Category Archives: Activities and Traditions

Back to School with “The Kissing Hand”

I have always loved the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  It is the story of a little raccoon and his mom on the night before school starts (well, technically the day before school starts since they are nocturnal of course).  The little raccoon is a bit nervous to go to school, so his mommy gives him a kiss on his hand and tells him to touch his hand to his cheek whenever he feels scared or lonely so that he can get a kiss from her whenever he needs one.  Spoiler alert- the sweetest part of the story is when he heads off to school and then runs back suddenly to give his mommy a kiss on her hand from him.  I can’t even type this without getting teary!  Such a sweet, touching story.

Our daughter recently started school.  In my perfect world I had always planned that I would read this story to her the night before school started and it would be beautiful and touching and special.  But then suddenly it was a week before school started and I wasn’t so sure if I should read it to her after all.  She was nervous about school.  I was nervous about her going to school.  Perhaps this tearjerker of a book would just be too much for us both.  Perhaps it would remind her to feel lonely rather than give her confidence to get through the day.  Perhaps I should start considering home schooling…

In the end, I did send her to school and I did read her the book but in the most low key way possible while she was watching a show and eating a snack before bed   Not exactly the perfect Kodak moment I had envisioned for years.  I wasn’t sure she was even paying attention to the story until I noticed that her little fist was clenched tight with a death grip around the kiss I had given her hand during the story.  She kissed my hand as well and we both kept our kisses safe until bedtime.

Fistfuls of Kisses

The next morning we gave each other fresh fistfuls of kisses and off she went to for the first day of school.  She thrived and I survived.  Each subsequent day she got out of the car a bit more confidently than the day before until she was bouncing out of the car like she owned the place.   On about the 5th day though she ran back to the car; and I thought, “Uh-oh.  Here we go,” and braced myself for a meltdown   Instead though she opened my car door, grabbed my hand, and gave it a big kiss before skipping off with a smile to get in line with her class.  What more could a mommy want?  I know it will always be one of my most special memories.

So if you ever wonder if “The Kissing Hand” is s good back to school book or not, the answer is yes, a thousand times yes.  Thank you, Audrey Penn, for this book that helps kids so much and helps mommies even more!




Mourning August

Almost two years ago to the day I wrote a blog post singing the praises of August, a newly discovered month for me.  I talked about how in my past life as an elementary teacher August was so stressful and hectic with the start of school but that in the world of preschool where school doesn’t start until after Labor Day, August seemed like a whole new undiscovered month of free time. And now as soon as I had found and grown to love the lost month of August deeply, it’s gone again, just like that.  My family is leaving the world of preschool and reentering the world of elementary school this month.  As excited as I am for all of the adventures that await us, I am also very sad to lose this wonderful bonus summer month.  Before I had written about August being the month of nothing, as in there was nothing pressing to do or get done except for enjoying the last bits of summer.  Now it’s suddenly back to feeling like limbo between the sunny summer relaxation of July and fall apple picking activities of September.  So I guess August is still the month of nothing, but just because it’s kind of in no man’s land.  It’s the start of school without all the warm fuzzy feelings about going back to school that naturally come with the month of September.  Poor August.  And poor me!  Even though my love affair with August was fleeting, I’ll miss it terribly.    R.I.P. August.  I barely knew you!

The Joy of a New Planner

I know I have shared about my love of school supplies in the past.  This year was the first year our daughter had a substantial school supply list, and I was so excited to share my love of school supply shopping with her (and to be honest simultaneously get my school supply fix for myself).  And then we got the school supply kit order form from the school.  Apparently now teachers now get to select supplies they want in a kit and parents can order it.  It’s faster, more convenient, easier, less expensive, better for the teachers because they are guaranteed to get exactly the specific supplies they need… and utterly depressing for school supply lovers like me.  There was one item, some dot stickers, not included in the kit.  Believe me – I made an event out of buying those dot stickers.  There was a special outing and a photo op and everything.  But it just wasn’t the same.

