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That Back to School Spirit!

About a week ago, I finished our back to school shopping.  Please don’t tell my friends, because most of them work in education (like me), and we are all headed back to full-time work in about 2 weeks.  Seeing school supplies in July generally makes us cringe, because we want to enjoy the last month of summer without thinking about work (for many of us July is the first true part of our vacation because we are either working summer school or curriculum writing in June.)  This year, I decided to try a different approach to back to school shopping.  Instead of putting it off or waiting for the BEST sales, I decided to get it done ASAP so it wouldn’t be looming over me like a warning of the school year rapidly approaching.

back to school

With just one kiddo, it honestly doesn’t matter to me if I save 15 cents here and there on items if it means I can get it all done quickly in one stop.  This year we were able to reuse quite a bit of her supplies from last year, so really we were only looking to replenish pencils, glue, crayons, and erasers.  And, I decided to invest in a little higher quality backpack that will hopefully last longer than a year.

To start, I saved all of her stuff that she brought home from her desk/locker from last year that was still usable.  I gathered all of those items and compared what was there to the materials list our school posts on our PTA website.  Like I said, really not too much to add.

As soon as I saw the first sale flyer at Target, I planned our shopping trip.  Our first stop was Michael’s, because all of their Crayola items were B1G1 50% off and an extra 20% off of sale items (plus we needed a frame).  I also knew we needed to add in the obligatory few new pairs of shoes and had a $10 off coupon and a Buy 1 Get 1 50% off sale going at our nearby Famous Footwear.  So, we picked up a pair of tall boots and running shoes both on clearance.  Fairly easy and inexpensive shoe shopping trip–which are the best kind.  I love shopping their sales racks, because the kid’s feet grow so fast!

Next was our Target stop.  We bought the rest of what we needed for the school year.  I checked the Target ad against our needed items, and luckily most were on sale!  We were in and out in record time.

These are the bags we picked out this year.  We actually started out with a different backpack and hadn’t found a lunch bag we liked yet.  But, about a week later, we saw the kittens in space lunchbox and decided the space backpack fit it perfectly!  I called ahead, and both were waiting for me at customer service ready to be switched/bought.

In total, our back to school shopping trip took about three hours (including drive time).  So happy to have that checked off the list.

You may be wondering what will the kid wear to school this year?  Luckily, not too much clothes shopping was needed as many of her items still fit.  She seems to hit her growth spurts around November, so I have learned to hold off on buying new pants until then.  We did replace one pair of jeggings that didn’t survive the last school year (how the knees in her pants always get torn, I have no idea) and added a few pairs of knee high socks to go with her tall boots–bought online from Kohl’s.  There are also some fun summer purchases that she can wear as new to school this fall, so it’s not all same old same old.

Pretty happy with doing our school shopping early this year.  It’s one less thing to worry about as we try to cram in appointments and last minute fun into the end of summer.

Hope all of your back to school shopping is going well!  How do you choose to tackle this chore?

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Thanks and Giving as We Enter the Long Holiday Season

For parts of the month of November, I will be reposting some of my favorite posts from the past years.  I am working on a few other writing projects, and I want to devote some clear time to them.  That being said, I think all of these posts are worth a second (or for many of you a first) look.  There will be NEW posts sprinkled throughout as well.  Hope you enjoy some of my blasts from the past.

This was originally posted the Fall of 2013.  I am adjusting the time frames to fit this year and update how we are changing some things this year.

A few years ago, we decided our kiddo needed a healthy dose of thanks and thoughtfulness (something that seems to be necessary more than once in a lifetime for all of us–not just kids).  It is easy for kids to get wrapped up in the “I want” mentality of having new toys, games, etc. this time of year.  The toy ads for Target and Toys R Us have already landed in our mailbox and thankfully we can avoid commercials most of the time as we do not subscribe to cable TV.  It can be difficult for kids to really understand and appreciate what they do have and realize that giving back to others can be just as rewarding.

This all started two years ago when my daughter and I created our very own 25 days of giving for the month of December.  I made a list of ways we could give back to others, and we did one every day leading up to and including Christmas.  I tried my best to make it cute and wrote out the activities in the form of a pine tree instead of a list and included a fun holiday border around the outside.  I then placed the list in a class fronted frame, and we were able to check off our activities every day.  This past year the kiddo got super into crossing the items off our list, because she could use various colors of dry erase marker which made it look festive.  Some of our items were scheduled for certain days/times and some were done randomly.  It was really rewarding for both of us, I think.  My daughter got really into some of the ideas, and some of them changed a bit throughout the month.  For example, our trip to the local Humane Society to drop off food and old towels led to us adopting a kitten the next day.  We gave an animal in need a new home!  I think that was her favorite act of giving over all.

This is this kitty we rescued last year during our Days of Giving.  He's not really kitten sized anymore.

This is this kitty we rescued last year during our Days of Giving. He’s not really kitten sized anymore.

Last year, I wanted to go one step further.  Our kiddo is really thoughtful when it comes to other people, but she sometimes forgets to be thankful for what she already has or for the people/experiences in her life.  To help with this, I also decided we needed to do days of thanks.  The past couple of years, I have seen people post what they are thankful for on social media like Facebook each day leading up to Thanksgiving.  While that doesn’t really work so great for a young one, I love the concept.  We just needed to change the way it was shared.  My kiddo loves crafts and colorful crafts especially, so I thought we could make something festive together that would easily include our messages of thanks.

Starting November 1st, we will begin our 28 days of thanks.  Every day, she tells me one thing she is thankful for–and every day has to be different.  To display her items, I thought it would be fun to use a turkey and write the thankful items on its feathers.  To do so, I used a turkey cut out from brown construction paper and cut out four feathers each from seven different colors of paper.  I wrote, “I am thankful for” on the turkey’s belly and each feather will say “what she is thankful for.”  Last year she picked out the feather color and item of thanks each day, and then after I wrote it down, we glued it on the turkey.  We did have a bit of trouble fitting all 28 large feathers on the turkey last year.  This year, I think we will do a double row with smaller feathers.  I am also going to have her write down the item she is thankful for on the front to practice her writing, and I will write the because on the back.  The “because” is the important part as it makes her really think about why that item is important to her.

In a moment of inspiration last year, I decided it would be more fun if our turkey stood up on a table or counter instead of being attached to a wall or the refrigerator.  I used two toilet paper rolls I had been about to recycle as a stand for the turkey by gluing them to the back.  This wasn’t terribly sturdy, so I am going to try and do something a little stronger this year.  In the picture below you can see where we added the first two feathers last year.  Coming up with 28 items (we’re going to do the day after Thanksgiving this year too) to be thankful for with no repeats sounds daunting, but she did a great job (with a little coaching).  She picked some items that were present all the time (like our family members or cats) and some things that happened to go on that day or week.  I cannot wait to see what she chooses every day and see our turkey proudly displayed for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here is our turkey on day two!

2013 Turkey

Turkey 2.0.  I took a lid to a shoebox and covered it in wrapping paper. I am hoping the lid gives the turkey a bit more stability and we can either lean it up against the wall in the kitchen or hang it up without too much fuss.  After the lid was covered, I taped the turkey to the box. We also gave him a beak, waddle, and eye this year by gluing scraps of paper left over from the feathers either on top of or behind the turkey. The feathers are the same shape as last year, just a bit smaller. We will make two rows of 14 when all is said and done. Not sure why the color came out weird, but it’s the same construction paper as the picture above.

