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Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary 

Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies.

In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.

 

Materials Needed

  • Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
  • Padding – Some foam padding like this 1-inch king size mattress topper (or this 4-inch mattress topper) will turn your tent into one big comfy bed!
  • Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
  • Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
  • Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
  • Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
  • BasketsWicker baskets like these are really nice for holding books and a shallow basket like this is really nice for holding toys.
  • Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
  • Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
  • Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
  • Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
  • Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use

Outdoor Tent in Use

Directions

  1. Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
  2. Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
  3. Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
  4. Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
  5. Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
  6. Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
  7. Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.

In Conclusion

We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.

*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!

Our New and Improved Tent

Our New and Improved Tent

Embracing Motherhood Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

Why We Are Giving Technology a Break

It started out with educational apps on ipads, playing Starfall and Pixie 4 on the computer, and watching educational programs mixed in with a moderate amount of choice, but then we got lax on the rules and noticed one day that technology had taken over our lives.

We debated a gradual reduction or a reinforcement of the original rules, but it was too late for that…

We had to quit technology cold turkey.

First, the iPads

One evening, during our nightly wrestling routine with daddy, our daughter Ruby (6) just wanted to watch Digimon (I don’t even know how we came to allow this in the first place). Usually, we can ask her to put her iPad away and she does so graciously, but this time, there was ATTITUDE! When daddy asked her to put the iPad down, she flat out said no, and then when daddy got more stern she said,

“What are you going to do if I don’t?”

Hubba wha?!?!?!? We both looked at each other in shock! Where did this mouthy little teenager come from all of a sudden?? And so daddy said what all parents of teenagers must say,

“Trust me, you don’t want to find out!”

Well needless to say, we knew something needed to change. That night, I took all of the iPads and our touch screen computer and hid them away. I also unplugged our WiiU, Playstation, and computer in the homeschool room.

The Aftermath

We weren’t really sure how to handle the explanation of the disappearance of the touchscreen devices, and when Elliot asked me the next morning where they were, I relied on a little white lie to get me through it.

“Someone stole our iPads!” I explained.

Phew, that was easy. 🙂 Elliot was quite upset, but still a pretty easy sell. He said, “God must be mad at us to let this happen.” Honestly, I don’t know where he gets these notions!

But when Ruby came home from school, she was a little more skeptical. First she wanted to know every detail of said robbery including why they miraculously didn’t take my laptop. Smart girl. Then, she wanted to conduct an investigation including knocking on the door of every neighbor and writing letters to all of her classmates. When she wouldn’t drop it, I said, “You’re right, it probably wasn’t a robbery. I’ll bet Julian just took them and hid them somewhere.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just do it mom,” she asked.

I explained that no, I didn’t do it, but even if we had our iPads, we were going to restrict their use anyways because we didn’t like how addicted everyone was getting to them and the attitudes that were emerging as a result.

To explain the unplugged video games and computers, we said that we couldn’t afford the electric bill, and so we couldn’t play them until our budget was caught up. We talk about money and finances a lot, so although they were a little upset, they really understood and accepted this explanation.

Technology Free Days

The first day without technology was TOUGH! No ABC videos to distract Julian while I was cooking, no TV during breakfast, and no choice time to entertain them while I stole some time to myself.

As they engaged in play, it was almost like they forgot how to entertain themselves. So I sat on the floor and played with them as they went from room to room trashing everything in sight. I felt like I was constantly cleaning and constantly on the move!

We spent the rest of the day engaged in play outside, and my the end of the night, they were exhausted. So was I!

By the second and third day, something beautiful started to happen. They asked about their missing iPads less and less, the negative attitude was disappearing, and we were having so much fun as a family! Whenever it would get really quiet for awhile, I would worry, “Oh no! They found them!” But then I would sneak into the room to see them engrossed with reading, playing quietly, or find that they let themselves outside to play. It was beautiful.

“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” we wondered.

Well, at least we’re doing it now…especially as these fleeting summer days beg to be enjoyed.

It’s Okay to Be Bored

Children don’t need to be constantly entertained, and neither do we. Boredom is actually a gift, a mind break that allows us to come up with new and creative ideas. The longer our children went without technology, the less they relied on us to entertain them, the fewer messes they made as they became engrossed in sustained imaginative play, the more they interacted with each other and nature, and the closer we became as a family.

