January 20, 2015

Valentine's Day Kindness Countdown

This Kindness Countdown is a fun way to bring a little more love into your home this Valentine's Day!

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Even though Valentine's Day is more about romantic love, in our home we like to focus on family love during the month of February. Each year I try to find some way to motivate the kids to show extra love to their siblings, and this year I thought we'd do a Kindness Countdown.

I had so many different ideas for how to do the countdown and I couldn't decide which I liked best, so I made four. You can choose your favorite. :)

I like the envelopes and the little packages because it's a surprise what the assignment will be for the day. I tell the kids that these are like Secret Missions. Kids love secret missions. Each morning they are to choose one package, open it, and complete what is written on the heart. Once completed, they can eat the Hershey Kiss inside the package. They can then take the heart and tape it up by our "Love at Home" sign. This will be a way to show how many good things they've been doing for each other. I also have extra hearts they can tape up if they want to do extra good deeds each day.

For the secret missions, I tried to think of things I'd like to see my kids do for each other. Also, if someone is having a hard time with a sibling, I will write on the heart for them to do something specifically for that sibling, such as "Make Joshua's Bed". Just substitute a name each time I wrote "someone".  It's easier to love each other when we serve each other.

Here are some secret kindness mission ideas:

1. make a bed
2. clear someone's dishes for them
3. put away some toys
4. give someone a hug
5. let someone else have the first turn
6. hold the door open for someone
7. write a nice note for someone
8. read a book to someone
9. play a game with someone (and let them win)
10. leave one of these kisses on someone's pillow (I put 2 kisses in this package)
11. help someone get breakfast
12. draw a picture for someone
13. help someone clean their room
14. tell someone what you like about them
15. call your grandparents to tell them you love them
16. write a thank you note to daddy
17. write a thank you note to mommy
18. put away someone's laundry
19. hide notes of love in someone's room
20. clear the dishwasher unasked

(Here is the PDF of the hearts I used with my kids with some blank ones to add your own)

All of these are ones they can do in the home, but you could expand it to include kindness outside the home as well. What ideas would you add?

I think the envelopes are my favorite method of delivery. All I used was felt, a glue gun and a button.  And they are reusable, so that's good. I cut a piece of felt into a long rectangle, glued it to make a pocket, rounded the top, cut a slit where I wanted a button, and used a little dab of hot glue to adhere the button. No sewing involved.

For the paper packages, I used double sided tape to make a loop of cute paper, flattened one end and sealed with double sided tape, filled it with the kiss and heart and sealed the other side with double sided tape. They'll have to tear it to open it, so . . . not reusable.

For the roses, I took two kisses, wrapped them in red cellophane, stuck in a small skewer and wrapped it with floral tape. Then I tied on some curly ribbon and slid the heart up onto the ribbon. The kids who don't get this one will protest since each of these has two kisses and the other packages only have one. I'll just have to eat the second kiss each day to make things fair.

I had an old broken picture frame I used for the last countdown calendar. I tied/hot glued 3 pieces of twine across the frame and used little clothespins to attach the hearts and kisses. It's cute, but the kids might think it disappointing that the secret missions aren't very secret. I guess I could've folded the hearts so they couldn't see what was inside. Next time . . .

Which is your favorite?

Here are some more ideas for focusing on family love during February:

"Love at Home" sign and activity

Filling our Home with Love

The Love Bug

Special Valentine's Day Breakfast

And be sure to check out my Valentine's Day board on Pinterest for more great ideas!

Follow Chicken Babies's board Valentines on Pinterest.

This post is part of 100 Acts of Kindness Challenge from Toddler Approved and Coffee Cups and Crayons! Head over to check out more great ideas for spreading kindness!

January 7, 2015

Indoor Play - Following the Leader

I don't know about you, but I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold weather. I just want to hibernate under a blanket with a book and stay warm. However my kids need to get out some energy! Today I'm sharing some fun ways to get your children moving indoors so they're not bouncing off the walls (without permission).

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Young kids love playing follow the leader - especially if mommy is playing too! When I played this with my boys there was much giggling because they could make mommy do whatever they wanted! (Now do you have that "following the leader" song stuck in your head from Disney's "Peter Pan" movie? I do.)

Classic Follow the Leader 

Everyone playing stands in a line. Whoever is in front moves around the room in whatever way they like - skipping, jumping, hopping, crawling, etc . . . Everyone in line behind them copies their movements. Change leaders after a designated amount of time. (usually shorter is better - like after 2 minutes). 