So I came home and drowned my sorrows in my shiny new planner I had gotten a few weeks earlier.  Of course I know that phones have calendars on them now.  However, I just use my phone’s calendar as a backup to my written planner.  I have always done this – ever since high school when one of the school supplies I was always excited to get was my brand new assignment notebook for the year.  For several years, calendar books and planners were hard to find or quite boring when I was able to find one I assume because of the calendars on the phones.  Just about five years ago, I was afraid they were going to stop making calendar books and planners entirely because they were so hard to find.  I finally found a student planner reminiscent of my old high school assignment notebooks at Vera Bradley a few years ago.  I really liked it even though it was meant for high school or college kids.  And I must not be alone in my love affair with planners and calendar books because then suddenly they have apparently become cool again.  There started to be more and more cute options.  This year when I went to Paper Source to find a calendar book, there were so many choices!  (I, of course, went with the pink and sparkly option.)

My Planner

And there are so many stickers and accessories to go with the planners now!  I’ve heard that there are entire Etsy stores that sell nothing but stickers for calendars.  I have yet to check out these sites, but I am intrigued by the possibilities.  I had a lovely time filling in important dates, holiday traditions, reminders, and notes in my beautiful new planner.  In fact my new planner is so complete that I was able to transfer several ongoing lists of projects I want to do into it.  So instead of 3 notebooks plus my calendar book, I now have just one planner full of everything.  I don’t know why I find this to be so satisfying, but I do.  Perhaps it’s because it combines holidays and organizing – 2 of my favorite things.  So even if my new planner was my only opportunity to play with shiny new school supplies this year, at least I enjoyed it completely!  In a world where school supplies now come in convenient yet depressing kits, I hope that the fancy planner trend is one that lasts for years to come.

Shopkins Birthday Party

I have so loved planning our daughter’s birthday parties over the years.  The teacher in me relished in creating party themes based on some of my favorite children’s books.  And while I still hold out hope to get to throw a Mo Willem’s Pigeon themed party someday, I had figured that this year our daughter would have her own strong opinions about choosing a theme for her birthday party.  I was right.  About 6 months before her birthday, out of the blue as we were leaving the grocery store (one of her favorite places to go), she announced that she wanted to have a birthday party with a shopping cart and a ball pit.  Hmmmm.  Not much to work with, right?  I thought this was just a whim and that surely she would forget and pick another better theme for her birthday party as the date got closer.  Nope.  She stuck with the shopping cart and ball pit idea and began telling every random person that she was having a shopping cart and ball pit birthday.  What to do, what to do?  After 4 years of perfectly planned classic children’s book themes this was almost more than I handle.  And then it hit me – Shopkins!  Thanks to the Shopkins (which our daughter also loves anyway) I was able to plan a party with a nice theme that naturally revolved around shopping carts.  As far as the ball pit went, I figured we could always add a ball pit to any type of party!

So I started hunting for everything and anything that might have to do with Shopkins, grocery shopping, and, of course, shopping carts.  I found ideas on Pinterest; darling Shopkins birthday supplies at Party City and Target; shopping carts (big and mini), toy food, and balls for the ball pit on Amazon; Shopkins ribbon at JoAnn Fabrics; and berry baskets, brown paper bags, Shopkins themselves, Shopkins games, stuffed Shopkins, and a neon sign that you might find in a grocery store that says “FUN” at Michaels.  Even though I had pooh-poohed the idea at first, I have to say it ended up being the most fun party to plan and throw.

I put a brown shopping bag on the front of the invitations.  I figured “born to shop” seemed appropriate for our daughter’s birthday party.  The insides of the invitations had pictures of Shopkins along with the party information.

Shopkins Party Invitation

I also used the little brown shopping bag idea for food labels and table decorations.

Tiny Grocery Bags

I was able to find the perfect shopping cart of our daughter’s dreams on Amazon and filled it with stuffed Shopkins.

Shopping Cart Full of Stuffed Shopkins

I also found mini shopping carts on Amazon and filled them with Shopkins to use as table decorations for the party.  And after the party, our daughter still loves playing with them!

Mini Shopping Cart Filled With Shopkins

Since one of the Shopkins is a box of popcorn, and since our daughter loves to eat popcorn and loves balloons, I made a giant box of “popcorn” made out of yellow and white balloons.

Balloon Popcorn

The favors were so much fun to put together.  I collected all kinds of Shopkins “stuff” as well as chocolate chip cookies since there is a cookie Shopkin and put them all together in a berry basket, again something that might be found at a real grocery store.  I tied them up with some Shopkins ribbon.

