Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Score at the Dollar Store

Score at the Dollar Store! 

As a mom of three little ones and a former teacher, I am no stranger to the glories to be held inside a good dollar store. A dollar store can be a wonderland when you are planning crafts and activities for the youngsters. Today I hit one of our local spots to look for the early makings of an upcoming bug and insect unit I am putting together. I certainly was happy with my finds in that area but then I made another, unexpected score! (You gotta love that!) Walking past the kitchen section gave me an idea. My kiddies are always looking to use my actual kitchen tools when they play with play-doh so why not get them their own stuff? 

I didn't get them much, just some cookie sheets, spatulas, mini pie pans and a few other things. I think I spent $9, probably less than any official Play-doh playset and Big SIster and Brother played for almost an hour making cookies, burgers and sweet potato pies. 

Two busy little bakers! 

I can't believe I haven't thought of this before! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Farm Animal Flashcards (German Language)

Who's Your Momma?

(Wer ist deine Mutti?)

The little nuggets go to German Language class once a week. They have some talented and hard working teachers and learn so much in just one day a week. I try to take whatever their lessons were from their one day of class and stretch them out over the next week to help the kiddies review and practice. And to be honest, I usually learn quite a bit myself. 

This week my little ones learned about farm animals and how to name adult animals and their babies. Thinking about a way to supplement that lesson I remembered I had a set of farm animal cards that I purchased over a year ago and actually never used. I made some color copies, did a little cutting and pasting onto card stock and then separated the pairs uniquely to ensure the proper two would be reunited during play. 

I used:
  • photos of mother and baby animals
  • card stock (I used all one color but one way to support your young learners could be to set each pair on a different color card stock.) 
  • scissors
  • glue stick 
  • a marker for labeling

The beauty of this little project is you can change it to meet any needs. I am thinking about doing a small set with CVC words and matching pictures. 

Fair warning: I love to use card stock because it is heavier that construction paper but it is far from indestructible. If you really want to extend the life of these cards I would suggest laminating them or covering them with clear contact paper. I do not have a laminator (yet!) but I am more of the mind that these little projects serve a particular purpose. We will use these over the next few days, I will put them away. Then we will use them again next week... but then they will get tucked away for a while.  So I extend the life of something like this a bit. However, if I don't, eh, no biggie. Its worth it. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Homemade chicken nuggets


I recently embarked on a messy little adventure to make my own chicken nuggets for the very first time and it was totally worth it. I made a tasty little nugget that was pretty close to clean eating... well, maybe cooking them in oil wasn't so clean. Fine, however I do feel pretty good that I made chicken nuggets with no additives, artificial flavors, sugars, 18-letter words that I can't pronounce or find naturally occurring in the natural world and who knows what else is in the pre-made, processed chicken nuggets found in the supermarket. I used approximately 8 ingredients, all of which are easily recognizable and easy to pronounce. I spent some time looking through recipes on Pinterest and settled on one from Sugar-Free Mom. She walked through the recipe and made it very first-time user friendly. (This is the recipe and recipe review.) It was a pretty straight forward recipe and easy enough for me to make a few of my own changes. I think they came out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  :)  

To begin, I put 3 large chicken breasts in the food processor. I added 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp sage and 1 tsp parsley. Then it was time to pulse the food processor until I had a thick chicken paste. 

I beat 3 eggs in a bowl and spread 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 Tbsp of paprika on a plate as a breading station for the nuggets. Next to this, I covered a baking sheet with wax paper so that after I breaded each nuggetsI could set them all aside until I was ready to cook them. 

I scooped tablespoon-sized balls out of the food processor, shaped them (sort of), dipped them in the egg, then the flour. From there they waited to be cooked up on this baking sheet. Once I had them all ready to be cooked, I heated up 1 cup of oil and cooked each nugget for 3-4 minutes on each side. 

