Friday, August 22, 2014

Fast and Healthy Bento Lunches

(4 1/2 Years)

I love all of the bento school lunches that I'm seeing displayed across Pinterest, they are so adorable!  For the past month or so, I've collected some fun and healthy ideas for when my Little Miss and Wild One go off to school (here are my favorites).   There are some really elaborate bento boxes out there, with cutesy picks, cutters in every shape and size, portioners inside portioners, PLUS the lunch boxes themselves!

Yeah... so... my style is cute and simple.  I wanted to find a quick and easy (and relatively inexpensive- you should see the prices on some of those fancy bento boxes) way to prepare bento-style lunches for my kidabunks.

First the box (well, bag).  The kids picked out their own insulated lunch bags.

We now need containers.  We purchased two types:
Ziplock Divider Containers
Rubbermaid LunchBlox Entree Kit

We also bought:
Silicone Muffin Cups - these are fantastic for instant portioning, AND I've been using them when we bake muffins and we have just enough batter left over to bake another one or two muffins.  Why does that happen?  Shouldn't a recipe for a dozen muffins make a dozen muffins?
Star Cookie Cutters- perfect for our bento-style lunches and for Christmas stars

We already had left-over Snow White cupcake liners and picks from their last birthday.  Plus we make our own picks using toothpicks and stickers- easy peasy.

Now comes the fun part.  Choosing delicious and healthy ingredients, and turning them into something that looks fun.  We stocked up on high water content fruit: strawberries, blueberries, grapes, apples and mandarin oranges.  My plan is to fill their lunch boxes with the following:
         lean protein
         high water content fruit (they may not drink as much water at school as they do at home)
         whole grains
         and eventually vegetables (Little Miss isn't a fan, but we keep trying)

Here is what we have created so far:
Red and Green Seedless Grapes, Blueberry Coconut Muffins, Clementine Slices, Chocolate Cheerios

LEFT- Star Sandwiches (whole wheat bread and roast beef), Cheddar Stars, Clementine, Sliced Strawberries,  Mickey Mouse imprinted Wheat Bread (Little Miss made this one- isn't it adorable?)
RIGHT- Clementine, Mini Cheddar Stars, Blueberries, Roast Beef Triangles, 
Sliced Strawberries, Chocolate Cheerios

LEFT- Red and Green Seedless Grapes, Apple Slices, Mickey Shaped Roast Beef 
Sandwich, Grape Tomatoes, Turkey and Ham roll-ups, Banana and Chocolate Cheerios (someone stole the chocolate Cheerios while I was getting ready to take the picture)
RIGHT- Flower Cheddar Cut-outs, Flower Wheat Breads, Chocolate Cheerios, 
Cat in the Hat's Hat (strawberry slices alternated with banana slices), 
Flower Roast Beef Sandwich, Turkey and Ham roll-ups

The Verdict?  Little Miss and Wild One love these!  In fact, it's one of their favorite parts of their school day!  Seriously, it's been on their top three favorite parts of their day (it's been number one for Little Miss all three days).  They love the surprise of what it's going to be, and what it will look like.  I love that they are eating a delicious and healthy lunch.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

So Long Homeschool I Miss You Already - Hello VPK, I Love Our School

(4 1/2 Years)

I loved this past year of homeschool preschool.  We had so much fun learning and playing, playing while learning, and learning through play.  We filled our days with guided learning, laughter, invitations to "work", creative art projects that led to paint getting every-where, calendar time, using imaginative play for critical thinking in science and in guided reading, engaging math skills, playful ways to learn our magic (sight) words, practicing writing using mazes, colored shaving foam, rainbow salt, glue, stickers, play dough, and yes markers and crayons.  I loved this past year.

Little Miss and Wild One have been looking forward to going to school with other children their age, for awhile now.  Wild One was ready before we started homeschool preschool and Little Miss started warming up to the idea of going to a school around May.  For the longest time she kept reinforcing her stance of,"I'm not leaving you Mommy.  I'm staying here to go to school."

