Something to Talk About

Summer is here and I’m loving the freedom from schedules, homework, and general business of school year life. I am also LOVING the warm weather. I am not a fan of winter.

Something fun we’ve started this summer is reading “True or False?” by DK Publishers each day at lunchtime. We pull it out once everyone is settled at the table and read a section or two each day. Each section consists of a two spread page with bright, fun pictures and lot of interesting facts. We especially love the true/false question that kick off each new section. The kids chime in with their guesses and Nettie usually yells, “Truce! False! Truce!” We then go through the rest of the “gee whiz” facts on the subject. The kids love guessing the answers to questions and I love that we have something interesting to talk about as we sit around the table. Ryan and I are learning a lot too! It challenges a lot of the folk wisdom you heard “somewhere” from “someone”.

You should totally check it out. Your lunchtime banter will be so much more enlightening.
True or False

A Surprise Party

Today I came home from taking Marielle to gymnastics and was greeted by two very excited children. “Mom! Mom! Come downstairs we have a surprise for you!!” Jenna and Rex were hopping with enthusiasm. I glanced at Ryan and from my look he could tell I was thinking, “am I really going to be impressed by this?” He smiled and said,”Go. You’ll like it.” We walked down to the playroom and they proudly displayed the playroom prepared for Cheetah (one of the stuffed animal’s) birthday party. The room was spic and span and the kid’s table laid carefully with a play tea service for four. All the other stuffed animals were lined up along the edge of the room to join the party. It was pretty darn cute and I will say, their surprise did not disappoint! Kids cleaning spontaneously is always a happy surprise for me.
Bring some birthday fun to everyday chores!
This reminded me of a cleaning game we sometimes play called, “Surprise Party.” We pretend that we are preparing for a surprise party and quietly clean up the playroom. Lots of whispering and sneaking is all part of the fun! When the party room is all cleaned up, we hide and wait for the birthday guest to arrive. And who is the guest? You are! Let each of the kids take a turn leaving the room and then feigning surprise when they walk back in and everyone jumps out yelling, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” The excitement is contagious and you can act out as many times as your kids want. We like to listen to music from the Pink Panther when we are cleaning because it adds to the stealthy feel of doing something secret. This is a great game to play if you don’t like hassling with rules or crying kids who don’t win. And then you never know, maybe you’ll come home one day and your kids will surprise you with a real birthday party or at least a clean room.
Surprise Party Game Card

Bedtime Ideas

Bedtime can be so hard! My energy level is nearly depleted and coaxing multiple kids to do every step of their bedtime routine is daunting to say the least. There are lots of charts and ideas out there, the key is finding something that works well for your kids and the stages they are in. We started out with this simple little flap chart about six months ago.
Tabs Up Bedtime List
I saw something similar on pinterest (sorry, I didn’t save original source!) and used some clip art from this site to add the items I wanted. It was awesome seeing the kids rush their routine eager to close all their tabs. But as with all incentive systems, the novelty wore off and we needed to try something new.

Recently I created this chart I call “The Storytime Tree”.
Storytime Tree
It’s really the old chart just repackaged and with a new twist to help them move along a little more quickly.
Here’s how it works:
1) As we start bedtime I decide how much time I want to give them to complete all their tasks. Usually they get about 15 minutes, but I may give more or less depending on how late it is. I adjust the hands on the clock so they know their goal time.
2) I try to be nearby so they can ask me for help, but I leave the rest to them. As they complete each item, they cover the picture with their “leaf”.
3) If they finish at or before the goal time they each get to choose a bedtime story, if not, I help them finish up and I get to choose the story.

For my kids it’s very motivating. They love choosing the story, because I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll read. That said, they only reach the goal time about half the time. I’m fine with that, because even if they are not done, they at least have a really good start. I may have to help finish picking up a few toys or brush their teeth, but the heavy lifting is done. And on the days they do finish on their own, it feels awesome to walk in and simply read stories and kiss them goodnight. That’s the best part of bedtime after all!!

On to the best part of bedtime: Reading a story!
On to the best part of bedtime: Reading a story!

This system works well for Jenna and Rex (5 and 6) but Marielle is nine and doesn’t need as much supervision. She has a reminder list that she works through each night. I don’t know how closely she follows the order, as she is totally independent now (yeah!!), but she likes having something to remind her of all the steps she needs to do. Here is the chart she made for herself.

She moves the velcro star along as she checks off each item.
She moves the velcro star along as she checks off each item.

