Space Sensory Bin

Sensory play is HUGE in our house and I try to incorporate at least one sensory bin into each of our homeschool themes/units.  My four year old can be occupied by a sensory bin for HOURS (no exaggeration).  Since he learns best through picture books, play, and discussions, these bins have become a vital part in our unit studies.  My son also contributed a lot to the materials that went into our space sensory bin.

Space Sensory Bin

Materials Used in the Space Sensory Bin

  • Black beans
  • Space toob
  • Bouncy balls
  • Glow in the dark stars
  • Stones (from the dollar tree)
  • Some weird yellow spikey ball we got from an Easter egg hunt

When I initially constructed the space sensory bin, I just had the black beans, bouncy balls (which are supposed to represent planets), the stars, and the items from the space toob.  My son promptly informed me that we were missing asteroids (the stones) and the sun (the spikey ball thing).  Well okay then… I guess Mommy built a less than adequate solar system.

After my son finished offering his input I gave it to him to explore.  The imagination of a four year old knows no bounds.  He “landed” the astronauts on various planets, the asteroids hit a planet or two, he showed how the planets rotate around the sun.  He was upset with me for a little bit because we didn’t have a moon, so we “promoted” one of the larger asteroids to moon status.

Since we read many (and I mean many) books on space prior to our sensory play, the space sensory bin, gave my four year old a chance to show his knowledge on the subject.  He talked about the rover (from the space toob) and what it’s job was on the planets/moons that it visits, as well as the hubble telescope (from the space toob).

May 2016 Goals Update

I didn’t do a goals update for the month of April, because frankly, there was nothing to report.  I bombed my goals for March (miserably) and honestly hadn’t even noticed that we’d rolled over into a new month until about the second week of April.

I was that overwhelmed and tired.  So… as I do every month, I sat down and did some thinking.  What wasn’t working and why?  Truthfully?  I’m still not taking good care of myself.  I’m not drinking enough water, I’m not eating enough food, and I’m not getting enough sleep.  I’m also (still) watching too much T.V.

I’m thinking of having the (very outdated) television set taken out of our master bedroom.

Our master suite serves as our bedroom, my office, and my craft space.  There’s also a T.V. in there.  Too often I tell myself “It’s okay to listen to Law & Order rereuns”, you can still get stuff done… yea, right.  Four hours later, I’ve fallen asleep with the lights on and my clothes are still soaking in the washing machine downstairs.

May 2016 Goals Update

So… I retooled my arc planner (again) and did something thinking about “S.M.A.R.T.” goals.  Smart goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

I know this.  I’ve been setting goals and using planners since I was about five years old.  No… I’m not being dramatic.  Getting my new school issued agenda at the start of the school year was more exciting to me than Christmas morning.

The fact of the matter is, I haven’t been successful at setting and reaching goals since becoming a mother.  Pregnancy brain?  It never goes away.  The majority of my day is spent chasing after two little (very demanding) devils angels.  Trying to accomplish anything during their waking hours is a waste of time and added stress.  A simple five minute chore turns into a forty-five minute ordeal.  After which everyone is snotty, cranky, and tear stained.  Myself included.

May 2016 Goals Update

So, for May I decided to tie my goals straight into my (newly improved) arc planner.  My theme for this month is accountability.  Goals are great, but I need a way to be held accountable or it’s all for naught.

Have a date night.  Hubby and I have slipped up on this in recently weeks.  We’ve both been tired, sick, and overworked.  I want to get back to making our marriage a priority.

Track my health and fitness goals every day in my planner.  I’ll be sharing my newly retooled planner in a few weeks and the majority of my health and fitness goals go straight out the window, because, frankly, I don’t make my health a priority.  I have goals for the year that I set (water drinking and miles walked), but need a way to be held accountable.  This is where my new planner pages come in.

