Advent Activities for Children

The holiday season is upon us all and I’m sure we’re all feeling the hustle and bustle of getting things ready for the family.  Getting holiday gifts for loved ones, decorating the house and spending lots of time with family can be overwhelming.  Last year I spent some time developing an individualized advent calendar for my children.  I will link that here (Last years advent activities). The family advent activities were small things that we could do together as a family and get some special time with our children to slow down the hectic moments.  This year, I am pulling some of the same activities for my family and adding in a few new ones.

 

Dec 1: Decorate the family Christmas Tree

Dec 2: New Book: Look and Be Grateful by Tomie DePaola.  We are trying to teach our 3 year old how to be appreciative.

Dec 3: Read the story of the Birth of Jesus

Dec 4: Make and a paper chain to decorate the tree

Dec 5: Mess-Free Glitter Christmas Tree and Gingerbread house by Melissa and Doug

Dec 6: Hang the felt Christmas tree and ornaments

Dec 7: New Book: Kindness to share from A to Z

Dec 8: Have a dance party with Christmas Music

Dec 9: Local zoo light event

Dec 10: Make homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast

Dec 11: Winter Snow Dough- this was a huge hit last year so I have to repeat it!

Dec 12: Make Hot Chocolate

Dec 13: Decorate Christmas cards for the police and fire men and women

Dec 14: Donate 2 toys each to another child or organization

Dec 15: New Book: Llama Llama Holiday Drama

Dec 16: Bake Christmas cookies for friends

Dec 17: Go ice skating- I received skates last year and never got to use them. So, what better excuse than to take our 3 year old for the first time!

Dec 18: Paint with cookie cutters

Dec 19: New Book: Pete the Cat Save Christmas

Dec 20: Have holiday Sprinkles on our Waffles for dinner (Waffle Wednesday is a tradition at our house instead of Taco Tuesday)

Dec 21: Bake and cake for Jesus’ Birthday

Dec 22: Drive around and look at the lights

Dec 23: Watch a Christmas movie

Dec 24: Attend Christmas Eve Mass

Dec 25: Celebrate Christmas with our family!

I’m excited to bring out the Advent calendar again this year.  Our three year old is just starting to understand the holiday and I’m looking forward to showing her how to help others out during this season.  It is important to show children how they can be Christ like throughout the whole year, but especially during the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Do you do anything special with your family during this time of year?  What are some of your favorite traditions?  I hope this holiday season is filled with lots of special blessings for all of you!

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Wedding, Beach and HOGWARTS!

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This past weekend I was able to spend some time with my girl friends from High School.  We graduated High School 12 years ago and these ladies are still such an important part of my life.  That’s the bond a small, all girls Catholic school can create.

The weekend started on Friday when we met in Lake Mary, FL.  We just had a nice casual dinner and spent time catching up, not via texting, at Sonny’s.  It was some really good BBQ and conversation.  Then on Saturday, my friend took us to her childhood home and showed us around New Smyrna.  We met her grandma and had some great conversation.  Then we walked to the beach.  It was gorgeous and I was truly appreciative of the moment because I had been checking into the weather back home and it was less than ideal.  We took a long walk down the beach.  Like 3 miles or so to the jetty where we saw a lighthouse and I picked up some large seashells for my kids! We also saw some tortoises on our way back to the car.

It was time to head back to get ready for our friends wedding.  It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony.  The bride and groom had all of the bridal party and immediate family hold their rings for each of them to say a quick blessing, quietly, and share their love.  When they came back around, the rings would hold the love of everyone who touched them.  It was a really nice moment.  The wedding and reception were beautiful.

The next day, we headed to HOGWARTS!!! I couldn’t come to Florida and not go to Universal studios if I was less than an hour away.  We started first thing in the morning when the park opened and left when the park closed.  Yes, we stayed at Hogwarts or Diagon Alley almost the entire day.  We rode the Hogwarts express between the parks!  The day started with the ride at Gringotts, which was really exciting.  Then my friend and I had to get wands from Ollivanders.  I originally wasn’t going to get one, but then we found out they were interactive and had a life-time warranty so I was sold.  We were just like the little kids doing spells to make things move, stop or spit water!  We ate at the 3 broomsticks and had butterbeer, of course.  It was truly a magical day. I was so thankful that I was able to spend this time with my friends whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time.

