Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer Activities: Practicing Writing with Your Preschooler/Kindergartner

Yesterday I talked about how to beat the summer blahs. Structured activities are a great way to do this, and they don't have to involve a lot of prep or work.

One activity I plan to do with Alex, who just finished a year of preschool (and will be heading off to kindergarten in the fall) is helping him with his writing skills. In school this year, every day when the preschoolers arrived, they were to get out their name books (which had a picture of the child on the front). Inside were places to practice writing their names.

So this summer, I'm going to do the same, but with all of the letters of the alphabet to help Alex get ready for kindergarten.

Creating Custom Printouts for Your Preschooler or Kindergartner to Trace

At KidZone.ws, you can create custom tracing papers that can be used for practicing writing. This is especially helpful if your child is still working on the basics of writing. Here you can choose block, script or cursive writing (which is great for your older kids) and you can type in exactly what you want, so you can create pages with your child's name on it (first and last) or whatever you want them to learn. 

Writing time will be included every day on the daily schedule. Hopefully this will be a fun activity for us to work on together.

What activities are you going to work on with your kids this summer? I could definitely use some ideas!
Blogger Tricks

Monday, June 10, 2013

Beating the Summer Blahs with a Daily Schedule

Now that summer vacation is here, school is no longer there to help with the daily schedule. When summer hits, it's easy to fall into bad habits like sleeping in, wasting days not doing much, and not keeping a good schedule each day. Rather than falling into bad habits, create a schedule for your kids to help them keep their brains and bodies active throughout the summer months.

Making a Summer Schedule

Of course, this is just one idea for something you can do every day during summer vacation. Think of what else you want to do this summer to keep up a routine. For kids ages 5 to 7, a sample schedule may include:
Wake-up and get dressed
Eat breakfast
Clean up breakfast (have child clean up his or her own dishes)
Brush teeth
Clean up bedroom or spend time cleaning up something together in house (picking up living room, dusting, etc.)
Take a walk or spend time outside togetherPractice writing
Color/art project/drawing
Read books together
Lunch time
Lunch clean up
Quiet time (i.e. playing quietly on own, looking at or reading books on own, watching some TV, etc.) This is a great time to get stuff done you need to get done!
Snack time
Dinner prep (have your child help get dinner ready). Afternoons are also a great time for play dates or going to the park.
Dinner clean up
Bedtime routine (brushing teeth, getting on pajamas, reading a couple more books, etc.) I often use this time to just talk with Alex about his day and about how he's feeling and what's going on in his head. It's great one-on-one time if you can swing it (though it's hard depending on how many kids you have and their ages).
Of course, you should always be flexible when it comes to your schedule, but if you have a general routine to follow, it will help prevent the summer blahs.

Scheduling Summer Activities

Another great way to beat the summer blahs is to get out your calendar. Decide on some things that you want to do this summer, such as visiting the local zoo, taking a camping trip, visiting at nearby state or national park, taking a day trip to the water park or even trips to the local pool. Decide on what days you're going to do these activities throughout the summer months.

By having a firm schedule for these activities, you'll have something to look forward to throughout the summer and as the dates for the activities get closer, you'll have motivation to plan for them so they actually happen. This way you won't get to the end of August and realize that school is about to start and the summer was wasted.

On the calendar should be days with activities with you and one of your kids one-on-one. Try to plan something once a week with one child. This way it won't be too overwhelming and you can have a few good mother-child dates throughout the summer.

Summer is upon us. Make it a good one!

