friends and class mates).

    I am definately not happy with the idea of my children going off to school (insert sad face). Two days of preschool is one thing. Parting with my children for five days a week seems almost unbearable. While I still have one more year before my daughter officially starts 'big school', I am looking forward to the kids having one year of preschool together next year and knowing I am now going to be better prepared to document their journey from this point on!

    Ideally, this project should be fun. Don't stress about capturing every single schooling moment. Keep it lighthearted and full of love so you and your children will appreciate it more in years to come. 

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Rain, Rain, Go Away

    Rain, rain and more rain. This is pretty much what the weather has done all weekend here on the Mid North Coast.


    Now, I don't mind a little rain. A little rain. But a constant downpour and drizzle is another story. Why?
    1. Most of us worry another flash flood is on its way (once bitten, twice shy) and 2. Cabin fever.

    Keeping my two little ones entertained during this kind of weather is hard work, but it can be fun. Continuing on from my previous post about Entertaining the Kids (read it here), a little preparation can go along way to keeping the kids entertained and your sanity intact.

    Below are some of my affordable and easy ideas for keeping your little ones busy in the wet weather. I suggest having a box put away especially for rainy days or those 'i can't think of anything else to do' kind of days.
    • Make a list of indoor playgrounds and head there. Check out your local Bunnings stores and McDonalds who both usually have undercover playgrounds to play on.
    • Have a stash of board games that ONLY come out in the wet weather. My kids enjoy puzzles, but other easy games like Snakes & Ladders, Trouble and Connect Four will also provide entertainment for the whole family (P.S. This adorable Hungry Caterpillar board game is going on my short list for the kids this Christmas). 
    • Make some playdough. This is the easy, peasy recipe I use. An extra tip: Make multi coloured playdough and entwine them together. Once your child mixes two colours together (like blue and yellow), they'll learn that a new colour is made (green). Educational and fun. Jackpot. 
    • Have a dance party. If you've got energy to burn, put some tunes on and start dancing! You'll not only wear the kids out (or not), but it's one way to get some cardio exercise done for the day. Keep it upbeat to make up for the miserable weather.
    • Head to the library, if they're open. Read some books there or borrow them out. Either way, library books are way more exciting than the ones you have at home. 
    • Fill the kitchen sink up with water and bubbles. Add some food colouring and a whole lot of jugs, measuring cups and other utensils. Warning: Place a towel on the floor and have spare, dry clothes on standby. 
    • Get baking! We normally eat pretty well in our house and if you're the same, consider making rainy days your 'triple choc brownies' kind of baking day. For something different, make cookies and stick in paddle pop sticks to make cookie lollipops.
    • Beading. Grab some twine, tie a knot in one end and bead on some Fruit Loops (or Cheerios for a healthier choice). Tie it around your child's wrist and you've got a portable, ready to go snack. 
    • Do an indoor treasure hunt. Hide yourself, hide the kids or hide some fun things around the house and get the kids to search for them. Use the old 'getting colder/warmer' method to help younger kids on their hunts. 
    • Have a family movie session. We have a spare mattress that gets placed in front of the TV and we all snuggle in with our pillows and doona. Put on a movie the whole family will enjoy, have your popcorn ready and relax.
    • Make an indoor cubby in the lounge room. Simply drape a sheet over your strategically placed dining chairs to make a quick indoor tent. Read some stories in here, have a tea party, colour in or play Barbies all in your special little fort.
    • Do a toy box clean up. Nothing gets my kids interested in their toys like mummy on a cleaning rampage. Empty the toy boxes out and watch your kids come over to 'help'. 
    • Do some art and craft. My daughter goes nuts for crafts, so have a box full of craft items and get creative. Cut out strips of coloured paper or magazine and staple, glue or tape them into circles to form a chain. You'll find plenty of other craft ideas online. Or simply do some drawing or colouring in. 
    • Deck your kids out in some gum boots and a rain coat and let them go outside! Remember: rain is only water. It will dry. Let the kids have fun and explore your garden in the rain. We find lots of worms and puddles in our backyard, which the kids are fascinated by. Have towels ready or a nice, warm bath or shower ready for them to warm up when they're done. 

    If you need to get out and have some extra coin, here's some extra ideas to keep the family occupied. 
      • Go indoor bowling. We did this yesterday and the kids had a ball. Don't forget to ring and book in advance since they can get pretty busy in the wet weather.
      • Head to the movies. Find a kids movie that's showing and go along as a family. Alternatively, just take your older child/ren and leave the youngens at home with dad.
      • Find an indoor play centre. My kids love these places, so head along, grab a hot chocolate and a magazine and chill out while the kids play!
      • Go to a cafe. Milkshakes and babycinos are popular in our family, so make a date with your kids and have a treat. 
       Having your rainy day supplies ready and some ideas up your sleeve is half the battle. That's why I suggest having a Rainy Day Box that has the ideas I've mentioned above written down and any equipment you'll need readily available. Put the box somewhere you'll remember, but not in a place where the kids can access it everyday otherwise the excitement will wear off much quicker.

      Most of all, don't forget to look on the bright side. Rainy days can be just as exciting and enjoyable as a warm, sunny day and time spent together as a family is never a bad thing :)