If you ever get the chance to go to Universal, I highly recommend getting a wand.  At least one for your group but kids definitely would enjoy all of the interaction.  Next weeks blog post on Wednesday will be an updated Advent list for families.  I’m going to modify and adjust based on my time availability and my kids interests.  Until next time, be confident, be fit, be you!

Cleveland Zoo

By now, you may be wondering if I have an obsession with zoos.  The answer to that question is, YES!  I love going to the zoo because I am able to see animals that I otherwise would probably never see in real life.  As much as I would love to travel the world and see elephants and giraffes in person, I doubt I will get to any time soon.  I’m just hoping to at some point in my life time.

This trip was spur of the moment when the weather decided to hit almost 80 degrees in the middle of November.  Seriously, when does that happen in northern Ohio?  This trip would only include my toddler, infant and myself.  Can I handle this type of chaos by myself?  Unlike the Pittsburgh trip, I would need to push the stroller and wear the little one.  I’ve been to the Cleveland zoo numerous times and knew there would only be one major hill to tackle and I was confident I could do it!

We got to the zoo shortly after they opened and followed suit and immediately went in and changed diapers and found a shaded spot to feed the newest addition.  In his short little life he has already been to two different zoos in two different states!  He will be 2 months old on the 4th of December.  Apparently every parent/grandparent/school teacher wanted to take advantage of the amazing day we were given.  Children were everywhere, but so were the animals!  Most of the exhibits were open and the animals were playing and enjoying the nice day as well.

Sorry for the poor photos, I’m attempting to learn how to use my DSLR camera on Manual mode.

After some lunch, we decided to head up the ginormous hill I was slightly dreading.  At this point, the toddler had zero desire to ride in the stroller. So, the walk up the hill became much longer.  I was now wearing baby, pushing a stroller with our diaper bag essentials, and holding my toddlers hand.  About half way up I could tell she was getting tired because she started stopping to pick up E-V-E-R-Y leaf (it is autumn so leaves are abundant). As I could start to see the light at the end of a very long trek, the toddler just wasn’t having it and would not sit in the stroller.  So, here I go carrying her, wearing him, and pushing a stroller.  I was sweating like crazy by the end.

This zoo adventure was much more enjoyable.  We enjoyed watching the elephants and giraffes just roam around their habitats.  We were able to see the monkeys playing and eating. The toddler even just enjoyed watching the  birds at lunch get extremely close as they were eating all of the crumbs other kids were dropping.  We will definitely be back in the spring, or if we get another freak weather occurrence during the winter months.

Family Advent Activities

The holiday season is upon us and I’m sure you’re busy prepping to make it special for your loved ones.  This year our family will be utilizing a beautiful Advent calendar that was gifted to us two years ago from my husband’s parents. So, I took to Pinterest and utilized my early childhood background and came up with some fun family traditions to implement this year.

Having a toddler and an infant means that we have to be strategic with our activities.  Doing bigger activities such as bake cookies or watch a Christmas movie have to be planned for the weekend.  Since I am a full time working mom and my wonderful husband works quite a far distance from home, I will be leaving some activities for my mom to do with the kids.

So, here goes.  These are the memories we will be making this year.

Dec. 1- Decorate the Christmas tree.  This will become an annual kick off to the advent season. Such a fun way to go through ornaments and remember the stories behind them.

Dec. 2- Felt Christmas tree (like this one). I’ve done this with my classroom and the kids love it!

Dec. 3- See Santa Claus at the Bountiful Gifts Pancake breakfast to support the Christmas program.

Dec. 4- Color Christmas cards for the troops

Dec. 5- Color melt ornaments with crayons.  Found here. Instead of fish, I am going to cut out stars.

Dec. 6- Snow dough

Dec. 7- Read 3 books at bedtime.  Our daughter LOVES to read and the only time we have to limit books is at bedtime.  Otherwise, we would be reading for hours.  Normally we only read 2 books, so this will be a little treat.

Dec. 8- Make a bird feeder.  We will put this outside the playroom so the kids can watch the birds!

Dec. 9- Watch a Christmas movie

Dec. 10- Special donut breakfast.  My husband and I both have fond memories of visiting a local bakery that makes amazing donuts.  However, our local store closed.  But, alas, I found the original location when I was pregnant.  I stopped once and quickly fell in love again.