2014 Turkey

2014 Turkey

Since Thanksgiving is so late this year, we might take the last few days of November off to prep ourselves for our 25 days of giving.  Each year I have tried to adjust the list to reflect our lives for the current year–for example we had to change preschool giving activities over to elementary school activities.  Below is a picture of our list from last year as it stands now, though it is a work in progress for this year. I did ask for input on our activities from the kiddo last year, and will do so again.  Since they are things we do together, I want to make sure they are meaningful to her too.  One thing to keep in mind is that your 25 Days of Giving doesn’t mean 25 days of giving away money.  Many of the items on our list do not cost a thing for us monetarily, but they still matter.  If your budget is tight, you could very easily create a “no cost” 25 Days of Giving list.

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.  A link to the .PDF is below.

Not the best picture, but you get the idea. A link to the .PDF is below.

25 Days of Giving

I am really excited about both our days of thanks and our days of giving.  Not only do they really reinforce character traits we want our daughter to have, but we are able to share such wonderful experiences together that I really believe we are given a gift too.  No matter how cheesy that sounds, I am truly happy to kick off our holiday season by acknowledging the blessings in our life and sharing kindness with others.

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A Few of My Favorite Easy Organizing Tips

I had the urge this weekend to share some of my favorite easy organizing tips that have appeared on this blog.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy using them!

 

1)  A visible menu.  First, I do meal plan.  I try to plan at least 2 weeks at a time (and this dictates my grocery list).  Read more about that process here.  But, I also try and post those meal plans in the kitchen so I know what’s coming up each day and can make sure everything is ready when I get home from work to rock and roll.  I found I have saved at least 1/2 an hour each night by prepping ahead of time.  I used to have a fridge sticker with days of the week from the Martha Steward line at Staples to post our meal plan, but over time, it got to looking a little gunky and I decided to retire it in favor of something a little prettier.  I took a free printable from online and adjusted it to fit my needs.  Then, I put it inside a frame and attached a dry erase marker at the top with a velcro dot.  This little guy is on a very narrow piece of wall next to our pantry.  I like it’s placement because it cuts down on the fridge clutter and is right next to where a bunch of our meal supplies already live.  Now, I can keep track of our meals for two weeks in style!  I also love that I can erase things and move them around, because if your life is anything like mine, sometimes we have to alter plans.  I already know we have all the ingredients for everything on our chart, so making adjustments is no big deal.

Sorry for the glare!

Sorry for the glare!

2) Pantry Storage–Part 1.  Over the door storage has really helped us in our small pantry.  It corrals some of the things we use frequently and that aren’t all that easy to store on wire shelving.  On the very top of the wire shelves (not pictured here) are some cat related supplies like brushes and cat treats.  The next shelf features some rolls like foil and wax paper and  a box of zip close bags.  It’s the bottom shelf, though, that I really want to focus on.  This one handles quite a few jobs.

On the far left there are four “crystal light” or generic version containers (two behind and two in front).  The two in the back hold straws (this is so very very helpful, because they are not constantly falling over).  The two in the front hold things we are keeping for the kiddo’s school.  We found out last year that they collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald house, so there is one for those.  The one next to it holds all our “box tops for education” or other such things you can cut off of household items that give money back to the school.  (I tried using baggies for these, but this sounds lazy, but the opening and closing of the bags was a pain.  I like to drop them in the top of these small containers much better).  The little orange basket from Ikea holds the little bag clippies from Ikea (which are awesome!).  And, finally, a few more zip top bag boxes.  Storing them vertically saves a bunch of space and makes it easier to grab a bag when needed.  Don’t forget to use that space on the backs of doors or cabinets–it can be incredibly helpful!

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

Super helpful to keep things from falling all over in the pantry.

3)  Pantry Storage–Part 2.  Labels.  To begin, I use black baskets in my pantry to store items as the wire shelving is kind of a pain in the behind.  To make sure items make it in the right place and people don’t eat food that is intended for recipes, I labeled each basket.  My previous labels were pretty specific (Rice, Pasta, Sauce or Mac & Cheese and Soup)–which honestly didn’t work all that well because there were always exceptions.  So, I decided to go the more generic route this time.  When I ran across these chalkboard stickers in the dollar aisle at Target I grabbed them without even really knowing what I wanted to use them for until I thought…hmmm…pantry labels!  I tried the chalkboard marker (also in the $1 aisle) and it was terrible.  I looked high and low for a decent one that wasn’t part of a huge set and struck out (if you know where to buy one let me know!).  Instead, I went with a silver marker I found several weeks later in the dollar bins and was finally able to complete my labels.  To make them, I took some brightly colored card stock, laminated it, and cut the corners with a corner rounder.  Then, I stuck the labels in the middle.  To attach them to the basket, I rolled a piece of duct tape to the back of the label and stuck it to the basket.  Then, I took a flat piece of duct tape and placed it over the holes to cover the duct tape roll.  I did this with the previous labels, and amazingly, it came off pretty easily when needed.

Now the labels are less specific, but still get the point across.  One row has two baskets labeled Meals (which hold items used for recipes) and one basket labeled Meal Prep (which holds items like soy sauce, marinades, cooking oil, etc.).  The shelf below holds a basket for Snacks (crackers, granola bars, etc.), Lunch (mac & cheese, soup, etc.), and Misc (drink mixes, peanut butter, jello, etc.).  So, basically, one row is off limits for general consumption and the other is fair game.  I think the labels turned out pretty cute.  Sometimes a simpler label really is better.

IMG_0912

New, simpler labels.

4)  Organizing the kiddo’s clothes.  The dresser is not large, and as she has gotten bigger, so have the size and amount of her clothes.  We don’t rotate a bunch of seasonal items in the winter, because it can be -4 degrees one week and 65 degrees the next (I thought I might be exaggerating a bit here, but it was 65 degrees one day this week and -5 the next night!), and options are important.  So, the drawers are pretty crammed.  We were running into a problem that as kiddo put her clothes away, the piles inside would get messed up and we’d need to refold half the drawer.  Ugh.  And, it was really hard to see what was really in there–which meant she probably only wore about half her wardrobe (the stuff on top).  Then, one day a light bulb went off!  I had read and seen posts about the filing system for t-shirts in drawers for adults.  You could take an entire drawer and fit it in half the space.  My thought, why not for kids too?  And, why just shirts?  I had tried a filing system for the shirts, workout pants, and pjs I kept in bins in the top of one of our closets, and it worked pretty well.  So, I was fairly confident it would work for the kid too.  We’ve lived with the filing system for a few weeks now, and it has really made some big changes.  Not only do her clothes fit much easier into the drawers, but now when we go to select clothes for the next day, she can actually see everything that is clean when she makes her decision.  And, no more messy piles!  She was a little nervous at first about being able to put everything away herself, but with a little support the first few times, she now has the hang of it.  I highly recommend trying the filing system for you or your kids.  I say “BRAVO!” to the person who originally came up with it.  Here’s a look inside to see what our system looks like.  We have a drawer for shirts; one of pants, socks, and undies; and one for pajamas–which are all labeled so she knows where to put everything away on laundry day.

