Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Birthday!

It's hard to believe, but we all survived the first two years of having twins. Here are some photos of how we celebrated. First, we filled their playroom with balloons.

Ok, so the plan was to fill the entire floor with balloons. However, we were blowing these up by mouth after the kids had gone to bed and we decided that this was close enough. Really, how many balloons could two kids really play with at once anyway.

They were so happy and played with the balloons for days. Eventually we needed to get rid of the balloons, so amazing husband came up with an entertaining idea.

We could have used another 30-40 balloons before they would have gotten tired of that.

Every year... ok, for the second year in a row, I had the kids do a finger painting on their birthday. The first year was just a few dots as they only got the tips of their fingers in the paint. Clearly , they were more into it this year. They even got to pick their own colors of paper and paint. While I rotate the other art hanging in the playroom, these stay up all the time.

Once again, we didn't throw the kids a party. We figure they won't remember anyway and they had just started a new school and didn't really have any friends. However, they did have a birthday celebration at school. This brought up a couple of problems for me. My kids don't like cake, cookies, or chocolate. I have no idea why, but we've tried and they just don't like them. We needed to bring a treat, but dessert was out. My kids love fruit though so I wanted to bring fruit for their class parties. My awesome husband wanted to do more. He carved two sharks from watermelon and filled them with strawberries and watermelon. These were a huge hit in their classes. The other kids loved the sharks, the fruit, and the teachers loved that we weren't filling the kids up with sugar. It was a lot of work to carve them the night before the parties, once again after the kids were in bed, so I'm not sure he will be doing this again.

The other thing we do every year is professional photos. We even found a photographer who can get sweet son to smile. This is a huge accomplishment. This year we went with an urban location. I really dislike studio posed photographs and these give a better sense of our personalities.

We were walking from one location to another and I had no idea this photo was being taken. It ended up being one of my favorites. Who says you need to see faces in a family photo? (Yes, I'm struggling to walk in heels.)

I had to include this one also. How could you not love such a sweet kiss? They are even holding hands. Happy Birthday to my sweet children! You are an amazing amount of work and the highlight of every day.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Making Art

It's quite possible I take too many photos of my kids. Here are some of my favorite art related photos from August.

Coloring while laying down builds core muscles as well as fine motor. It's also a fun change.

I found this at the dollar spot in Target. Just add water and you get a great painting.

We spend a lot of time making music and the piano is always a favorite.

The art of conversation? This photo doesn't really fit with the theme. I just love the way she is holding the phone up for the baby to talk.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Football Season!!!

I love football season. While I enjoy watching football, I really love getting together with my friends before and during the game. We did take the kids to a couple of games, but most were either during nap time or after bed time so I went alone. My husband did drive them to the boulevard (tailgate for most people) before the games to see the excitement.

The shirts they are wearing were given to them when they were babies. It took 2 years, but they finally grew into them. My other favorite thing in this photo is how clearly you can see my daughter's skinned knees. She runs, climbs, and jumps everywhere and has had skinned knees since she started walking. It certainly doesn't slow her down any.


 You already knew I was a nerd, here's where I prove I'm a band nerd. I played in college and now I play with an alumni group before and during the games. My kids love anything musical and they aren't allowed to play with my trumpet regularly. For this occasion, I let them push the valves.

Different game, same shirts - yes, I'm really proud of those shirts. I also love the skirt sweet daughter picked out. The combination of the girly skirt and the sporty shirt is such a great summary of her personality.

Who wants to play a trumpet, when you can play a drum? They still talk about playing the big drum and how it went "boom, boom, boom" almost as loud as thunder.

The nerd in me smiled that they like making music and described it using an analogy. I'm a very proud Mommy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Family Contributions

As I mentioned in the post on Monday, once the kids were interested in money, we started family contributions. Family contributions are things you are expected to do as part of the family. They don't earn you money or rewards, but they will earn you a smiley face. For our two year olds, we have make bed, push in chairs, help with laundry, clean up toys, make good choices, take out garbage, child's choice, and mom/dad choice. If you have toys in multiple rooms, you might want to list them separately. We include putting away their plates with pushing in chairs because it is all done at the same time. Other ideas could include watering plants, feeding animals, getting dressed, and anything else you can think of.