Have June’s lesson plans completed by May 20th, including all printing and laminating.  Guys, when I have all my stuff done, life is better!  We studied the Rainforest and Bugs/Insects at the beginning of April and it was AWESOME.  I had everything done ahead of time, there was no stress.  The kids had a great time, I had a great time.  It was great.  I’m hoping that by including a deadline on it (and then breaking it up into smaller chunks for each week), I’ll actually get this done.

One family day.  Mommy admission: I’m really bad about setting aside days just for family.  We had a family day last week and it was great.  No housework.  Just the husband, me, and the kids.  We went the aquarium, built legos, had lunch, no stress.  I need to stop worrying so much about dishes and laundry and weeds (sorry HOA) and slow down.  The housework will still be there tomorrow.

Clean zones two and three.  Use checklists and daily planners to stay on target.  Again, tying this goal directly into my planner system.  I use the Fly Lady cleaning zones system to keep my house clean, but I tend to take things on a slower scale.  She’d probably be appalled at the fact that I’m only going to clean my bathrooms (2.5), kitchen, and living room this month.  However, I have a 3,200 sq. ft house on a 7,000 sq. ft. lot.  That’s a lot of square footage.  I don’t want to spend my life cleaning, but I don’t want to live in a dusty mess either.  Balance is key.

Have June’s editorial calendar complete by May 13th.  Ah… the blogging goals.  Finding time for this is just downright painful.  As I write I’m surrounded by unfinished scrapbooking layouts, my kids are roughhousing with my husband, and I’m panicking over my unfinished lesson plans for this week.  Creating the calendar is the easy part, but only step one in the much larger process.  I’m not short on ideas, just short on time.  The earlier I get the calendar created, the sooner I can start on the materials.

Have all of June’s photographs taken by May 30th.  Confession time: I hate taking photographs.  If you guys could see the amount of finished drafts in my archive, ya’ll would be appalled.  The posts are written, the photos are awful.  I also can’t take photographs with natural light for several reasons.  The first is that the desert sun is not kind to photographs of still objects.  The second is the little hands that want to “help.”  Photographs don’t look so great when taken at 1 a.m.  Since so many of my posts involve my life, stock photographs aren’t going to get the job done.

Watch two AFI films.  This is not a goal that I have forgotten.  I’ve been working on this list for about eight years.  It’s fallen to the wayside, but I’ve decided to start adding it to my monthly items again.  I’d like to finish this goal sometime this decade…

Read or listen to “Much Ado About Nothing.”  Shakespeare… Still working my way through his complete works.

How are you holding yourself accountable this month?

This entry was posted in My Life.

Spring Sensory Bin

How else would you celebrate spring than with a spring sensory bin!?  While the desert is in full bloom, there aren’t many bugs and plants around here that I would deem safe for play, so I took a trip to the dollar store and put together the following spring sensory bin.

Spring Sensory Bin

We used the following materials (all purchased from the dollar tree):

  • Potting soil
  • Plastic bugs
  • Plastic flowers
  • Plastic “terra cotta” pots
  • Plastic gardening tools
  • Stones

I was absolutely floored when I saw that the dollar tree sold bags of potting soil.  I’m not sure how well it works for growing plants.  However, since we were using it for play and not for planting, the price and the size (4.4 dry QTs) was perfect.  I purchased various plastic flowers from the dollar tree that I took apart into individual stems using my husband’s wire cutters (sssh… don’t tattle on me, please!).  I also purchased several packages of plastic bugs from the toy section.  The gardening tools are also plastic and were found in the toy section at the Dollar Tree last year.

In the gardening section of the Dollar Tree (at each of the three stores I’ve been too – the perks of living in the big city – these were located in the front with the other seasonal stuff), I found both real terra cotta pots and these plastic pots.  Since these babies are going to get used and abused by my two kids, I went with the plastic ones.  They were packaged four for a $1.

Since this was actual dirt we were playing with, we took the bins outside.  If you don’t want the kids playing with dirt, you could also use dried black beans or dried pinto beans in place of the potting soil.  However, I always encourage messy play whenever possible (and patience allows).