Friday, April 12, 2013

5 Favorite Things of the Week - 4/12/13

This week has flown by and I haven't gotten nearly as much done as I should have by now. I guess that's just part of being a mom, right? Well, here are my favorite things from this week.
  1. Book Bomb success. This week an author I know, Dave Wolverton (who writes under the pseudonym David Farland), had a tragedy in his family. His son was in an accident that caused severe brain trauma. There are sites set up to raise money to pay for medical bills which could easily reach in the millions. On Wednesday, a book bomb was held for Dave's books to help raise money. Another benefit of a book bomb is it raises the book's status so it's more visible on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. By the end, the book, Nightingale, reached #1 in contemporary fantasy for both books and ebooks, #2 for paranormal fantasy books and #84 overall for paid ebooks on Amazon. It's pretty amazing. If you are planning on buying things from Amazon, consider going to the book bomb link and then clicking on the link there for the book. After doing so, anything you buy on Amazon after will also pay back a little money to the Wolvertons. I'm so glad it was a success!
  2. School's back in session! This week Alex headed back to preschool after a week off for spring break. He was excited to go back and I was excited to spend some one-on-one time with Micah in the morning and get some stuff done.
  3. Fresh fruits and veggies. I've been trying to avoid going to the groceries the last couple weeks because we've been going over our monthly budget for food, but yesterday I headed to the store and got lots of fresh produce, like apples, bananas, strawberries, oranges, onions, sweet peppers, broccoli and spinach. I love having these fresh fruits and veggies around to make smoothies with (and more!). Despite having a completely loaded shopping cart, I also only spent $130 on food. Woohoo! 
  4. New smoothie. This week I discovered a killer smoothie combination: peanut butter, bananas and spinach. I'll be telling you all about it next week. Let's just say it's delicious and I think with the protein from the peanut butter, it works as a meal (I know it kept me full from lunch all the way till dinner, no cravings).
  5. Easter with family. Yes, this is a little late, but I missed my weekly post after Easter. We had a great time visiting with my hubby's parents over Easter. They also brought treats for us and the boys. I love getting to spend time with family :D.
Have a happy weekend!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vacuums: Review of the Dyson DC40 Animal Upright Vacuum

So I'm sure you're dying to know (and I've made you wait in anticipation long enough). So what vacuum did I end up buying? I went with the Dyson DC40. Let's go over why I picked it and then I'll talk about the what I like and what I don't.

Why I Chose the Dyson DC40 Animal Upright Vacuum

Here is why I chose the DC40:
  • Got it at Costco, which has a great return policy and they had it for $100 off.
  • Though it's an upright, it's light and you can easily maneuver it around furniture.
  • It's bagless with washable filters, so you don't have to replace either bags or filters on it. 
  • You can easily take it apart to clean the rug beater (have I mentioned I have long hair?).

What I Like about the DC40 Animal Upright Vacuum

For the most part I do like this machine. Here are some of the highlights:
  • To release the cord, you just flip the cord minder down and then pull it off. 
  • It's really easy to dump the dust that's in the dust bin into the garbage (my one-year-old proved this by doing it himself ... all over the newly vacuumed carpet).
  • The dust bin opens at the bottom, so you're not taking it and turning it upside down to dump it (which I think would cause more of a mess).
  • It's light and easy to push around and get around furniture.
  • It has powerful suction to really clean the carpet.
  • And, as I mentioned, it's easy to take it apart to clean or to take out filters and such. 

Here's What I Don't Like about the Dyson DC40 Animal Upright Vacuum

Though it's a great vacuum, there are some things I would like to see improved:
  • Though the hose has really good suction, it's also really awkward to use. Half of it is a flexible hose and half is a stiff hose, and the stiff hose just seems to long and you can't take it off to use the vacuum without it.
  • The head doesn't go under the furniture. It's those days I wish I still had a canister.
  • It doesn't seem to work as well on hardwood floors. OK, so I don't have hardwood floors, but I noticed a lot of reviews mention this, so I figured I'd add it to the list in case you do. I really think this vacuum was made for carpeted floors (I haven't used it for the kitchen or anything so I couldn't say).

Just the Facts:

Store: Costco
Price: $400
Date Purchased: August 2012
Rating: 4/5
Recommended: Overall, yes, but it's an expensive vacuum. It's possible there are cheaper vacuums that work as well.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Vacuums: Canister or Upright? Bagged or Bagless?

This week I'm going to be talking about vacuums, carpet cleaners and other topics related to carpet care. Today I thought I talk about what to look for in a new vacuum.

