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Kids

ISLA’S ALPHABET WITH ELMER’S


Isla's Alphabet with Elmer'sOne of the best things about being a parent is watching my kids learn new things. Isla is three now and she’s constantly making us laugh and surprising us with random bits of knowledge.

Like that time we were at the doctor’s office and she picked an ocean book from the office library to take home. She was “reading” the book in the waiting area with me and suddenly she exclaimed, “It’s a manatee, Mama! Manatees have tails, and they eat seaweed.” I looked at the words on the page and it was as if she was reading it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “My kid is a genius,” I thought. The same thing every mom thinks when her child does something amazing (every day). It turns out there’s an episode of Isla’s favorite show (“Diego”) that’s all about manatees, which means she knows more about them than I do!

One of the (many) hard parts of parenting is, for me, figuring out ways and finding time to teach our kids at home. Isla’s in preschool only part-time so it’s important for us to reinforce the things she’s learning. We found out early in the year that her class will focus on the alphabet and her teacher stressed to me that it’s important for kids to really understand, not just memorize. Just because a child can count to 10 or recite the alphabet, that doesn’t mean he or she truly understands what it means or can apply it in real life. This all led me to a fun, easy daily project we could do at home.

We call it “Letter of the Day.” You’ve heard of such a thing, I’m sure!

We started out by picking one letter every morning and then asking Isla to help us sound out words that begin with that letter. We’d write them all down for her and draw pictures and she’d color them. It was a fun way to focus on our letters and apply them to objects she already knows. But over time our letter pages got lost in the shuffle and I wasn’t certain she was retaining what she was learning from day-to-day, so the project faded away.

Then I got an opportunity to work with Elmer’s® brand here on the blog and I came up with a fun way to make our Letter of the Day project more productive. I ran to Target, and for less than $10 picked up a few Elmer’s products: a Foam Tri-Fold Display Board (currently available in store but not online), Disappearing Purple Glue Sticks and Board Mate Reusable Stencils.

Here’s how our new and improved Letter of the Day project works:

Every morning (that Isla doesn’t have school), we pick one letter. Then we find the big and small stencils for that letter and any shapes that begin with that letter. Together we trace the letters and shapes onto colored construction paper and I write down and draw words, animals and objects that start with our letter.

As we’re going along coloring and tracing, I’m constantly asking, “Now what’s the letter today? Do you remember?” And together we sound it out again and again and I try to reinforce the letter and the words. Her favorite part, though, is the gluing. Of course! Once I’ve cut everything out she glues the paper onto the tri-fold display board and then we go over the letters and words again and sound them out. When she’s had enough (after about 10 minutes) she closes up the tri-fold and says, “Okay, mama, I’m done. I need chocolate!” Because that one time I rewarded her with chocolate and she will not let me forget it! Not my best idea but I’m calling it a win anyway.

My favorite thing about the display board is that we get to go back and look at all of the letters from previous days. We did the letter “M” on our second day and Isla always goes back to the manatee picture I tried to draw. (Don’t judge me, I was an English major.) She loves that manatee and remembers that manatee begins with the letter M. We reinforce it every day and she is so proud of herself as she points to everything and identifies the letters and names of the objects or animals. She even shouts out little fun facts that I write on the board, like “Manatee has a tail!” or “S is for Sister, like Isla!” The other day she pointed to the words at the top of the board, which read, “Isla’s Alphabet” and said, “Isla! That’s me!” I love that seeing it every day has helped her recognize her own name!

After breakfast on the third day, Isla said to me, “Time for letter of the day, Mama!” That was music to my mama ears. To know Isla is not just learning, but enjoying the process is everything I had hoped. It’s a small, inexpensive idea with a potentially big impact, and it offers us a few uninterrupted minutes to spend together on a shared project. There is no greater joy as a parent than sharing these moments together and knowing my daughter is learning something valuable along the way.

Thanks, Elmer’s® brand, for sponsoring this blog post! (This idea and any thoughts expressed in this post are all mine. I promise.)

UPDATE: Special offer for my readers: Get 10% off Elmer’s Board Mate display boards, foam core boards, and Board Mate board accessories, using the Target Cartwheel app!

