Gift Guide : Games for Preschoolers

Today we’re sharing some of our favorite games for preschoolers. I’m on a mission to start family or family+friends game nights in our house. It hasn’t happened yet, mainly because I’m (almost) all talk and no game (hah!). I haven’t invited anyone over, and I haven’t opened an adult game box in years. But behind the scenes, I’m cultivating a few young game-lovers and am slowly building my game-night momentum.

With a 4yo and 2yo in the house, we’re still slightly new to the kids’ game section. Fortunately, I think we’ve already found some great ones. Sometimes we play in the evenings as a family, and I love the together time. But the mom in me also loves that playing games can be used to reinforce other skills that they’re learning. Read on to see what I’m talking about.

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This guide contains a few games that we’ve played and liked. If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for a 3-5 yo, I really don’t think you can go wrong with anything on our list. A few are card games, making them perfect stocking stuffers.

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Gift Guide : Play Kitchen

We’re sharing a variety of themed gift guides this year. Check out Dinos in the KitchenHeard You Like Cats, Ice & Drink Pairings, and DIY Edible Gifts.

**Quick note – all of the items below include an additional 15% off coupon on Amazon, but we’re not sure how long it will last.**

Last Christmas the boys received a play kitchen, and it’s become one of the most-used toys in the house.

Kitchens are such a great toy for creative and make-believe play. Sometimes our boys are making us coffee and toast for breakfast. Other times they are serving me ice cream cones for an afternoon treat or acting as waiters and chefs in their own restaurant.
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I love big ticket toys like this kitchen because it’s a themed toy that you can slowly can add to over time. For us, this meant buying a few items to play with Christmas morning, and then letting our family give them additional kitchen elements on Christmas and again at their birthday.

The slow giving method is also a great plan if you’re not sure about how much your kiddos will love the big toy. For us, the kitchen’s a winner, and we’ve been happy to buy them quality items for it.

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Below is a list of the exact items in our play kitchen with info about why we like them. *Notice that our list contains more items than are pictured above. It’s all so good!

  • kitchen (pictured above) : this retro blue kitchen is the exact one we have. We picked it because of looks and also because it seemed to have slightly more storage than others (key for all of the awesome accessories below!). The one downside to this kitchen is that it comes with a million pieces and takes a billion hours to put together. Keep that in mind when on Christmas Eve and pour yourself a big glass of eggnog before starting.
  • broom & mop set (pictured above) : the boys love this set and use it often. Almost never for cleaning, but always for sweeping out the marbles that roll under the couch. Patting myself on the back for encouraging them to be self-reliant.
  • cut-apart fruit (pictured above) : our boys love cutting apart this fruit. We also have this cut-apart food set.
  • espresso machine (pictured above) : if your kids love to help make your morning coffee, then they will love this! And you’ll always be caffeinated.
  • mixer (pictured above) : so cute and comes with a few cake-baking accessories. Our kids are always mixing up mini dinos. #boys
  • toaster (pictured above) : comes with bread and butter. A complete meal!
  • ice cream (not pictured) : BUY THESE! Even if you don’t buy the kitchen, this set is so much fun. They ice cream, spoons, and cones are magnetic, creating a bit of magical fun and driving the kids crazy as the ice cream tumbles when they try to make a four-scoop cone.
  • cookies (not pictured) : so cute and creative. The only bummer is that the tray is too long to fit in the oven (they’re different brands). Our boys don’t seem to mind, but some might.
  • canned food (not pictured) : a great food filler for the fridge, and all of the cardboard cans can be opened again and again, letting them do double duty as little storage containers.
  • tea set (not pictured) : comes with cups, wooden tea bags, kettle, etc.
  • pots & pans (not pictured ) : all metal and awesome
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Field Trip : Botanic Gardens

Have you ever been to a botanic garden? If not, it’s time to find one in your neck of the woods. You may be lucky enough to have one in your city or town, or you may want to visit one the next time you’re on vacation. Trust us, this is a field trip that’s equally entertaining for both adults and kiddos.

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Cooking with Kids : Brownies Hack!