Shopkins Favors Filler

Shopkins Party Favor

I also used the berry baskets for centerpieces which were honestly a quick fix.  The centerpieces kept blowing away because it was really windy, so I grabbed some rocks from our daughter’s rock collection in the backyard and stuck them into some extra berry baskets and used hot glue to attach the paper shreds and centerpieces to the tops.  Even though they were a last minute idea, I ended up loving them!

Shopkins Centerpiece

The birthday girl herself needed to be all decked out too of course.  In addition to a Shopkins shirt we found at Target, I made her hairbows from some of the Shopkins ribbon.

Shopkins Bows

The food was really fun and easy to plan since many of the Shopkins characters are food anyway!  In fact each food item was also a Shopkins character.  We had apple juice, strawberries, a giant doughnut from a local bakery, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, Shopkins fruit snacks, and popcorn.  I also made a cake in the shape of a shopping cart per our daughter’s request.

Shopkins Food

Shopping Cart Cake

Party activities included the ball pit (obviously), the balloon popcorn, a Shopkins pinata, a really fun game of “Fastest Shopper” which was kind of like an Easter Egg hunt except with little grocery bags instead of baskets and toy food instead of eggs, and a bunch of Shopkins games.  They were all big hits!

Ball Pit

Shopkins Games

All in all, it was a great celebration.  It had everything I wanted in a party, even if it wasn’t based on a classic children’s book.

Cute decorations – check.

Fun theme – check.

Good food – check.

Fun activities – check.

And most important, happy birthday girl – check!  It also had everything our daughter wanted in a party.

Shopping cart – check.

Ball pit – check.

Thanks, Shopkins for saving the day!

Ode to the Staycation

I am a homebody.  I’m perfectly content puttering around the house, and I don’t like to travel.  I’m afraid of flying, and I get antsy in the car for long trips.  Most of all, I much prefer my nice clean house – especially the nice clean bathrooms in my nice clean house – over the questionable at best cleanliness in even the nicest hotels.  You may think that is all weird, but it’s me.  That’s why I was so excited about our recent summer staycation – and it was fabulous.  Let me take a moment to sing the praises of the staycation:

  1.  The weather – it was perfect.  Sunny and cool at the end of June.  I know that was just dumb luck on our part, but it was wonderful.  And the nice thing about a staycation is that had the weather not been perfect on any given day, we could have easily rearranged our plans rather than being tied down to a tight schedule the way we would have been if we would have been far from home.
  2. Flexibility – again, no tight schedule.  We woke up when we wanted, headed out to each day’s activity when we were ready, stayed as long as we wanted each place… it was great.
  3. Relaxation – at the end of each day, we got to come home and just hang out, again in our nice clean house.  And we got to just veg.  When I was growing up, my dad – aka the Energizer Bunny –  always packed our family vacations so full of activities each day that it left little time for relaxation.  My favorite vacation memory was the time my mom told my dad that he could go sight seeing on his own one afternoon because we were just too hot and tired to do any more that day.  My mom and I went back to the hotel, split an apple juice and a bag of Cheetos from the vending machine, and watched a movie in the hotel room.  It was heavenly.
  4. Less expensive – each place we visited we already had memberships or we had already purchased discount tickets months earlier when we had the opportunity.  So it felt like everything was free because we had already paid for everything.  And we were able to eat at home each evening instead of having to eat out.  Unless we decided wanted to go out for a nice dinner for fun – again with the flexibility and relaxation.
  5. No recovery – there was no unpacking, no mounds of laundry to do at the end of the week.  Aside from putting away a few new random gift shop purchases everything was back to normal right away.

So thank you, staycation, for a wonderful week.  I hope to do it again next year!  My husband is a homebody like me, so I know he’d be up for it.  I’m not sure how long we can keep our daughter convinced that staying home is the way to go though… She recently convinced our neighbors that we are taking a trip to Egypt soon (To clarify, we have no plans to visit Egypt, but she does.  She is actually planning a trip there.  She loves everything about ancient Egypt, so she’s bound and determined that she is going – whether or not we choose to accompany her!), and when we were at Pottery Barn Kids picking out her new backpack for school she was more interested in trying out suitcases and luggage she’ll need for her trip to Egypt.  Our staycation days may be numbered if she has anything to say about it!  I’ll just enjoy staying home at “our happy place” for now.