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Kids

THEO’S PARTY ANIMALS | A WOODLAND-INSPIRED FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY

#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party cake by Vanilya Bakery, East Passyunk

Remember that time you decided to throw your child a really low-key, chill, no frills first birthday party but then you accidentally opened Pinterest and the whole thing just got away from you? I have no idea how that feels.

Just kidding. The struggle is real people.

Theo turned one last week and we decided long ago that our kids’ first birthdays would be a big deal but then things would just go down hill from there. Okay, maybe not down hill, but you know what I’m saying. Or at least that’s my justification for the carpal tunnel I got cutting paper trees and random tiny animals and spending too much money on tree stumps and weird-looking, prickly hedgehogs made out of sticks. Which, by the way, was totally worth it because Theo’s woodland-inspired birthday party was awesome! We had a lovely day with all our friends and both kids had the best time ever.

Since a lot of our friends have kids Isla’s age I wanted to have a toddler-friendly activity that would entertain them for at least five minutes. We already had a bunch of cool animal masks (which you’ve seen a dozen times if you read this blog or follow me on Instagram) so I decided to make a photo booth. I cut triangles and made tree garland to hang on the wall for the forest backdrop and my friends at Opposite of Far sent me some really amazing masks the kids could color themselves. There were four animals (a deer, fox, owl and raccoon) and I printed them on cardstock and cut them out ahead of time. After the kids were done coloring we taped the masks to dowels so they could hold them up and get their picture taken or just run around like tiny crazy people (which they did for hours!). The masks turned out so cute and the kids loved them! And so did I! Our niece, in particular, was in heaven. She’s older than most of the kids (she’s 5) so it was the perfect activity for her and her masks were beautiful. She colored all four animals and shared them with the other kids. It was super cute.

The coloring masks are a new idea Opposite of Far’s owner, Jessica, has for her shop and we’d like to give her a special thank you for letting us test them out! They were a hit!

I also bought some woodland animal party ear headbands on Etsy. Oh, and I had a hashtag (#TheosPartyAnimals) because I obviously have an addiction to Instagram.

I asked our local baker (Vanilya Bakery) if she could make me a cake with a bunch of trees in various heights and shades of green. Kind of like a forest. The result was unbelievable. I contemplated not even cutting into it because it was so gorgeous! But of course that would have been a crime because that beauty was delicious! If you live in Philadelphia and need someone to bake you a cake, call Bonnie. Seriously. You will not be disappointed. I might have eaten cake for lunch the day after the party. And maybe dinner, too. I’m not sorry.

For Isla’s first birthday party we went a little overboard with the food, specifically sweets, and we had a lot of leftovers. This time we went a bit simpler with the snacks and ordered our favorite pizza in the city (Santuccis). We had forest berries (strawberries and blueberries), twigs (pretzels), popped acorns (popcorn), hedgehog hummus, trees (broccoli), porcupine peppers, chipmunk cheese rolls, bunny treats (carrots), caribou cookies, bear pee (beer), dew drops (water), pond punch (wine) and poisoned apple potion (apple cider).

I’m just kidding you guys. I didn’t name the food until I was writing this. I could not be bothered to make up little food signs. I was too busy cutting out tiny, ridiculous hedgehogs. My hands still hurt. But how funny would that be to offer our friends bear pee? I’m totally going to find another reason to do that.

Anyway, below are a few party details and picture overload because kid birthday parties are way more fun than I ever imagined they’d be.

Party Details:
~ felt animal masks + printable coloring animal masks by Opposite of Far
~ woodland trees cake + cupcakes by Vanilya Bakery
~ ‘Woodland Friends’ print from Occasionette
~ DIY tree garland + hedgehog garland + woodland animal cupcake toppers
~ invitations by INVITEDbyAudriana
~ animal ear headbands by PartyEars
~ light box by A Little Lovely Company via Rich Hippies
~ acorn chalkboard + wooden hedgehog + tree stump food stands + tabletop trees from AC Moore (all on sale!)

#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party tree cake by Vanilya Bakery, East Passyunk#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party Etsy invitations: InvitedbyAudriana#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party tree cake by Vanilya Bakery, East Passyunk#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party tree cake by Vanilya Bakery, East Passyunk#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo boothwoodland_birthday_party_decor#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth#TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booththeos_woodland_first_birthday_cake_8 #TheosPartyAnimals | A woodland-themed first birthday party with Opposite of Far animal masks and photo booth

Baby

THEO IS ONE!