Shirt drawer.  From left to write the "columns" are sweatshirts, short sleeves, and long sleeves.

Shirt drawer. From left to write the “columns” are sweatshirts, short sleeves, and long sleeves.

 

5)  No More Lost Socks! It was always seemed hit or miss that I would get socks that actually could be paired at the end of a dryer cycle.  To combat this pesky problem, I adapted a tip I saw on Pinterest (can’t remember where… Sorry!) The blog I read suggested giving each member of the family a lingerie bag to hang on the back of their door to stow their socks in after wearing.  At laundry time, the bag is zipped and thrown in the washing machine, thus keeping all the pairs neatly together.  What a fabulous idea!  I thought this was a great idea, but I am loathe to hang anything on our doors.  Instead, I attached small flatish command hooks to the back of our plastic hampers.  I simply hang a lingerie bag from the command hooks on the back–and you can’t even see it if you face the bag toward a wall!  We both know to put our socks in the bag after wearing (though sometimes I forget), and I have LOVED being able to match socks so easily.  Be sure that the socks are unrolled and flat or they won’t dry properly.

6)  Another fabulous command hook idea!  I love command hooks and use them all over our home, but our bathrooms seem to be given extra command hook love.  Towels hang off the back of a door from CH.  My necklaces and bracelets hang on the back of a cabinet door from CH.  And, in our master bathroom, our shower caddies have hung from command hooks for quite some time.   In the shower, we used to have all of our shower items on a caddy attached to the shower head—but the weight of the caddy and gravity kept causing problems with the shower head.  Then we moved all the products to little ledges built into the shower, but they were easily and frequently knocked over and shave gel containers would leave rusty marks.  Finally, I figured out I could hang shower caddies from command hooks—not just the shower head.  Duh!  I found two inexpensive caddies at Walmart and it works so much better.  My husband and I each have our own caddy, so there is enough space for both of our items without them being in the way at all.  I am thinking about doing something similar in our bathtub for my daughter’s stuff down the road.  (You can sort of see that on another wall our shower brush and a squeegee also hang from command hooks).

My shower caddy.  His is the same--and to the left of mine.

My shower caddy. His is the same–and to the left of mine.

 

There’s a few of my favorite organizing projects and tips from around the house.  What are some of your favorite easy organizing ideas?

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Nerds: Not Just a Sweet Candy

One day  a few years ago, my daughter asked me what a nerd was.  I smiled, because I knew she hadn’t heard this term on the playground.  She hadn’t seen it on a tv show where someone was making fun of someone else.  She saw it on one of our favorite YouTube channels.  My reply, “Nerds are people like us, sweetie.”  And, I said it with a smile.

I then gave her a shortened version of the quote from John Green (above).  I explained that nerds are people that really like something and are excited about it–like we are with books, or video games, or movies, or… and the list went on.  I explained that her mom and dad were nerds and said it with pride (her dad’s a bit of a geek too, but that’s something else entirely.)

P.S.  I have this poster hanging in my office at work and absolutely love it.  You can get your own by visiting his online store–DFTBA which stands for Don’t Forget to Be Awesome (another poster I have hanging in my office at home).  I was totally a Nerdfighter way before John Green was a household name.  I tried to get his books in kids hands as much as I possibly could–so I guess I was a John Green fan from way back.  (He’s  the author of The Fault in Our Stars in case you are confused).

I am so happy to be able to embrace my nerdiness and I am even more glad that my daughter is growing up in a world where there are groups of people like the Nerdfighters, tv shows like The Big Bang Theory, and books like The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.  For most of my life, I have had typical nerdy tendencies–nose always in a book, could quote endless information about movies, that kind of thing.  And, while I embraced it all through my teen and young adult years, I definitely did not grow up in the culture my daughter will.  One where nerds are celebrated, embraced, and part of the popular culture.

Thanks to social media and YouTube, you can express your love and enthusiasm for all the things once considered “nerdy” and be embraced whole heartedly.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the number of subscribers for any of these YouTube folks:  The VlogBrothers (Hank and John Green–he’s way more than a YA author.  Check out the Art Assignment and Crash Course to get a taste).  Yogscast (these guys hilariously play video games and narrate their experiences–some swearing at times so be forewarned.)  Rosanna Pansino (our favorite!).  She hosts a “show” called Nerdy Nummies (the one that started the conversation mentioned above with my daughter) and makes baking creations based off of “nerdy” pop culture like Star Wars, Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pokemon, Mario Bros. etc.  If you or someone you love is a nerd and loves to bake or eat, check her out.  Last night, we stumbled upon Lindsey Stirling.  She makes these crazy videos of her playing the violin and dancing to some really cool music–like Star Wards, Zelda video games, Mission Impossible, Assassin’s Creed, and much more.  She also does covers of popular songs like Radioactive and Thrift Shop.  She outright called herself a nerd after one of the videos.  Woohoo!  And for a little bit of science, check out The Slo Mo Guys from Britain.  They conduct crazy experiments and film them in slow motion.  Super fun!

In the past people like Rosanna and Lindsey probably wouldn’t have been able to make a living doing what they love and celebrating their nerdy side.  But, with millions of subscribers and views on YouTube, now they can.  I cannot wait to see what comes next from people who are passionate about what they love–and how they choose to express themselves.  And, I can’t wait for my daughter to continue to see that it is ok to be excited about something that makes you happy and that it is perfectly wonderful to embrace your creativity.  Who knows?  Maybe she’ll make a living off of it someday…  And maybe she’ll just really enjoy and embrace life.  I’m pretty ok with that too.

 

 

 

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Super Cool Kids Video Games–Top 3

In our house, we play video games as a family.  It is something my husband and I both did as kids, and we enjoy sharing with our daughter.  We do try to keep the amount of time we play in check (which isn’t hard, because life gets busy).  When we do play, we have some tried and true favorites that are always great.  I’m going to highlight a few of these and explain why they are awesome.  For those of you who are not video game aficionados, I will explain some of the terms you may hear thrown around and that are included in this post.

The first thing we do when we look at purchasing a video game is to see what types of reviews it has received.  Just because a game is based on the hottest kids movie this year, does not mean that it is going to be good or easy to play.  Husband’s Note: Many, if not most of the movie-licensed games that are released in conjunction with films are cash grabs, capitalizing on the fact that most kids will see the familiar characters on the front of the box and parents won’t know any better… so be wary of these types of titles!  And, since many video games can cost upwards of $50-60, it pays to do your homework.  This generally falls on my husband’s shoulders as he keeps up on the video game industry more than I do, but you can easily find reviews online.  Many games are also available at places like the Redbox, so you can check them out before committing to buy.

Next, we see what platform (console, hand held, computer) or system (XBOX 360, XBOX ONE, Play Station 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii, WiiU, 3DS) the game is being released for.  Check and see if the game is available on a system you own or are willing to purchase.  If you do not have a gaming system yet, again, do your homework.  Really consider what you will be using that game system for and who will be using it.  We have experience using a variety of platforms and consoles.  We found that there are quite a few kid friendly games available for both the XBOX 360 and the WiiU.