Dec. 11- Have hot chocolate

Dec. 12- Applesauce Cinnamon Ornaments. Recipe here

Dec. 13- Ribbon and Bow painting

Dec. 14- Have a special snack after nap

Dec. 15- Do a Christmas puzzle.  This could be hard to find.  So, my plan is to print off Christmas pictures or use book jackets and glue them onto cardboard.  Then use scissors to cut into puzzle pieces.

Dec. 16- Drive around and see Christmas lights

Dec. 17- Make Christmas cookies and deliver them to friends

Dec. 18- Make Christmas pancakes

Dec. 19- Snow paint. I got this idea from our SPARK program, but here is the recipe.

Dec. 20- Make bead candy canes (Awesome fine motor activity)

Dec. 21-Read a book about the birth of Jesus

Dec. 22- Make ice cream cone Christmas trees

Dec. 23- Read The Night Before Christmas

Dec. 24- Attend Christmas Eve mass

I’m looking forward to beginning this tradition and teaching our children to be giving and kind.  I will say that it is important to provide opportunities for children to help others or show love to others throughout the year and not just at Christmas time.  What plans do you have for your family this holiday season?  Or, what is your favorite pastime?

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Zoo

A few weeks back, as the weather started to decline, I decided to venture out of the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.  I had a free pass for 2 adults and 2 children and it expired at the end of the year, so I had to make good use of the tickets.  I twisted my mom’s arm to come with me, seeing how 3 car seats would not fit in my car.  So, we checked the weather and there was going to be a nice 56* day later in the week.

This zoo is not exactly close in proximity to home when venturing with 2- two year olds and a 6 week old.  But we managed.  I hadn’t been to this zoo in probably 10 years (the last time was with two friends from high school).  I remember it being pretty hilly and that the weather was complete crap on the day we were there so we rushed through because most of the animals weren’t out anyway.

Well, my memory should have steered me clear and maybe offered the tickets to someone else.  We had 2 strollers (one with deflated tires) to get together and three kids that needed diaper changes.  We stroll into the zoo and it looks like nothing is open.  Yes, we are visiting out of prime zoo season, but the animals don’t go anywhere and you’re still open, so you should look like it.  I failed to pack an actual lunch and only packed car snacks and the kids were hungry, after all it was almost noon.

We ventured to the little kid area, praying their would be food available close to their play grounds.  No such luck and barely any employees available to ask.  I finally just asked another mom and she pointed me to the complete opposite side of the park for our only food option.  So, off we went as we quickly looked at the animals on our way- these hill were too much to conquer twice when pushing a deflated stroller.

We passed the area where the shark was supposed to be, but apparently they are getting new ones and therefore cleaning the tanks- so nothing to see there.  The polar bear was in his habitat swimming around, but the middle school kids were busy playing on their phones and just sitting right in front of the glass.  It seemed like a good portion of the animals were gone and the habitats were closed for the season.

But alas, we made it to our lunch destination and finally had a good animal experience!  You can sit outside and basically eat with the giraffes!  They are pretty close and quite exciting.  The zebras had zero interest in the humans walking and eating by them.  The giraffes, on the other hand, were hoping to stretch their necks just far enough to snag some little kids lunch.  The tots really enjoyed the dining experience and so we stuck around there for a little while.  Besides, we didn’t know what the rest of the zoo would entail and the daunting drive back didn’t seem as appealing either.

As we continued our animal safari through the zoo, we encountered elephants, ostrich, and a jaguar that was playing with a rather large foam block.  At this point it was getting to be late in the afternoon and we still had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us.  So, we piled in the car and headed home.  This whole trip took 2.5 hours to drive there, 4 hours to drive home (accident and stopping to change and feed kids), and only 3 hours at the zoo.  Although I love zoo adventures, I think I’ll wait another 10 years before I consider going back to Pittsburgh.