Theo is one!The other night at bedtime I was sitting on the sofa in the kids room nursing Theo. Isla was nuzzled under my free arm twirling her hair and sucking her thumb. The only light was from the moon shining through a crack in the curtains. It was a sweet, quiet, rare moment. Suddenly Theo pulled away, looked up at me with that huge trademark grin of his and said, “Mama!” When he realized Isla was there he instantly flung himself on top of her and nuzzled his head in her neck. She yelled, “THEEEE-OOOO!” and they both giggled. He did this about 10 more times. He’d look at me and smile then throw himself headfirst on top of his sister to cuddle with her before popping back up to nurse a little more.

These tiny, short, unexpected moments are the ones I never want to forget when our kids are grown. Between all the toy stealing, biting, pushing and craziness that is life with two kids, it’s these sweet moments that make me feel like we’re doing something right.

Theo adores his big sister. She refuses to share with him, grabs everything he touches the second he touches it and scolds him all day long. But she’s the first to say, “Great job, buddy!” when he climbs the stairs by himself, or “You can do it!” as he takes his first uneasy steps. He wants to hug her and kiss her and slobber all over her all day long, and she’s constantly teaching him new things and supporting him in her own toddler-ish way.

They spend much of the day playing side-by-side, her building things and him knocking them over to her great frustration. “NO BABY MONSTER!” she yells when he tears apart her train tracks, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And he screeches, “ISLA!” and then bites her (hard) when she steals from him or just when he misses her. If he wakes up before her he yells her name, pronouncing it almost perfectly, until I hear them both giggle and realize reluctantly, exhaustedly, joyfully that our day has begun.

Theo is one today.

It feels like just yesterday Isla came to the hospital to meet her new baby brother for the first time, yet the whole year feels like a blur. It’s hard to remember a time when Theo wasn’t smiling at us, yelling Mama and Dada and Isla, barking at his meowing sister, climbing on the furniture or turning the pages of his books all by himself. Before he was crawling or talking or feeding himself. When was that? So long ago. Just yesterday.

I dare say bringing home a second baby was scarier than the first. One baby, two parents. We got this. Or so we thought. Adjusting to life as a parent can be challenging. But when Theo came home I was suddenly outnumbered when Chris was at work or away. Two hands are not enough! At the same time, Theo was easier than Isla, calmer than Isla, chiller than any human I’ve ever met. Eventually we found our groove. I found time to shower and make sure both kids were fed. We figured out how to get to the park, take morning walks to get coffee and even managed to visit fun places like the aquarium or zoo. Somehow, outnumbered, we made it.

Though each new stage brings its own challenges for each child, we survived. No, we more than survived. These kids are thriving and we get better every day as parents. There are those days when Theo is covered in his sister’s pee because he found her potty before I had a chance to clean it out. The days when I yell at Isla too many times because she just will not listen. Or those days when they both watch too much TV because I just cannot get through one more minute and keep my sanity. Days when we feel like we’ve failed as parents. But at the end of those days these two nuzzle each other, giggle together, exchange goodnight kisses and remind us that it’s all going to be okay. Our kids love each other. They’re best friends and eternal companions. And they know how much we love them. All is right with the world.

If you can’t tell, I’m on a roller coaster of emotions right now and just typing when comes out of my fingertips because this is my last monthly update for Theo and I can’t deal. But thanks for listening and let’s get to it.

Last month Theo dressed up as Bat Boy for his first Halloween and celebrated his birthday early with my side of the family by throwing his piece of cake on the floor without so much as a lick. We went to the pumpkin patch and bowling, had daily dance parties and spent a lot of time with family. Theo TOOK HIS FIRST STEPS the day before Halloween, is learning new words every single day and is hell-bent on asserting his independence every chance he gets. He adores his book about dogs and loves to howl (at the moon) and cook naked in the kiddie kitchen. He insists on standing while dancing at music class (and gets very frustrated when all that booty shaking makes him fall over), loves climbing into his sister’s bed to snuggle with her and will no longer be carried up the steps because he must climb them by himself. He throws things onto the floor so he can say “uh oh,” says “oooooooh” every time he’s excited about something and points to animals and pictures when he wants us to tell him what they are and what sounds they make. He head butts us (hard!) and bites us when he doesn’t get his way and is like a bull in a china shop. He finally loves bananas, steals and drinks his sister’s milk and is showing no signs of wanting to wean. He only sleeps through the night when he feels like it, smiles constantly and leans in to give sweet hugs to all his friends.