Animal Variation

This is played like classic, except the leader pretends to be an animal of their choice. When the teacher/parent gives a signal, the leader switches to a new animal. Let each child lead as 3 or 4 animals before switching leaders. You can discuss ideas before you start playing to avoid children not knowing what to do, or the parent/teacher can announce the animal the leader should move like each time, which would work well for the younger kids. Some good animals to use would be: elephant, monkey, lion, frog, bear, horse, rat, bird, etc . .

"What are you stepping in?" Variation

Christopher about to dive into the swimming pool he's pretending to walk through

I couldn't come up with a good name for this variation. What I'm trying to say is that the leader pretends to be moving on or through different types of ground, ie. walking on sand, grass, water, mud, glue,  snow, hot lava, peanut butter, ice cream, egg shells, etc . . . Whatever the children can imagine. As with the animal variation, discuss ideas before play begins, and give the leader suggestions if they're unable to come up with an idea of their own. Kids love imagining what they're moving through, but don't be surprised if the group doesn't stay in a line. It's fine to just let them all move individually as they would imagine. The leader can be the one to choose what they're moving through.

Train/Snake Variation

Have the kids put their hands on one another's shoulders. The person in front is the "Train Conductor" or the Snake's head. Let them lead the kids around the room for a while, then switch.

Mirror Variation

Ha! Christopher's face in this one just makes me laugh

This is not played in a line, but is still a "Follow the Leader" type game. Each person needs a partner (or it can be done in a group of 3, but 2 works best). One child is the leader, the other pretends to be their mirror reflection. Facing each other, the leader slowly moves his body - lifting an arm, moving a leg, turning a head, or even making silly faces while the child who is the mirror copies. To explain the game to Nathan, I reminded him of the scene in "Muppets Most Wanted" where Kermit is pretending to be Constantine's reflection in a mirror so he won't discover him. We love that movie! Make sure the children know to move slowly so the mirror child can keep up. After a while, switch who leads and who mirrors. This game is too difficult for toddlers, but preschoolers love it. Nathan (5) needed help moving slowly, so I went first and modeled how. This was good for helping him learn to control his body. 

Bean Bag Variation

To make "follow the leader" more challenging for older kids, give everyone in the line a Bean Bag (or small stuffed animal) to put on their head. As they follow the leader they have to try and keep it balanced on their head, or elbow, or back, or shoulder, etc . . . The kids really liked this version! They wanted whoever dropped their bean bag to be "out", but I told them this time we were just playing for fun. If they wanted to play that way later, it was fine by me. 

Obstacle Course Variation

If you're playing follow the leader in a large space you can set up a sort of obstacle course for the line of kids. We put out an old board to walk on like a balance beam, chairs to move around, used a table to crawl under, and a pillow to hop over. If the leader is old enough, they can be the one to design the obstacle course. For younger kids, just put out some different options, show how they can be used, and let the child lead. They may just want to hop over the pillow over and over and over again. And that's okay. As with other variations, set a specific time limit for each leaders' turn to avoid shouts of unfairness in turn time. If you have the resources, there are some fun movement toys that would be great for an obstacle course. These are some I have my eye on: a tunnel to crawl through, Curve-A-Beam to balance on, Gonge Riverstones to walk across, Activity Cones to run around, and a Tumbling Mat to roll on. The kids would have so much fun with those! (or at least I would)

Freeze Dance Variation

Play "Follow the Leader" to music. Instead of playing in a line, have the leader out in front facing the group. The parent (or leader if the kids are older) can be in charge of pausing the music to make everyone "freeze" occasionally. Watching kids try to dance like the leader child is dancing is pretty funny. And mommy dancing in front of all the kids is even funnier. Good times.  

I hope this post has given you some ideas of ways to keep your children active indoors! This post is part of the Gross Motor Activities from A to Z blog hop. Our letter is "F", for Following the Leader.

Not only can you find 26 great ideas for indoor play, but you have a chance to with a parachute play pack from the series sponsor, Discount School Supply Enter to win below:

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December 3, 2014

Favorite Series Books for Early Readers

As a teacher and a parent, I'm always on the look out for good books. These beginning chapter book series are some of my kids' favorites!

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There's a magical moment in a child's life when reading clicks! Suddenly they just get it, and their reading takes off. This can happen anywhere between Kindergarten and Third grade. This is the time when kids love reading easy chapter books and especially love reading stories about favorite characters. Series are very popular at this age. Kids don't seem to mind that plot elements are incredibly similar and predictable. In fact, that's what makes them so great for young kids. The predictability factor helps in their fluency and builds confidence.

If you're like me, you love giving books as gifts. These series books are some of my children's favorites (and I've read them too). Any one or set of these books would make a great gift for birthday or holiday. Affiliate links are provided for your convenience. They link back to amazon so you can read more about the series if you're interested.

