Letters To Santa

5 Nov

My recent post on Fun Christmas Traditions got me in the mood to make a Santa letter outline.  Growing up, my mom always had us make a “wish list” if that’s what you want to call it, but it took a different focus that ordinary lists.  She made sure we understood that we very possibly wouldn’t get anything from our list (she didn’t make much as a single mom), but that it was a way to help Santa get to know us better.  It included our interests, hobbies, dreams and goals.  It also had our favorite colors and what each of our sizes were.  There were times that good friends insisted on helping my mother with Christmas, and having copies of these lists really helped others get to know our family’s needs.  It was also great for our sibling gift exchange, because we could look up the name we had that year in the family Christmas binder for tips and ideas on what would make a special gift.

I want to continue that tradition in my own family, so I created a “letter to Santa” formatted to the way I like it.  It includes needs, wants, favorites, current sizes, etc. I also included a section for asking Santa a fun question such as, “What do you feed your reindeer?”  The back of the letter can be used for additional details or for drawing Santa a picture.

Feel free to print for personal use.  I included a blank version as well.  If you would like to have Santa write a letter back, you can make the letter yourself, or get it from here, here, or here.

The free digital scrapbook paper I used is from here and here.

Click to enlarge or print.

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Quiet Books and File Folder Games the Easy Way

28 Oct

When I was an education major I made tons of fun file folder games for my future classroom/children.  When I got married and moved in to my new apartment I couldn’t find them anywhere!  I have wanted to start making them again, but as I repin a bunch of ideas on Pinterest I am reminded of all the time and money it took to make them.  I don’t know if I’m up for all the coloring and cutting.

I also have been obsessing over all of the Quiet Book ideas lately.  I did a post previously on no-sew quiet books, but I have discovered an even better way than magnets or velcro!  I bought a removeable sticker book on Amazon and noticed that the stickers easily stick to laminated pages!  This leaves me free range to create all the quiet book pages and file folder games that I want as long as I have removable stickers for them.    I found removeable stickers on Amazon, and also found a few at the dollor store (also called “window clings”).

What I liked about Amazon’s was it wasn’t very much money for TONS of stickers (over 150).  I can do an entire farm life quiet book with their “habitats” sticker collection, or they also have a “Pinkalicious” sticker book.

Melissa & Doug Habitats Reusable Sticker PadEyelike Stickers: OceanMelissa & Doug Dress-Up Reusable Sticker Pad

I really love the dress-up one as well…what little girl wouldn’t LOVE an entire quiet book full of dress ups?

The way that I do quiet books with laminated pages:  Design (I do mine very simply using Powerpoint) or print the pages that you are using, laminate them, and then coil bind the book (very cheap).  I then just add the removable stickers!  Easy!  And the best part is there is no sewing, cutting, or adhering magnets or velcro.

Some of my other quiet book posts: here and here

Tune in later for the pages I have designed to use with all these sticker collections (I’ll share them with you when I’m finished).

Toy Rotation: Saving Time, Money and Simplifying your Life

23 Oct

As Christmas is approaching I’ve been thinking about what we should get Kinley.   This will be her 2nd Christmas but her first one that she’s old enough to get excited about toys.  I want to get her fun things that she will really enjoy, but also be frugal.  I’ve actually been thinking a lot about how I want to do toys for the rest of our children because not only do I want to get toys that they will actually play with, I want to have a good system in place before we add more children to the picture.  I’ve seen way too many toy rooms completely  full of toys and children that get bored too fast with them.  I decided that I want to set up a rotation system so that new (or forgotten) toys  are always being introduced. Toy rotation will help your children appreciate and take better care of their toys, it will help them learn and focus more efficiently, it will save your family money, and it will help you as a parent when you need a little time to get something done.  Once I decided what I wanted to do I got online and was surprised to find many people already do this.  Here is how I plan on doing it:

 

I went through and organized what I had, put all the toys into bins and organizers, and labeled everything.  Throw away any toys that are broken or have missing pieces.  If you have children at different stages, also organize things by age (“baby toys,” Toddler toys,” etc.).  I like to also have things organized by indoor/outdoor, seasonal, and type of play (pretend, active, sensory, etc).  You can be as simple or as complex with this as you’d like.

 

 

Labeling is important because you want this system to simplify your life, not the opposite.  If you are digging through totes trying to find specific toys then you are only complicating your life.  Find a way of labeling and organizing that will make it the very easiest to find what you are looking for.

