Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Healthy Snacks for Your Kids

Amy B Croker
MAT Elem Education
As moms, we are always looking for fun and healthy ways to feed our kids, right? It is easy to get in such a rut of the same snack foods such as Goldfish, Yogurt, Fruit or Cheese sticks. So I went on a search on one of my favorite websites, and found two adorable snacks, that I will definitely be trying with my kiddos and wanted to share with all of you.

Happy Snacking!

Blueberry-Banana Stacks

A great one to do after you go blueberry picking and easy for your kids to help make.

Blueberry-Banana Stacks

  • 6 mini chocolate, caramel, or berry-flavored popcorn cakes
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons strawberry-flavored cream cheese
  • 6 banana slices
  • 6 fresh blueberries

Make It Spread cakes with cream cheese and top with banana slices. If desired, dollop with additional cream cheese and top with a blueberry. Serves 2.

Safari Snack

A fun one for the zoo or a safari theme party.

Safari Snack
  • 1/2 of an 8-ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Celery sticks, animal crackers, and/or assorted dippers such as peeled jicama sticks, carrot sticks, apple wedges, pear wedges, or graham cracker sticks
Make It1. For dip, in a small mixing bowl beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in peanut butter, milk, and honey until well combined and smooth. If desired, chill before serving.
2. To serve, spread dip in celery sticks and garnish with animal crackers and cut-up fresh fruit. Or, serve with assorted dippers. Makes twenty 1-tablespoon servings (1-1/4 cups).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Shake it up with Homemade Ice Cream

Amy B Croker
MAT, Elem Education
Need a fun, easy and inexpensive activity to do with your kids that will not only cool you off, but will also be a great learning experience too?
Here is an ice cream recipe we posted last week under "Family Summer Fun" and thought it would be fitting to post it by itself on this great day of not only spending time with family and friends, but also for celebrating the brave men and women that have fought for our country.
Happy Memorial Day!

Ice Cream Recipe:

Watch as liquid mixture transforms into solid ice cream before your eyes. All you need is sugar, milk, vanilla (or any flavoring of your choice), ice, salt, a quart-size food-storage bag, and a gallon-size plastic bag.

First, mix one tablespoon of sugar, ½ cup of milk, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla in a bowl. This will make about one scoop. Transfer the contents to the quart-size bag and seal.

Then fill the gallon-size bag with two quarts of crushed ice and 6 tablespoons of rock salt (or coarse salt). The rock salt will keep the ice from melting. Make sure both bags are completely sealed.

Place the quart-size bag inside the gallon-size bag. Shake for about 10-15 minutes, making sure the contents of the two bags do not mix. The bags will get very cold, so use gloves or a towel to hold them.

This hands-on activity will show how matter changes state from liquid to solid and then, as the final, tasty product drips down your chin, back to liquid again.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Beat the "Are we there yets" we these car games

Because a lot of you will be leaving for the long Memorial weekend or will soon be preparing for your first summer vaca, we thought it would only be appropriate to repost our favorite car games/activities that we posted last April before Spring Break.

So to beat the "are we there yets," here are some games to help you through your trip.

Even though we adjusted some of the games and activites, most of the ideas originated from our Family Fun friends.

We wish you safe travels and very little whining throughout your family roadtrip.  :)

Surprise Balls

Surprise Balls
Put a stop, at least temporarily, to the "Are we there yets?" with Surprise Balls: wads of aluminum foil that have been wrapped around special items, such as candy and small toys.

At certain milestones (every 50 miles, say) toss one to each kid.

Make sure at least one contains a written directive: "Pull over and change seats," "Stop for ice cream," and so on.

Both the treat and the wrapper will keep kids occupied as the foil is great for twisting into fun shapes.
The Best of License Plates Games:
Instead of focusing on states, get more creative with these versions of the classic license plate game.