I used to own this Bosch canister vacuum
So last August, we moved from Utah to Washington so we could live closer to family. As we were getting packed up and ready, our vacuum died after 5 years of use. What bugged me the most about it dying though was the fact that it was just a part within the vacuum that no longer worked and if I could have opened it up to replace it, it probably would've lasted a few more years. But the manufacturers of the vacuum created it so there was no way to get the cover off of the head. There were no screws or anything as far as I could tell. I don't even know if I could have taken it to a certified vacuum repair shop to have it fixed because I didn't see how it could have been repaired. Typical of our throwaway society right? I hate that!

So I borrowed a friend's vacuum to get our place ready for moving and once I got settled into our new place, we decided to look for a new vacuum.

Canister or Upright?

Upright vacuum from Bissell
The first thing to consider is whether you want a canister vacuum or an upright. We really like our canister vacuum for the most part because the head was so small, it was able to get underneath furniture like the couch and beds so we didn't have to move furniture in order to clean underneath. It also makes vacuuming the stairs really easy and you were only pushing a light head back and forth instead of the entire heavy vacuum.

However, when I started researching vacuums, I discovered something about canisters. In order for them to work as well an upright, you need to have the motor that's in the body and a separate motor in the canister head. Otherwise, the head is using air to turn the rug beater and it's not going to have as much power as an upright vacuum. Because of this, the less expensive canisters are really made to work with carpets that have no pile whatsoever (which isn't very common for homes).

Obviously having two motors costs more, so in order to get a good canister vacuum that will do as good of a job as uprights, you're looking at paying $100 to $300 more than for a comparable upright. Something you'll have to consider if you decide you want an upright.

Bagged or Bagless?

Bagless upright vacuum by Panasonic
The next thing you'll have to consider when purchasing a vacuum is whether you want to go with a bagged vacuum or a bagless vacuum. Bagless vacuums seem ideal. You no longer have to pay for bags, which can be expensive. Instead just dump the dirt into the garbage when you're done vacuuming. There is a hidden cost to these bagged vacuums, though — the filters. Sometimes you don't think about the fact that many bagless vacuums have filters that have to be replaced every so often and can easily cost as much as vacuum bags.

Bagged vacuums come with bags. Many consumers try to buy off brand bags for their vacuums, but this isn't always wise. Branded bags are usually made using cotton and paper that is designed to trap particles so they don't escape when you remove the bags from the vacuum. These thick, 3-ply bags trap the dirt and dust particles so you can remove them cleanly. However, off brand bags often just use paper and have small holes in them allowing the smaller particles to escape releasing them back into the air to settle on the floor once again. If you're allergic to dust, it's especially important to buy the name brand vacuum bags.

So when it comes to vacuums, there are lots of decisions? Do you want to have a vacuum that is light and easy to push around? That's easy to clean stairs or can easily be transported upstairs and downstairs? Are you willing to put in an investment into your vacuum or would you rather pay less and go with a middle-of-the line vacuum?

Tomorrow I'll tell you which vacuum I chose and give you a review on it. In the meantime, tell me which vacuum you use. Do you love it or hate it?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Activities for Preschoolers: Scissor Skills

This year, my son is part of the Head Start program, so every Monday through Thursday morning, he has school from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. It's great because he's learning a lot, not just about typical school stuff (ABCs, writing, numbers, etc.) but he's also learning other skills. They talk about what to do if you're angry, how to wait your turn, sharing, eating healthy, etc. They also serve the kids breakfast and lunch, which is awesome because that's 8 meals a week that I don't have to worry about feeding Alex. It's also great because that's 14 hours a week where he's out of the house and I can get more done without worrying about IBS — I'm Bored Syndrome.

But this week is Spring Break, which means Alex is home all day every day. This is especially hard for me since I'm a work-at-home mom, so it's not like I can just take time off and spend it with him. Still, I am trying to use the time to be with him more and not work the whole day.

Getting Ready for Kindergarten by Teaching Your Preschooler to Use Scissors

Before Alex started at Head Start, I didn't even think about working with him on using scissors. I taught him his letters, shapes, numbers and counting, animals, etc., but scissors never entered into the equation. Then last week the teacher said to me right before leaving on the last day, "Alex really needs help on using scissors. Maybe you could work with him on it over the break." I was thinking, What? Why? Why would being able to use scissors be important? Luckily for me, there's the Internet.