As we settled into this new routine, I started finding pockets of time for myself again to work out, blog, and create. Something else pretty amazing started happening too. As the children settled into their boredom, they were more interested in what I was doing and wanted to help!

Who knew that helping me make cookies, fold the laundry, and sweep could be so much fun!

The older ones were also more willing to pitch in and do chores, and I really appreciated their help. Ruby decided she wanted her job to be laundry, and so one day she helped me put daddy’s bin of clothes into the washing machine and put away her and Elliot’s clothes. Elliot said he was really good at picking up, so he picked up the toys in one room…then he got distracted and started playing with the toys, but hey, it’s a start!

Finding a Balance

After about a week of nothing, we decided that they (we) could watch one movie during rest time. Previously, they were engrossed in their own little iPad worlds watching toy videos on YouTube and Digimon on Netflix, but with a movie, it was something we could all cuddle up and watch together. We love finding old classics like the Last Unicorn, Little Nemo, and Home Alone and watching them over and over.

When school is out and summer gets into full swing, we plan on implementing our summer routine where the older kids have to do four workbook pages (handwriting, math, cursive, etc.), three activities, and one chore to have an educational computer choice (Pixie 4, Storymaker, working on Favorite Things books, etc.) or watch a movie.

We also are going to let them have 3o minutes (from 4:00-4:30 when daddy gets home) to have a choice to watch whatever they want if they good and do all of their work, activities, and chores. Having this time gives us some leverage (i.e. by taking away a positive reinforcement it becomes a logical consequence for misbehaviors).

In Conclusion

During the long winter months, we may bring back the WiiU, Playstation, iPads, and touchscreen computer in limited and regulated amounts, but we definitely agree that taking a break over the summer is what is best for everyone. Technology can serve a valuable role in many educational opportunities, but it is just too easy to let it be a babysitter and let limits slide until the devices seem to take over. Going cold turkey and taking a break really worked for us and is something we will continue to implement as needed with all things in life. *As a side note, if we need to do this again, I will just tell them honestly why we are taking a break rather than trying to make another story out of it. 

Embracing Motherhood Best Teaching Apps for Preschoolers

Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6)

With these apps, a few good YouTube playlists, some simple flashcards, and a library card, you can teach your little ones to read, write, do basic math, and basically know everything they need to know for kindergarten. Children’s brains are primed and ready for learning at a young age…much earlier than we would think. They crave stimulation, they love learning, and they need to be challenged in their zone of proximal development. All of our children have learned to read at a young age, and technology definitely played a role. (*I do think it’s important to set limits and have routines in place with technology use.)

In my opinion, most of the good apps out there are designed specifically for iOS devices, and I have made a note for each app that can only be used on an iOS device. I know the price tag on Android devices can be tempting, but if you want to have access to the most and the best apps, I highly recommend getting an ipad (like this ipad 4 for $345 or an ipad mini 1 for $235) over any other tablet.

It can be somewhat challenging to teach a youngster how to use a touch screen at first. If your child is struggling with the concept of a touch screen, one of the things I have done is opened up the Starfall site on a computer and had the children touch the screen (pretending that it was a touch screen) while I controlled things with my mouse (hidden away of course). The best thing to do though, is to just sit down and play the games together. I recommend doing this anyways with all new games until they are familiar enough with them to play them on their own.

So without further adieu, these are the apps that I have used to teach my children the fundamentals of reading, math, and more.

1. Starfall ABCs (Free)

If you only get one app, get this one! It covers all of the letters of the alphabet (names and sounds) in one fell swoop. (Unlike ABC mouse that focuses too much on one letter at a time in isolation.) When you click on a letter, it shows both the upper and lowercase versions while saying their names. When you click on the letters, they say their letter sound, and then you click the green arrow to progress through a series of examples showing things that start with that letter along with simple and engaging animations.

Starfall ABC App

Starfall ABC App

The simplicity of the app is absolutely beautiful, and I love the way kids have to click various things to progress things along. Unlike a YouTube video (which can be great too), this gets kids engaged every step of the way. I love how there are little sparkles around where the child needs to touch (or click on a computer). It’s a very good way to teach children how to use touch screens.