Snow White Dance Recital After Party

Our daughter recently had her first dance recital.  Performing on stage was a HUGE milestone for her, but it also presented me with a whole new uncharted category of things to celebrate: a spring dance recital!  It was so much fun to plan a small “after party” for our family to celebrate her accomplishment.

The song to which her class danced was “Someday My Prince Will Come,” so I decided the party should be a Snow White themed party.  I was absolutely thrilled to find paper plates and napkins on Amazon that matched both the theme and her recital dress perfectly.

Snow White Dance Recital

The Snow White/Dance Recital theme had so many fun possibilities.  I got out my artificial apples since apples are obviously a big deal in the Snow White story and collected various ballerina toys from around our house to use as decorations.  It was a very simple party (just Jimmy John’s sandwiches and fruit since we were at the recital all afternoon and didn’t have time to prepare a big meal).  However I still wanted it to look a little bit fancy since it was a very fancy event in our daughter’s mind (lipstick was involved, so of course that meant it was a fancy event), so I added gold doilies and gold plastic utensils.

Snow White Dance Recital After Party

Snow White Dance Recital Centerpiece

For dessert we ordered cupcakes from a local bakery and had them topped with apples and ballerinas to round out the Snow White/Dance Recital theme.

Snow White Dance Recital Cupcakes

It ended up being a very cute and fun celebration.  Maybe a little too much fun – our daughter has decided she wants to sign up for dance class again next year.  I just hope that I can find paper plates and napkins that match her recital song and costume again so perfectly next year!

Mother’s Day Tea… Hoosier Style!

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and since my family is outside at the moment working on a top secret Mother’s Day gift, I have a bit of free time to share one of my favorite Mother’s Day ideas with you.  At our school we always hold Mother’s Day Teas.  The moms all come in and visit their children’s classes for some special treats.  The kids and teachers spend weeks preparing for the teas, and I haven’t been able to share anything about them in previous years because of a risk of spoiling the surprise.  However this year, I am in a different classroom so I can safely share about the theme we used in the past.  (Mum’s the word on this year’s theme though until after the big event tomorrow!)

In our old classroom, our thematic unit for May was Indiana.  After all, with the Indy 500 going on, May is Indiana’s time to shine!  As a proud Hoosier, I always had a lot of fun with this theme – especially when it came to planning a Mother’s Day Tea around all things Indiana.  The children made ball point pens topped with peonies (the state flower of Indiana) for their moms.  They put them along with tissue paper peonies they made in Ball jars (yup, also from Indiana).  These were the gifts and the centerpieces for our party.

Peony Gifts

We used napkins we found at Party City with peonies on them as well.  We also had the children make “LOVE” placemats for them and their moms inspired by famous Hoosier Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” artwork.

Mother’s Day Tea Table

The food we served also had something to do with Indiana – chocolate milk, cheese, and yogurt from a local creamery.  We also included popcorn, which of course, is a very big deal in Indiana.

Indiana Mother’s Day Tea

Finally, we had the children sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” for their moms during a special program.

I always absolutely loved this Indiana themed party – I’m sure it could work for any celebration, not just Mother’s Day.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Hoosier moms as well as moms everywhere!

Kindergarten: You Had Me at “Seasonal Crafts”

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post, and I’ve been meaning to write this one for quite awhile because it is very near and dear to my heart.  However, it’s been a very busy time at our house and this is the first chance I’ve had to actually sit down and do it.  One of the things that has kept us so busy is preparation for kindergarten.  Yes, it’s spring not fall – but we’ve had a few orientation events looking ahead to when our little one heads to school.  I expected these events to be very bittersweet.  On one hand, as a teacher I love school.  On the other hand, as a mommy I hate to send our little one out into the world.  I know that kindergarten these days is often not allowed to be what it used to be, or frankly what it should be.  Even in kindergarten, the focus is more and more on worksheets and academic skills instead of learning how to learn and love school.