Our Theo is sweet, loving, stubborn, hilarious and fiercely independent (he gets that last one from his sister). We’re looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with him and watching him learn to walk, talk and develop into his own little self.

Sweet Theo, you bring us more joy than we could ever explain to you in words. Your kisses and smiles brighten our darkest days. You are a gift and I hope you always know how much we love you. We hope you grow to be kind, loving, loyal, open-minded and accepting of everyone you meet. We hope the name we’ve given you makes you proud and reminds you that life is too short to take for granted. We hope you and your sister protect each other and remain friends and loyal companions for eternity. We hope you fiercely support each other and stand side-by-side through all of life’s challenges and greatest joys.

We love you to the moon, Theo Jon.

HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY!

(Theo at eleven monthsten monthsnine monthseight monthsseven monthssix monthsfive monthsfour monthsthree monthstwo monthsone month andhis birth story)

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Kids

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Bat Boy and Cat Girl Halloween Costumes 2016Super Girl Kitty and Bat Boy had a super fun weekend celebrating Halloween in the city. They walked the catwalk with their Super Dad (who wears his costume year round) for the annual Spooky Saturday Halloween fashion show and contest, went trick-or-treating at all the shops in our neighborhood, danced in the street to live music and ate way too much candy. Well Isla did anyway. And maybe me, too.

All of Isla’s fantasies came true with her costume this year. She regularly hisses at her brother (and strangers!) and she’s constantly carrying around her legion of cats, so it was only fitting that she asked to be “Super Girl Kitty” for Halloween. The original plan was for Theo to be a mouse. Seemed kind of fitting, no? But his costume was lame and I felt bad for him so I panicked and at the last minute made him some wings out of foam board and used the bat mask we already had. I’d call that a success.

We’re looking forward to walking the neighborhood with these two tonight and passing out candy while watching “Room on the Broom” for the 100th time. I have to say, I used to loathe Halloween, but kids make every holiday truly delightful.

Happy Halloween!

(The kids’ masks are from Opposite of Far, our favorite place for make believe!)
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Kids

TINY BRIDAL PARTY

Kids wedding photos on beachMy cousin Kristin got married a couple of weeks ago in a beautiful beachfront wedding in the middle of a nor’easter. The bride was stunning, the groom (Andrew) was giddy and the kids were stinking adorable. I was honored to be a bridesmaid (my cousin has always been more like a sister to me) and I was thrilled when she asked if Isla would be their flower girl. Isla talked about “throwing flowers at Kristin’s wedding” for literally weeks before the big day. My nephew James was the ring bearer, or as he called himself the “ring carrier.” He’s four and he told everyone his job was “the most important wedding job because they can’t get married without rings!” My younger cousin Cayden, and my sister’s older son Ryan and Theo were “ushers” (meaning they showed up looking dapper and ready to party). Kristin let me choose everyone’s outfits and I couldn’t help myself. How freaking cute are they!? (Hashtag squad goals.)

Confession: the tiny lady in some of the pictures is my niece Laila, who didn’t actually attend the wedding. My sister and I are a little crazy (it’s in our genes) so the day after the wedding we got our kids all dressed up again so we could stage a photo shoot and include Laila in the fun. They were such troopers!

The ceremony was beautiful, the party was a blast, the bride and groom are perfect and I will cherish the memories of that weekend and these images of our sweet babies forever.

Congratulations Kristin and Andrew! xx

{On the Girls: Posh Peanut crochet dresses; Mason and Harlow flower crowns; Zara shoes (on Isla); Freshly Picked gold moccasins (on Laila) | On the Guys: Zara Oxford shirts and navy chinos (baby shirt and baby pants for Theo); H&M suspenders (sold out, similar here); Etsy bow ties; Freshly Picked “Beehive State ” Moccasins (on Theo); similar sneakers here and here}

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