What You Need
  • Nothing
  1. Challenge older kids to make phrases out of the letters in license plates. For example, EYP 908 can become Eat Your Peas. Or have younger kids search for their ABCs by playing a mobile game of 21. Ask your kids to each pick a license plate, add the numbers, and see who comes closest to 21 without going over.
Crazy Creatures
Bottom of Form Turn the car into a creature laboratory, where strange-looking people and beasts or any combination of both are born.
What You Need
  • Paper
  • Markers or crayons
  1. Start by folding a piece of paper into three equal sections.
  2. One person draws the face in the top section, then folds down the paper so the next person can't see it. That person then draws the midsection of the body, folds down the paper and passes it to the third person, who sketches the legs in the bottom section.
  3. Finally, unfold the paper and name your creature.
 Scavenger Hunt
Just because you're in a car doesn't mean you can't go on a scavenger hunt.
What You Need
  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper
  1. To avoid arguments over who has the easiest items to find, make a master list with several of each item on it -- six motels, 19 blue cars, two towns that start with the letter w -- so that the kids have to work together to find them all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Family Fun Time

Amy B Croker
MAT elementary education
What are you going to do this summer? "School is out for the summer!" I can hear that song playing in my head now, but not in a fun way, but a panicky kind of way.

I wonder if I signed my girls up for enough camps or swim lessons. Or did I sign them up for too much? Decisions, decisions, right?

Well, after a brief moment of panic on the last week of school, I decided, what the heck! Forget worrying about if you signed them up for the right camps, forget comparing your schedule to friends', forget worrying about not having enough to do or fun vacations planned and just enjoy the summer.

Enjoy the down times, enjoy not having the same ole routine and just try to discover new places to go and people to see where you already are. Enjoy some family and friends time in your own backyard.

So that is what we are going to do and here are some things I am going to try to do this summer with my family:
  • Shake up some Homemade Ice Cream in the backyard:Watch as liquid mixture transforms into solid ice cream before your eyes. All you need is sugar, milk, vanilla (or any flavoring of your choice), ice, salt, a quart-size food-storage bag, and a gallon-size plastic bag. First, mix one tablespoon of sugar, ½ cup of milk, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla in a bowl. This will make about one scoop. Transfer the contents to the quart-size bag and seal. Then fill the gallon-size bag with two quarts of crushed ice and 6 tablespoons of rock salt (or coarse salt). The rock salt will keep the ice from melting. Make sure both bags are completely sealed. Place the quart-size bag inside the gallon-size bag. Shake for about 10-15 minutes, making sure the contents of the two bags do not mix. The bags will get very cold, so use gloves or a towel to hold them. This hands-on activity will show how matter changes state from liquid to solid and then, as the final, tasty product drips down your chin, back to liquid again.
  • Go to a drive-in movie or screen on the green: or
  • Enjoy Local Family Nights:  Cheekwood Botanical Gardens has some great family nights all summer long.
  • Explore our hometown or the surrounding areas: Pretend we are tourists and try some things we may not try on a regular basis.
  • Take a daytrip somewhere new
  • Go bowling
  • Pick what we will eat that night for dinner: Go to the farmers market or a local farm and pick some yummy local flavors.
  • Learn something new-either take a class with my girls, cook or do a fun new craft. There are local craft stores that have monthly classes. So check out Michaels or JoAnns for their schedule.
  • Go for a moonlight stroll with the family or a bike ride.
  • Roast marshmallows and catch fireflies
  • Host a cookout with friends-get to know our neighbors or reconnect with old friends.
  • Campout inside. Play games, tell stories and just enjoy some good ole family time.
So what are you all going to do this summer when friends are on vacation, when camps are not in session, when it's raining, when you have had a enough of the same ole same ole activities day in and day out? Are you going to pack your calendar slammed full of activities to save your sanity as well as your kids or are you going to just enjoy this down time of no schedule, no appointments or classes to get to?
We would love to know and would love to get more summer family fun ideas from our readers! We would also love for you to send pictures of your summer fun.

Monday, May 21, 2012

And another year goes by...

Amy B Croker
MAT, Elem Education

My 4 year old finished her last day of Pre K today! As I kissed and hugged her goodbye, I couldn't help but get a little weepy at how fast this time has gone by. We have had the end of the year programs and dance recitals to prepare us for this day, but until it gets here, it really doesn't hit you.

"Where does the time go?," as you hear alot of your fellow mommy friends say! How did this day get here so fast? How did our kids get this big already!