Cooking with Kids is an ongoing series where we share recipes that are easy enough to make with a little kid.  If you’re new to the series, here’s our first post that provides our detailed tips for cooking with little ones; subsequent posts are less detailed, but each contains recipe-specific ideas for working with your little ones in the kitchen.

Ugg, our first Cooking with Kids post was exactly two years ago this month! Look at that wee little two-year-old Alex! I can hardly handle it. I’m also realizing that there have not been nearly enough of these posts, and we really have to get Luc in on the action.

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Putting my nostalgia aside, this post is definitely a hack in the whole Cooking with Kids series. We aren’t making anything from scratch and you may say that we’re barely cooking, BUT I think this simple cooking exercise has some serious independence value for impressionable kids.

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First Bikes for Kids

There’s no doubt about it, we are a biking family. Did you see our recent ride in Rocky Mountain National Park (that was my Mother’s Day treat, and I couldn’t have been happier!)?

Calder’s the intense guy you’ve passed in your car; the one riding up the steepest of mountains and making it look like it’s no effort at all. In my heyday, I biked all of Philly & Boston and was so proud when my car would sit unused for a week at a time.Thanks to the generosity of my mom, we were early adopters of the TAGA. When we moved to Boulder, C added an extra basket so that I could do all of my grocery shopping and errands via the bike. I have such fond memories of getting to know our new city by riding the bike paths with Alex! I would still bike everywhere if I could, but kids and living on the mountain make it a challenge. Continue reading

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Our Top Sun & Water Essentials for Toddlers

I’m so excited for summer with the boys. They are 2 and 4 years old, and I can already tell that this is going to be a really active summer for us. From the moment they wake up until they pass out, we’re riding bikes, playing in the baby pool on the back porch, and going for hikes in the woods. All that time outside in the sun requires good gear, and a dip or two in the water to cool off. So, below we’re sharing our favorite sun and water gear, because the two go together like peanut butter and jelly (obviously).
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Teachable Moments : Bugs!

I’m starting a new series on the blog to share some of the education adventures that the boys and I go on; you can read my introductory post here.

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Mamas and Papas, I’ve decided that fall through spring is the perfect time to investigate bugs!

You’re confused, I know, but hear me out : I spend those seasons vacuuming up all sorts of insects in our house. There are stink bugs, green lacewings, some wasps, flies, and sometimes lady bugs. So, rather than toss the dead bugs in the trash, they are the perfect specimens for learning.

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Have your kiddos collect a bunch of bugs, and then start asking them probing questions that get them observing.

  • You could start with an open-ended : What do the bugs look like?
  • And then get more specific : What color are they?
  • How many legs do they have?
  • How many wings?
  • If you’ve found more than one variety : How are the bugs different or the same?
  • And then you could build curiosity: How did they get in the house?

I try not to hammer them with questions. Instead, I like to sit back and let them explore, but the questions can help to get them thinking and/or they’re just handy to have in mind if you’re having a conversation about the insects and want to keep it going.

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Introduce your kids to scientific tools. We have a few magnifying glasses and the kids’ microscope that you see in the photo above. We also happened upon a super easy trick – use a macro lens on your phone to shoot a zoom-in photo of the insects. If your kids are like mine, they will be amazed at the detail! While they love using their tools, I’ve found that the tools don’t come with the strongest lenses and it can be hard for shaky/excited hands to keep everything in focus. Using the macro photograph is one of the easiest ways to expand your kids’ awe and curiosity about bugs – they can’t believe all of the details that are on the bug sitting there on the table (the fuzzy hairs, the patterns that just looked like stripes now are something else, etc.).

For better or worse, seeing the bugs magnified to this level makes it easier to anthropomorphize the insects, which can lead to some awesome learning conversations. My guys like to talk about the bugs families, what the different members of the family do, where they get their food, etc. And then this can lead to more detailed discussions about the social structure of some bugs, their lifecycle, the predator/prey relationships, and on and on.

When it comes to bug-related tools, we have a bug box that’s handy when we’re catching and analyzing live insects.