 

This would definitely be according to your own taste, family situation, and how you want to decorate and organize your toy room, but I like to always have a few things out.  For instance I don’t ever pack up books.  I want Kinley to be able to pick a book out to read anytime she wants and I like to have a good selection to choose from at bedtime.  I also like to keep art supplies at arms reach (MY arm’s reach) because  I want them to be available whenever (not just for the kids, but for me)!  A few other things I keep out at all times:

Big toys like a play kitchen, rocking horse or art easel. (I will pack away all of the play food and everything that goes with the kitchen, but I don’t want to have to haul the big stuff back and forth whenever my kids want to play with them).  When the kids decide they want to play with the kitchen I will go get the toys that go with it, or when they want to play with the crib and stroller I will go get the doll stuff.  Make sense?

Learning Toys.  I like to keep a few things out like legos or blocks that they can play with anytime they want.  I will still rotate them with other learning toys, but less frequently than I rotate everything else.

Also, if you happen to go to a yard sale, or have toys handed down from a family member…resist the urge to give them to your kids all at once.  Put them into rotation and wait for them to be surprised!  They will also spend more time playing with them and they will last longer.

 

This would also be according to your own taste and situation, but I like to rotate things whenever my kid starts to appear bored with the toys she has, or when she is older I will also pull things out as they are requested.  If she wants to play with dolls on a particular day, then I am not going to stop her; but in order to have a new toy pulled out, another one will take its place in storage.  How often you rotate will also depend on where you store the toys.  I have three places:  a closet, a storage room, and a garage.  The things that I want handy at any moment (like art and craft supplies) I will put in the closet.  This is also where I will put busy bags and quiet books(little bags with on-the-go activities when I need to take a child along with me in the car or to an appointment).  The things that my children enjoy playing with more frequently will go in the storage room.  The things that I want to be a surprise to pull out on days that I really need to get something done (or items that I won’t rotate as often) will go in the garage.

Do you rotate your toys?  What are some ways that you do it similarly or differently?  What has worked best for you?

If you haven’t already, please give your input on my post about toys that kids play with the most!

Here are some toy rotation ideas from other moms:

This one is an excellent post on why toy rotation is so great:

http://thelittlestories.com/2011/12/09/shopping-in-your-toy-closet/

This one has ideas from multiple moms:

http://www.imperfecthomemaking.com/2011/11/toy-rotation-bins.html

Fun and Meaningful Christmas Traditions

15 Oct

Currently at my house I am hearing the violent sounds of thunder and lightning outside my window. It’s days like this that I want to cozy up in my pajamas next to the fireplace and eat a warm bowl of soup. Since we don’t have the luxury of a fireplace at my house, and pajamas isn’t an option today, I’ll write about Christmas instead. How in the world did I jump from thunderstorms to Christmas? Must have been the word fireplace! 🙂

Anyway, I’m in love with Christmas and although I haven’t checked to make sure, I think Christmas loves me back. Growing up in a low-income single-parent home didn’t offer lavish or expensive gifts but maybe that’s why I love it so much! I usually went into Christmas with low expectations as a kid but it always proved its magic. Christmas to me is about family, it’s about fun traditions, and its about celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Right now I want to talk about traditions because they are one of my favorite aspect of Christmas!

CHRISTMAS STALKER: In our family every year we draw names and whoever has our name is called our “Christmas Stalker” meaning you should “stalk” the family member you have to find out what gift would be most meaningful for them to receive. Another reason we were called “stalkers” is because our gift was to fit in a stocking….large or small…bought or made. We had themes every year; sometimes the gift had to be hand-made, sometimes it had to be from the classifieds or a yard sale, sometimes it had to be something we already had, and sometimes it was purchased but had a spending limit.

CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS TREE: A few years back I babysat for someone who had a neat Christmas tradition and I have decided to carry it on in my own little family. They had a separate “mini” tree for the kids that they were welcome to decorate and re-decorate over and over. Underneath the tree were Christmas books all wrapped up. Each night the children got to pick a present to open and they read that book as a family that night. This tradition kept the kids from messing with the decorations on the larger tree because they had their own, and it also kept them from getting into the presents under the big tree because they got to open one everyday from their own tree anyway. I saw on Pinterest the other day a kid’s tree using felt. I prefer an actual tree but you might find this way fun as well.

CHRISTMAS PAJAMAS: I know of many families that do this one and have decided to do it myself. On Christmas eve, there is a knock at the door and Santa’s elves secretly leave new Christmas pajamas for everyone. This always makes for fun pictures.