While I know this chart won’t work forever, for now it is helping a lot! Maybe your family can adapt it to work for your kids too. How do you help your kids become more independent at bedtime?

How to Change a Wiggly Baby's Diaper

How to Change a Wiggly Baby’s Diaper

Diapers. They stink. (Tee-hee, did you catch my little pun?!) After some very minimal research, I found the total number of diaper changes per life of kid is 7,200! That number should be doubled if you have a kid like Rex who squirmed like crazy and was desperate to roll over and crawl away during every single diaper change. Ryan and I used to “double team” him whenever possible. One parent to pin, the other to change.
Rex laughing
Thankfully Annette is much easier than Rex, but she has her moments when staring at the ceiling while mom wipes, wipes, wipes, is terribly boring and she tries to escape. And now that she is older I have trouble convincing her to join me on the floor to change the diaper in the first place.

Somewhere along the way with Nettie I figured out a trick that makes the diaper change much easier. All you have to do to tame a wiggly baby is hand them something interesting to look at. A toy or book they love works wonders. The idea is simple: if baby has something interesting to focus on, the wiggling and escape attempts disappear! It also helps to enticing an older kid to come get their diaper changed. When I need to change Nettie’s diaper now, I first grab a book and call her over to look at it. Once she starts flipping pages, I can lay her down and get the job done in a flash.

Hope this little tip helps! What ideas have you tried to keep your baby in check during diaper changes?

Cleaning Games Music Playlist

If I could give one suggestion on how to motivate kids to help clean up, I would say simply turn on some music. Music will liven the mood and help everyone (including the parents!) get out of the “I don’t want to clean” funk and get the job done quickly. Didn’t Snow White say it best of all, “Just Whistle While you Work” ?

When my family had Disney passes I started noticing how no matter where you were in the park, there is music playing. In every ride, restaurant, garden and shop, music plays in the background to enhance the theme.
Music makes magic happen!I’ve tried taking a page from Disney’s book, and I’ve found songs to match nearly all our cleaning games. I compiled them in a Youtube playlist. Everyday when we get ready to clean up the playroom, one of the kids pulls up our Youtube Channel and picks a game to play. It makes the daily chore less tedious and more fun when we can add some imagination and play to the task!
I’ll keep working to write up instructions on how to play the specific games. But in the meantime, or for those who like simplicity, the soundtracks are a great resource of fun upbeat music to get everyone moving.

Enjoy and Happy Cleaning!
Every Hero Needs a Theme Song

Cleaning Game: The Drawing Board

Back in the old college days, I majored in elementary education. The great thing about El Ed was the very broad range of classes required. Teachers need to know a little about a lot of things and I was exposed to geology, bird watching, and children’s literature to name a few. One of my favorite classes was art. It wasn’t painting rainbows on paper plates either, we learned legit drawing, painting, and sculpting techniques. To my surprise and delight, I learned at age 23 that I could draw! Somewhere around third or fourth grade I decided I “couldn’t draw” and pretty much quit. I couldn’t come up with cool drawings on my own and I was afraid of the taunt, “You copied that!” so I wouldn’t look at other pictures for a guide. My college art teacher helped me shed my fear of “copying” and I learned to look carefully at objects and simply try to recreate them on paper. I felt like a kid again, free to create and imagine on paper. I still don’t consider myself an artist, but I can draw simple pictures as long as I have a model to look at. I love drawing with my kids and they think it’s pretty cool too. Especially if I’m drawing Mickey Mouse!
College Days

Drawing is something that kids love. They draw to express themselves and hopefully haven’t learned to compare their drawings to others or feel their art isn’t “good enough”. With this love of creation in mind I devised a game called, “The Drawing Board”. Here’s how we play: I draw a simple backdrop to start the picture. We draw together on the whiteboard, because it gives lots of room, but you could use any size paper you have on hand. Each kid picks up their age in toys or household items. (For example, Marielle picks us 9 things, wile Rex picks up 5). When they have put away their items, they can add a detail to the drawing. The kids continue rotating between picking up and drawing until the room is clean. A fun cleaning game for kids who love to draw!

This game is easy to lead, extremely motivating for the kids, and at the end you have a fun piece of art to look at. Here are a few ideas to help you catch the vision:

Birthday party: Draw a large a birthday cake. Kids add candles, frosting swirls, balloons, party streamers etc.
Underwater scene: Draw a cave and a few strands of seaweed. Kids add fish, sea creatures, a scuba diver.
Royal Kingdom: Draw the outline of a large castle. Kids add windows, monarch peeking out, turrets, flags, a dragon.
Garden: Draw a bench or wall. Kids add flowers or animals.
Train: Draw the steam engine. Kids add train cars and scenery behind it.