Fast forward to this past week, and we're in pre-k.  When the months turned into weeks leading up to pre-k, my heart began aching.  I don't want them to go.  I want to keep them home with me.  I'll continue to plan fun and engaging activities that will encourage them to learn.  They will succeed, they will have fun, they will be with ME!

Well, I was overruled by everyone.  Everyone.  Not one person sided with me on keeping them home.      Not one.  In fact, everyone was very vocal about why they thought they should go to a school.  I knew I lost the battle when my little man said that he wanted to go to school to be with all of his cousin and friends (even though we have discussed numerous times that his friends and cousins go to different schools are in different grades).

I had a feeling I was going to lose the homeschooling battle, so I did my homework and found the perfect placement.  It's a small school, with a  focused curriculum built upon the love of reading.  Perfect!  To our great surprise, one of the amazing teachers that I used to work with is not only on the VPK team, she will be one of our teachers AND one of the sweetest primary teachers that I ever met is now at their school in one of the preschool classrooms (right outside my kids' classroom door).  To help get Little Miss and Wild One excited about school (and me too as well), I created this countdown calendar.  It worked magic!  Maybe it was the glitter, or the Cat in the Hat cards, or being the one who gets to move the school apple down to the next day.

So... how did they do?  They love school.  They love their teachers.  They love their classroom.  They love being able to play with the same kids every day.  They love their special lunches (more on that in the next post).  Am I happy that they are now in school (9:00-1:00)?  I've accepted it.  I'm happy that they are having fun.  I miss our homeschool preschool days.  They went by too fast.  I'm looking forward to this year though, especially since we have two fantastic teachers, with an owner dedicated to devising a specific curriculum that fosters learning in a small group setting.

Flashback to Homeschool Preschool (2013)

and now onto Pre-K (2014)
Both Little Miss and Wild One have a favorite show- Master Chef Jr.  They love 
that show.  They have helped me in the kitchen for two years now- baking 
muffins and cookies, making pancakes and waffles, creating our homemade Larabars.  
Wild One will often mimic Chef Ramsey during bedtime and say, "One of you (referring 
to me or my husband) have one foot out the door." These kids crack me up!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sticker Lightning Bugs

(4 1/2 Years)

Last Christmas, Bella (our Elf on the Shelf) gave Little Miss and Wild One a going away present.  It was a three-month gift to Kiwi Crate.  These little gift box gems are PERFECT for those times when you want (or need- you know those times) a project that they can work on semi-independently.  Today was the day; we painted, we built, we played with the kinetic sand, we made the volcano erupt- again, and it was only 10:30!  Out came the kit with everything in it.  I handed the kids their bottles, and colored stickers, and let them have fun decorating.
Quick!  Throw in a load of wash, load the dishwasher, start organizing the craft area (again!).  
It took less than ten minutes for them to decorate their bottles.  I thought it was going 
to take two or three minutes, but I saw how carefully they were working and I 
seized the opportunity to get a few chores done.
Wild One created a collage of color, overlapping some stickers.  Whereas, Little Miss 
created rows of the same color, making sure to space them apart ever so slightly.  Twins.
 I love how proud she is of her work!
 I helped them attach the straw, wings and feet.  They added the goggly eyes.
All finished!
 Time to make them fly.
Let's do it again!
 Experimenting the differing rates of speed if the string is held at a steeper decline.  
They loved this.  I did too!  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rainbow Swirl Salt Tray

(4 1/2 Years)

Our latest "toy" is our Rainbow Swirl Salt Tray.  It's so much fun to play with.  It's very relaxing, it's almost mesmerizing.  Plus it took less than ten minutes to put together, and that's with two 4 1/2 year olds working on it!  Oh, and you most likely have everything in your home already.

My husband was going to toss a wooden box with a lock on it, but lucky for me he asked if I wanted it for something.  I knew right away, it would be used for a salt tray.  I've been putting off creating a salt tray, because... because... hmmmm.  Well, now we have a tray and it's time to add the colored salt- so much more fun than plain white salt.