Other Starfall Apps:

  • Starfall (Free): This is basically an app giving you access to the entire Starfall website. If you have a membership ($35/year and something I highly recommend), then you’ll have access to everything on the website (including the content of every app). But even without a membership, you can get limited access which will give you a pretty good idea of what’s on the site. I personally prefer using the entire site on the computer and paying for the apps.

    starfall app

    Starfall App

  • Starfall Numbers ($4.99): The layout of this app is very similar to the ABC app. There are numbers 1-20 (plus 25, 50, and 100) plus 7 interactive learning activities that have to do with counting, weight, money, and addition. When you click on a number, it says the number, and shows its quantity. Then you press the green arrow to see a series of examples showing that number. This app does an amazing job of teaching number names and quantities which are the foundations of math just as the ABCs are for reading.

    starfall numbers app

    Starfall Numbers App

  • Starfall All About Me ($1.99): Children get to design their character to look like them and then select categories such as, “Where do I sleep? What will I wear? Who am I? What is my pet? and Which is my toy?” My kids LOVE playing this game because they are very connected to the personalized content. I love the sentences where you have to fill in the blank with a single word that is personified by a corresponding image. It is a great pre-reading strategy!

    starfall all about me

    Starfall All About Me App

  • Starfall Learn to Read ($1.99): This is basically a collection of mini books sorted by vowel patterns. Each book starts with a little clip of how to pronounce the focused letter sound, and then you select the green arrow to progress through the pages. There’s a little ear you can press that will read the text out loud. For each page, you can tap the screen to facilitate some sort of movement. There are also eight “mini-lessons” on the bottom that teach additional reading skills.

    starfall learn to read

    Starfall Learn to Read App

  • Starfall I’m Reading ($1.99): This app has tons of books sorted by genre with plenty of interesting titles. Unlike the website version, this app automatically reads the text while highlighting what is being read in red.

    starfall I'm reading app

    Starfall I’m Reading App

2. Endless Alphabet ($4.99)

This app (and the other Endless apps) are designed for a bit of an older child than the Starfall apps, but I love introducing my children to higher level content with some guidance. This app does a wonderful job of teaching not only letter sounds, but how letters come together to form words, and what those words mean.

endless alphabet alphabetical order

Endless Alphabet App

When you open this app, you’ll find a variety of vocabulary words sorted alphabetically. After you select one, you first have to spell it by dragging the letters to their shadow (each letter is personified and makes its sound as you move it), then the meaning of the word is acted out by cute little characters that look they have been hand drawn on lined paper. This is very entertaining app, and all of our children have loved it!

Other Endless Apps:

  • Endless Reader (Free with in-app purchases): All words are sorted alphabetically, and just like in Endless Alphabet, you drag the letters to make a word.  Then you put the word (and sometimes other words) into a sentence, and the cute little characters act out the sentence. This is a fabulous app and teaching tool to help children learn how to read. I love it! It comes with six free words, and then it costs $5.99 to buy the Reader Pack 1 which has 20 words, $11.99 to buy each additional Reader Pack of 1-4, 5-8, or 9-12, or you can pay $29.99 to buy all of the packs.

    endless reader app image

    Endless Reader App

  • Endless Wordplay (Free with in-app purchases): This game really focuses on spelling because (unlike the other Endless apps) you have to spell the words in order. Each spelling lesson focuses on a certain pattern and the words you spell come to life with a cute little animation. You progress through each lesson on a large board that makes progression fun. It comes with 9 free words, then it costs $6.99 to buy the starter pack of 90 words, $11.99 to buy the remaining words, or $14.99 to buy all of the words. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    endless wordplay

    Endless Wordplay App

  • Endless Numbers (Free with in-app purchase): When you click on a number, you first have to drag the number to its shadow (as you drag each number, it comes to life and says its name), then there’s a simple addition problem, and a cute little animation that shows the number. It comes with five free numbers, then it costs $6.99 for a starter pack of numbers 1-25, $11.99 for the remaining numbers, and $14.99 to buy all 100 numbers.

    endless numbers

    Endless Numbers App

  • Endless Spanish (Free with in-app purchase): This app is set up like Endless Reader where you select a word from an alphabetical list, drag the letters to spell the word, and then put the word (and other words) into a sentence that comes to life as cute little characters act out the sentence. It comes with six free words, then it costs $5.99 for a starter pack and $11.99 for all words. I love introducing young children to other languages when their brains are super open to it. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    endless spanish