We tend to purchase games that can be bought for a variety of platforms.  This means that the same game is available for multiple consoles–Xbox, Wii, 3DS, PS, etc.  In fact, we have bought games from franchises (a franchise is when a game has multiple incarnations of itself) for a variety of platforms and consoles.  All of the games discussed below are part of a franchise and we have played many versions of each–and most are available for a variety of platforms and systems.

My Top 3!  (not in ranked order)

Skylanders

The first video game our daughter REALLY got into was Skylanders.  We purchased the first Skylanders game (Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure) for the Xbox.  One thing you need to know about the Skylanders games is that you need a portal and game statues to be able to play the game.  You cannot just get the disc.  The concept behind Skylanders is pretty cool (and certainly lucrative).  The players used in the game are based on small statues you purchase separately from the game (the starter pack comes with a few but there are MANY more).  You place your statue of choice on the portal–which plugs into your console–and that is the character you play as in the game.  But what is really cool is that the little statues keep all the character’s stats inside of them.  Each character can be upgraded through game play to have new powers and to become tougher.  This information is not stored on your game system, it is stored on a chip inside the individual statue.  This means, you can take your statues to a friends house to play Skylanders and they will retain all of the upgrades you did at home and add any you get at your friend’s house.  Pretty cool.

Games:  There are 3 versions of Skylanders available now with a 4th coming out just in time for Christmas 2014.  Each version of the game is similar in nature, but adds a new type of character.  In Game 1, you have your basic Skylanders.  In game 2, they added Giant characters that have special abilities.  In Game 3, Swap Force characters were added.  You can separate the top and bottoms of these characters and swap them with the top or bottom of another character to make “new” characters.  Game 4, you will be able to use special crystals to trap enemies who you can then play with as allies.  In each game, the Skylanders are defending Skylands from the evil Chaos (he is not at all scary) who is trying to take over the world.

Why I like this game:  It is very easy to play.  Our daughter has been playing Skylanders games since she was 5 and was successful from the beginning.  It is a two player game (which means you can play as a family.  My husband and I will often take turns playing levels with her).  There is a LOT to the game play.  Each level has items to collect and achievements to earn in addition to working your way through the general story line.  While there is a monetary investment in the little statues (they range in price and can sometimes be found on sale for B1G1 50% off), you actually get quite a big bang for your buck in game play.  Once you have finished the main story line, there are lots of other ways to enjoy the game.  You can go back to each level and make sure you have found all of the extras, you can do side challenges, you can play through favorite levels to earn experience points or money to upgrade characters.  We finished playing the main story of Swap Force 6 months ago and are still enjoying the game.

Downsides:  The statues do cost money.  True, you do not have to buy a bunch of statues to play the game; in fact, you can finish the game with the few that come with the starter kit.  However, you cannot get into some of the side missions within levels if you don’t have characters from the various elements (earth, fire, water, air, life, tech, magic, undead).  And in addition to the regular versions of the statues, there are also special versions that are only sold at certain retailers (like the Legendary ones at Toys R Us) or times of the year (Santa or Easter egg).  It can get out of hand easily.  Also, with the newest version of the game (Skylanders: Swap Force) you had to get a new portal, so everyone had to get the starter pack.  This worked out for us, because we bought it for a different console, but it’s an added cost to consider.  (One nice thing is that all of the statues we had for the first two games worked for the new game too.  This works going up, but not going down.  Most, if not all, of the newer statues don’t work with the older games.  Still, you get a lot of value for the statues that you have purchased 2, even 3 years ago).

And since I talk about organizing here ALOT, let’s talk about storing all of these little guys.  You really have to consider if you have the space.  We used a small tub and kept it near our tv in our family room.  This worked ok, but we had to dig around to find characters and some sort of got forgotten at the bottom.  When we added new DVD shelves, we designated two small ones to displaying the Skylanders.  This seems to work out a bit better for us, because we can see all the cool little characters.

 

Lego Video Games

 

 

In addition to the genius who thought up having people buy statues as characters, some other smart guy thought it would be a good idea to make Lego video game versions of popular movies.  Seriously, how had nobody thought of this earlier!  We have played Lego games on a multitude of consoles and platforms over the years.  My husband and I started out playing the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games together because it was something I could easily get into–and is not bloody or scary or requires me to walk and point a gun at the same time (this is much harder than it sounds because you use both joysticks on your controller.  Just trust me on this).  We really enjoyed them.  When my daughter was small, we played the Pirates of the Carribbean Lego games, and I felt safe with her watching us play this because the “violence” is very cartoonish and silly.  (i.e.  Chewbacca pulls of the arms of Storm troopers and it makes a popping sound.  When an enemy is defeated, he disappears from the screen).

When she was old enough to start playing games with us, we picked up a few of the Lego games for her to play too.  And just an FYI, the Lego games in the beginning of these franchises are not as forgiving and easy to play as some of the ones released in the past few years or so.  I think Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones would frustrate her.  She has played Lego Batman (Batman 2 is much harder), Lego Harry Potter, Lego Lord of the Rings, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and Lego Hobbit.  There is a Lego Movie-based game as well as a Lego Underground title which we haven’t purchased but look really great on the newer consoles.  More on which ones we love the best and why later.

In the Lego games, there are two ways to play each level.  There is the Story mode and Free play mode.  In each level you collect studs (little Lego shaped coins) and must collect a certain amount in and finish the level to unlock Free Play mode.  In Free Play, you can change the character you are playing as which allows you do go into areas and complete tasks that the characters you have to use in the Story mode cannot do.    Because you can do so much more in Free Play mode, we would try and finish the level on our own the first time (when she was younger ) and now we generally try and help her through the level the first time so we could get to the free play.

Another cool thing in each of the later Lego games is a more open world concept (meaning a space you can walk around in and do things outside of a general story line).  The open worlds in Lego Harry Potter, Lego Lord of the Rings, and Lego Marvel Superheroes have definitely added to the value of this game.  In each of these games there is an area where your character can walk around and do mini-missions to unlock gold bricks (which you can use to buy or unlock cool stuff), add new characters, collect studs (the currency in the game), or just explore.  Quite honestly, this is her favorite part.  I think we spent 3 times as much time just walking around Middle Earth as we did finishing the story line of Lego Lord of the Rings.  She likes being able to go where she wants and be who she wants.  And, as a parent, it is much easier to regulate time in this open world area.  You can easily say 20 minutes of the game if you are just wandering around where some levels take longer than that to complete.

One recommendation I have is to go online to find cheats for the codes you need to enter or red bricks you need to find in the story mode to give your characters added benefits.  In most of the games, you can multiply your stud total by certain amounts (which allows you to get to the magic stud total to unlock free play much faster), be invincible (which is totally helpful for little kids), fall protection (which can be totally helpful for moms who fall off stuff alot and have trouble with jumping puzzles), and much more.  I have had good luck with http://www.ign.com and http://www.famefaqs.com to get cheat codes.  They are also a great place to find information on walkthroughs (someone actually writes out what you need to do in each level to find all the stuff!).  I love walkthroughs when we get stuck in a level and can’t figure out what to do next–especially when my husband isn’t there to lend his expertise.  Beware, there are no cheat codes out there for Lego Hobbit that are very helpful and you have to earn the codes in fairly complicated ways which makes the game much more challenging (which for some might be ok, but it is frustrating to the mom and kiddo).