However, after attending the preliminary orientation meetings, I must say that the sweet has totally overtaken the bitter.  The staff at the school addressed every one of my concerns with what are, in my opinion, the “right” answers.  The teachers explained that they would start the year working on routines and getting along with others and how to be good citizens, and I began to smile.

The teachers said the children would be doing a lot of coloring and explained the importance of coloring for writing development and building hand and finger strength, and I began to grin.  (I was also reminded of one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.  A few years ago, one of my friends told me about how her daughters’ first grade class had earned a party.  They could choose any activity they wanted as a special reward… watch a movie, play a game, have a treat, anything.  With all those choices, the class voted to… wait for it… color.  The six and seven year old children in the class felt that they didn’t get any time to color and thought it would be the most special activity they could imagine.  Heartbreaking.)

The teachers explained that they would have discovery time each day for science experiments and social studies activities, and I found myself drawing little hearts and smiley faces all over the presentation handouts.

And then – be still my heart – the teachers said that they would do many seasonal crafts, and I almost started crying happy tears.  It was all I could do not to jump to my feet and cheer.  Clearly, as the title of this blog indicates, I do love seasonal crafts.  However, it wasn’t just my love of all things seasonal that made me so happy to hear this.  I was under the impression that seasonal crafts were no longer allowed in any elementary school anywhere.  Think back to your days in elementary school – I’m willing to bet that several of your happiest memorable activities revolve around various holiday projects and parties.  At least mine do.  Of course being able to make a hand turkey or a bouquet of spring flowers out of tissue paper won’t ever be tested on a standardized test, but I believe the benefits of doing seasonal crafts are much more far reaching than any skill and drill worksheet could ever be.  They help children follow multiple step directions.  They help develop hand-eye coordination.  They help children learn to take pride in the way their work looks and always do their best.  They help children express their creativity by putting individual touches on each project.  And most important of all, they are fun.  They make children happy, and they help them realize that school is a fun place to be.  No real learning can take place until children feel happy to be at school.

Thanks to the wonderful fist experiences at our daughter’s new school, we can tell she already does feel happy about it.  A few days after our first orientation visit, she wrote a book about how to get ready for kindergarten.  She drew smiling children riding on the school bus, and she drew rooms in a school full of more smiling children and bustling activity – just the way school should be.

Happy School

I’m so grateful to know that schools like this one still exist.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well, it’s the end of summer, which means I’ve been busy checking off all the great end of summer traditions.

Going to the State Fair.  Didn’t happen.  Too hot.  Too stormy.  Maybe next year.

Seeing the first school supplies in the store and feeling my heart start to race in a combination of excitement for a new school year and dread that summer is ending.  Check.

Shopping for fall clothes.  Almost check.  Seems like they arrive in the stores later and later.  Note to stores – the summer stuff on clearance still hasn’t sold.  Give up.  The stuff left is left because no one wants it.  It won’t ever sell.  We are tired of it.  Bring on the sweaters!

Neglecting to water the flowers I lovingly cared for all summer and secretly hoping they just go ahead and die already because I’m antsy to put out fall mums.  Check.

Waking up in a cold sweat after the first back to school stress dream of the season.  (If you aren’t a teacher, you may not be familiar with the phenomenon of these dreams that generally start like clockwork for teachers in late July.  They usually involve some sort of disaster like a missing class list or an undecorated bulletin board or realizing you have no lesson plans 5 minutes before the kids come rushing in on the first day of school.)  Check.  Although in all honesty this year, for the first time in my life, my back to school dream was a happy dream instead of a nightmare!  That may be due to the fact that I get to work with fabulous co-teachers this year as I embark on new adventures in new classrooms.  Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that I had a really wonderful summer.

