Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Memorial Day in Chicago

This past weekend, Morgan and I started off summer the right way with a family vacation to Chicago. It's becoming a tradition for us, and we are already looking forward to going back next year.

Last year when we went, we broke things up into a bunch of smaller trips. This year, we just straight there and back -- and Henry did great. He was a total rock star in the car and was really happy for the most part on the trip. 

We did try traveling at night down there which ended up being a huge fail. Henry slept for two hours {7:00-9:00 p.m.} but then was awake, but happy, until we arrived at our hotel at 12:30 a.m. The next day, he was so tired and cranky but slept in the stroller so we were still able to enjoy most the day. 

Here's what we did in Chicago: 

Day 1: Pack up and drive to Chicago

Day 2:  Took the train into the city, Shed Aquarium, John Hancock Building and hanging with my bestie CJ

Day 3: Kohls Children's Museum, swimming at the hotel with some "Internet" friends

Day 4: Lincoln Park Zoo with "Internet" friends {complete with baby hand holding}, dinner and swimming with  CJ

Day 5: Pack up and drive home

It was one of those perfect trips that I wish I  could just recreate over and over. Henry had so much fun seeing friends he normally only sees on an iPhone, and totally loved the city. Now, I'm utterly exhausted and so in love with my little family. 

See more of our trip pictures on Instagram, and follow me while you are there!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tot School FAQ

I get a lot of questions about tot school and how and why I do things the way I do. Before I start to answer some of the more frequently asked questions, I just need to say -- I don't have all the right answers. I've been doing this for about a year, and yes, I've learned a lot about what works for my child. That may not be the answer for yours so don't be afraid of trying something, or doing something that works for you!

1. How do I start tot school in my home?

My favorite advice -- just start! Don't over think, everything doesn't have to be perfect and you don't have to do everything at once. Pick an activity to do and start there, if your child is having fun, grow from there. Way back when Henry was 13-months-old, I started one afternoon with two bowls, some balls, and a kitchen scoop -- Henry had so much fun that we just never stopped. Everyone has a beginning and it's fine to keep it simple. 

2. Is my child too young?

This is a hard one for me to answer because I don't know your child. But, I will say, Henry started at 13-months-old and did great. If I was to have another child, I would probably start even earlier. For me I would start with a simple baby school about the time my child could sit up on their own. 

3. Do I need a dedicated tot school space?

While I've been fortunate enough to have a dedicated tot school space, I 100 percent don't think it is necessary. Most tot school activities could be done anywhere. For us, it is better for Henry to be separated from his regular toys when he is doing tot school or else he is too easily distracted. Also, I like the dedicated space because it allows me to keep all of the materials out without having to worry about Henry's safety. A lot of the things we use at tot school are too small for Hen to use unsupervised  So, if you don't have a dedicated space, just make sure you have a space where you can safely store what you are working on that week.

4. How long do you spend doing tot school each day?

During tot school time,  I think it is extremely important to follow Henry's lead. During tot school time, if Henry is into an activity, I go with it. If he's not interested in tot school that day -- fine, I never push it. Therefore, the amount of time really depends on Henry, some days its 10 minutes, others it's 2 hours. Generally, we average between 30 and 60 minutes each day. Again, I cannot stress enough, follow your child's lead -- just let it be fun.

5. Is there a particular time of day that you do tot school? Why?

Yes, we do tot school in the late afternoon, or sometimes after dinner. We've picked that time, for one reason -- that's when we're home. In the  mornings, we are usually out-and-about or have a class/activity scheduled. So, there usually isn't time for tot school in the mornings. If we were home more in the mornings, I would have no problem doing tot school then. 

6. How do you make Henry sit and do an activity? Does he always finish?

Short answer - I don't and he doesn't. Again, tot school is all about learning through play. I want to instill a love of learning, and to do that, I keep things fun so no forcing him to do anything or finish anything. Henry doesn't always finish a tray or an activity. And some days, especially in the beginning of the week, he will bounce from activity to activity very quickly -- but that's ok. The only thing I make him do is help cleanup one activity before he begins the next. I will also say, the longer we do tot school, and the older he gets, the better he has become about sitting and doing an activity from start to finish. Over time, he starts to understand that the materials have a start and an end, and he works to find that end.

7. How many materials do you prepare each week? Can I do more or less?

I always prepare 3 tot trays and at least two other activities. The number of activities we do, or get to, each week depends on how much time I have to prepare, how interested Henry is, and how much time we have for tot school. On a busy week, we may only do the two extra activities, or we may do 5 -- it really depends. The one thing I don't set up a ton of is art projects -- Henry just never shows much interest and they end up causing frustration for both of us. I think the number of activities you plan is really up to you. Gauge your child's interest, and realistically think about how much time you have, then plan away.

8. How much time do you spend preparing for tot school each week?

This is a tough one, because I don't keep track really. A lot of "preparing" is surfing Pinterest, or reading blogs. Then, there is creating materials, and finally clean up/set out. In total, I'm guessing between 3 and 4 hours a week are spent on these activities. 