    Endless Spanish App

3. Easy Music ($3.99)

Just like learning to speak, learning to read, and learning how to do math, there is a logical progression to learning music. This app teaches notes, pitch, rhythm, and melody using beautiful landscapes and peaceful sounds. In one section, you can practice these music skills and in another you can make and record your own musical ensembles.

easy music app

Easy Music

Other Edoki Academy Games:

  • Montessori 1st Operations ($3.99) – Using simple graphics and easy to maneuver interactive features, this app teaches basic addition, subtraction, and doubles and halves. There are three different methods of practice in each category that are very good at teaching the core concepts. Every problem you get right gives you a point and you use your points to build a monster.

    montessori first operations

    Montessori 1st Operations

  • Zen Studio (Free, $1.99 to unlock all templates): Using a grid divided into triangles, you swipe your finger across either a boundless canvas or guided templates using a variety of colors to make different pictures. Relaxing music accompanies each stroke of the finger.

    zen studio main page

    Zen Studio

  • Crazy Gears ($2.99) – A puzzle game that allows you to manipulate colorful gears, chains, rods, and pulleys to pull yourself through each level. Each reasoning challenge was carefully designed to lay the foundation for careers in things like mathematician, computer scientist, and programmer.

    crazy gears

    Crazy Gears

  • The Sight Word Adventure ($1.99) –  Using 320 sight words (based on Dolch and Fry lists) spread across five levels in 10 different mini games (that focus specifically on hide-and-seek),this app is great for giving repeated exposure to sight words.

    the sight word adventure

    The Sight Word Adventure

  • Busy Shapes ($2.99) – This is really designed for a toddler and does an excellent job of teaching shapes, their relation to other objects, colors, and is a good intro for learning how to use a touch screen.

    busy shapes

    Busy Shapes

4. Montessori Crosswords ($2.99)

This game is GREAT for teaching phonics! You can choose from one of 44 sound clusters (i.e. short a, long e, oo sound, etc.) or from the other four word series of increasing phonetic difficulty (simple words with three sounds, words with consonant blends, words with digraphs, or words of any complexity).

montessori crosswords app screen shot

Montessori Crosswords App

When you choose a category, a picture pops up next to the number of boxes needed to spell the word. The word is spoken and the alphabet is listed below (all of the vowels are blue and the rest of the letters are red). The letters needed to spell the word are highlighted, and the other letters are faded. You drag the letters to spell the word and it is sounded out and read out loud. As you transition to the next word, you get to tap the screen and interact with some fun animation. My kids don’t usually enjoy playing this game on their own. It is more of a teaching tool that we sit down and use together.

Other Montessori Apps:

  • Montessori Numbers ($2.99): This app is great for teaching the association between numbers with the quantity they represent. It also helps to teach the decimal system and place value. There is even a place to trace numbers. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    montessori numbers

    Montessori Numbers App

  • Word Wizard ($4.99): A talking movable alphabet in this app allows you to experiment with phonics and word building. It has three spelling activities that increase in difficulty, 184 built in word lists (about 1,800 words), and you can add your own words to create unique spelling quizzes. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

    montessori word wizard

    Montessori Word Wizard App

  • Writing Wizard ($2.99): This is a WONDERFUL letter tracing app that keeps kids engaged the whole time. As you trace uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and words a fun moving rainbow trail emerges. There are a lot of letter tracing apps out there, and this is one of my favorites!

    montessori writing wizard

    Montessori Writing Wizard App

5. Talking ABCs ($2.99)

This is a great app for teaching letter names! Every letter that you select is molded into a creature that starts with that letter. It is surprisingly mesmerizing to watch.

talking abcs

Talking ABCs App

When you press play, it brings you to the letter A, then you can swipe to the left to go through the whole alphabet or go back to the main menu. It also has four different games (find the letter, find the animal, spell a word, and puzzle) and an autoplay feature that will automatically progress through all of the letters. You can also get this app in Russian. *This app is only available for iOS devices.

6. Metamorphabet ($3.99)

This is an app that will not only teach the ABCs and alphabet vocabulary, but is something that will unlock a certain whimsical wonder in the mind of all users young and old alike.

metamorphabet

Metamorphabet App

The adventure begins with all of the letters on the main screen. When you select a letter, say A for example, every tap of the finger brings about another action. After several movements, the letter name is said and with each subsequent tap it moves a little more and one by one more vocabulary words are revealed such as antlers, arch, and amble. To go to the next letter, you click on the star in the top right hand corner to go to the next letter or you can click the shapes in the top left corner to go back to the main screen. Metamorphabet contains NO in-app purchases. *Available on iOS devices and PCs only.