 

Mario Games

 

Mario and Luigi are video game characters that most people have at least heard of if they have not actually ever played a video game.  And, they are exclusively for the Nintendo consoles–the most recent one being the WiiU.  My husband and I grew up playing Mario games, and we love being able to play them with our kiddo.  The Mario game my daughter was most looking forward to was what we lovingly refer to as Cat Mario but is really called Super Mario 3D World.  We call it Cat Mario because one of the powers the characters can take on is a cat costume–total winner for the cat-loving kid.  This is actually something we can all play together, because you can have more than 2 people playing at a time and you can pick which character you want to be (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, etc.).  There is a main play for this game where you progress through levels and are trying to free fairies captured by Bowser.  In each level, you have extras to earn in addition to finishing the level on time including green stars and stamps.  There are multiple worlds (levels) and within those are multiple sublevels.  There is quite a bit of game play to the main story line.  AND, we discovered that once you beat Bowser, you unlock a number of additional (and very, very challenging) worlds.  Some of your main play worlds and most of your extra worlds need a certain number of green stars to unlock them.  So, if you didn’t get them all the first time, you can go back and replay levels to capture all the green stars.  There really is a lot of game play for the amount of money you spend on the game.

 

Another really fun game we got this year is the newest Mario Kart game.  It is also for the WiiU and is super fun.  Those of us who have played previous versions of the game will appreciate the inclusion of some levels from the past as well as the addition of new levels.  You do not need anything special to play this game beyond the regular controls.  Again, it is something that we can all play together as multiple players are possible.  AND, another super cool thing is that you can play online with friends.  My daughter and her cousin (who is her same age and does not live near enough to just pop over and visit) can play this game together.  They challenge each other to races and can even speak to each other through the microphone in the WiiU pad.  I really like that feature.

 

If you are into being frugal, I highly recommend these games as you get so very, very much game play for your dollar.  One way to save costs is to wait for the game to go on sale or even to wait a few months until the game drops in price in the store or to check out used game stores.  Husband’s Note:  One idea though–when you go to used game stores, consider purchasing the “new” version of the game even if it is $5 more than the “used”.  New purchases put revenue back into game developers’ pockets, while used purchases put money directly in the game store’s hands, leaving nothing for the developer who actually made the game.  That’s something not a lot of people consider when they are trying to save a few bucks.  So, if you like a game, support the developer–that’s the mantra we have in our house, anyway.

A special shout out to my hubby for reading through and adding to this post to make sure I got all my lingo and facts correct!

These are my top 3 choices for Cool Kid Video Games.  What are yours?

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Back to School–Helpful Tools

The first week of school is behind us.  As a household with two educators and one kiddo in school, that first week can be a doozy!  Along the way, I have found a few tools that I find invaluable when getting us ready to face the first day of school and every day after that.  Some of these are new and some are old favorites.  Enjoy! (P.S. I was not paid for any of these reviews, nor given free products to review.  These are just things I happen to like).

1)  Martha Stewart Write On Washable Labels available at Staples.  I LOVE these things.  Basically, you write on them with a permanent marker, let it dry, and stick it to an article of clothing (or perhaps something else).  Then, you can wash said item of clothing and the label does not fall off or rub off!  I have been using these for a few years, and we have washed them many times without incident.  Here’s where I use them: On tags inside coats, inside the lunch bag, inside the backpack (I put it in multiple pockets), and inside of shoes (when we were at daycare).  This way if anything gets lost or someone else at school has the same thing, our items can easily be identified and make it back to us.

image courtesy of Staples

2)  Hole punch for Arc Notebook.  This is really just a way to help me keep better organized–and with all the activities and meetings we have during the school year, I need all the help I can get.  🙂  I have been eyeing the hole punch for the ARC system offered by Staples for a while.  I have both a large and small version of this disc bound system.  (If you’ve never heard of these, they are customizable notebooks and planners.  Other companies offer similar items as well).  But, the hole punch made for the ARC planners is over $40 and it is gigantic.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t going to pay that much for a hole puncher.  So, I hemmed and hawed, because I wanted to be able to put some laminated items like my daily activity log in my planner.  I almost went to Staples to see if their copy area would punch it for me.  Then, I stumbled upon this baby on Amazon.  It is made by Levenger and was $19!  Score!  (I also got free shipping, because I was on a trial with Amazon Prime).  It is a portable disc bound notebook punch.  It only does a few sheets at a time, but it handled my one laminated sheet like a champ.  Since the larger punch only does 8 sheets at a time, I didn’t really think I was losing out on much.  You can also lock certain parts of the punch to make it work for the smaller notebooks.  Loving it so far, and it fits easily in my work bag.

 

image courtesy of levenger.com

 

3) To pack lunches, we like to use reusable divided containers.  This way certain foods don’t touch and we aren’t using a bunch of containers or sandwich bags to store everything.  I did learn last year that cleaning them in the dishwasher all the time leads to some troubles with the plastic getting brittle.  This year, I will be hand washing them instead to hopefully help them last longer.  And, the kiddo is packing her own lunches this year!  This little guy seems to help her keep everything sorted.

 

image courtesy of rubbermaid.com This is the divided rectangle–which we are using right now. We’ve also used an off brand and the Ziploc version as well.

 

What are some of the tools you use to get your school year off to a good start?

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Homemade Large Dice

I am one of the leaders for my daughter’s girl scout troop–and we are headed into our second year of Daisy scouts.  I learned quite a bit last year about running meetings and working with younger kids (most of my experience is with high schoolers).  One thing I know is that we needed to get the girls into more of a routine and also up and moving.  We meet right after school, so they need to shake their wiggles out a bit before settling back down.

So, in addition to a caper chart and meeting schedule (which will be an all in one sort of thing–I’m still working on that), I wanted to design some activity dice to use at the beginning of meetings.  My vision was for two different dice–one with song names on it and one with an action related activity.  One of the caper chart chores (for those of you who have never heard of a caper chart–it is basically a way to assign tasks to the girls for the running of the meeting) would be for one girl to roll the song dice and one to roll the action dice–then lead the song or action.  These would help us get our meetings going and give the girls something to actively do.  (I also freely admit I stole this idea from our wonderful former children’s librarian for how she started storytimes).

Now the question was, how to make the dice?  I wanted something easily portable that I could customize and would be fairly cheap to make.  Off I went to search Pinterest for suggestions.  I found many good ideas that included paper mache or  foam cubes or cardboard boxes.  I checked out my local Michael’s and at first could only find wooden blocks (to heavy) and florist Styrofoam (both white and green).  But, each dice would cost me at least $5 each (minus the 40% discount for one)–too pricey.  One of the pins I saw showed how someone used a gold foil gift box shaped like a cube to make her dice (she covered it in craft paper).

The supplies I used to make our dice.

The supplies I used to make our dice.