9. What is your tot school budget?

Again, this is a really tough one because I'm not the best at keep track. I don't have a set budget per week and some weeks are more expensive than others. But a lot of my materials are things I bought when I first started and use over and over -- so there are certainly higher start-up costs. I'm guessing, per week, I spend maybe $5.00-$10.00 now {if you include things like printer ink and laminating paper}. But, you could spend a lot more, or less. I make a lot of my own materials, which keeps my costs low.  

10. How did you pick your curriculum?

Honestly, I don't really have a set curriculum. I have set concepts that I want to teach, like letters, but beyond that, I go with the flow. I do it this way because it gives me more flexibility to follow Henry's lead. If he's in a sensitive period for matching then I can incorporate more matching activities. 

11. How do you choose your activities each week?

Well, I have a concept that I want to teach, right now its the letter of the week. Then, I have skills that I want to emphasize, or I've noticed Hen is in a sensitive period for something. These generally include matching, pouring, fine motor, gross motor, etc. Then, I choose try to choose an activity that combines the concept and the skill. I get ideas from other blogs, Pinterest, just googling and I make many of my own. 

12. Why Montessori? Does tot school have to focus on Montessori-style learning?

Montessori is a learning philosophy that I really knew nothing about prior to starting tot school, and I still have a LOT to learn. For me, I'm just drawn to its child-led approach. I think it fits well with my overall parenting-style and I think it is easily adapted to fit our situation. A lot of what I do is not "traditional Montessori" but instead is Montessori inspired. While I would love to do more traditional Montessori activities, I just cannot afford the materials right now -- so we make do. Tot school is really just making learning fun for your tot, so there is no reason that it has to fit one particular learning style -- so if Montessori doesn't appeal to you, you can still have lots of fun with tot school. 

13. Do you force Henry to finish an activity?

I kind of answered this above, but I wanted to be very clear. No, I don't force Henry to do anything. I see my job to prepare the environment to facilitate learning, beyond that Henry is in control. He chooses when he starts and finishes an activity. While it may be hard to give up control, I find he learns best when he is in control of what he is doing. 

14. How do you handle clean-up time?

In the beginning, I let Henry destroy our tot school area, then we did a big clean up at the end. But, over time, and as I've learned more about Montessori, I really see the value in having an orderly environment. In order to learn, Henry needs his space to be uncluttered and he needs to have that structure. So, we now clean up each tray prior to starting the next one. At this age, Henry is responsible for cleaning up most of the tray. He's not perfect, and some days he is down right sassy and so things don't get cleaned up. But we work on it, every time. I've really seen this improve his ability and willingness to clean up over time and most days it is not a struggle, and he does contribute quite a bit. But, he almost always needs a reminder to clean up, and help doing it.  

Have a question that's not listed? Ask in the comments and I'll answer there!

Tot School
Montessori MondayFor the Kids Friday The Weekly Kids Co-Op at B-Inspired MamaTuesday Tots

Saturday, May 25, 2013

DIY Mix-and-Match Robots

I showed a little preview of this project on Instagram but I wanted to give a full explanation of this awesome wall feature. Best news, these were really easy to make.

I made these for Henry's new Montessori inspired big-boy room. The room itself is not quite done yet, but it's getting there. 

You'll Need: 

Craft Wood -- I found this at Michaels in the clearance bin for $0.60 for four pieces. 
5x7" photos -- I used these clip art robots that I bought on Etsy, but I guess you could use any image. I had them printed to size at Target.  
Mod Podge -- I used original matte, but I've since learned that there is one specifically for photos, which may  be a little easier to use. 
3M Photo Hanging Strips -- Cut into small squares
Exacto Knife 

To Make:

Cut the photo completely away from the background. You should just be left with the robot.

Then, place the robot on to the craft wood to determine how many pieces you'll need. Mine used either 3 or 4 pieces -- when pushed together. Once you determine how many pieces you'll need, cover both sides of the robot in Mod Podge and  place it where you want on the pushed together pieces. 

Let the glue dry. Once it's dry use the exacto knife to cut in between the pieces of wood to separate the pieces and cut the image. Then apply another layer of Mod Podge and let each piece dry. I repeated this twice to make sure the image was completely covered -- since little hands were going to be abusing them. This might be where it would have been helpful to have the photo Mod Podge. 

Repeat for each robot.

Finally, once dry, place one side of a 3M strip on to each piece of wood. Then, place one 3M strip where you would like the robots on the wall. I placed my squares about 2 inches apart {from center to center}.