Why Kids Need to Learn to Use Scissors 

  • Cutting with scissors builds muscles in the hands needed for fine motor skills like writing and painting — anything that requires a grip. 
  • It helps strengthen hand-eye coordination, so your child is more coordinated (like for throwing balls and such). 
  • It works on bilateral coordination — two sides of the body work together (for example, holding the paper with one hand while cutting with the other).

Ways to Practice Using Scissors

There are many ways to practice using scissors with your preschooler. The important thing is to not stress about it too much and go with what you're up to doing that day. Here are some ideas:
  • Draw shapes on a piece of paper and then have your preschooler cut them out. After, you can decorate the shapes together. We just used scrap paper I had in the recycles bin for this.
  • Print out some worksheets, like those found at Kids Learning Station, and have your child cut along the line.
  • Create an art project that requires cutting, such as this one from Make and Takes. That way it's fun and your preschooler won't realize that it's practice. If you need inspiration, there are lots of ideas on Pinterest.

When Should You Start Teaching Your Child to Cut with Scissors?

Did you know that you should start having children use scissors as early as 2? I had no idea, but I suspect it's why Alex is so far behind in writing, so it's definitely something we'll be working on, and I'll start working with MW on it sometime in the next year. Here are the recommendations for when you should teach your child what:

  • 2 years old: Use scissors to snip the ends off of pieces of paper
  • 2.5 years old: Cut through a piece of paper from end to end
  • 3 to 3.5 years old: cut along a line that's 1/2 inch thick (should be able to stay within that line without cutting outside of it more than 3 times)
  • 3.5 to 4 years old: cut out a circle (should be able to stay close to the line for at least 3/4 of the circle)
  • 4.5 to 5 years old: cut out a square
It's also recommended to use a variety of thicknesses, starting with thick paper and working towards thinner paper (which is harder). Materials would include play dough, thick folders, construction paper, regular paper, and then tissue paper.

When choosing scissors, find ones that allow for stability, such as these children's scissors, especially the ones on top from Fiskars. These allow stability, making cutting easier, and they have blunt ends that are rounded.

Alternative Activities to Using Scissors

If your child doesn't have the strength yet to use scissors, there are other activities they can do that use the same muscles so they can build up to using scissors.
  • Use tongs to pick up objects and put them in a bucket.
  • Cut out pieces of paper and have your child use tweezers to pick up a piece of paper and drop it into a box.
  • Have child use a single hole puncher to punch holes in paper.
  • Create a race where your child has to pick up an object with tongs and carry it to the other side of the room and drop the object into a tub.
So if you're looking for ways to help your preschooler prepare for kindergarten, don't forget to work on those scissoring skills! What things are you doing to help your preschooler prepare for kindergarten? I'd love to hear it!

Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Reasons Why You Should Be Reading E-Books

So hopefully, I haven't totally confused you with whether or not you should get an e-reader, but I wanted to talk about whether I recommend e-readers in general. I don't know if I recommend an e-book reader per se (it really depends on your situation and your preferences), but I definitely recommend e-books. 

Whether you read them on an ebook reader or on a tablet using an app, I do recommend you getting into the world of electronic books. Here's why:

E-books are often cheaper

First I'd like to say that people seem to have a misconception and believe that e-books should be dirt cheap or they should be free just because you're not buying a physical product. Understand though that the cost of printing and shipping a book is only a small fraction of the cost of producing a book. That said, e-books do tend to be cheaper, especially if the book has been out for a year or more. Once the cost of producing a book has been covered, publishers have more leeway in offering a discount on e-books since they can produce an infinite amount without costing more.

Not only that, but you don't have to pay to have the book shipped and books are instantly delivered to your e-reader or other device, so no waiting for it to reach you. You want to read a new book, you can within seconds.