Cooking with a toddler

If you’ve ever attempted cooking/baking with a toddler in the kitchen, you know how fun this experience can be! As previously mentioned in the chores post, my toddler loves to help in the kitchen. This past weekend, we explored an even more exciting task, cooking!  I’ve let her explore mixing ingredients like flour and water when she was about 14 months old.  It was, as to be expected, extremely messy and I was cleaning flour out of the grout for months it seemed.  But, she was learning to mix slowly to keep the ingredients in the bowl, she learned you have to keep the bowl on the table so it doesn’t fall over, and she learned that once the ingredients are on the floor you have to clean up the mess.

But, on Friday night she saw daddy take out the mixing bowl and immediately she went to the drawer and pulled out her own whisk.  She wasn’t able to vocalize that she wanted to help mix the ingredients and daddy wasn’t catching her clues.  He hasn’t been in the kitchen when she’s helped “cook” in the past.  After I entered the room again (I’ve hit the part in pregnancy when you go to the bathroom every 10 minutes), I quickly figured out what she was upset about.  I was able to bring in a chair from the dining room, wash up her hands and help her mix the ingredients to make french toast.  This suddenly became a meal made by the entire family!

We were able to count the eggs as daddy cracked them open and dumped them one-by-one into the mixing bowl.  We added in the cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and dash of milk as she slowly mixed all of the ingredients together.
DSC_0053 - Version 2.jpgAfter she mixed everything together, we let daddy take over and cook the french toast while we put the chair back, washed our hands again, and set the table.  First we counted out 3 forks and she carried those over to the table.  Then, I handed her one plate at a time and she carried that over to the table.  She put a plate at each spot and then put each fork on top of the plate.  I was impressed because I just asked her to carry it to the table.  We enjoyed a wonderful family dinner that we all had a hand in making!

Getting your children into the kitchen at a young age can really teach some valuable skills. Although some cooking tasks can become quite extensive with a toddler in the kitchen, the reality is they want to be there helping.  Find ways that you can bond and extend learning opportunities with tasks you are already doing.  The more we guide them, the more self-relient they will become!  Happy cooking!  I’ll make another post about our experience making banana bread from this weekend as well!

Read to your child!

There have been numerous studies that say if you read to your child, they will do better in school.  However, I have found plenty of other benefits to read to my toddler. The added educational incentive is just icing on the cake.  There are times when I struggle to understand a word she is saying.  She is 2 and can say plenty of words, but as a parent it is hard to compare your child to other children.  So, when I struggle to understand her, but can clearly understand a child the same age repeating everything I say, well it can be discouraging.

But, the point of this post isn’t about my toddler’s speech.  It is about the awesome books we read together.  When I say we read together, she is starting to pick up the words in the story.  Can she read at the age of 2, gosh no.  I am not crazy.  She is remembering the story from the million times we have read it to her over the last 2 years of her life.  But, she will be able to pick up the words faster because of this repetition.

So, here are some of our absolute favorite stories to read throughout the day (because books aren’t just for bedtime).

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This story is from Usborne books and you can get a teddy bear to cuddle!

Cuddle bear is a great story about why hugs are important to give.  It shows love and affection in appropriate ways and helps children learn that everyone needs love.  PS. I may be a little bias, but I feel my toddler gives the best hugs!

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Absolutely stunning pictures!

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Seriously, you need to check out Nancy Tillman’s work

Nancy Tillman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  Her stories are extremely powerful for any child or adult.  The key theme for everyone of her books is that you are a valued and loved person on this planet.  You can do amazing things and that no one is exactly like you.  At the end of all of her books she states, “You are loved.”  She is such a powerful author and the pictures are just majestic.  I may be buying this series of books for every child I know and ones that have yet to be born.

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Great story to sing and dance!

Pete the Cat was a gift from our toddler’s Godparents.  Being a teacher, she chose a book that her kids were really interested in reading.  Let me tell you, it has been a huge hit at our house as well!  We started reading this book right away and singing our song!  At the time, we were learning how to put our shoes on and take them off.  This book was perfect to sing while we were putting shoes on or picking out shoes to wear for the day.  She now sings and dances while we read and really gets into the “Oh NO!”

No matter what books you enjoy reading with your child, the point is to read.  Spend that quality one on one time with them and allow them to pick out the books.  I should mention the little one has two bookshelves completely full of books and she will always find these books.  So, this week, enjoy a few extra books.  Read while you’re waiting at a restaurant, read as you’re making dinner, read outside (looks like the weather is finally breaking!) under a tree.  Just read!