SANTA’S FOOTPRINTS: Growing up I loved to go over to my best friend’s house on Christmas morning to see Santa’s “footprints”. A cookie sheet with flour was left at the fireplace so that in the morning the kids could run to the fireplace and see that Santa really did come because his “boot prints” were imprinted in the flour. Very cute tradition.

SLEEP OVER: Another fun tradition is to have all of the kids have a sleepover in one room and know that they can stay up as late as they want together watching Christmas movies and playing games, but they have to stay in the room (usually the furthest room from the Christmas tree so they don’t over hear “Santa”). This also keeps them up late and makes them tire, hopefully keeping them from waking up mom and dad at 4 AM.

CHINESE: I have a friend whose family goes out for Chinese in their Christmas pajamas every Christmas Eve. Traditions like this are fun because the kids look forward to it every year and the pictures are priceless. This wouldn’t have to be Chinese, you could adapt it to your own family’s preference.

SANTA vs. PARENTS: I really, really like the idea of marking most of your children’s gifts from mom and dad, and having one special gift be the gift that Santa brings. This way children don’t feel entitled to a bunch of toys from a magical being and they learn the principle of gratitude. The magic isn’t taken away because Santa still comes, but they know to ask for one special item they would like from Santa, and the rest comes from mom and dad if they are able to do so. This way you don’t have to always wrap presents in such secrecy either. It doesn’t ruin “Santa” if kids walk in on you wrapping presents because they know that they get gifts from you as well.

REINDEER NAMES: This is a fun way of tagging Christmas gifts. Rather than put the child’s name on each present, assign each child a reindeer name. This keeps the children from running to the tree and pulling out all the presents with their name on it because until present opening starts, no one knows who’s nickname is “Dasher” or who is “Prancer.”

SERVICE: Although it sometimes happened a few days before Christmas, my mom would usually try to arrange a service for us to accomplish on Christmas morning to help us understand the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes this was volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting an old folks home, playing “secret santa” to another family, or singing to a group of kids with special needs. These were always tender and special moments that made my Christmas memorable.

GIFT FOR JESUS: We did this one several different years. We would write up a gift that we were going to give to the Savior over the next year and put it inside of an ornament. The next year we would read what we wrote and hopefully smile that we accomplished our goal.

NATIVITY: My mother always did some type of Christmas Eve “devotional”, and part of it usually consisted of us dressing up and acting out the story of Christ’s birth from the book of Luke. Now that a lot of us are older, the grandchildren now act out the story.

I enjoy falling in love with new traditions and making them my own because family traditions are extremely important for family unity. Traditions contribute to healthy family life because they give children a sense of belonging–that they are part of a group rather than a solitary individual.

What are some of your family’s favorite traditions?

Also…..if you have children, help other parent’s out this upcoming holiday season by sharing what toys have been the biggest hit over the years. Share your thoughts on my post here

Meal Planning and Groceries: From Nightmare to Magic!

9 Oct

Okay, so remember my posts on meal planning and time management? Combine both of those posts with this one and you just might begin to enjoy the whole process of  putting a meal on table!  I might have just discovered my most favorite website ever!  And as with most things, I am probably the last person to find out about it…but if you are like me and had no clue it existed, your life is about to change forever.  This will help stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms, dads and students alike!

What is my biggest problem with meal planning besides my complete loathing for it?  Probably the nightmare that goes right along with it:  Grocery Shopping.  I really don’t hate a lot of things, but grocery shopping has always been one of my least favorite things in life.  I usually wander aimlessly around the store throwing things in my cart, and I always come home and realize I forgot something (Most people would suggest a shopping list…for some reason those never work for me).

Anyway, on to the exciting stuff!  Thanks to my sister I discovered a site AND app called pepperplate.  It rocks my world.  I might even say I’m excited to plan next month’s meals (this is huge).

What does it do?

What doesn’t it do!  You can copy and paste recipes from all your favorite blogs right into the website and it saves them all for you.  If it is a pepperplate supported site all you have to do is enter the URL and it imports the recipe for you!  If that wasn’t good enough, it also has a meal planning section.  Just click on the recipe and add it to the calendar!  And if that wasn’t heaven, it also makes your grocery list for you and categorizes it by recipe or grocery isle–whichever you prefer.  The great thing about this site is that if you don’t like having the same meals every month, it is still a very, very easy process to plan your meals every month!  I like to go through my meal ideas on Pinterest, add the recipes I’m interested in trying, fill them into my monthly meal sheet, and then I print my shopping list!