As a last ditch effort, I searched the small gift bag area, and after a few minutes of scouring I saw tucked low in a corner, small cube shaped gift boxes!  Hooray!  I found a size I liked–4 inch square.  They had both larger and smaller, but I thought this would be small enough to be portable and big enough to be fun.  I picked the craft paper type box, because I thought it would be easier to write on than the slick white option they also offered.  Then, on the way to the cash register, I passed a little shelving area with $1 stationary items and found little 3 inch square cards in solid colors.  On a whim, I grabbed those to put on the sides to give the dice a little color.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Yesterday, I put it all together.  I simply taped the open edges of the boxes down (I could have used a more transparent tape, but I had this on hand.  I don’t think they’ll care).  Then, I cut the little cards in half.  Luckily each side was colored, so I could get two sides out of one card.  I wrote the names of the songs and actions on the cards with a thin sharpie marker.  Next, I rolled pieces of tape for all four corners of a card and stuck it to one side of the cube.  I figured this way we could change the songs or actions fairly easily part way through the year or next year if we wanted without destroying the dice.

These was so super simple, and the best part was it was really inexpensive.  The boxes were $0.79 each and the card packs were $1 each.  And, I only used part of each pack, so I have cards left over for another occasion.  Each of the dice only cost about $1.25!  I am very happy with the result, and I think this will be a fun way for the girls to begin their meetings this year.

Here’s a list of what I included on each one–chosen with input from the kiddo:

Songs:

5 little speckled frogs

Down by the Bay

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old (Girl Scout Song)

I’ve Got Something in my Pocket (Girl Scout Song)

Magalina Hagalina (a song I learned as a Girl Scout.  Very silly.  My daughter loves it!)

Roller’s Choice (just to mix it up, because I wasn’t going to put Let it Go as an option).

 

Actions (some of these are songs, but they are action-y songs!).

Hokey Pokey

Head Shoulders Knees & Toes

Dance (to a song on my phone)

Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, High Knees (for a little cardio)

Bean Bag Game (I have some home made bean bags and we can play a variety of games with them)

Roller’s Choice

 

How do you think you could use homemade dice in your life?  I can image a bunch of different ways.  Since you can design the sides however you would like, the possibilities are endless!

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Cultivating a Kind Heart

I have written about this topic, but in a different way before.  After some events in the last week,  I felt a re-posting and elaboration was needed.

There are so many things that our children need to be successful and thoughtful adults someday–and so many of those things start when they are young.  But, how to you cultivate kindness?  How do you get your children to understand how to be thankful and thoughtful?  How do you get them to understand that there may be people in your community, state, country, or world that do not have the advantages that they do?  One way is to show them.  And, that is what I have chosen to do with my daughter.

What started out as a simple way to get my kiddo to understand that it is ok to give away items that she has outgrown (and to declutter in anticipation of holidays and birthdays) has ended up as a wonderful way to show my daughter what it means to be compassionate and to think of others in need.  Let me start out by saying that my family is by no means well to do–we are definitely in the middle class zone both being educators.  But, our daughter is also an only child and an only grandchild on one side of the family–so she gets more than a family with more kiddos might get.  Plus, we have very generous friends with older girls who have handed down some of their toys and items to us.  All of this means tons of stuff to try and tackle in our moderately sized home.  Which is probably why you see so many posts from me about how to manage the kid clutter.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to spread the love by sharing our gently used items with others.  We could simply take our items to the nearest Goodwill (which we do with some things) or hold a garage sale (which I’ve never done in my adult life and just quite frankly don’t want stuff hanging around all year waiting to be sold for minimal profit).  With our kiddo items, I like to be able to get our daughter involved so she can help decide what to do with these items and see how she can help others first hand.

I wrote about this briefly in a post from way back called Conquering Kid Chaos–and it fell under the “purge” tip of my Top 7 Organizing Tips–in relation to how to keep your house from being overrun by toys.

From previous post:

Purge.  You may remember this from my 7 Organization strategies post.  As with any organization plan, I firmly believe the less you have the easier it is to be organized.  My daughter and I do this very frequently, and since she was about three she has been very involved in the process.  Before Christmas and her birthday we go through the toys in her room (and other areas of the house) and decide what she actually plays with and what can move on to another child that will get more fun from it than she does.  I try to guide her when I can and even give her a choice, like pick one of these to keep and one to give away.  Beginning this at a young age has helped greatly, because she is very used to the process, but you can probably start this at any age—just be sure to involve your kids.  Another reason why toy give aways have been successful for us is that we always have a pre-determined destination for the items.  Sometimes we pick out things to give to specific friends (we even went on a secret adventure one evening and left stuffed animals in several friends’ mailboxes–this has been one of her all time favorite things to do.  She even go to pick which friend received which animal).  Other times, we select items to donate to the local children’s hospital.  Most recently, a friend of ours had a family member experience a fire that destroyed their home, and they lost everything.  We discussed the issue with my daughter and asked her to pick out toys, books, and stuffed animals to give to the two little kids who had lost everything.  She easily agreed and donated an overflowing large milk crate of her belongings to these two little ones she has never met, and probably never will—and didn’t even bat an eye about it.  I am so proud of her for that and happy that our little system has helped her see the importance of giving to others.

While it is hard for a now six-year-old to try and think of the many ways she can help others all of the time, I can see that our practice of giving to those in need or those we love has made a difference in her.  When she realizes she isn’t really playing with something anymore, she asks me if we can give it someone else and usually supplies a friend’s name who likes those kinds of toys.  And, when I come to her with an idea of how to share some of her good fortune with those who need it most, she jumps right on the bandwagon–usually without a second thought.

This year for her birthday, I thought about all of the toys she currently has that she still plays with (many that she got for her birthday the past two years) and all of the items she was sure to get from her family and friends parties and my brain went mushy.  She barely has the time or space to play with what she had!  What were we going to do with all the extra stuff?   So, we had a discussion.  We talked about donating some of the toys from her friends birthday party to kids in need.  We have donated things to the Children’s Hospital in the past, and we talked about finding somewhere new to share this time around.  We settled on a homeless shelter in our town that specializes in working with families and single parents–she remembered it from when we had donated some items like winter coats for our 25 days of giving.

It was a little hard for her to come to terms with the idea of giving all of her presents to others–after all she is six–but she also wanted to help kids who probably didn’t get anything for their birthdays.  We spent some time talking about it and came up with a way for her to be able to keep some items and for her to also be able to donate some items.  (If she wasn’t comfortable with donating any, we would have gone that route too.  It did help though that she had been to a birthday party earlier in the year for a schoolmate who donated his presents).

We came up with a list of inexpensive things for people to buy and asked that they purchase two–one for her and one for the kids at the homeless shelter.  Our list included things you could find in the dollar aisle or would be less than $10 for two–things like sidewalk chalk, coloring books, bubbles, stickers, etc.  I didn’t want to overburden anyone with supplying items for this idea, so we tried to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible.  And, thankfully those who were able to attend were very thoughtful and generous in their gifts.  One afternoon when she was off of school and we were running errands, we stopped by to drop off the gifts.  She got a tour of the main areas for the residents (none were around at the time) including the children’s play area.  She decided while we were there that she wanted to go back sometime this summer to play with some of the kids and to help with serving meals–I am looking forward to setting these up soon!