Great cleaning game for kids who love to draw!

For more cleaning games click here!
To find out how and why we started cleaning by games read this.

Great idea to help kids learn how to part with their toys.

Clearing Out the Clutter

My husband Ryan attended graduate school in Santa Barbara. If you think it sounds dreamy, it was. But as lovely as the weather, the beach, and the mountains were, a slight drawback came in the size of our living space. We had a teeny-tiny apartment to fit our family in. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning: 2 kids, 2 bedrooms, no problem. (Don’t worry, Ryan and I made them share a room so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the living room.)

A young family with a wagon and a dream.
A young family with a wagon and a dream.

Not too far into our Santa Barbara experience came baby three. We pushed up our sleeves and rearranged the furniture to fit one more crib, stuffed drawers a little more tightly, and stacked shelves a little higher. As the kids grew and accumulated more toys, clothes, and ability to run and launch off couches farther, our space began to feel like a sardine can. Thank goodness the weather was nice – at least we could nearly always play outside.
Mid Years
Then like very rational people, we had added baby number four to the mosh pit! Another crib! More drawers to fill with tiny clothes! And where to put the swing, the bouncy seat, the high chair?! Sometimes it seemed like the walls might burst open either from the kids bouncing off them or the large amounts of stuff jammed into every available space. Surprisingly, no explosions actually occurred.
baby gear tower
Adding Annette

All of this is to say, I got very good at decluttering. Yes, I know I just wrote an entire paragraph trying to help you imagine how much stuff we crammed into that tiny space. (Perhaps I got a little dramatic for effect.) But we did have a lot of stuff! And our space forced us to declutter often and very throughly to make room for the essentials.

Most of you aren’t dealing with such tight quarters, so why declutter? I think the best reason to declutter is simple: less stuff = less time picking up. Want your kids to clean up the playroom in half the time? Get rid of half the toys! Want less time folding laundry? Thin your wardrobe! I probably don’t need to say much to convince you to get on the de-cluttering bandwagon. Generally parents are more than happy to get rid of stuff. It’s our little ones we need help with. Try to get a child to give away a toy and you feel their little iron grip tightening. Perhaps this sounds familiar:
Parent, gently approaching, “Hey hon, why don’t we go through your room and find a few toys to give away?”
Child with shriek of terror, “No!!! Not my things, I want them all!”
Parent pushing back, “What about this one? You haven’t played with it in months.”
Child with tears forming, including earnest expression, “Oh, but I will! I will play with it everyday. See, I am playing with it right now! I love it. A lot. Please don’t make me give it away!”

Even if you prevail here, it feels a bit rotten to win the battle. And if you don’t win the battle, you are stuck in a home that becomes unwieldy to keep in shape. I’d like to share a simple tip that has helped ease the pain our kids feel when we ask them to lighten their possessions.

Approach your child with two similar toys and ask: “Which one would you like to keep?” More than likely they will still groan and whine, but it helps them make a decision. Moreover it allows them to focus on saving a toy rather than losing one. You can continue presenting choices until you are happy with the amount of things you have decluttered.

Great idea to help kids learn how to part with their toys.

Writing these thoughts is making me crave a good de-junking session! Our home is larger now, and we have the luxury of few more closets to store things in, but my heart still loves a minimalist organized space. I’m inspired, how about you?


Dinner Time Laughs

My kids are not really picky eaters. That’s because from a early age we bribe incentivize them.  If they eat all their dinner, they can choose a candy from the treat bowl. This usually consists of left-over Halloween/Christmas/Valentine’s/St Patrick’s day/Easter candy. (Let’s take a moment and consider how every holiday is pumped full of candy?!) I’ve read a few articles from dietician’s warning against offering rewards to eat healthy foods, but I’m not deterred. Our treat incentive is working for us. My kids have been exposed to large variety of healthy foods that they now love simply because they are MOTIVATED to eat what’s on their plate.

When our oldest daughter Marielle was four she invented a funny little trick to muscle down any food she didn’t like to get her treat. She would cover her ears, close her eyes tightly and then chew fast and furious. Amazingly it did the trick!

All our kids have taken to her method, and not only does it help them eat scary foods, it provides excellent parent entertainment at the dinner table. Somehow blocking out the other senses helps those icky bites go down. Here’s a glimpse of technique in action:

Nettie has recently picked up on the eating technique, but she doesn’t realize it’s intended for “undesirable” food! She covers her ears any time I come towards her with a spoon. Even a spoonful of ice cream and she automatically covers her ears and squeezes her little eyes shut! Spoon Feeding

I love seeing the tradition not only continue, but evolve. Happy eating kids!