Most fun part, set your kid free and watch all the creative creations!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 Summer Bucket List

With the unofficial start to summer rapidly coming up, I decided to create a summer bucket list! Things I want to do this summer: 

1. Have a backyard picnic
2. Go to the beach
3. Make real lemonade 
4. Make homemade Popsicles 
5. Have a picnic in a park
6. Eat a child-free meal at a rooftop restaurant
7. Visit the Minnesota Zoo
8. Watch fireworks 
9. Have a staycation weekday 
10. Plant some flowers and keep them alive
11. Twins game -- childfree! 
12. Family adventure on the bus or train
13. Visit at least 5 new playgrounds 
14. Take a trip to the North Shore 
15. Twins Game with Henry
16. Family trip to Chicago
17. BBQ with our neighbors
18. Finish at least 2 projects in the backyard
19. Read a book 
20. Take Henry to a splash pad
21. Make s'mores 
22. Get Henry potty trained
23. Visit the Minneapolis sculpture gardens 
24.  Go antiquing 
25. Try to get a little tan
26. Easy backyard painting
27. Go to the farmer's market -- more than once
28. Share a root-beer float with Hen
29. Go somewhere to pick fresh fruit
30. Visit a petting zoo
31. Enjoy a day at the Minnesota State Fair
32. Play in the rain
33. Eat at Sea Salt and take a walk around the falls 
34. Redesign the blog
35. Go to at least 2 street festivals
36. Take the dogs on an outing 
37. Hunt for deals at garage sales

I think this sounds like a pretty amazing list and I'm going to try to keep you all updated with all the fun we are having! Nothing beats the summer. 

What's on your bucket list this summer? Any of my ideas on yours?

Monday, May 20, 2013

I need Business Cards -- to the Rescue

63 days. 63 days! 63 days until I leave for Blogher13! 63! I feel like I have a hundred-and-a-half things I want to get done before I leave. One major thing on my list is getting nice business cards. While Blogher is partially about hanging out with my blogger friends and learning new tricks about the business, it is also  about networking and making connections with other bloggers and businesses so I can bring you guys the best content available. 

In order to make those connections, I have to have sweet business cards so people remember who I am. Here's where comes in!'s business card selection is amazing. I seriously could spend hours looking at all the choices. They do an incredible job at combining chic designs, color choices and options with really affordable prices.

Another one of my favorite features -- there is so much customization allowed. From fonts, to colors, sizes and arrangements, lets you pick them all.

For me, personally, I'm obsessed with several of the designs:

Ikat Design -- I love the pattern on the back and the simplicity of the front. I think its the perfect combination. And the yellow! LOVE.

Colorful Playtime -- First thing, its square!!! I love that its unique shape helps it stand out. I also cannot get over the colors. They work so well together and would coordinate with so many design styles.

Vintage Hollywood Ticket -- I love the info-graphics on this card.While the appointment section isn't really something I need, it could be perfect for so many businesses, or even play dates! 

Camera Card -- Vertical!! I've been craving a vertical card for a few months since I pinned one. This one makes me want to be a photographer, just to have this awesome card! 

Don't like any of the pre-made designs? {Impossible -- but we'll pretend} Well, allows you to up load your own image! So the card can be exactly what you need it to be! 

So, if you were me, what style would you choose? Check out's business cards and get back to me...I need all the help I can get! 

*I was compensated for this post by, however all opinions are my own.*

Tot School -- Letter L

Last week, we took a week off of tot school because Henry just wanted to be outside enjoying the newly warm weather -- and quite frankly, so did I! But this week, we were back in action learning about the letter L. It was a fun week! Prior to starting Henry could identify and say L but he struggled with the lower case l. 

On the first tray was a set of Montessori 3-part L word cards that I made. I found this awesome tray at Goodwill and it was perfect for organizing the tray. Henry enjoyed sorting the cards much more than he wanted to match them. He must be coming out of his sensitive period for matching, because a few weeks ago he would have loved this, now he largely ignored the tray. 

The second tray was by far Henry's favorite of the week. I painted 10 rocks to look like ladybugs. Each ladybug had a different number of spots on it from 1 to 10. Then, to make the activity self-correcting, I wrote the number of spots each ladybug had on the bottom of the rock. Finally, I made matching laminated cards that contained the numbers 1 to 10 and the corresponding number of black dots. 

Henry is obsessed with rocks and numbers right now so this activity was perfect. He sat and matched the ladybugs to the cards for up to an hour at a time. Over and over. Most of the time he looked at the written number, but he got the job done. And, he was so darn proud when he got them right!

The final tray was a lacing activity. I made this button snake and the felt shapes way back for the color blue tot school week. I can see now that at the time I first introduced it, Henry was WAY to young. Even now he struggled, mostly from lack of interest. Henry seems to have no desire to learn any self-care, which extended to learning the buttons. He did enjoy taking the felt off if I put the felt on. 

We also had a letter L sensory bin. After a couple weeks of lame uninteresting bins, the letter L finally had some good options. Henry loved playing with the lions, the lizards, and the fabric leaves. 

Other things we did this week included: These were a little more sparse than usual, just because Henry didn't want to come inside! I'm going to have to start planning more outdoor activities. 

Letter L dry erase

Letter L Magnet Board

Tot School
Montessori MondayFor the Kids Friday The Weekly Kids Co-Op at B-Inspired MamaTuesday Tots