Ka-BAM!  Super easy.

Check it out and let me know what you think.  What things do you or what websites do you use to make your meal planning easier?

Fun ways to show Love to your Child

5 Oct

Eat Family Dinner Together.  This is one of the most important things you can do for your kids.  I took many, many classes in college on family and child development and family dinner always came up.  It is one of the best ways to build your child’s self-esteem, to have close family relationships, and by having meals together your children will be significantly less likely to get stuck with the wrong crowd or get into drugs.

Make family dinner fun and don’t over schedule your kids so much that dinner together is impossible.  Have “themed” dinner nights such as “Taco Tuesdays”, “whatever’s leftover Wednesday”, or “Favorite Foods Fridays”.  Make dinner a special time to ask your children deep or fun questions about their day, their interests, and their friends.  Have special moments for “brag time” during dinner and build sibling relationships.  If certain nights are just too busy during dinner time, schedule out a special time for snacks after school when you can all sit down together.  I remember as a kid occasionally coming home to dinner on the table at 4 pm because our family had too many things going on that day and family dinner was too important to my mom to give up that day.

Know Your Child’s Love Language and Find Ways to Express it Often.  Love languages don’t just pertain to marriages, children have special ways they like to be loved too.  If you can, it would be really good to read the book specifically about love languages for kids.  The book has awesome reviews, and parents have noticed a dramatic difference in their children once they learned what their love language was and different ways that they could meet their needs.  If your child’s love language is touch, make time for extra cuddling, hugs, and kisses.  If your child’s love language is time together, take time out of your day for some special one-on-one time.  Do more to spend time with this child than you would with others.  If your child’s love language is words, make sure you show you love them by stopping what you are doing to give eye contact, give praise, and talk about how they feel.  Does your child feel loved through notes or gifts?  Plan ahead and find ways to creative ways to show love in this way.

Take the time to be silly, to be messy, and to take in life’s simple pleasures.  Make up silly songs with your kids, play pretend, get on their level and play on the floor, build forts, get your fingers messy, talk in funny accents, and leave enough time in your schedule for star-gazing, looking for fun shapes in the clouds, and feeding the ducks.  Have you ever noticed how easily children are amused?  I once took a walk with my niece that would have taken the average adult two minutes.  We were occupied for over 30 minutes because she had to stop and smell every flower, touch every plant, and wave at everyone that passed by.  That’s what living is all about.  Take time to be a kid again.

Say Yes as Often as You Can.  There’s a difference between spoiling your children rotten and doing simple things that bring happiness into their life.  Yes kids should have chores, and yes kids should have consequences for their choices but kids also deserve plenty of love, attention, and simple pleasures.  As a kid I always wanted to ride on those little kiddie rides that they have at the grocery store that move when you put a quarter in them.  I believe I only got to ride them once or twice in my lifetime which is great, but for the amount of joy that it brought me to ride one, that could have been a very simple pleasure for my mom to provide.  I don’t blame her at all, in her mind I’m sure she considered it a waste of money.  But to me it wasn’t a waste of money, to me it was the world.  Once when I had my niece and nephew for a few days I took them to the dollar store and told them they could choose one item of their choice from the WHOLE store to buy.  My nephew picked a little package that had Police handcuffs, a gun, and I believe a walkie-talkie.  Sure it was a cheap toy and it was broken by the end of the day, but this kid was in heaven.  He played pretend police and handcuffed his little sister for different offences ALL DAY long!  I had no idea a dollar could be such a pay off!  I have a personal rule that if I’m not running late for something and I pass a lemonade stand I ALWAYS stop.  I always stop because I remember the pure delight I felt as a kid when someone finally pulled over and bought my lemonade.  And I stop because no matter how tight my budget is, 50 cents isn’t going to break me (maybe that’s a bad way to think, but it brings fulfillment and warm fuzzies into my life).  So next time your little one asks you to play ponies, cars or house–say yes.  Even if it’s just for five minutes.  Make it a game to see how many requests you can say yes to and always make sure it’s more than “no”.

Get to Know Their Friends and love them as your own.  It’s very rewarding to children when their parents have a good relationship with their friends and it’s also a good way for parents to know what’s going on in their kids lives.  My best friend’s parents never wondered what their kids were up to because they were always at the house.  All of their kid’s friends always wanted to hang out at their house because their parents were to friendly and fun.  I still call my friend’s parent’s “mom” and “dad” because I honestly felt like they cared about me like their own kid.  One of my neighbors said to me the other day, “it used to bug me that the neighbors were always eating at our house, but then I just learned to be grateful that they enjoyed being at our house and that I had enough money to feed them.”  Not all of us have the financial stability to feed our kid’s friends all of the time, but we can still come up with creative ways to bond with our children’s friends.

