Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vision Board Playdate

Monkey wants to cook, do crafts, learn more Math (including patterns- she even added an example!), go camping, go to the zoo, and she wants to be Happy. xoxoxox

Who said only grown ups could have New Year's resolutions?

Consider having a vision board playdate.  It's as simple as putting out scissors and glue (it helps if everyone has their own set), along with some magazines and catalogs.  Then step back and let them go to town and create their wish for the year.

If you want to give the kids a bit more direction, you can suggest that they consider these areas:
  1. I would like to do:
  2. I would like to have:
  3. I would like to learn:
  4. I would like to be:
It's also always great if you can share your own goals for the year with them.

Have fun!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Host a Coffee Chat and Mug Swap

I read about this in a magazine I just found, The Nest, and thought it was such a fun idea.

Basically, you host a coffee chat and everyone brings a mug to swap.  This isn't as involved as a Round Robin gift exchange, with wrapped gifts and stealing, etc.  (Not that those aren't fun, too!)  For this simple party, everyone brings a mug and places it by the coffee maker as they come in.  When you go to get your coffee, you simply choose the mug that appeals to you and take it home with you when you leave.

Since it's January, and I am a self proclaimed self-help freak, I decided to host a 2011 goals coffee chat for some friends.  Also being a self proclaimed hippie, I am allowing the guests to bring a new or a gently used mug to swap.  The only guideline is to choose a mug that will

  "Inspire one to start the day with gusto!"

Coffee chats are such an easy party to throw, and a great way to get together with friends.  Bake some muffins and make a breakfast casserole, or put out some bagels and lox and you're done!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Start a Book Club With Your Kiddos

This post is in response to some moms at dance this morning who begged and pleaded (ok, they just asked) for me to explain how I set up Monkey's book club.

First, this is hardly a new concept.  Years ago, I read about a group of moms that had formed a book club with their daughters and I fell in love with the idea.  Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't have kiddos.  This article was about a group of moms with preteen girls, so even after having my girls, I thought it would be a long while before I could follow this model.

When I taught 4th grade, I started literature circles with my students and they were a huge hit.  If you are looking for a book that will show you how to set up a book club in a classroom setting or a more formal book club, Harvery Daniel's book Literature Circles is a wonderful resource.  The model in this book, as well as my personal classroom experience, is what I used to orgainze a book club for my 6 year old.

Until this year, I thought I would have to wait a few years to start a book club with my oldest.  One night, as we were reading our bedtime chapter, I realized this was a perfect age to start a read aloud book club.  I had already been working on Monkey's social/friendship skills, and this would be a great way to incorporate reading and friendships.  Win/Win!

So how do I do it?

There are a several things to consider when setting up a book club for kids, and you should take time to think through everything before jumping in.  Once you set it up, though, it practically runs itself and the benefits for your child and for you are priceless.

First, you need to take into account group size.  I would suggest no more than 5.  We started with 4 girls, and added a 5th once the group was established.  4 was a great number to start with and once we had a cohesive group, we were able to seamlessly add a 5th.

When thinking of the 4-5 kids to add to the group, it's important to take these thing into account:

1. Age- We have 3 kinders and 2 1st graders.  The kids should be close in reading level, but it's not necessary or realistic for them to be on the same reading level.

2. Interests- Though it isn't necessary to have only boys or only girls, it is important that the group share similar interests.  This makes it easier to choose books for the group to read, and allows the chance to create meaningful culminating activities at the end of each book that will be exciting for each group member.

3. Proximity- For a book club to really flourish with young children, it is important to meet weekly.  This is much easier if you have children in the same school or neighborhood.  Our group is from the same neighborhood except for one child, and this makes it so nice for drop offs and pick ups.  The club will only meet about an hour, so it's nice to not have far to drive for pick up or drop off.

4. No younger siblings- This can be tricky.  Our group works so well because the younger siblings, dubbed "The Littles" go and have a playdate at another house while the big girls are meeting for book club.  We do try to include The Littles in the culminating activities, and several of them have told me they can't wait to be old enough for book club.

5. Book choice- It is crucial that the kids have a say/vote in the books they read.  With younger children (below 2nd grade), I suggest having a read aloud club and focusing on comprehension versus decoding skills.  This means that the parent is reading the book aloud to the child and the club focuses on book discussions- Reading to Learn instead of Learning to Read.  Once the children are independent readers of longer chapter books, the club can master both objectives.

Once you have your group, you need to set a meeting time.  This can be tricky with all our busy schedules.  The time that worked for all of use was 5-6, which is usually my family's dinnertime.  So, we got creative and made it into a dinner book club.  Each week, the girls eat together (and practice dining etiquette- a bonus!) while we discuss our book.  This is so fun and gives the girls a chance to practice listening skills, comprehension skills, and table manners.

Here is an outline of the weekly meeting:

5:00-5:10 Girls arrive and visit until everyone is present
5:10-5:30 Girls eat dinner while discussing the book and practice taking turns speaking without interrupting, and using table manners to try new foods and ask for more food, etc. This could be done with a snack if the meeting is not during a meal time
5:30 Girls share their responses on the assigned reading from their reading journals. Each week, there is an easy assignment for the assigned reading such as, "Good readers visualize as they read.  Draw a picture of a mental image you had while listening to the chapter."
5:40 I read aloud the next chapter and stop at intervals for discussion
5:50 The girls write or draw a response to the chapter we read and share it
6:00 Girls are picked up with their assignment for the week (1 chapter and response to share at the next meeting)

This is a packed hour, for sure.  But it is exciting for the girls and once the routines are established, it runs like clockwork.  Note: When starting the group and establishing routines, I did not read a chapter aloud to the group.  I only read a couple of pages and we spent more time practicing adding responses to our journals.