8 Tips for Organizing a Small Pantry

One of the reasons we purchased our house was our large kitchen.  In our apartment, our kitchen was incredibly small and hard to navigate with one person, let alone two.  Our kitchen now is spacious, has an island, and lots of cupboard space.  Our small pantry, however… is sad.  If there was someway to create a larger pantry in our kitchen I would do it in a heartbeat.  As it is, there is no way to make our pantry larger, so I had to make do with the space that we have.

8 Tips for a Small Pantry

How to Organize a Small Pantry

1. Decide what does (and doesn’t) go in your pantry.  Since we had a small pantry, I wanted to keep our pantry limited to frequently used cooking/baking materials and snacks.  No kitchen gadgets or infrequently used items (such as jello mixes, pastas, food coloring, etc.).

2. Categorize everything.  If it doesn’t have a category either create it or store the item somewhere else.  My categories are: baking, spices/mixes, cooking oils, snacks, sugars/flours/rices.

3. Purchase bins/containers for each category.  A few of the larger white bins in my pantry are leftover from my teaching days (they were in my classroom).  The smaller bins are from the Dollar Tree.  I used 50lb pet food containers to store our large bulk items such as flour and rice.

8 Tips for a Small Pantry 2

4. Place the heavy stuff on the floor.  Our pantry goes from floor to ceiling.  Obviously, the super heavy stuff (100 lbs of flour and rice for instance) go on the floor.  I also keep our ziploc bags, soda cases, potatoes, and onions on the floor.  (Potatoes on one side and onions on the other since they “harm” each other when stored together).

5. Place the most frequently used items within reach.  I keep our snacks on the lowest shelf.  While it does make for quick toddler hands when I reach into pantry, I’m also trying to teach my kids independence.  Therefore, their snacks are kept within their reach (with a child proof lock on the pantry door!).  My heavily used items are within my reach, so I don’t have to get the stepping stool every time I go into the pantry.

6. If possible, place your stockpiling/backup items on the top shelf.  I hate reaching for ketchup in the fridge and finding there isn’t anymore.  I always keep two bottles/bags of frequently used items in our house.  Things like mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, salsa, etc.  One open and in the fridge and one in the pantry for when we run out.  These items get placed on the top shelf (and out of my reach) since we don’t need them everyday.

8 Tips for a Small Pantry 3

7. Use an over the door shoe rack for small, easy to lose items.  It is really easy to lose little bags of muffin mix or a small bottle of vanilla extract in your pantry.  Even a small one.  If you have a door on your pantry (most of them do), you can use a cheap, over the door shoe hanger (with pockets) to store your smaller items.  In mine I keep: muffin mixes, vanilla extract, baking soda, baking powder, soda stream syrups, small snacks, popcorn, and various odds and ends.

8.  Make it Work for You.  What I’ve shared today is my system, that works for my family.  You may need something similar, with a few changes, or something completely different.  The best piece of advice that I can give for organizing a small pantry is this: take what you need from today’s post and use it.  Leave the rest behind.  Set yourself up for success.

What are your best tips for organizing a small space?

How to Color Rice

I blog a lot about sensory bins and in the majority of the bins that I’ve written about, we’ve used rice as our base material.  I then realized (with much horror) that I had never shared my method for coloring rice.  Doh!  Major blogger failure on my part.  So today, I present with you the easiest, best, and most frugal way to color rice.

How to Color Rice

How to Color Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of white rice
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar
  • Food coloring (as much as you want)
  • Essential oils (optional)