That was all there was to it. It was a little messy and it does take time to prep each of those little nuggets one at a time but finding a manageable way to eliminate another processed food from our house far outweighs the clean up and some time. When I make them again, I am thinking about throwing in a shredded carrot or some chopped spinach!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chocolate covered strawberries


Well, it is Valentine's Day! The older children and I wanted to make something tasty for The Daddy and nothing says "I love you" quite like chocolate and strawberries! This is a yummy treat, it looks pretty and it really is perfect for little hands to put together! All I did was melt the dark chocolate and helped the kiddies drizzle on the white chocolate. Other than that, Big Sister and Brother could do the bulk of the work themselves and they loved it. The children can feel a great sense of accomplishment when they hand their self-made gift to Daddy tonight! 

Making chocolate covered strawberries is quite easy. I melted 1 cup of dark chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil in the microwave. I usually heat it for 30 seconds, stir it and then go another 30 seconds, stir... you get the idea. Once it is melted, I stir in a pinch of sea salt. At that point we are ready for dipping! 

The kids took turns dipping a strawberry and placing it on a tray covered with wax paper. If you are thinking that this looks like it has the potential to get messy, you are right. Aprons would have been a good idea here.  :)

Once all of the strawberries were covered in dark chocolate, I melted only 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil using the same method as above. When it was melted, I helped Big Sister and Brother take turns drizzling it over the dipped berries. After that we simply put the tray in the fridge until the chocolate hardened. Easy Peasy!!  :)  

I love projects that allow for a significant amount of independence for the little hands involved. And I love seeing their proud little faces when they see the finished product. We had a lot of fun making these and I think Daddy is going to love them!!! 


Monday, February 11, 2013

Symmetrical Hearts


Just in time for Valentine's Day! My two olders and I made these symmetrical hearts with some card stock and paint. They came out beautifully! I cut out some heart shapes in different sizes and put out purple, red and pink paint. I talked a little bit about symmetry  with them and would talk about it again after our craft was completed. 

To make this craft, simply paint one side of a card stock heart and fold it in half. 

Press over the entire folded paper to be sure the blank side will get paint on it. 

Then just open and let dry. I modeled making the first one for the kids but then they easily did this craft on their own. It does get moderately messy so I kept some baby wipes close by just in case.

Some of the masterpieces! 


After we had a nice collection of hearts, we talked about symmetry again. The kiddies identified the hearts that were the same (at least REALLY close!) on both sides and which ones weren't. Symmetrical or not, they all came out beautiful! Hope you and your little ones enjoy this craft!


Friday, February 8, 2013

valentine link chain decorations

Valentine Link Chain Decorations

If you are like me, maybe you remember making these paper link chains before a holiday party in elementary school. This is such a simple little craft but will keep the kiddies busy for a nice chunk of time, at least long enough for you to go switch the laundry and maybe long enough for you to sit down with a nice cup of tea and turn the pages of a guilty-pleasure gossip magazine. 

Even though it is a simple craft, the result is really cute and it is great fine motor practice for little hands. All you need is construction paper cut into strips and tape. We did also use heart and flower- shaped hole punchers for an added flare. We chose red and pink paper for upcoming Valentine's Day but obviously you can choose any colors. To make this project a little more engaging for my oldest we chose a pattern to follow: red, red, pink, pink. Add a third color to make it even a bit more challenging. 

Big Sister can use the tape dispenser easily by herself but it is harder for Brother. So for him I just set him up with some ready-to-use strips to keep him moving along. Like I mentioned before, this was super fine motor practice for him and it was great to see him so focused on a task. 

Brother is hard at work!!

Working with tape to close the link. This is tricky for the little guy but he was determined and did a great job with this activity! 

It is really satisfying to set the olders to task and see them able to complete it with a great level of independence. It is a big accomplishment for them! 

My hard working decorating team!

This little activity will take you a few short minutes to set up but the kiddies will be busy for more than that. Its good practice for little fingers in fine motor movements and a great opportunity to introduce or extend teaching about patterns. Plus, you get the added benefit of having very fancy decorations for the house! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Easy Sweet Potato Steak Fries


These are just too easy. They come out nice and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I ate them just as they are but my kiddies dunked them in ketchup. Perfect as a side for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whatever your pleasure, getting the super nutritious sweet potato on their plate and into your little ones' bellies is easy! 