These are all of the items we were able to share with the homeless shelter!  I sent a picture of the kiddo sitting behind these items out as a thank you card to those who attended the party.

These are all of the items we were able to share with the homeless shelter! I sent a picture of the kiddo sitting behind these items out as a thank you card to those who attended the party.

And, what made me think of sharing these stories with all of you is an incident that happened in our area this week.  We had several tornadoes go through some smaller towns north of here and destroy many homes.  Someone I know in the area said 62 homes were affected.  Businesses and organizations all over the area are pulling together to donate water, gatorade, clean up supplies, and much more to help the families affected.  I knew immediately there was a way we could step up and help.  I went to my daughter and briefly told her about families losing their homes (I didn’t go into too much detail because she is in a stage where she is VERY afraid of tornadoes), and that some kids lost all of their toys and clothes.  She was ready to get to work!  We spent a little time this weekend going through her room and found a garbage bag full of kids bedding and clothing that we no longer needed and two large paper shopping bags full of toys and books.  To be honest, we were running a little short on time (I needed to get the stuff to the person who would be delivering the items), and I was going to skip over going through her books.  She called me back to reality though, and showed me that I needed to make the time.  “Mommy, they’re going to need books too!”  My heart soared.  She was right.  They certainly were.

And that is why I am sharing this post today.  My daughter has a caring heart and knows that one way she can help others is to share what she has with those in need.  This all started as a way to help get rid of some overcrowding of stuffed animals and has become a thoughtful practice and second nature action for my kiddo.  I can only imagine how she will continue to help others as she grows and matures through life, and I feel so honored to be able to help guide her along the way.

 

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Habits and Charts

The past two weeks have been a little crazy–we are definitely in summer mode in our house, but some other things have crept in that take up my time as well.  In addition to the daily drive to swim lessons and our visits to the public library, children’s museum, and play dates with friends (see this post to see how we manage all the FUN of summer), I have added in still working some from home each day and teaching a university class for the month of June.  Add to that prepping for an unexpected but very welcome house guest for the next week–and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I had projects I knew I wanted to tackle before July hit, but June was almost half over!  So, in addition to all of the above, I wanted to cross a few things off my big to-do list.  And, I was able to accomplish a few–sorting through my digital photos (every time I do this I swear I won’t let it get this bad again-look for a post soon regarding this problem), cleaning the carpets in our high traffic areas (I do this with a home machine a few times a year), purging a few areas in the house, deep cleaning the shower/tub, and so on.  Nothing too major, but added up that equals time and energy I wasn’t sure I would have.  And, I didn’t want to be doing them when we had a visitor!  To help me get through this past week, I started out making a list of EVERYTHING I wanted to get done this week (right down to painting my toe nails and baking corn muffins) and separated them out into what I could get done each day.  This helped immensely.  Instead of stressing out over my internal to-do list, I had everything on paper and at least a plan to get everything done each day.  And, when it didn’t get done for whatever reason, it just got moved to the next day.  Now I am sitting pretty with only a few things to accomplish before I head off for the day’s activities.

I feel really, really good about all that I was able to accomplish this week–and made sure I still had time to do fun things with the kiddo and my hubby.  But with all of this busy activity (which really isn’t that much different than our life during the school year except I have a munchkin by my side most of the day), our daily routines once again made their way to the bottom of the list of important things to tackle.  There are things I want to be sure I do every single day (and my daughter too), and I know I have to do them consistently for them to become habits.  But, the consistently thing is where I fall all kinds of apart.  I will have one really good day where I do all of my desired daily habits, and then a stretch of 4-7 days where barely any of them get done–because life gets in my way.  Or, maybe I let life (and sleepiness) get in my way.

I want to make changes in my lifestyle and health, and I know that I have to start somewhere, so I am here to write that my goal for the week is to tackle my habits!  I want to go at least 5 days of the next week performing all (or pretty darn close to all) of my habits.  And one of my habits is making sure my daughter is accomplishing her daily habits.  (Some people might call these chores, but our list is a bit more than that–so we’ll go with habits.)

I had been thinking our daily routines needed a bit of an overhaul anyway.  There were some habits I wanted to get in place for myself and my daughter this year and with her first year of elementary school and my new job, it just never happened.  Summer is the perfect time to turn these routines into habits!  (I hope!)  To help us accomplish our (my) habit goals, I overhauled our habit trackers (chore charts…) to fit more with what we really wanted to accomplish each and every day.

The first thing I did was spend about a month thinking about what habits and routines I wanted to establish during the summer and wanted to keep for the whole year through.  Taking this time to really evaluate what was import for us to accomplish on a daily basis was key in making sure I didn’t just make another chore chart that we didn’t use.  I think we are on our third or fourth version, and hopefully the time spent evaluating priorities will pay off in the long run.

For my habits/routines, it is all about the daily acts.  There are certain things I want to be sure that I do daily, and left to my own devices I usually think about them when I am driving in my car or after I get in bed, because that is when my brain has a chance to rest and those back burner thoughts pop into my brain.  These two times are very unhelpful in actually accomplishing these habits, so I need a visual reminder.  I do very well with lists and checking things off, so I decided to make a habit tracker that not only includes my daily goals but also my weekly/monthly cleaning routine and any other tasks that need accomplished for work/home.  I designed it in Word using a table and laminated the little guy so it is reusable.  I am using a wet erase marker to keep track of what I accomplish each day.  It is on a pretty clipboard that I have decided to keep by my bed for now so that I have to look at the thing before I go to bed (which will be easier now that there isn’t a pile of books on top of it).  I do still use some on phone apps to help track some long range projects as well or as reminders for errands/special tasks when I’m not right in front of my habit tracker.  I keep trying to figure out how to fit it my laminated tracker into my small ARC planner I keep in my purse, but the font would be TINY and I like the idea of the list being near my bed so I can look at it before lights out.

This is my new habit tacker.  It gives me much more room to add in items for the week.

This is my new habit tacker. It gives me much more room to add in items for the week.

I have waffled between a daily tracker and a weekly tracker for my daughter.  We’ve tried both.  I’ve gone the magnet route and the dry erase route.  Nothing has really worked, because honestly we don’t use it consistently enough.  For this summer, we are back to a  daily tracking system with magnets that she moves to show what she has accomplished each day.  Most of these are daily items like making the bed, brushing teeth, feeding the cats, reading, etc.  Some are her chores she does as needed like putting away clothes and dishes, vacuuming the kitchen, etc.  At the end of the day (or sometimes as she accomplishes a task), she moves her magnet to the done side.  I am hoping to make the habit tracker part of our nightly routine so that we can make sure everything has been done.  If it is part of our nightly routine, it will be easier to think during the day about what needs to be accomplished to move each magnet–I hope.  The magnet pictures and board are recycled from our original “chore chart” that I made a few years ago.  I found the metal board on clearance at Walmart, and I paired it with small round magnets with adhesive on them attached to pictures printed on card stock.  She simply moves her magnet to done when the habit/chore is done.

Kiddo picked out the pictures for the magnets from clip art.

Kiddo picked out the pictures for the magnets from clip art.