Doesn't  it seem like yesterday you were bringing them home from the hospital wondering how in the world you were going to take care of this sweet little blessing, just hoping and praying you remembered everything the nurses taught you such as how to swaddle, nurse properly, change their diaper,etc. You were on survival mode at that point! All your worries at that time were when they were last fed, when they had their diaper changed, how long their last nap was and when they needed to eat or be changed again.

Now, it is what is the best mother's day out program or daycare, what is the best car seat, bike, the best age to start classes, camps, learning how to swim, what age they should be walking, talking, transitioning to a big girl bed, reading, counting, losing their first tooth, and the list goes on!

So as your child reaches their own milestone, whether it is completing their first year of dayschool, accomplishing potty training (whew!), finishing their first year of Kindergarten (tears) or finally tackling a two wheeler bike without training wheels, it is time to celebrate! Time to get out the camera and tissues, kind of celebrating!

It's time to mark it down in their baby book, record it in a family photo album or post on Facebook for family and friends to see. Then, as a parent, or even as a family, it is time to reflect on where your child was just a year ago. Think about how far they have come.

Talk with your kids about how much they have grown during this school year, challenges they had to face and conquer, things they learned that they didn't know before, friends they (and you) met along the way, and now the new and exciting things to come in the next school year.

Think of this end of the school year as kind of a New Years Eve resolution...celebrating the end of a school year and the beginning of a new one. What goals does your child want to set and accomplish this coming year, or even this summer?

first day of school
last day of school

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hands on Mom is Going Hands Free

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP

One of my favorite words is "convergence"--the occurrence of two or more things coming together.

Like when the weather is perfect on a Saturday afternoon.

Or when my daughter comes home with a "homework pass" on an afternoon when we were over-scheduled.

And especially when I'm trying to find the answer to a question and keep finding the same answer again and again. That's so much better than getting conflicting answers.

A good friend shared the link to about a month ago, and shamefully I didn't open it for a week or so. Was she telling a different story? Arguing the point?

But a treat awaited me there when I finally clicked the link.  Rachel Macy Stafford seeks the blissful moments fully engaged with her children. A plea to PUT DOWN THE PHONE and STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN to sit on the floor and PLAY!  Love this blog, and I know you will too.

This week featured a summer contract made with her children.  A signed manifesto to truly live life together, with more time in the grass than at the computer.  Yes, do what must be done, but enlist the help of the kids to free up more unscheduled time.

And so, a challenge.  To go Hands Free to be more Hands On.  Sweet convergence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

School is almost out! A last minute checklist...

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP
The chalkboard over my coffee maker is sporting a number "7"--as in only SEVEN DAYS left of school for my daughter.  Can I get an "Amen"?

In honor of these seven (SEVEN!!!) days left, I offer a checklist of seven things to remember to do before school wraps up for summer.

1. Have you had a wrap-up conference with your teacher?  If not, even a quick email asking if she has any recommendations for things to brush up on over the summer could be very helpful.

2.  Have you expressed your preferences for next year? Most schools don't let parents choose their teachers, but if you have strong feelings about the personality type or classroom characteristics that work for your child (perhaps because those in place this year were not an ideal fit), now is that time to make your wishes known.  Likewise, if there is a student whose presence in your child's class is likley to cause undue stress and negativity, let your principal know now, before it is too late.

3.  Do you have a reading plan for summer?  Use it or lose it--no kidding.  Ask your teacher what types/series of books would be the best level for your child to read over the summer.  Go ahead and start paying attention to reading programs offered by your local library, or set up your own program at home with goals and rewards along the way.

4.  Do you know your child's friends? Don't let peer relationships suffer over the summer.  Find out who your child's friends are, and get their contact info if you don't already have it.  It is especially helpful to have playdates toward the end of the summer to reinvigorate friendships before the start of school.

5.  Are you ready to try something new?  Summer is a great time to work on a new skill because there's no homework to tie your student down in the evenings.  Art, music, gymnastics, and other extra-curriculars are sometimes more enjoyable (for you and your child) when they aren't just another stop on the school-night list of obligations. 