Process

  1. Dump everything into a ziploc bag and seal tightly.  The more food coloring you use, the more vibrant your coloring will be.
  2. I usually skimp (meaning only use a few drops) on the food coloring unless I’m making rice specifically for a color unit.  Between homemade playdough, cookie frosting, and various other homeschooling projects, we go through more food coloring than most households.
  3. Shake and knead the bag until you have completely coated the rice with coloring.  Add food coloring until you are satisfied with the color saturation.  The darker the color (black and red specifically) the more food coloring you are going to need to add.  You don’t have to dump the whole bottle in, but you will need more than two or three drops to get the job done.
  4. Optional: You can add a drop or two of essential oils to your rice if you choose, to mask the vinegar smell.  My kids and I are not bothered by the smell, so I unless we need a scent for some reason, I usually skip this option.  The vinegar smell with dissipate with time.
  5. Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil, parchment paper, or a cookie sheet (whatever you have handy).  Dump the rice onto your sheet and spread it out.  Let it dry.  I usually color rice before going to bed, so it has a chance to lay out all night.  However, it usually takes no more than a few hours for it to completely dry.
  6. Some of the rice may stick together while drying and that’s fine, just use your hands to break it up, the clumps will break apart easily and quickly.
  7. Store in an airtight container (I use a ziploc bag).

I would like to say that this stores indefinitely, but I honestly don’t know.  I am still using rice that I colored (and stored) from over two years ago and so far it hasn’t gone bad.  Chances are pretty good, the rice will last as long as your little one is into sensory bins.  Use your best judgement.

That’s it!  I purchase rice and vinegar from a bulk store (Sam’s club) to get the cheapest prices possible, as we use a lot of rice (eating) and vinegar (cleaning my house) in our home.  What is your favorite method for coloring rice?

Popsicle Stick Irish Flag Craft

I’ve been struggling to find some unique and fun crafts for my kids to do for St. Patrick’s Day.  At some point, I’m not sure when to be honest, I finally decided to put my focus on the Irish Flag.  After all, St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday.  We took out our globe, located Ireland, and have been studying the flag as a symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day ever since.  Today is the first in a series of posts that feature an Irish Flag Craft Project.

Irish Flag Craft

Materials Needed (per Irish Flag Craft)

  • 12 Popsicle sticks
  • Paint brushes
  • White paint
  • Orange paint
  • Green paint
  • Masking tape
  • Hot glue (and sticks)
  • Ribbon

IrishFlagPopsicleStickCraftsWIP

Instructions

This is a pretty easy craft to create and can yield some pretty (depending on the age of the child) entertaining results.

  1. Paint three popsicle sticks green.
  2. Paint three popsicle sticks white.
  3. Paint three popsicle sticks orange.
  4. Wait for popsicle sticks to dry.
  5. Once they finish drying, turn them over and lay them side by side as shown in the very first picture.  Put masking tape across the backside of the popsicle sticks (as shown below).  This is temporary and just makes it easier to hot glue the “stabilizer” sticks.IrishFlagPopsicleStickCraft
  6. I chose to put three popsicle sticks on the back to make it as sturdy as possible.  Hot glue one popsicle stick and lay it across the top.  Do the same to the bottom.
  7. Remove the masking tape and hot glue a stick across the middle.
  8. Cut ribbon to your desired length and hot glue on the back.
  9. Viola!  Fun little Irish Flag to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with.

Pictured below is how my four year old’s craft project turned out.  🙂  I look forward to doing this project with the kids again next year to see the differences in their skills and abilities.

Irish Flag (1)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  How will you be celebrating this year?

St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin

Sensory Bins are huge in our house.  They provide HOURS of entertainment for my two kids (ages 4 and 2) and are highly educational as well.  Sometimes it can be hard to remember that for little kids, play is the most important part of their education.  I prepared several sensory bins for my kids this month, including this St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin that I am sharing with you today.

St. Patrick's Day Sensory Bin

St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin

Living on the west coast, it can be difficult to find some decent St. Patrick’s Day materials that don’t cost a fortune and I don’t care if my kid’s destroy.  (Which, let’s be honest, is going to happen with little kids.  It is the way of the world.)  It took me about two years (no joke) of Dollar Tree/Store hunting to find the few materials that I managed.

For our base in this sensory bin we used rice.  Rice is always a favorite and I stuck with green and yellow for this bin.  Although, I do intend to make a second batch that has white, green, and orange (the colors of the Irish Flag).