Which brings me to the last great end of summer tradition: the “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” story.  This summer I was able to do lots of stuff I haven’t gotten to do for years.  I went out to lunch with several friends.  I got to read several books.  I got to do lots of baking projects from Pinterest, mostly involving lemon and s’mores related recipes because those scream summer to me.  I got to see “Bad Moms,” my first actual movie in an actual theater since “The Lego Movie,” because much like Kristen Bell’s character in the movie, I don’t get out much.  (By the way, did anyone else find it ironic that Kristen Bell’s stay at home mom character in the movie most likely spends a good deal of her time watching “Frozen,” starring none other than… Kristen Bell over and over again?  Well I did.  But then perhaps I related a little TOO much to her character in “Bad Mom’s” and was reading too much into it!)  And best of all, I got to spend lots and lots of time with our precious daughter this summer.  Even though playing her version of “Cinderella” (in which the stepsisters give Cinderella chores and Cinderella says, “No, I’m taking a nap instead.”) got a bit tiring day after day after day, I know I’ll miss having all the free time available just for playing.  Goodbye summer 2016.  Here’s hoping this fall is as wonderful as this summer was!

Kevin Henkes Mice Birthday Party

About 2 or 3 years before our daughter was born, I bought a bunch of Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday stuff because I knew that one day we would have a baby, and one day that baby would have a first birthday party.  And we did, and she did, and I fell in love with the idea of children’s literature themed birthday parties.  So then came a Madeline party and a Curious George party.  They were so much fun to plan!  I was a little worried that I was on borrowed time to get to pick the theme this year for the 4th birthday party.  After all, four year olds have OPINIONS about pretty much everything.  But I REALLY wanted to do a Kevin Henkes themed party (he’s my favorite children’s author!), so I started trying to get our daughter excited about the Kevin Henkes mice about 6 months ahead of time.  It worked!  We got to have a wonderful Kevin Henkes mice party… and the birthday girl enjoyed it too!

I had a ball making purple purses for the invitations.  I folded card stock so that it opened like a purse and filled the inside with 3 quarter stickers, music notes, and sparkly sunglasses – just like Lilly has in her story!

Purple Plastic Purse Invitation

Purple Plastic Purse Invitation

Inside Purple Plastic Purse Invitation

Inside Purple Plastic Purse Invitation

All of the food was Kevin Henkes mouse themed – mouse cake, meringue mice, chrysanthemum cupcakes, Cheetos, cheese, mouse cookies, and fancy little sandwiches as featured in Chester’s Way.  I put pictures of the inspirations for the snacks from the books on the food label cards – because they were cute and also because without them no one may have know what I had been thinking since I do realize not everyone has every tiny detail of every Kevin Henkes book burned on their brains as I do.  Many of the ideas came from Pinterest, but I came up with several of them on my own too.

Mouse Party Food

Mouse Party Food

More Mouse Party Food

More Mouse Party Food

Chrysanthemum Cupcakes

Chrysanthemum Cupcakes

Mouse Cookies

Mouse Cookies

Mouse Cake

Mouse Cake

For the decorations I used brightly colored polka dot napkins that reminded me of many of the outfits that Lilly wears.  I used purple paper plates and cups, red tablecloths, and crowns to match Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.  I also got artificial chrysanthemums and put them in purple Ball jars to represent Chrysanthemum.  Finally, I put laminated book pages around, once again to look cute and to help the guests understand what was going on at the party.

Mouse Party Table

Mouse Party Table

The party activities included a pin the blanket on Owen game, a bucket of dress up items that represented the mice in all of the different Kevin Henkes books, a game of Parcheesi like Chrysanthemum plays, and a make your own mouse craft project.

Pin the Tail on Owen

Pin the Tail on Owen

Mouse Dress Up

Mouse Dress Up

Parcheesi Game

Parcheesi Game

Make a Mouse Craft

Make a Mouse Craft

The favors were purple plastic purses on top of baggies filled with Cheetos and nifty disguise glasses – right up Lilly’s alley!

Purple Plastic Purse Favors

Purple Plastic Purse Favors

I even found perfect mouse themed clothes for the birthday girl to wear… not that she would actually wear them on the day of the party.  Oh well.  Don’t these go perfectly with Lilly’s clothes?  Thank you Hanna Anderssen and Gymboree for unwittingly coming out with perfect Kevin Henkes themed clothes just in time for our party!

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

Lilly Birthday Outfit

Lilly Birthday Outfit

Hanna Anderssen Mouse Shirt

Hanna Anderssen Mouse Shirt

All bets are off for next year.  I’m pretty sure this was the last of my children’s literature themed parties, so I made it count!  But it’s ok.  I had a good run.  I can’t wait to see what she chooses for the big 5!!!