6.  Have you planned some un-planned time? Children love to manage their own time.  No matter how active your summer looks, try to set aside time for kids to just be kids--catching lightning bugs, riding bikes in the neighborhood, and (gasp) playing with all those toys piled up in your house.

7. Have you thanked everyone who made this year special for your child?  At the end of a long year, a quick note is deeply appreciated by teachers and support staff.

On that note, thank YOU for sharing and keeping our blog alive this year.  And keep spreading the word, especially to friends with rising kindergarteners.  Our daily readiness tips will start June 4--be sure to follow us here or on Facebook or Twitter for a quick tidbit every day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Who needs Kindergarten Readiness Testing? An opinion...

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP
Have you ever wondered why physicians make screening test recommendations such as mammograms after age 40 and colonoscopies after age 50?

Individuals younger than the recommended age who present with symptoms of a disease (or are at heightened risk) should receive the appropriate screening tests, but younger individuals without symptoms who have such tests unnecessarily are more likely to have a “false positive.” 

A false positive happens when a person fails a screening (an initial test), leading to a more invasive procedure (such as a biopsy), but turns out not to have the disease.  False positives lead to both the medical risk and the financial cost of unnecessary procedures.

False positives are a statistical truth; the more people you screen for something, the more times you are going to be wrong.  And false positives are more likely for people who volunteer for a screening (without symptoms) than for people who have a symptom and pursue a screening as part of the diagnostic process.

Common sense, right?

So what about “Kindergarten Readiness Testing”? 

This service is heavily advertised this time of year.  Not to be confused with admissions testing for private kindergartens, or placement testing conducted in public schools, this testing is offered by tutoring centers to determine if children are ready for kindergarten and, if not, what tutoring services they can provide to meet the needs.

My doctorate is in both child language and the psychometrics (statistics and theory) of assessment practices.  I have an appreciation for assessment as part of a problem-solving process, a respect for valid and reliable tests, and an understanding of what testing can, and cannot, reveal about a person and their strengths and weaknesses.

But as a Tennessean, I also appreciate common sense axioms such as “If you go looking for a problem you’ll find it” and the wise, if not eloquent, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

So my opinion on this topic is based on knowledge of testing and a dose of common sense.

If you or your child’s preschool teacher has specific concerns, and you don’t feel confident addressing these needs at home on your own, such an assessment may be helpful.  

If you are truly on the fence regarding whether or not to send your child to kindergarten and want an outside opinion, such an assessment may be helpful. 

As with all assessment services, do your homework and get a referral from a trusted friend or teacher so that your time and money are well spent. 

Do you think your child is pretty much ready, see a whole summer ahead of you, and think that you can brush up on the weaknesses between now and opening day?  Then this may be something you can handle on your own if you are up for it.  Know that if you pursue such an assessment, your child is at a higher risk for a false positive.

All summer long we will be offering a countdown to kindergarten and daily tips to get your aspiring kindergartener ready for the first day.  Be sure to sign up to follow us on the blog or follow us on Twitter @ahandsonmom or our Facebook Page “Hands on Mom” for the daily tips!

Friday, May 11, 2012

oh Publix, you get me every time

Last Saturday night, the pizza was in the oven, the sitter had arrived, the concert tickets had been printed, and I ducked into the bathroom for one more dab of lipstick before heading out for a date with my husband. 

I heard the TV on in the bedroom and went to turn it off, and this commercial was on.  At first I got all "Hands on Mom blogger" and thought to myself "Hey, they are cooking together like we always talk about on the blog."

And then tears. Oh, sweet tears.

The really do like us, us mommies. And not a moment is wasted on them.

Wishing you and your family a beautiful Mother's Day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Gifts

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP
My daughter only has 11 more full days of school left--and that's me counting, not her!  As much as we are all ready to hang up the backpack for the summer, I am trying to relish these last few days of knowing that she is in good hands all day while I go about my daily rounds. 

There are many teacher gift opportunities throughout the year, but I tend to prefer to save the best for last.  If you can eat it or smell it it might not be to your teacher's taste.  And I've never heard a teacher wish for more items with apples on them. Here are some great teacher gift ideas that my friends and I have pulled together over the years.