I am really hoping these two new habit trackers will help us accomplish some of our daily goals.  I know that completing these daily habits will definitely help us keep more on top of things and lead a healthier lifestyle.  And, since I have shared my goal of habit tracking with all of you, I now have to follow through!

How do you keep track of your daily goals?  Is there a system you have tried to put in place that just continues to fail?  What have you done to solve the problem?

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Getting Ready for Summer!-Routines and Schedules

I am finally on summer break!  And, now I am on stay at home mom schedule (mostly).  Our days will not be regulated by school and work schedules; our entire routine is no longer our routine.  In order for the summer to be fun, I also know that we need to have some sort of routine to get us through the days.  This post will be about our routine and schedule for the summer.  (Look for a post coming soon about chore charting and habits.)

After MUCH surfing on pinterest and looking at printables and suggestions from other moms out there and deciding what to keep from what we’ve done in the past, I came up with our summer routine/schedule.

Remember that lovely magnet board I wrote about last week and how I use it to hang up the most recent kiddo art?  Well, in the summer she won’t be bringing home as many creations, so it has been re-purposed for the next few months as sort of a command center for our summer lives.

command center

So, what’s on this board?  There is still a bit of room for art projects, as you can see.  But, most of it is tied to our summer routines and summer fun.

Let’s start with our daily schedule.  For the month of June, our schedule will be based around swimming lessons which are in the later morning.  I decided it would be best not to have any screen time before swimming, because that makes it hard for kiddo to get moving and motivated.  So, instead, I came up with a schedule that builds in time for learning and time for playing.  I used a fun free printable from Jen at I Heart Organizing for this one.  She typed out her schedule and posted it in a pretty frame.  I laminated mine and am using a wet erase marker so that I can change it as our summer routine changes (i.e. no swimming lessons in July).

You aren't seeing the whole document here, but visit http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2012/06/our-summer-schedule.html to download.

You aren’t seeing the whole document here, but visit http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2012/06/our-summer-schedule.html to download.

Learning time will consist of reading, writing, and math activities.  Some of these activities will come from work books, and some will be from items sent home from her school for the summer.

During her 1 hour play time block in the morning, she is allowed to play with anything she wants inside the house (or outside if the neighbor kids want to play).  But, to help her decide, I made this activity picker sheet for her.  (I actually made this last fall, but it didn’t get added to our routines that way I wanted, so we are working it into our habits now and hopefully it will translate into after school fun–while mom is getting dinner ready–when school starts).  She now has a prompt to help her decide what to do with her play time (because if she doesn’t she’ll spend the entire hour trying to make a decision).  Why 60 minutes?  I wanted her to have enough time to really dig in and play and also enough time to clean up.

I like that most of these options are creative play and also solo activities.  This play time is designed to be independent as I will be spending the majority of the day with her, she needs some time to be on her own (and it gives me time to finish up any odds and ends so that I can give her my full attention the rest of the day).  Plus it does give her the opportunity to play with her toys–something she has said for a while she wants to do more.

This by no means represents all of her options, but it's a good place for her to start.

I just searched Google Images for some of her favorite play items and added them into a Word document.

Right now our schedule only reflects the morning from 7:00-11:00 (lunch).  The afternoons are up for grabs.  To fill our afternoon time, I have a few items in place to help us decide what to do.  My goal is to have a conference on Sundays with the kiddo to get an idea of what she wants to do during the week–and then revisit that decision each day sometime before morning play time.   There are two main ways that we can pick what do do with our afternoons, whether we decide to venture out or stay at home…

1)  Calendar of local events

Every year I make a calendar for June and July of the many events going on around town.  These items include public library events, festivals, parades, story times, craft times, outdoor concerts, free movies, etc.  Usually I start building this calendar in late April or early May using our city’s visitors website, online family fun calendars for our city, the public library’s website, and so on.  I won’t share my calendar with you, because it really is just tailored to my town and family, but you can easily do the same thing.  All I did was take a calendar template in Word and add in my events.  And, because I am like that, the events are color coded.  All of the library events are one color, all of the concerts are another, and the movies another, etc.  This calendar is now hanging on our fridge right next to our family dry erase calendar.  Our dry erase calendar still is home to our definite family and work events, and this other calendar is more of our options for the day.  So, let’s say its Monday and we’re looking at our plan for the rest of the day before we head out to swim lessons.  We can decide what we want to do with our afternoon–go to the zoo, attend a program at the public library, go bowling, or just head home to play.  Once we’ve decided, I know whether to pack lunches, bring sunscreen, what clothes to bring if the kiddo needs to shower at the pool, and so on.  The calendar is really helpful so I don’t have to hunt around on websites the day before or the day of and scramble to make a decision…it’s all right there.  And, since it includes weekend activities as well, we can plan a bit ahead on what our weekends will look like too.

Here is an example of what your calendar could look like--ours actually has more stuff on it than this...

Here is an example of what your calendar could look like–ours actually has more stuff on it than this…

2)  Summer Bucket List

For the past two years, I have also designed a summer bucket list.  If you are looking for ideas beyond what I have included, all you need to do is search for “summer bucket list” on Pinterest.  Some of them get very fancy!  I just made mine in a word document–I picked some fun summer clip art, a groovy font, and made the text colorful.  The items on our bucket list have changed as time goes by and she gets older, but some stay the same. I always try to include things I know we’re going to do, things we want to do, and things that push us to try new activities or visit new places.

Summer Fun

One of the fun things I found on Pinterest was this dry erase board with this great message for kids who complain that they are BORED!  Luckily, I haven’t run into that problem yet, but I am planning ahead.  I think mine is more of a what to do instead of screen time cure for boredom.

Here is my version.

I used markers that matched the font and colored in the stars in the border to add a little pizzazz.

I used markers that matched the font and colored in the stars in the border to add a little pizzazz.

And, finally, what about screen time?  The kiddo just asked me last night as we went over our schedule, when can I have screen time?  I am going to go with the daily recommendation of 2 hours per day (some days will hopefully be less depending on what we are doing)–AND I plan to have at least one screen free day per week.  But, on those days when screen time happens, I wanted a better way to be able to monitor how much she was actually getting for both her and me.  I again surfed around Pinterest and found a bunch of different versions of screen tickets that kids can turn in for screen time during the day.  I took my favorite version and revamped it a bit.  I knew that some activities the kiddo would choose might be in 45 or 15 minute increments instead of 30, so I made a few “blank” tickets that I can use a wet erase marker to write on to track those odd times.  I laminated and cut apart the tickets to keep them in good shape.  They will be given out and turned in each day and will be located near our summer command center so we can keep track of how many have been used and not used.  The original post from the tickets is here, but I couldn’t get the download to work–so I just copied the original image into word and pasted it a few times.  Then, for the blank versions, I inserted basic shapes over the 30 min symbols and changed the picture color to make them stand out.  We will see how well this works!

screen tickets

Whew!  That was a long post!  Thanks for sticking it out until the end.  Tomorrow is our first Monday of summer break, and I am hoping the schedules and routines I have put in place will allow us to not only accomplish our daily goals but have tons of fun together too!  Later on this summer, I will write another post as an update on how this actually is working for us.

Is there anything you have planned to make your summer run smoothly?

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