E-books don't take up space

This last summer I moved two states away and let me tell you, I got rid of a lot of books. You can't sell used books very easily (unless they're expensive, up-to-date text books). I had a bunch at my yard sale and I probably sold five of them, mostly kids' books. They're heavy and once you've read them, you might not read them ever again (or you might read them only every 5 years and in the meantime they're taking up space). E-books on the other hand take up no space, you can have as many as you want (especially with cloud storage) and they weigh nothing.

You can borrow e-books from libraries

Libraries are starting to have e-books as part of their inventory. To borrow one, you just have to have a membership to that library. You don't have to go to the library to get a book; you just need an internet connection. Just like with the regular books, you may have to wait in line till a book is available and the selection may be limited, but there are no worries about losing the book or forgetting to return it and paying a late fee. You also don't have to worry about paying for a new book after your toddler decided to turn it into an art project. 

You can borrow e-books from friends

Just like with regular books, you can borrow books from friends. Unfortunately, there are some restrictions. You can only borrow each book one time. Book lending periods are for 14 days, so only borrow a book when you know you want to read it. Publishers of the book also have to have the option of lending enabled, so not all books are able to be lent. Still, it's a great way to read a book your friend recommended to you, and you don't have to worry about forgetting to return it!

You can read ebooks on any device from practically anywhere

Did you know that you can get a program that allows you to read Amazon e-books from your computer? Yep, you can read them right on your desktop ... no e-reader required. There are apps for every mobile and tablet OS (as far as I'm aware) as well as Kindle. Not only that, but if you start reading a book on one device and then switch to another device, the Kindle app will remember where you left off and you can pick up from there on the next device (assuming you're connected to the Internet while you're reading, that is). You can go from reading on your computer to reading on your phone to reading on your table to reading on your e-reader. This makes it great if you were reading on your Kindle at home and then got stuck somewhere without it because you can just continue on your smart phone. Genius!

You can take the reader with you wherever you go

And unlike with real books, you don't have to worry about them being too heavy. By having your e-reader in your purse, you will always have something to do if you find yourself waiting for your car's oil to be changed or waiting at a doctor's office for an appointment.
This shows some of the books I'm borrowing along with The Da Vinci Code I got for free :)

You can get books for free

Despite what I said about how you shouldn't expect to get books for the fraction of the cost, books are still available for free. Typically, these books are ones by self-published authors who are looking to gain a readership, but that's not always the case. Another reason a book might be free is that it's the first book in the series and the publisher is trying to get more readers interested in the other books, and therefore buy them. I've even got big named books for free like The Da Vinci Code and Must Love Dogs. These books are typically not free for long, though, so check back to Amazon often to see what the deals are that day.
    So whether or not you've owned an e-reader in the past, dive into the world. If you don't have a lot to spend, start small with a Kindle Touch or something equivalent. For only $69, you really can't go wrong.

    *Hot* Insider's Tip

    Want an insider's tip. I know how you can keep a library e-book rental (or other rental for that matter whether you're borrowing a book from a friend or from Amazon) longer than the due date. Typically on the due date, the book will automatically be removed from your e-reader and you won't be able to read it again unless you borrow it again or buy it.

    However, if you turn off your Wi-Fi on your Touch, so it doesn't connect to the Internet, your book will stay on your Kindle till you connect again. (Shhh, don't tell Amazon we know this!) Of course, this could be problematic on a tablet, which pretty much has to connect to the Internet to function (i.e. there are certain apps that won't work without connecting), but on the Touch, the only reason you'd need to connect would be if you need to download another book onto the device. As long as you don't need to, you can disconnect it from Wi-Fi and finish reading your book. Once you're done, reconnect, say buy to the book, and get new books.

    Protecting Your Kindle

    And if you do end up getting either the Paperwhite or the Touch, I highly recommend this leather case. I got it for my Kindle and it's been great. Easy to open and close, good quality, and the Kindle fits perfectly. It comes in 8 colors and is only $9.45 to $13, so you really can't go wrong. With it on, I can just throw my Kindle in my purse and go without worrying about the screen getting scratched.

    Well, I hope you've enjoyed the series this week on e-readers and e-books. Let me know what you liked about the series and what you didn't :).

    I'd also love to hear about your experiences with e-readers and e-books. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Leave them in the comments.
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