 Accessories/Tools Used:

  • Mini pots.  I wish I could remember where I found these, we only have two and I would like a few more.
  • Leprechaun Hats, purchased from the Dollar Store
  • Shamrock bead necklaces, also from the Dollar Store
  • Green and gold coins (Dollar Tree)

My kids were entertained for hours just pouring the rice in and out of the hats and pots, burying the coins and digging them back up again.  One of the greatest things about sensory bins is just giving it to the kids and letting them explore.

Adaptations

While I’m firm believer in just giving the bins to my kids and letting them play, without adult instruction, there are many adaptations you can make to the bin to give it some more guidance:

  • Write letters and/or words on the gold coins.  Have the kids identify the words or letters/sounds on the coins.
  • Write letters on the gold coins and have kids build words with the letters that they find.
  • Write numbers on the coins and have the kids identify the numbers.  You can also have them put the numbers in order when they have found them all.

The possibilities are endless!

If you’re new to sensory bins make sure to check out these two posts: Sensory Bin Basics and Sensory Bin Accessories and Tools.

St. Patrick’s Day Puppy Chow

Puppy Chow is a family favorite snack in this house, so for 2016, I decided to try to adapt the puppy chow recipe in as many different ways as I can for the various holidays and seasons.  For the month of March, I put a fun spin on a traditional snack to create St. Patrick’s Day Puppy Chow.

St. Patrick's Day Puppy Chow

How to make St. Patrick’s Day Puppy Chow

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of Chex cereal, divided
  • 5 oz white chocolate (or white Wilton candy melts)
  • 5 oz green candy melts (Wilton brand, found at any craft store or Wal-Mart)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, divided
  • Green and yellow sprinkles
  • Lucky Charms (I used a box of the “limited” edition)

How to Make

  1. Divide the Chex cereal in half (2.5 cups per container) into two bowls or bags.
  2. Melt the white chocolate.  You can do this in either the microwave or on the stovetop.  I’ve honestly never noticed a taste in difference.
  3. Pour the white chocolate into one of the chex mix bags.  Gently (being careful to break as little of the cereal as possible) mix the cereal and the white chocolate.  Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar to the bag and gently coat the chocolate and cereal with the powdered sugar.
  4. Dump the cereal/chocolate/sugar mix out on the a cookie sheet.  Spread evenly and allow to cool.
  5. Melt the green candy melts.  Add the melted candy to the second bag of Chex mix.  Coat the cereal.  Add 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to the bag to coat.  Dump onto a cookie sheet, spread evenly, and allow to cool.  (I used less powdered sugar on with the green candy melts so that the green candy would show through the sugar.)
  6. Once the cereal has cooled completely mix the cereal with the lucky charms.
  7. Just prior to serving top with green and yellow sprinkles.

St. Patrick's Day Puppy Chow

Variations

One of my favorite things about puppy chow, is how easily it can be adapted and changed to fit your families needs.  Try some of these variations for some added fun:

  • green and yellow M&Ms
  • “regular” Lucky charms (we used a box of the “limited edition” lucky charms that came out for St. Patrick’s Day)
  • St. Patrick’s Day Sprinkles (Wilton has some adorable clovers and gold coins)
  • Any kind of green/yellow candy
  • You could go all out and try to create a rainbow puppy chow

What are some of your favorite March desserts and/or snacks?

March 2016 Goals Update

To say that I crashed and burned in February with my goals and improvements would be understating things… by a lot!  Almost right off the bat, I was tired, overwhelmed, underfed, cranky, and just all around unpleasant to be around.  Somewhere around the third week of the month, I had a breakdown (maybe an epiphany… or something along those lines).  I had my husband take my kids out of the house for a day and I went ballistic cleaning and decluttering.

And you know what happened?  I felt a whole lot better.  Like a new person.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the decluttering posts.  I got rid of three (yes THREE!) car loads of stuff.  I stuffed things in the backseat, in the trunk, in the passenger’s seat.  It was crazy the amount of things we had laying around that weren’t being used: old clothes that didn’t fit, baby stuff for newborns (my “baby” is almost two and half), teaching materials that were outdated and I hadn’t touched in AGES, even when I was still teaching.  I deep cleaned our carpets, scrubbed down light fixtures, my house looked new.