7. Storybots ABCs (Free…)

This is basically just a collection of all of the Storybots ABC songs. Each song is about one minute long and cute little robots sing about each letter of the alphabet. In the app, you can select a letter from the main menu, or just progress through the letters alphabetically.

Storybots

Storybots App

You can also download this app that will give you access to all of their learning videos. The only problem is that these apps were free when I downloaded them awhile ago, but now it seems that you have to pay a $4.99/mo. membership fee which I don’t think is worth it at all. In doing so, so will get access to all of their printables too though which is nice. If you don’t want to pay the membership fee, just check out these playlists on YouTube…for free! *These apps are only available on iOS devices.

8. Dora’s Skywriting ABCs ($3.99)

If your child likes Dora, these apps will be a winner for sure! If not, you might want to skip them. 🙂

dora abc

Dora’s Skywriting ABCs App

In the uppercase, lowercase, and uppercase and lowercase letter games, you use Tico’s airplane to get nuts and trace the letters. Writing letters is more of an advanced skill, so this might be better for the older preschooler. I really like the letter and picture match game the best. In this game, you have to find the pictures that start with the featured letter. *All of the Dora apps are only available on iOS devices.

Other Dora Apps:

  • Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure ($2.99): In this game, you match pictures that rhyme. Besides rhyming words, there are first sounds, last sounds, and inside sounds to match in different levels.

    dora's rhyming word adventure

    Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure

  • Dora Hops Into Phonics ($2.99): To play, you have to match pictures with words, change one letter to make a new word, and then make Dora hop across the lily pads. There are also cute little game break games to play along the way.

    dora hops into phonics

    Dora Hops Into Phonics

  • Dora’s Dress Up Adventures ($2.99): In this simple app, you can change the background, dress Dora, and add a variety of props. For kids who enjoy Dora, this is really fun.

    dora's dress up adventure

    Dora’s Dress Up Adventure

  • Dora’s Ballet Adventures ($2.99): This is basically like a really interactive book. The words are highlighted as Dora reads them, and you get to do all sorts of actions.

    dora's ballet adventure

    Dora’s Ballet Adventure

Honorable Mentions

For the remaining apps, I didn’t want to do a full on review, because I think that the six apps and their affiliates that I’ve covered above are more than you’ll ever need, but these are apps that we have downloaded and enjoyed as well.

In Conclusion

If you use these educational apps in moderation as a teaching tool for your children, it can greatly enhance their learning experience. Teaching your child at home doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you don’t have to wait until they are in kindergarten to teach them how to read. Please check out my free reading program series to get an easy to follow step-by-step guide to teach your child how to read at a young age.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Popsicle Puppets for Oral Language Development, Reading Readiness, and Creative Play

Popsicle Puppets for Pre-Reading and Imaginative Play

I love making simple popsicle stick puppets for my young children because it is a great way to encourage imaginative play while also teaching basic reading skills. I love following their interests to make popsicle puppets of their favorite characters or genres and watch as their imaginations take off into a world of wonderment.

Pretend play is more than just fun for kids, it actually helps their cognitive development on several levels. Studies show that pretend play during early development allows for the enhancement of the child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity. Taking on different roles during pretend play also allows children to represent problems and scenarios from a variety or perspectives and this precipitates empathy and self regulation. Studies also show that it positively influences  language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. I love it because it get kids talking and any kind of talking is good for oral language development.

Materials

  • Jumbo Popsicle Sticks (Or you can just cut some strips of cardboard.)
  • Glue Stick (I like to buy my glue sticks in bulk here.)
  • Card Stock (You could also use regular computer paper.)
  • Scissors (I like these.)
  • Color Printer (Having a good economical printer is an absolute must! These ink cartridges, that go with the printer previously linked, are expensive, but they last a long time, like 1,200 color sheets.)
  • *Optional: laminatorlaminating sheets, and large cardboard boxes

Directions

  1. Print out some small characters. Elliot really wanted germs this time around, and we found tons of great images on our google image search. He has also liked superheroes, spiders, monsters, and Star Wars characters. When I’ve made these for Ruby, she wanted all of the My Little Pony characters. To get the images, I first do a google image search, then I click on the image I want, right click and copy it, open a Word or Publisher document, right click and paste it in, and then resize it to fit my paper. Sometimes I add boxes with the characters’ names and other times I just write the name on the popsicle stick. This kids love sitting on my lap as we do this part together.
    Embracing Motherhood Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    my little ponies