 Once they have completed all of their family contributions for the day, they have the option of doing jobs to make money. These are things they are still learning, need more supervision, or don't need to be done daily.  Ours include vacuuming, cleaning mirrors, cleaning windows, dusting, watering the grass, sweeping the floor, moping the floor, and mom/dad choice. You could also include cooking, or any of the things above. Since we are working on money starting with coins, each job pays 5 cents (paid in pennies) and pay day is on Friday. We started by marking who did each job by color. However, as you can see in the picture, the green marker exploded, so now we just write the first letter of their name on the job.

As they get older and can do more, we will introduce new jobs. We can move the already masters jobs to the family contributions chart and take things off the family contribution chart that should already be a habit and not need to be reminded or rewarded. For example, my kids fully dress themselves without being told, so that isn't on any chart. They are almost at the point of not needing a reminder about pushing in their chairs and cleaning up their dishes, so that will be removed next. They are awesome at dusting and no longer need supervision to do a good job, so that will be moved onto the family contribution chart and we can add another job.

Pay days are exciting. I couldn't find the type of bank I wanted, so I created one. I found a 4 part divided container at The Container Store and I put sticker letters on each section. We have save, spend, invest, and donate. Once I pay out their pennies, they place them one at a time in each section, in order. So the save always gets the most and the donate always gets the fewest. After their money has been sorted, they take the money out of one section at a time. They start by counting pennies. If they have 5, then they trade them for a nickle and so on. This works on one to one correspondence, counting, and of course money.

The save is a long term savings. Once they get at least $5 in it, they will open their own savings account. The spend is the immediate, fun money. If they ever say they want to buy something, this is where that would come from. They will be introduced to this idea once they have just over $1. We will take them to one of the dollar stores and let them buy whatever they want. If they want a toy later, we will cut out a photo and price of the toy to place in the spend section so they can see it and remember what they are saving for. The invest is a little more tricky. We want the kids to know that you can either work to make money or make wise investments to make money. Once they have $5, we will let them start with micro-investing. There are many ways to do this, but most require $25. We figure if they can save $5, we can throw in the other $20. They will get their money plus the interest back and we will only get the $20 back. This way they see it grow faster and it helps them to understand. The donate is self explanatory. They will get to choose the charity and how often they donate money.

It has worked out that after 2 months, the save has just over 30% of the money and the donate has around 23% with the spend and invest coming in around 23/24%. I'm sure you could figure out a way to make it come out differently, but this works for us. It doesn't matter how much they earn, each section always gets at least one penny and it's very easy for a toddler to understand.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hoffbrau Steaks

We were lucky enough to go out for a date night this weekend. Theoretically we try to do that once a month, realistically it's about 8 times a year. I understand the importance of keeping a connection to my wonderful husband, so I appreciate every chance for a date night we can get.


We went to the North Dallas location of Hoffbrau Steaks. This will surprise many people who know me since I don't eat steak. However, after looking at their menu online, I knew I would be able to find plenty to eat. My husband loves steak and since we rarely have it, I knew he would love it also.

I was expecting more of a typical steak house, but it was more of a small casual restaurant. Perfect for taking the family to or just meeting up with friends. The prices were also much cheaper than a typical steak house, which I loved!

We decided to start with an appetizer. After looking at many different choices, I selected the Texas Pecos - jalapenos sliced, breaded, fried, and covered in cheese. Sounded wonderful to me. My husband isn't a big fan of jalapenos, but agreed to at least try them.

 I have no words to explain how wonderful these were. Even my husband ate half of the plate, which for a guy who doesn't like the main ingredient is impressive. If you ever go to Hoffbrau, you really need to try these.