Most importantly, I felt better. I’ve been in a better mood ever since and have been more productive than ever.

March 2016

February Goals

1. Blog: Post every Monday and Wednesday.  Fail.  So much fail on this.  Truth be told, I’m just not willing to put my blog ahead of a clean home and time with my kids.  My two year old daughter demands (and yes, I mean demand, with her little Diva attitude) a great deal of my attention and energy.  That’s just the way it is.

2. Marriage: celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Pass.  This was a barely.  My husband and I are both so exhausted lately that finding a few minutes to spend time together without the kids is difficult.

3. Personal: Have three in home “spa” nights.  Fail.  I didn’t even get in one “spa” night.

4. Legacy: Create scrapbook layouts from January 2016.  Fail.  Didn’t even start on this.

5. Health: Stick with my dental health plan.  Pass.  Thankfully, I’ve kept up with my dental health plan.  I have another appointment on the 11th.

6. Fun: Read at least one fiction book.  Pass.  I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

March Goals

1. Blog: Stick to my editorial calendar for the month of March.  Despite the fact that I epically failed at posting last month, I’ve overloaded my blog calendar for the month of March.  March is a crazy busy month with St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and the First Day of Spring all rolled into a three week period.  I thought about pushing some blog projects/posts off until next year, but who knows where I’ll be at next year?  I’d rather share them now, rather than next year.

2. Marriage: Have a date night.  As I mentioned above, my husband and I are struggling to find time for our marriage with our overloaded schedule.

3. Personal: Declutter my craft supplies.  This is one area of our house that I just haven’t been able to tackle.  I need to be honest with myself about which of my projects I am actually going to finish and which ones I’m not.  Our master bedroom is over cluttered with crafting materials and it is starting to weigh on me.

4. Legacy: Create scrapbook layouts from January 2016.  This needs to be done.  We are planning on taking a trip to Disneyland this fall, which strangely has given me some serious motivation to get this done.

5. Health: Drink at least one bottle of water a day.  I know, I know, I should drink more than that, but realistically that isn’t going to happen.

6. Fun: Read at least one fiction book.  This has been on my “fun” list for January and February.  I don’t want to lose my momentum and fall back into the habit of reading only for knowledge.

About a week ago, I created some new printables to help me track what I get done in each day.  I was using laminated sheets with dry erase markers, but to be honest I need to actually see how much I get accomplished.  I feel like I get nothing done during the day and am exhausted, when in reality that just isn’t the case.

How was your February?  What things are you looking to change in March?

St. Patrick’s Day Play Dough Tray

For just about every season of the year and every unit we study in homeschool, we have some type of play dough tray.  I try to get creative with each tray, but then my kids get frustrated with me.  They seem to like having just the play dough and a few things to play with and explore.

St. Patrick's Day Play Dough Tray

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Green, Yellow, and Neon green food coloring
  • Gold glitter

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan mix the flour, salt, and cream of tartar until well combined.
  2. Add oil and water to the saucepan until ingredients are well combined.
  3. Add your desired amount of food coloring if you are coloring your play dough (otherwise if you used white flour, the play dough will just be white).
  4. Place on stove on medium heat.  Stir until a small ball starts to form.
  5. Remove the pan from heat.  Use a spoon to scrap the playdoh onto another surface (cutting board, plate, whatever).  Let cool.
  6. Once the dough reaches room temperature (or at least warm enough for you to deal with) knead the dough for a few minutes.
  7. If desired: knead in some glitter.
  8. Place in an airtight container or bag and store at room temperature.

How to Put Together the Tray

Living on the west coast, St. Patrick’s Day items seem to be difficult to come by.  I scoured the Dollar Tree and this was (sadly) the best that I could find:

  • St. Patrick’s day necklaces
  • Gold and green coins
  • Small Black Pots

Have fun!