    My Little Pony Sticks

    superhero popsicle sticks

    Superhero Sticks

  2. *Optional: Laminate your sheets before cutting them out. Here’s the laminator and laminating sheets that I use.
  3. Cut them out. Sometimes Ruby helps me with the cutting, but I usually just do this by myself.
  4. Use the glue stick to affix the cutouts to the top of the popsicle stick. *If you’ve laminated your characters, you might want to put some masking tape over the back of the stick to make sure it really holds.
  5. Give them names. Elliot LOVES coming up with funny names for his germs. He’ll make up names like “Mook” and “Funkoo” and it’s a great opportunity to teach him how to sound out and spell words. It then becomes a great reading activity as he reads his sticks. I like writing the names vertically on the stick. On the back of the stick, we write their nicknames.

    elliot with popsicle stick project

    Elliot (4) Naming his Germs

  6. *Optional: Make backgrounds. When I made Ruby’s My Little Pony sticks, I also did google image searches for the homes of each of the characters. I printed out one picture of the outside of their home and one picture of the inside and glued them onto a large unfolded cardboard box. Elliot wanted random backgrounds of haunted houses and cities. This is a great way for children to learn about setting (where a story takes place).
    Ruby's My Little Pony Boards

    Ruby’s My Little Pony Boards

    Elliot's Boards

    Elliot’s Background Boards

  7. Imagination Games: Now the children can use their popsicle characters in some imagination games. I love to play with them too and use funny voices for the different characters. Sometimes I like to introduce a problem scenario like one character is evil and trying to capture the others or one is sad and the others want to cheer him up, but they are usually pretty creative and independent with this part.
    ruby playing with her boards

    Ruby (5) Playing with her My Little Ponies

    ophelia playing with popsicle sticks

    Ophelia (2) Loves Playing with Them Too

  8. Storage: I like to keep these out and accessible as the children are interested and want to use them, but if they lose interest after awhile, I tuck them away in a more disclosed location. That way, they’re excited when they “find” them again. 🙂

my five year old daughter outside wearing a winter coat and a serious look on her face

What Happened When My Daughter Told Me She Only Half Loved Me

Ever since our fourth child has been born, I’ve kind of been in survival mode, trying to navigate the life of stay at home mom with an extra little person attached to my boob 24/7. My oldest daughter is 5 and our fourth child is 4 months old now, so needless to say, I’m a busy woman! But even though I’m very busy, I always try to make giving each child a lot of attention my top priority, or at least, I thought I did…

a picture my five year old drew to show how much she loves her daddy

I Love My Dad and My Dad Loves Me

for 100s day Ruby said she wished she had 100 dads

I Wish I Had 100 Dads

 

It all started one morning when I was talking to our oldest daughter, Ruby, about the kindergarten conference I had had with her teacher the evening before, and I asked her why she only wrote stories in class about her Dad and about how much she loves him. To be honest, I thought this “Daddy love” started because she felt sorry for him not getting enough attention, and I just thought it was cute that she wanted to wear her “Daddy Rocks” t-shirt every day, but I didn’t actually think it meant that she loved me any less.

I mean, come on! I carried her for 9 months, I went through 36 hours of labor to meet her, I nursed her every two hours day and night until she was a year old, I gave up my career to stay at home and take care of her…of course I’m her favorite! …or so I thought.

So I asked her. “Ruby, why do always write stories about your dad?”

“Because I love him more than anything in the world,” she replied matter of factly.

“Well, you love me too, right?” I asked. At that point, I expected a quick, “Of course mom!” and then we would all be on our way and I could stop being paranoid. But that’s not what happened. What happened is that she paused. For a looooooong time. “Oh no!” I thought, “This can’t be good!”

And then she scrunched up her face like she always does when she’s deep in thought and she said, “Well, I only half love you.”

“What do you mean,” I stammered, sure that I had misunderstood her somehow.

“I only half love you mom. It’s just what’s in my heart,” she explained without any remorse.

As the weight of those words sank in, I had no response. “Oh, ok,” was all that I could muster before she rushed off to play.