Summer Fun: beach towel, insulated water bottle, pool tote

Summer Reading:  gift certificate to a local independent bookstore, subscriptions to magazines or newspapers, gift card

Monogrammables: note cards, post-its, clipboards, paper napkins and handtowels, shatterproof plastic cups such as Tervis tumblers

Donations:  books for your school library, gifts to local education-related nonprofits (library, art museum, science museum, historic sites), gifts to a cause special to your teacher

Gift cards: restaurants, nail salons, housewares shops, boutiques, specialty markets, office supply stores, gardening stores, car wash

Is she a mom?  Think gift certificates for summer fun with the family:  movie tickets, park passes, museum passes

Plants:  potted orchids, geraniums, herbs, ferns

No matter what you choose, the note that goes with it will likely be more appreciated.  And a handmade note from your child is all the better.  While you're at it, consider remembering room moms, school support staff, and enrichment teachers with notes of thanks, too.  They have all helped shape your child's school experience this year.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Importance of Family Involvement

"Parents and families are the first and most important teachers. If families teach a love of learning, it can make all the difference in the world to our children."-Richard W. Riley

I absolutely love this quote! It sums up what Heather and I are encouraging our parents to get actively involved in their children's learning as it helps them become more successful and life-long learners. It is especially important to get involved starting at Pre-K and up through adolescent years.

As we have mentioned in this week's posts, there are many opportunities everywhere for learning and teaching. All you have to do is look around your house, on your walks through the neighborhood, or a grocery store trip. Even on the way or coming back from the grocery store, you can take advantage of some learning time.

The point is to not only be involved in your child's learning, but to also provide them with some real-life exeperiences that can enhance their learning. So we hope that you will continue to be a part of your child's learning. Remember you are your child's first teacher.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Games and Math

A child playing with building blocks, is learning math. They are learning about planning, problem-solving, and classifying objects by size and shape.

A child playing hopscotch is learning about numbers all the while getting physical activity.

A child playing cards, chess or a board game like Chutes and Ladders is learning strategy, number recognition, matching, comparing numbers, sorting as well as counting when dealing the cards or moving their game piece from one spot to another.

As you can see traditional games such as Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, War, and Connect Four, give children "numerous" possibilties to develop and practice their math skills. Games are fun for children so why not have fun while learning math?

Below I have listed more "games" you can play with your children with materials you can find around your house.

Family Involvement Math Games/Activities:
  • Newspaper Search-search through a newspaper for numbers in the news. Look for numbers less than 10, a number more than 50, a graph, shapes, weather symbols, days of the week, date and year.  You can get more creative with this depending on your child's level.
  • Guess My Rule-sort items a certain way. You could do this when you are unloading your groceries or when organizing toys. Have your child guess your rule for sorting the items. Then, once your child guesses your rule, let them sort the items and you try to guess their rule.
  • Everyday Estimation-estimating is an important math skill to develop, especially for son to be Kindergarteners, and you can do this at home or on the go. At home, fill a  clear jar with certain items (make them different items every week, varying in size and shape) and ask your child to guess how many items are in there. If your child is learning about letters, it could be fun to put items in the jar that start with whatever letter they are learning. You could also use the jar to ask your child, how many scoops it would take to fill it with rice or beans. While driving from school, you could ask your child to guess how long it might take to get home. While crossing the street, ask your child to guess how many steps it might take to get across. Estimating opportunities are everywhere!
  • Money, money, money!  This activity is great for 5 and 6 year olds. All you need is 10 of each coin (penny, nickel, dime) 6 quarters and a die to roll.  The object of the game is to be the first player to earn a set amount (10 or 20 cents is a good amount). The first player rolls the die and gets the number of pennies shown on the die. Players take turns rolling the die to collect additional coins. As each player accumulates 5 pennies or more, the 5 pennies are traded for a nickel. The first player to reach the set amount wins. For your younger children, you could introduce a different coin every week. Talk about its characteristics, such as color and shape and then the value of the coin.
Parents, we hope you will keep practicing (or playing) with your children and enjoy being a part of their learning experience.