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We also like to pull out the insect field guides to look up the insects we’ve found. The first time I pulled out this book, Alex went bonkers! He couldn’t believe all of the different insects that were in the book. So, I gave him plenty of time to just browse the book. Then we narrowed in on the insects we had, once we were on the right page, I had him find the specific insect, and then we read about them.

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My goal is for us to do activities like this over and over again whenever the interest arises, with the intent to increase the boys’ depth of knowledge each time. Some examples include teaching them the correct names of insect parts, the lifecycle of the insect, their role in the ecosystem. And here are a few other simple ideas for extending this activity:

  • draw pictures of the insects
  • discuss and paint a picture of their habitat
  • visit the insect exhibits at your local natural history museum
  • during the summer, we like to start by catching some bugs in the garden! This is one of the easiest ways to discuss the insects’ role in the ecosystem, their preferred habitat, and food. We don’t kill them, but we are still able to carry out a variety of the activities above, and this is where having the bug box is key to keeping your live specimens in one place.

If you’re a bug lover, a parent, or just someone with an idea, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other ideas for introducing kids to insects? Do you have any favorite insect facts?


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Last Minute Gift for Pre-schoolers

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It’s Christmas week!!! We’ve been having so much fun with Alex this year since he really understands that Christmas is something special, but he’s still asking a lot of questions and trying to make sense of what’s going on around him. “When can we open the presents?” “We get to put the tree in our house?!” “It’s Christmas season, but not Christmas day, right?”

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Summer Essentials : Park Days!

From the popsicles on Monday to cooking with Little A on Tuesday and Sarah’s tips for taking sibling snapshots yesterday, it inadvertently turned into a kid-themed week over here. Meanwhile, Alex, Luc and I are in the middle of an awesome summer of kid fun. What does that mean? Playgrounds and parks. Between naps and rainy day visits to the library, we try to spend as much time outside as we can, so I thought I would share our park/sun essentials.

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Swim/sun suits are the way to go if you have little ones and a park with a fountain. The suits make sunscreen application so easy! … and they aren’t just for kids, my mom just gave me this suit for my birthday. PS. everything on that site is 15% off with the code SUMMER15.

I love all of the cheap options for prescription glasses these days, and am thinking about ordering these sunglasses.

Homemade sunscreen? Check!

Word on the playground is that skorts are a mom’s best friend. I never thought I’d say that, but luckily, there are a lot of great looking and fitting skorts out there. Unfortunately, my current favorite is now sold out, so I can’t buy a dozen more, but this is the “sport” alternative.

Keens are awesome for active little kids. Socks aren’t necessary, they keep feet cool, they are great on dry or wet days, and they dry quickly. The only bummer? They’re targets for stray pebbles.

I always pack a hat, and my favorites are the inexpensive floppy ones.

No matter where we’re going, staying organized is the key to getting out the door quickly. I just bought this small Timbuk2 bag and am so happy to be back on the messenger bag train again, especially when there are so many pockets involved.

And the key to keeping everyone happy in the heat is water. At Christmas time I used Cafe Press to make us a couple of personalized water bottles – they made great stocking stuffers, and now they’re in constant rotation for our park trips.

Little A is such a tough guy that he rarely needs more than a kiss to get back on his feet, but I picked up a couple of these first aid kits just in case we happen upon a bandaid moment. They are compact enough to keep in my bag and in the glove box.


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As is my nature, I try to keep things simple when we head out for the day; it gets us out the door faster and there’s less to keep track of when we’re at the park. Of course, we always pack a snack and my camera :-). What about you? What are your park essentials?

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How to: Photograph Young Siblings

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Family portraits are hard.  There’s a good chance everyone involved has varying levels of interest in taking a great portrait.  I’m usually the one in the bunch groaning, so I’m here to tell you how to make future family shots a little less painful, specifically portraits of young siblings.

It all comes down to making it quick, easy and safe for the little ones.  You’re not going to walk away with fifty amazing portraits, but if you get one great shot, the squawks and squeals are all worth it.  In previous posts, we gave you a primer on photography, newborn portraits and kid candids.  I advise skimming those posts to get a better understanding of light and photography before setting up your mini models.

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