What can I say about this porcine wonder? I love the Mercy Watson books. They have great colorful pictures and silly stories. The large text and lots of pictures make it very accessible to early readers. The hardbound books and chapters make children feel grown up for reading chapter books. We love these!

Captain Awesome
This is a fun new series for early readers. The print is large and there are lots of pictures. The stories are clever and funny. And with a name like "Captain Awesome" you know it's going to be good. 

My Weirder School
This is a newer series and one that my kids love! Even Maren who is way beyond this level enjoys reading them. 

Judy has been a favorite around here for a long time. She's spunky and kids will relate to her moodiness. But she also is able to figure out how to get around her moods which is great for the kids to read about. 

My boys (and girl) have enjoyed reading about Judy's younger brother Stink. The words are big and the chapters short which make for good reading for young kids.

Kung Pow Chicken
Do I even need to say anything? Doesn't the title speak for itself? Crime fighting ninja chickens. Yup. That's a winner in this family.

Galaxy Zack 3-pack: Hello, Nebulon!; Journey to Juno; The Prehistoric Planet

Galaxy Zack
A new series I haven't yet read, but my kids have enjoyed. Sorry for the lame review. I hear they're good. 

Magic Tree House books
Magic Tree House are classic books for a reason. One thing I especially love about them is the positive brother/sister relationship portrayed. We need more books where kids are kind and polite to each other! Jack and Annie go on fun adventures and the kids learn things. Maren and Joshua used to go around yelling "Mt. Vesuvius" after they read the "Vacation under a Volcano" book and that always made me laugh. There are also "research guides" you can buy that have more information about each topic. My kids have liked those as well. 

The Rainbow Magic Fairies
There are a million of these books (well, not really, but it seems like it.) Maren LOVED reading every single one of them. They are very predictable, but that helps make reading them easier.

This is the series Christopher is currently interested in. Maren read and liked them too. They are fun early reader fantasy books for kids who like that sort of thing. 

There's something about mysteries at this age - kids just love them. This series about three friends solving mysteries is great. There are other series by the same author and in the same format that my kids have liked - The calendar mysteries, and the the capitol mysteries come to mind. 

This funny little girl has spunk. Maren loved reading about her adventures. 

Andrew Lost
These books are great for kids who love science. Each book takes Andrew on a new science adventure, discovering new things. They are similar in difficulty to the Magic Tree House books.

These books will always hold a special place in my heart. This was the first series Maren devoured as a child and she used to love to pretend she had a photographic memory like Cam. She'd close her eyes and tell me to quiz her about what was in the room. It was extremely cute. Kids love these mysteries and how Cam is able to solve them. 

The Littles

The Littles
Fun stories about little people living in your walls! These are great classic books my kids have loved. 

Beast Quest #1: Ferno the Fire Dragon

Beast Quest
Joshua and Christopher have both loved these books. Honestly, I was surprised because parts are scary and my kids don't do scary very well. There's another series about the same land I've stayed away from because I've read reviews that they were gory, but these ones are good. The idea is that there are several beasts around the land who are being controlled through magic collars and a boy goes on a quest to free them from the collars and save the land. 

Bailey School Kids
These are popular with the kids. Any stories about school actually seem to do well, and a school where the teachers may be magical or mythical beings? Definitely high interest there.

Everyone loves Flat Stanley! These books are classics and a great place to start for kids beginning chapter books. Christopher and I started reading these together last year, and he liked them so much he wanted to just read them on his own rather than wait for me to read them with him. I call that a win!
Zack Files
This is one of the series I have not read any of, but my kids like them. 

I know, I know. Some people CAN'T STAND Junie B., and I get that. But personally I just love her. She makes me laugh. Just as long as none of my children try to behave like Junie. Maren loved these books, but she didn't read them on her own. We read them aloud to her, and it was a great bonding experience. We laughed together, but we were also able to talk about what wrong choices Junie B. was making and what she should've done. Christopher can't get past the first chapter of these books. He has a hard time with suspense caused by kids doing wrong things. He gets too nervous for them and the consequences. So clearly, not for everyone, but it was Maren's favorite so I included them. Just be warned. 

Notebook of Doom
The titles of these books are very appealing to my boys. Doom! Aghh! Christopher says they are good.

There was a time when Joshua devoured every Encyclopedia Brown book he could find. Again, it's that mystery thing. These are great books for kids on the older end.

There are LOTS of series out there for the beginning-to-read-chapter-book child, and it can be hard to sort through them all. I hope this list of our favorites has helped as you try to find books that will be your child's favorites. What ones that you loved would you add to the list?


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