Set Limits and Have a Sense of Humor.  Studies have shown that children feel loved when their parents set limits and don’t give in to all their requests.  They may give you a hard time about their curfew, but they feel more loved that the child whose parents don’t care when they come home.  Just because you are setting limits doesn’t mean you have to do it in a harsh tone however.  Make learning something to be praised (“I’m so excited for you to learn how to show respect to your sister!  This is how I’m going to help you learn”).  Some parents feel they have to raise their voice to let their children know they are serious.  The opposite is true (more about this here).  When children are being yelled at they are more focused on protecting themselves and staying mad at you.  When you discipline with love and a sense of humor, children naturally are more likely to self-reflect and learn valuable lessons.  Teach them that making a mistake is exciting because it brings the opportunity to learn and grow into the people we want to be.

Praise, Praise, Praise!  More on this here, but find ways to express appreciation, adoration and respect to your child.  Leave love notes on their pillow, sneak a letter into their lunch, and tell your husband and family all the reasons why you love this particular child.  Leave no doubt in their mind that they are loved, appreciated, and cherished.

Discover their Talents and Put Them to Use.  This is probably one of the things my own mother was best at.  She had (and still has) a talent for making me and my siblings feel gifted.  She always said things to me like “Oh Kristina!  Will you please write  a poem to go with the neighborhood Christmas gifts?  No one has the same gift for rhyming like you do!”  And if I came up for an excuse for why I couldn’t or why I didn’t have time she always made it seem like it wouldn’t be the same unless I did it.  She would also say things like “Kristina, will you plan your sister’s birthday party?  You are so fun and creative that I just don’t think it will be the same unless you are the planner,” or “Kristina!  I need your handwriting!  Please come write on this for me!”  I always felt needed and felt like I had a unique place within my family.  Still to this day she will call me to plan something for her, or get a good deal, etc.  Every kid comes with their own unique personality and it is important to help them discover the different ways that they can positively contribute to the world around them.

Surprise!  Find fun ways to shock them with your love.  Shock them meaning do something they wouldn’t expect.  If you always say no to pop tarts for breakfast, break them out one morning in celebration of something.  Sure they aren’t the healthiest thing, but one morning isn’t going to send the body into complete shock (hopefully), and the reaction on their face will be well worth it.  Try to get that look on their face as often as you can.  Do you never order anything off the dollar menu?  One day just say, “okay!  Order whatever you want!”  Are you strict about school absences and tardinesss?  One day check your child out of school for an hour and go do something fun (probably shouldn’t make a habit out of this one, but I would have been shocked out of my mind if my mom ever showed up at school and checked me out for something other than a dentist appointment)!

What are some fun ways that you like to show love to your children?

 

You might also enjoy:

kindness

Toys that Kids Play With

29 Sep

Okay, so I have a problem (Scroll to the end to help me out as well as enter the contest).

My 10-month old has started losing interest in her baby toys and I’m realizing she doesn’t have very many toys anyway.  I would love to buy her some new ones, but I hate the thought of paying for toys that she may or may not play with.

I’ve been researching to solve my dilemma and I came across the Baby Cheapskate website.  Here they talk about how to avoid the “duds” when it comes to toys.  They also talk about tops toys for the current year here.  There is another website I love that lists all the different toys that encourage speech and language development.   If you don’t want to read through it, I have narrowed it down to this simple list:

*There is another website I love that lists all the different toys that encourage speech and language development.  Find it here.

So here’s a contest question. 

What are (or were) the toys that your kids played with most?  Please include whether it’s a favorite for boys/girls/both and what general age they love certain toys at.  This will especially be helpful for others considering it’s almost Christmas time and I’m sure I’m not the only parent wondering.  Baby Cheapskate is great for narrowing toys down for the current year but what I really want to know about is the toys that are continually popular year after year.  Especially toys that have lasted generations (Mr. Potato Head anyone?)  3 winners will be chosen (meaning you have a very good chance).

Remember this post?  The prize will be a set of 3 flash card packs for you to make into flip books or to use as they are, or you can choose one of the printable quiet books.  Not a huge prize, but hey!  This is mostly just a fun post to get all of your ideas and all you have to do is answer a question.  Easy!  Winners will be drawn at random.  Contest ends November 15th.

Thanks in Advance!