Shipwreck Rescue

I have a love/hate relationship with playdates. I love that my kids get to play with friends while I’m free to get some work done or chat with a another mom. However, I hate the mess that a houseful of kids leaves behind. Even if the friends are willing to help pick up, they don’t usually know where to put the toys away. As the playdate ends, the other mom usually makes some effort to have her kids help pick up. I end up graciously saying things like, “Oh don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll have my kids pick it up later. We’ll have it done in a jiff!” Friends leave,  “later” arrives, and regret sets in. Why did I let those kids leave without cleaning up? I’m faced with a big, fat mess and my kids certainly aren’t excited to tackle a playroom where every.single.toy. has been pulled down. Why again was I so optimistic? I don’t even know what a “jif” is. Why did I say that? Do I hate me?

But hate no more! I have a great game that can pull together all the little chaos-creators to clean up before the playdate ends. As my mom often said, “many hands make light work!” This game, Shipwreck Rescue,is the perfect ending to a playdate because it creates useful roles for both “home” and “visiting” kids. The secret is having guests work as gatherers, and your kids as sorters. The guests simply gather toys to a central spot, and your kids grab toys and put them away.

To make it fun, we’ll dress it up in an imaginary scenario where a ship carrying toys has been shipwrecked.Find a blanket, a table top, or a big plastic tub to be your life raft.Ask the friends to pretend to be deep sea divers. They swim and dive around the room saving the sinking toys and delivering them to the life raft. Ask your kids to be helicopter pilots. The pilots fly to the life raft and then life-flight the toys back to their homes. Working together, the divers and pilots save the day!

Be sure to have some music playing to add the intensity to your scenario!  We turn on the shipwreck scene from Little Mermaid, but any kind of soundtrack with intense music would be great. Music always pumps up the kids and makes the clean up go faster.
Underwater scene

A fun clean up game that turns your living room into a deep sea adventure!

A fun clean up game that turns your living room into a deep sea adventure!

A fun clean up game that turns your living room into a deep sea adventure!

Have fun with your deep sea clean up.  I’m sure the dolphins will thank you too!

A fun clean up game that turns your living room into a deep sea adventure!

A fun clean up game that turns your living room into a deep sea adventure!



Only the Best Books

I love reading to my kids. It’s one of the few times they will sit still and cuddle with me. It doesn’t require a lot of energy or creativity on my part and it’s fun to discover new stories together.  We read books mostly at bedtime, but reading a stack of pictures books is a great way to spend a lazy morning when I feel like hanging out on the couch in my jammies.

Reading with Kids

To fuel our reading appetite, we visit the library a lot. And with many visits, I’ve had many mishaps. Like that time I unknowing let a $37 book fly off the roof of my car into a drainage ditch, or the time I forgot to log out of the check-out kiosk and someone else checked out 8 books and about football and then went on to pay my fine. (The librarian reversed the payment when we were trying to sort out exactly what had happened. Dang!)  I love getting big stack of books and wondering if one of them is a hidden gem which will become a favorite.

A Stack of Children's Books
Don’t you love getting nice big stack of books from the library?

A few years ago I was discussing reading with some ladies at church. One woman mentioned her philosophy that she felt reading should always be enjoyable for everyone. She only read books she really liked to her kids. I grabbed that idea and ran with it. I won’t read books that feature TV or movie characters, and if a book is turning out to be especially lame, we quit early. There are so many wonderful books to discover, I don’t want to waste my time on the bad ones! I still let my kids check out movie character books, but only to look at the pictures by themselves. They don’t love my policy, but overtime they have adjusted and now only whine minimally when I won’t read the likes of Barbie and the Fashion Sea Dragon.

Reading a movie

As I mentioned I love finding funny, clever stories. I also love books that teach history or values. We all stumble upon great books, and I want to create a place to share favorites. I’m compiling a list of awesome picture books for you to check out. To make the list the book has to be exceptional. The kind of book that when you are done, you like it so much you want to read it again right that moment. Books with good writing, beautiful pictures, and great content. The kind of book that you keep renewing so you don’t have to take it back to the library.

I’m using GoodReads to organize the books and you can find it on my sidebar. If you want to see the whole list, you can click over to goodreads website directly. I’d love to hear your favorite books. What amazing books have you discovered? Please share and let’s grow the list together!