Here is what I did:

I used 2 large white sweet potatoes, peeled them, halved them the long way (keep the length) and then each half was cut into 4 fries. ** No reason for using the white sweet potato other than it is what we bought a TON of this week at the Farmers' Market. 

Next I drizzled olive oil over the fries, sprinkled on salt, pepper, onion powder and dried rosemary. (To me, the rosemary is key!) I tossed the fries to make sure they were all evenly coated. 

I put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 22-25 minutes, turning them halfway through. 

Finally, EAT! 

Could it get any easier?? Go make some right now! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sweetheart Pancakes


WIth banana, strawberries and walnuts!

Just in time for Valentine's Day! I started with a simple pancake recipe and gave it some extra nutritional tweaks. I poured the batter into metal heart-shaped cookie cutters, added a side of strawberries and Voila! Sweetheart pancakes! 


1 cup white flour
1/2 cup emmer flour (you could also use whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup ground flax seed meal (extra fiber and Omega 3's!)
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp melted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 mashed banana
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
oil for the griddle or pan

Steps I used:

1. The night before I mixed together all the dry ingredients (except the walnuts) in a bowl, covered it and left it in the fridge overnight. 

2. The next morning I mashed the banana and added the butter, egg, milk and vanilla. I mixed it all together until it was well blended. 

3.I made a well in the dry ingredients and added the wet ingredients. Once well blended, I added the walnuts, then folded in the strawberries. Then it is time to heat the pan or griddle. 

4. I brushed the griddle and heart-shaped forms with oil. I then added batter to each form. Only fill to cover the bottom. The pancakes will rise and get nice and fluffy. Let pancakes cook for a bit and then remove the form. I used tongs to lift them up. 

5. Once the bottoms are lightly browned, flip. Be sure the pancakes are cooked through and enjoy! 

***Note: once the form is removed the pancake might lose some of its heart shape, depending on how full the form was with batter. Do not worry. In my experience, if this happens, the pancake retains enough of its shape that it is easy to clean up with a knife after you take it off of the griddle. Enjoy!!!

These pancakes are healthy and really delicious! Hope they bring a smile to your little loves on this Valentine's Day!! XO

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Valentine's Day Mail Play


After playing over at their grandparents' house one day, my olders told me how much they really loved that their Grandmother set out paper and envelopes and they could do some letter writing play. I thought it was a great idea and they enjoyed it so much I created a Valentine's Day letter play here at our house. I really love that this activity encourages pre-writing and writing skills, creativity, imagination play and is a perfect opportunity to describe how the mail system works! Plus it was so much fun that the kids were engaged for over an hour!

Set Up:

I wanted to be sure that the olders had all sorts of choices: choices of writing tools, paper, envelopes, decorations. Prior to beginning play, I gathered together a variety of pencils, colored pencils and crayons. (I try to avoid markers, even the washable ones. They still tend to just get on everything in our house.) 

I put together all types of paper, different sizes, different colors. I chose a lot of pink and red for the Valentine's Day theme. 

I save envelopes from anything I can. If I have extra Christmas cards or thanks you's after a party, I used those saved envelopes for this activity. I even save the return envelopes from junk mail, too. It all works! In this tray I also included return address labels. I get tons sent to me through fundraiser mailings and I save them all. One set of address labels included square decorative stickers. We decided those would be our stamps.  :) 

 I put out a bowl or two of stickers the kids could use to decorate their Valentine's Day mail. Who doesn't love a chance to cover something with stickers!? 

The night before I transformed an empty box of baby wipes into a mailbox. I wrapped it in brown packing paper and painted it. I cut a slot in the top and cut a small door in the back so we could empty the mailbox.  Not my best work but the kids were happy with it. A shoe box would also work nicely if you wrapped the top and bottom separately and just cut a mail slot in the top. 

After all that there is nothing left to do but PLAY! 

 If you try this activity with your little ones, I hope they enjoy it as much as mine did!