Remember how much I thought my husband would love a steak? Well, he was in the mood for a burger instead. He selected the half pound cheese burger and finished the entire thing. It looked great and was a lot of burger!

I selected a house salad and mashed potatoes. Yes, I'm strange, but it was perfect for me. Sorry, no photo of the mashed potatoes, but they were also good.

The service was friendly, if a little slow. One of the things I liked seeing was the manager helping out with every job. He was seating people, sweeping the floor, clearing plates, delivering food, etc. It really bugs me when a restaurant is busy and the manager is standing ordering people around rather than helping, so that was a big plus. The food was good, the prices were great, so I would recommend everyone in Texas who lives near one to try out Hoffbrau Steaks. (You can even let me know how the steak tastes -  haha.)

I was provided with a free meal, but all opinions are my own.

Circle Time!

As a former teacher, I started circle time at home with my kids. I bought a complete pack that would include everything I would need for the next few years. Yes, I could have made it cheaper and cuter, but this was so much easier and with two toddlers at home, I didn't want to. When we started circle time it was only 2-3 minutes long. We kept increasing it so that by the time they were 3 years old, they could sit and focus for around 12 minutes. I should state that when I say sit and focus it includes many different activities and songs, not just being still and listening.

We started when the kids were 21 months old with just the calendar. At first we didn't even pay attention to the numbers. We started with a simple AB pattern using colors. Once the kids could continue the pattern independently, we did start counting the numbers on the calendar as well. Following the patten and counting the numbers while pointing at them also teaches an important pre-reading skill... left to right and top to bottom. Knowing this is how we follow text is crucial to reading when the time is right. Eventually we moved onto other patterns and focusing on the day of the week.

I taught them a song about the Days of the Week - pointing at each word as we sang it. We would figure out what day it was and then add that to the strips you see above the calendar. Pointing at the current day, moving back one for yesterday, and forward one (from today) for tomorrow to help them visualize the time. By using the phrases "Yesterday was..." "Today is..." and "Tomorrow will be..." will seem repetitive, but it's a great way to teach proper grammar.

Once this was all going well, we added a song about the Months. I held up the words and pointed as we sang each one. This is beginning word recognition.

 At the same time we started the calendar, I introduced these two concepts as well. The weather one is fairly self explanatory - we look outside and move the arrow to what the weather is that day. I also taught my kids the Water Cycle Song. It's a great way to introduce evaporation, condensation, and precipitation all of which are directly related to the weather.

We also talk about the seasons. Rather than introducing them all at once, we started with the current season (Summer) and talked about what happens. I introduced each season as we came upon it so it took a full year before they knew all 4 seasons. They can even tell you 3-4 things that happen in each season as a way to help remember it. "Summer is hot, hot, hot and we wear sunscreen." "In Autumn the leaves change colors and fall off the trees." "In Winter we wear coats and it might snow." "In Spring trees grow leaves and flowers bloom." There are more, but you get the idea. This, of course, depends on where you live. If we lived in Canada, I would be able to promise snow in the Winter.

We didn't add graphing for a full year after starting the other things. I would love to say this was a good idea, but honestly I put it off too long. I should have introduced graphing much earlier. We graph the weather over the course of the month, the number of books by specific authors on the bookshelf, and above is a graph of what vehicles drive by our street. This is a great way to introduce collecting data, graphing, more/less/equal, and interpreting information.

We also keep track of the number of days in school. Of course, this actually is just a count of how many times we have done circle time. While this obviously teaches counting, it later helps teach other things. We added a discussion on place value, carrying in addition, and counting up from a number other than 1. It's much more difficult for a child to start counting at 12, 23, or 64. We also decided that once we got to 250 we should start over again. That's more than enough days in a "school year." 