So of course, I let my world crumble around me and reflected on all of the ways that I was failing as a mother. I thought about how busy I’ve been, and I knew that I had all of the excuses in the world! I mean, we’ve only been living in this new house less than a year and there are still an endless amount of projects to be done, my baby is only 4 months old and there are some nights when I only get a few hours of sleep (and the days of me being able to take a nap during the day are long gone), I spend a lot of time preparing healthy food, and then I have this blog that I love, but which also pulls me away.

And then there’s Ruby, so resilient and so strong. She’s been through five moves in the last five years, adjusted to three new babies in her life, and then after we finally got settled in our new home and new routines, she started kindergarten, moved to a new school halfway through the year, and had to get used to spending the majority of the day away from me, from us.

And then my thoughts went in the other direction, and I thought, hey, I’m the mom, not the friend, and if in doing what’s best for her and meeting her needs in the best way I know how means that I’m not always her favorite, well then so be it. Sometimes a mom’s job is hard because we need to see the whole picture, not just get through each individual moment.

But then my thoughts went back in the other direction, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks how I had been putting her on the back burner because I knew that she could handle it. When she started kindergarten, I gave her all of the attention in the world as she made the adjustment, but then my attention drifted to the new baby as we figured each other out and then our other baby, Ophelia, who is 20 months now, needed me more than ever as she adjusted to having to share my lap. And then there was Elliot who finally got to be the oldest while Ruby was at school and his needs were always in the forefront of my mind as I would think about the ways in which I could challenge him and help him grow in this last year and a half that I get him at home before he goes away too.

So after looking into my soul and seeing all of this, I knew that something needed to change. Not a drastic “scrap everything and do a complete 180” change, but a minor tweak that could bring this family back into balance. I knew that I needed to put Ruby back in the forefront of my mind, and when I did, I almost cried because I had missed her being there so much. I thought about her as a little baby and how I would look deep into her soulful eyes wondering what she would be like when she was older, and then I looked at her now, and she is so amazing and so wonderful and my heart felt like it was about to burst with how much I loved her.

And then I found her playing quietly with her My Little Ponies and I just scooped her onto my lap in a big bear hug. I nestled my nose into her hair and told her how much I loved her. And then we just started talking about everything and she said something so amazing and profound. She said, “Mom, I just don’t know where my heart belongs – at school or at home.” We went on to talk about how yes, she spends more time during the week at school, but when you count up the hours at night and on the weekend that she actually spends much more time at home. And then I explained how you can pack up your heart and take it with you where ever you go, but that when you’re home is when your heart is truly at peace and can breathe a big sigh of release knowing that it is safe and sound.

I told her how sorry I was that I had let her slip through the cracks lately, and I told her how I had gotten a little too busy lately, but that she was always in my heart and that I loved her more than anything in the world. I also explained to her that I thought that we were spending a lot of time together because she was always helping me with projects like sewing or making cookies, but I told her that I would spend some time every day doing what she wanted to do like playing a game or something. I also decided to let her ride up front with me on her way home from school (in her booster seat with the airbag turned off) so that we could have more time to chat.

I could just see her soften before my very eyes the more we talked. It was almost like she had started holding her breath ever since Julian was born and now she was finally letting it out. She hugged me tighter than ever, and I felt so close and so connected to her in that moment. The next morning while her, Daddy, and I had breakfast together, the mood was different somehow. Scott and I both clearly noticed the difference in her.

my daughter and I sorting through her school papers

Ruby and I Bonding While Sorting Through Her School Work

It’s been two weeks since that day, and I feel like Ruby and I are closer than ever. Our daily chats in the car after school are getting more and more interesting and complex and I am finally hearing about her school day in ways I never did before. When we get home, I take some time to just be with her doing whatever she wants and when her tank is full, she rushes off to play happy as can be.

Being a mom is a balancing act. It’s like I have all of these plates spinning all the time, and I have to know which ones to tend to next so that they don’t all fall. I let Ruby’s plate wobble dangerously close to toppling over, but I was able to get her spinning again just in time. In doing so, I had to let all of the other plates wobble just a fraction of a second longer as I re-calibrated my time, but now we are in a nice comfortable routine where everyone’s needs are being met…for now that is. As we get comfortable in this new normal, I am keeping one watchful eye out for the next plate that starts to wobble, and so the cycle will continue because that is what is being a good mom is all about.