At the end of each book (which is every 4-6 weeks), we do a culminating activity- like our recent friendship party.  This meeting is focused on fellowship with the members and celebration for finishing the book.  We have visited the zoo, gone to a movie, etc.

If you would like more info on how to set up your own book club, book lists, and ideas on how to set up reading journals and response prompts, as well as a forum for sharing ideas and asking questions, please email me and I will add you to the book club yahoo group.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Juice Boxes Are So 2010

So..I just don't do juice boxes.  I don't do them in general, but especially not at parties.  I just feel like the kiddos are already getting enough sugar with the cake, cookies, and/or ice cream.  Do they really need to drink their sugar too?

But I have to be honest.  I catch a lot of flack for it.  I am often asked, "What are the kids to drink?"  Um....water?

Ok, ok, I get that it's a party and parties should be festive.  But, I grew up drinking water and love water.  And I want my girls to love water.

That doesn't mean I can't make it fun...

Personalized water bottle labels are popping up all over etsy and on the party blogs.  You can find them in almost every theme.  I think these are adorable.

Being a frugal and green party girl, I like to make my own...from stuff I already have.  I took striped paper scraps and mailing labels I had on hand and created whimsical water bottles that also served as place cards.

The best part?  When you peel the label off the water bottle, the adhesive remains and you can re-use it to adhere your new label.  SUPER SIMPLE.

Believe it or not, the kids went wild for this WATER!!!  And not one person asked me where I hid the juice boxes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Friendship Parties

Some of you know I lead a book club for my kinder and 4 of her friends.
We meet weekly and after every book, we do some type of culminating activity.  

We just finished The Hundred Dresses.  If you are thinking, "Oh, I love that book" (as I was before we read it for this book club) then let me promise you that you do not remember the book.  Think Streisand's lyrics, "What's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget."  My goodness, that is one depressing book.  Why a person would put it on a kindergarten read aloud list is BEYOND ME....

Luckily, the deeply depressing message of the book went right over my girls' heads and we are focusing on what we learned about how to be a better friend.

And our culminating activity is a 
Friendship Party!!!
This is so easy to throw together and the girls are really excited about it.  It would be a really fun and easy way to get a group together to celebrate Valentine's Day.  And it could easily be adapted for grown up girls...

Each girl is making a gift and wrapping it.  Understand, the girls are making the gifts themselves.  So, while some of the girls may come with something really elegant and time consuming, my Monkey made a beautiful picture and she made a jewelry box out of a shoe box.  So cute. 

The 5 girls will each bring their gift and we will exchange them by passing the gifts until the music stops and then opening the gift each child is holding.  Then we will have a cute little dinner party (book club is in the early evening, so we have dinner each Tuesday while we discuss our book).  Finally, the girls will present the "show" they have been working on while they wait for pick up after we finish book club.

At home, each girl will write a thank you note for the gift they received.  

So many teachable moments during this fun time: thoughtful gift giving, dinner party etiquette, letter writing, and of course social skills.  Moreover, it's a simply way to celebrate friendship.  And shouldn't we all take more time to celebrate our friendships?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WACKY decor idea for an engagement party, bridal shower, or anniversary party

My sister and I recently threw an engagement party for my brother and his bride-to-be.  They've been together...well....a while.  So we went with a
"Still Crazy in Love After All These Years" 
theme.  We thought it would be fun to put all the ups and downs of their 10+ year dating saga. And since it was a crazy theme, we thought it  would be SUPER fun to draw the timeline along the 
showing the sane and insane things that they've been through.

It was lots of fun, a focal point and definite conversation starter for the everyone in attendance.  By the end of the night, guests were adding their own recollections.  

I can think of so many ways to use wouldn't even have to be a party for a couple.  It could be for a milestone birthday or a graduation.  What a blast!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day of the Bear Hunt Timeline

Sun Jan 9, 2011

10:15am - 10:30am      Take cookies out of freezer
10:45am - 11am           Make beverages for party
11am - 11:15am           Put out last minute decor
11:15am - 12:15pm      Make food for party
12:15pm - 12:30pm     Send someone for balloons
12:30pm - 12:45pm     Turn down a/c
12:45pm - 1pm           Get dressed for party
1pm - 1:15pm             Light Candles
1:15pm - 1:30pm        Check restrooms
1:30pm - 1:45pm        Relax and get ready for the party

Before a party, I always make a timeline for the week of, day before, and day of the party.  It keeps me from worrying that I am forgetting something, and makes it easy for me to delegate when someone asks what they can do.

The paste above is from my google calendar, which is also on my phone.  I set the event to repeat yearly, so everything is already set for Squeaker's next bday party.  All I have to do is drag the event to the correct day once I set the party date next year.  It's usually the same weekend, so the only events I have to drag and move are the day before and the day of timelines.  All the weekly planning tasks leading up to the event don't have to be moved at all.  I give myself the whole week to complete each of those tasks (for instance, "gather invitation supplies"), so it doesn't matter if it falls on a Monday or a Tuesday, as long as it's in the correct week.  For more timeline info, read here and here.

Bonus: Today, I happened to be finished early (even with the bear cave rain out/re-routing debacle!) and actually had time to sit and have a glass of wine with my sister an hour before the party began.  Score!  Incidentally, I think what made me finish sooner is that I dressed for the party (which was do-able since it was a kiddo's party) first thing in the morning.  Not only did I not have to run upstairs and rush to get dressed right before the party, I think I moved faster and more efficiently since I was showered and dressed early.  It probably helped that I went to bed by 10 the night before, too!  This will definitely be something I do from now on and will be changed to first thing on my day of timeline!