When the kids were 33 months old, they became fascinated with money. They knew that Daddy goes to work to make money and that things cost money. Yet, it isn't very often they actually saw money. We tend to pay for things with our card and between auto bill pay and online shopping, it was all very abstract. We learned a song (notice the theme) about each of the coins and this was the same time we introduced family contributions (jobs they do because they are part of the family) and chores (jobs they can do to make money). I will get into that in another post.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Art with Toddlers

I've already written about Art with Babies. Here we are more than a year later and it's time for an update - Art with Toddlers!

Stickers, markers, finger painting, chalk

We still do art almost every day around here. My kids love it and it's great for fine motor, sensory experiences, learning colors, and verbal development. I include at least one dictation each week after they have created something. I ask them to tell me about their picture. I don't judge or offer any ideas. I write down what they say, which helps kids develop an understanding of how the written word is connected to the spoken word.

stickers, collages, brush painting

Stickers are always a favorite activity. The smaller the stickers, the more developed fine motor skills are required to get them off the page and onto the paper. We usually do a variety so that they can always feel success and challenge with each project. For the 4th of July, the kids made American flags. They started with a white piece of paper, some red strips of paper, a blue square and some star stickers. We looked at photos of an American flag, then I gave them glue and let them do whatever they wanted.

Gluing, stickers, painting, collages

 Here you can see two different types of collages. Grandma cut out magazine photos of kids and we often let the kids pick their favorites and glue them on paper. They even name the kids and talk about what they are doing in each picture. At the bottom (black paper), you can also see a collage of random stuff. There are buttons, feathers, cotton balls, pompoms, and a pipe cleaner.

markers, water colors, golf ball painting

 The smaller purple papers at the bottom with the yellow paint, are golf ball paintings. I wanted to do marble paintings, but didn't have any marbles. I took a box without a lid and taped the paper inside. I put some paint next to the paper and dropped in the golf ball. The kids held the box and rolled the ball around to create the art. There are a couple of benefits to using a golf ball instead of the marble I had originally wanted. The golf ball weighs more and is more difficult for the kids to bounce out of the box. Every kid will try this, so this was a very pleasant surprise. The other benefit is that it leaves a cool pattern because of the bumps on the ball. I would have loved to be able to do both (and possibly other balls - tennis, etc) to see the different patterns each ball will leave with the same method.

finger painting, stickers, brush painting, markers, stickers

Feeling the difference between coloring with markers, crayons, and chalk helps kids get tactile feedback as they are coloring. Many Kindergartens around here won't let the kids use markers because they are too easy. The kids are coming in without the hand strength and fine motor control needed to properly write. In order to help this, they are being required to only use crayons, chalk, and colored pencils. All of which require (and build) more strength. Starting to use things other than markers early, will help build hand strength and make the transition to writing easier.

Monday, September 3, 2012

6 Flags Over Texas

Just like last year, we took another trip to 6 Flags Over Texas thanks to the company my husband worked for. This year the kids were more into it since they could ride more things.

Here they are on the swings. They are so much bigger than last year! (This is still great for their vestibular systems.)

They loved the airplanes. There was a lever you can pull and make the plane go up as it is going around. They rode this one more than once.

My husband hates spinning rides, but clearly the rest of us love them. I love that sweet son even has his hands up. Sweet daughter was just trying to make it spin faster.

As the sun went down, it started to rain. Here's a travel tip - if it rains, don't leave! Most of the people left and we rode the big train around until the rain let up some. Yes, we got wet, but we didn't melt and it was so much fun without anyone around.

Sweet son wanted a hug from a skunk. My kids didn't know any of these characters, since we don't watch tv, but he was still impressed.

We got both kids a flashlight with their name on it. You will notice it doesn't matter who he is posing with, the flashlight is the only thing holding his attention.

Sweet daughter wasn't getting near any of these characters. We were lucky if she would wave while hiding behind us. 

The other good thing about the rain and the people leaving, is that we could easily find groups of characters standing under awnings with no lines to get your photo taken.

This was from earlier in the day, before she realized she was scared of the characters. Yes, she dances like a white girl. haha

I'm linking up with Suitcases and Sippycups and Walking on Travels for Travel Tips Tuesday!