Have you dyed salt before?  Here, let Little Miss and Wild One show you how.

Materials Needed:
1/3 cup measuring cup (optional- but I like having equal measurements of everything)
table salt (we buy whichever is on sale to use in our crafts)
artificial food dye or liquid water color
fork or spoon
tray(s) to help contain the inevitable mess (baking sheets and cake pans work well also)
tray with a lid (they sell salt trays, but a plastic take out container works well also)

Pour salt into a measuring cup.  Level off with the back of a butter 
knife (it's great practice for leveling off flour for your baking projects)

Pour the measured salt into a small bowl.  Add three drops of food coloring to the bowl.

Mix with a fork.

Continue mixing with your fingers (gloves are not necessary, Little Miss just loves them).

Pour your colored salt into your designated salt tray.
Have fun swirling.

Practice writing letters or drawing faces or swirling.

Everything is more fun with a magic wand!   Have fun getting ready 
for writing, or practicing writing.  Learning through play.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Easy Erupting Volcanos Using Homemade Play Dough

(4 1/2 Years)

This project is quick to put together, the kids love it and you probably already have everything in the house!  Look at that SMILE!

A few weeks ago we played with paper mache for the first time.   We made these craft bowls to hold our crayons, markers, scissors and glue sticks.  They are surprisingly sturdy.

I was going to have them help me create a paper mache volcano, but I think that maybe overreaching.   The bowls took a lot of dexterity, mainly from squeegeeing the paper and flour mixture through their fingers.  I had visions of Little Miss and Wild One eagerly beginning the project and then their interest go from waning to ending within ten minutes, I'd then be the one working on this project.

Instead, we created a homemade play dough volcano.  I found my inspiration on Pinterest, it's from Ashley West at

Materials needed:
A tray with sides (we bought ours at The Dollar Tree)
A plastic water bottle or a small thin flower vase
Playdough (we used some of our old homemade play dough, this stuff stays soft for months- we used the brown play dough from Thanksgiving 2013!  Here 's the recipe.)
Baking soda - 1 Tablespoon
Red food coloring - 3 drops
Dish soap - 3 drops
Vinegar - 1/4 cup (a Pyrex measuring cup makes pouring easy)
Dinosaurs (not essential, but the kids thought it was hilarious that they were getting buried by the lava- hmmm, I'll have to look into that dark side later)

While the kids were busy creating pink Olaf snowmen and smashing rolled play dough letters (can you guess who was doing what?), I started placing the play dough around the water bottle, on top of the tray.  Wild One began helping, asking if he can put the dinosaurs next to the volcano.  Building a volcano out of play dough takes less than five minutes, it takes longer than that just to prepare to build a paper mache volcano.

Once we were all satisfied with our little volcano and dinosaurs.  We began adding the ingredients for our lava.
One tablespoon of baking soda.

Three drops of red food dye.

Three drops of dish soap.

Now the fun part, quickly add the 1/4 cup of white vinegar.

After Little Miss saw how much fun her brother had, she decided that she wanted a turn at pouring in the vinegar.  Take two!

While I was cleaning up our experiment (all I did was pour out the vinegar solution from the tray, and now we can do this again another day), the kidabunks took out their crayons and science journals and began drawing what we did, "Just like Sid the Science Kid Mom!"

Quick, easy, engaging, most of all fun!  Learning through play is really the best way!

UPDATE 8/13/14
We have now recreated this experiment four times!  The dinosaurs are actually stuck in the "lava" (the dried play dough).  Each time we do this, they are still amazed at how quickly the baking soda reacts with the vinegar.  They have experimented with adding extra baking soda, pouring the vinegar fast vs slow, adding baking soda to the outside of the volcano as well as the inside of the volcano.  They discuss their hypotheses before we do the experiment, and then the result of the actual reaction. I love how much fun homeschool preschool is!